Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy -- Chester Gould

When I was a kid (funny how many of my posts start out that way), one of the features on the front page of the comics section in the Sunday newspaper was DICK TRACY. So I grew up reading this comic strip about the square-jawed police detective. Unfortunately, that was during an era in which the strip’s creator, author, and artist Chester Gould had taken it in some weird directions, getting away from the hardboiled police action and bringing in more and more science-fictional elements, such as hidden civilizations on the Moon. I read DICK TRACY anyway and enjoyed it, although it was never one of my favorites.

THE CELEBRATED CASES OF DICK TRACY, an oversized volume containing more than a dozen storylines ranging from Tracy’s first case in 1931 to episodes from the late Forties, is an excellent introduction to this classic strip, featuring numerous examples of the things that made DICK TRACY a success: hardboiled, even brutal, action with fistfights, elaborate death traps, and shoot-outs in which characters, both good and bad, actually died; grotesque villains with colorful names like Flattop, Mumbles, and the Brow; and at least an attempt to be realistic when it comes to police work, making TRACY an early example of the police procedural.

Chester Gould’s plotting, writing, and willingness to pull no punches in his stories are what made this strip work. The artwork starts off pretty crude, and while it improves some with time, it never comes close to the level of, say, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, or Hal Foster. But by the Forties it’s good enough not to detract from Gould’s fast-moving storylines. My main complaint about this volume is that it reprints only the daily strips, leaving out the Sunday pages that were part of the continuity. As a result, there are some jarring gaps in the action where the reader has to figure out what happened on Sunday from the context of Monday’s strip. This isn’t a huge problem, but it can be annoying.

Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I have another Dick Tracy collection, THE THIRTIES: TOMMYGUNS AND HARD TIMES, which reprints practically the entire first two years of the strip, and I’m looking forward to reading it, too.

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