Whenever a volume in this series is released, whatever else I'm reading at the time is put on hold and Dick Tracy goes to the top of the stack. This volume is special to me not only because it reprints Chester Gould's last year and a half on the strip he created and produced for more than 46 years, not only because Gould's entire run is now available in hardcover, but this is, essentially, where I came in. I remember snatches of the "Mole/Pouch" continuity from 1971 and the "Brain/Peanut Butter" continuity from 1973, but it was with the "Lispy/Pucker Puss" continuity that the strip really clicked with me.
My earliest memories of Dick Tracy are from the [politically incorrect] cartoon series of the '60s and, to be honest, it was probably DC's release of a Dick Tracy "treasury edition" (featuring Flattop) and three paperback collections (featuring Pruneface, Shaky and Mrs. Pruneface) which redirected my attention to the actual comic strip. I decided to start "strip clipping" with the "Gallstones" sequence in 1976. I was able to acquire strips from previous weeks (from newspapers which had not yet been taken to a local paper drive) going back to near the end of the Pucker Puss story. (Lispy had already been killed by that time.)
The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the paper we took, Ran their Sunday funnies in quarter page format, discarding the top tier of panels. Every once in a while, though, a Sunday in half-page format would sneak in for whatever reason. Such was the case on August 15, 1976. The top tier would consist of the strip's logo, plus a few throwaway panels usually recapping the week's action. Gould also included a bold caption beneath the logo, which he used for mottos or slogans or introductory captions or a recap. On this particular Sunday, the caption read: "Men and Machines, Money and Morals! Tools to the Honest, Weapons to the Crooked!"
That would have broken up the flow of my little book, though, which consisted of the strips affixed to lined notebook paper with Elmer's glue, so I glued the logo above and the caption below my hand-drawn portrait of Dick Tracy on my collection's cover. I used colored pencils on the illustration and I also wrote an "introduction." I stopped strip-clipping after the Gallstones, but picked it up again when Max Allen Collins and Rick Fletcher took over from Gould after he retired.
Speaking of Collins (who wrote a real introduction to v29), he reveals that Gould's "retirement" at the end of 1977 likely wasn't his own idea, but rather was forced upon him by the syndicate. I wouldn't recommend anyone unfamiliar with Dick Tracy to start with this particular volume; his stories left something to be desired, but his art was as distinctive as ever, especially in the face of the rapidly shrinking size of daily comic strips at the time.
I have known for a long time that Gould kept a police-science expert on staff as a consultant, but another thing I learned from the introduction is that Gould himself took police forensic courses at Northwestern University. Among the realistic police procedures used in this volume include neutron activation analysis to detect gunshot residue, the use of a comparison microscope for ballistic work, the use of a lie detector and fingerprinting equipment.
From Collins' intro: "While no household name bizarre villains enter the upper atmosphere of the Dick Tracy Rogue's Gallery, several worthy additions to the middle ranks appear, in particular Pucker Puss with his bizarre (if questionable) method of turning his mouth into a bullet-firing murder weapon and the beautifully named Zero Nought, as well as the ultimately not so villainous, but perfectly designed and monikered Leyden Aigg."
Collins also credits Pucker Puss sequence as being "the last great (or near great) Tracy continuity" (I agree) and goes on to say, "How can any tracy fan not like a wacky story that includes the line, 'Spit out the denture gun!'?" Personally, I prefer the line, "Two .38s looking at you, Big Charlie. Put out your wrists.," from the bootleg record storyline.
Another strong memory I have from this volume is the daily strip from Tuesday, July 20, 1976. My family and I were on our annual family vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks (no newspaper, no television), staying at Redwoods Resort in Rocky Mount, Mo. One day my dad drove in to the nearby town of Eldon for some supplies and bought a copy of the local paper while he was there. I read that day's strip over and over and over again until I practically had it memorized. It didn't advance the story any; it was just a talking heads scene of Lizz and Tracy spouting off Gould's right wing rhetoric (which he did often in those days).
LIZZ: Tracy, what actually does the phrase "RIP-OFF" mean?
TRACY: It's a phrase used by adult delinquents to ease the pain of having raised a THIEF and a BURGLAR.
