Friday, August 08, 2014

Number 1615: Dick Tracy, fit to be tied

I like the Dick Tracy strips by Chester Gould, and even while following it for years in newspapers I was also catching up on past stories by reading reprints. There are a couple of things about the character, though, that bug me. Tracy is not very smart. He seems smart, maybe because his surrounding characters seem less smart, but his villains are smarter than Tracy. They catch him flat-footed (pun intended), and put him in death traps. The fact that Tracy escapes the death traps isn't because he’s smarter than the villain, it is because at that point the villain has some sort of mental lapse and decides a death trap is better than just shooting Tracy and getting him out of the picture permanently. (The legacy of the dime novel, no doubt, and cliffhangers of all types.) Of course by sparing Tracy the villain is soon dead. Justice in Dick Tracy’s world was doled out without lawyers, judges and courtrooms.

Dell had published Tracy reprints during the forties. In issue #19 of Dick Tracy Monthly they dropped the reprints and went with original self-contained stories written and drawn for the comic. This went on through issue #25, when Harvey Comics took over the license. Chester Gould, creator of Tracy, is not even mentioned. I find that incredible, but then, those were the days of the all-powerful syndicates, and apparently the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, which owns Tracy, did not think it was important to put Gould’s name on a story not by him.

The drawing seems to be from Gould’s studio, though. Like most successful cartoonists of the era Gould ran a stable of artists. I’ve never known of the exact division of labor, or if there was one. I assumed Gould had at least a hand in the writing, if not the whole process, and perhaps inked faces to keep a consistent look. “The Black Cat Mystery” is written and drawn anonymously.*

From Dick Tracy Monthly #20 (1949):

*The final three page story of “Sparkle Plenty,” is a humor feature. Sparkle, daughter of B.O. Plenty and his wife, Gravel Gertie, had been introduced in 1947, and was a licensing and merchandising joy for the syndicate. You can read a later Sparkle Plenty story in a Harvey Comics reprint. Just click on the thumbnail:

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