LIZZ: Oh, come now! and what about the term "DRUG ABUSER"?
TRACY: Yes, that's another sugar coated pet label. The real term, as everyone knows, is DOPE FIEND!
Another thing Gould would routinely do during this time frame was to have his villains psychoanalyze themselves: "When I look at [Dick Tracy] I feel inferior, angry, jealous."
In this, his final year, there's a real sense that Gould is bringing his key players on stage for a final curtain call: Junior, Tess, Diet Smith, Bo.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie. He also introduces two new Plentys, cousins Perfume and Dade. Gould was at the peak of his creative powers in the '40s. as Collins puts it, "Those powers are one display here, but in and admittedly erratic manner."
When did Gould present the story of The Rat-Faced Man? I assume it was in the 60s because I think I was a teenager at the time. I wasn't able to follow the strip except here and there because we didn't get the newspaper in which it appeared very often. I remember being struck by Gould's killing his villains (Rat-Face was found burned to death on panel) because in the comic books you didn't kill the bad guys because killing was permanent (until it wasn't).
The current strip uses the discardable top row to honor officers who have died. Today it's mostly COVID-19 victims, but it recently included Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, murdered in January 6 abomination.
You must be thinking of Rhodent, circa 1959.
I had been following the current strip online up until June, but I wasn't impressed. The stories meandered and they didn't end so much as just stopped.
I was reading DICK TRACY nearly 70 years ago! But I never cut out the weekly entry in the crimestoppers textbook.
Maybe I should have.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
You must be thinking of Rhodent, circa 1959.
Two quotes from the article you referenced:
Rhodent was pulled along as the freight train began to pick up speed. The bumps and friction of the track began to shake his car apart. At one point, his gas tank impacted against the track's rail and was ignited by a spark. Rhodent's car was engulfed in flames and he burned to death (August 30th, 1959).
Rhodent's name remained unknown to Dick Tracy and the police through most of this storyline, and they referred to him only as "the rat-faced man".
Yep. I never knew his name because I only read the strip in which he died. Tracy apparently didn't know his name at that point. Since it was 1959, I was only eleven, not a teenager.
"I decided to start 'strip clipping' with the 'Gallstones' sequence in 1976. I was able to acquire strips from previous weeks (from newspapers which had not yet been taken to a local paper drive) going back to near the end of the Pucker Puss story... I glued the logo above and the caption below my hand-drawn portrait of Dick Tracy on my collection's cover. I used colored pencils on the illustration and I also wrote an 'introduction.'"
I asked Tracy (my wife, not Dick) to post a photo of the cover and introduction to my collection. (Click to enlarge.) So I misspelled "surprised" and "honor" and almost misspelled "foreword"... I was only 12!
"I only read the strip in which he died."
It's funny how a single strip can stick with someone for so long. My dad read Dick Tracy for most of his life, I guess (although his favorite character was probably "Big Stoop" from Terry & the Pirates). He was always able to provide answers to whatever questions I had about Dick Tracy characters, from Tess Trueheart to Diet Smith to Gravel Gertie and B.O. Plenty. One particular sequence he recalled from his childhood involved Dick Tracy and his men in a truck who pulled in from of a car of gangsters, opened the back of the truck and opened fire.
The strip in question was from February 3, 1936. In the '80s, I was reading a replica edition of Feature Book #9, "Dick Tracy and the Famon Boys" (1937), but he misremembered a few of the details. He would have been nine years old at the time.
Dick Tracy was being "taken for a ride" by "Cut" Famon and his gang. It was G-man Jim Trailer and Tracy's partner Pat Patton who gimmicked a tanker truck to drop its rear wall. It was those two and another who stopped the gangsters and saved Tracy.
I was so excited to be able to show this sequence to my dad. I knew all I would have to do to get him reminiscing was to mention Dick Tracy, and sure enough, it worked! He started describing that scene that scene, and I whipped out the book and asked, "You mean this scene?" He barely glanced at it and said, "Yep, that's it"... then disappeared back into his memory. I was expecting a bigger reaction to a scene that had existed (for him) only in his memory for nearly 50 years. I think showing him that strip meant more to me than it did to him!
[The scene can be found in The Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy - Vol. 3, (1935-1936).]