Archive | Dick Tracy

A World of “Hurt”

While there is much to recommend in this science fictional modern age, the Good Old Days had at least some advantages. One of them was the ability to walk into an honest-to-Pete bookstore and pick out the exact copy of a new release that you wanted to buy and take home. I was especially lucky, because I spent years making regular pilgrimages to Harvard Square, the home of WordsWorth, a sizable, well-stocked establishment that sold every book at a discounted price. And if that wasn’t enough of a description of Heaven, WordsWorth was located just down the street from that grand ole comics shop, Million Year Picnic.

Million Year Picnic is still in business, but WordsWorth closed its doors in the autumn of 2004. Declining readership and expanded book buying options squeezed it — and many, many other independent bookstores — out of the marketplace.

One of those expanded options was, of course, Amazon.com. It began in 1994 specifically as an on-line bookseller; its growth into a retail giant big enough to blot out the sun has been chronicled elsewhere, better and more knowledgeably than I could do here. Amazon’s deep discounts make it attractive to many consumers, but some persons have been experiencing regular, persistent difficulties getting undamaged copies of LOAC books delivered from Amazon to their doorsteps.

One reader, a self-described “long-time, long-suffering customer” of Amazon’s, contacted us at the end of January to describe issues experienced when ordering LOAC books from Amazon. This person wrote: “I purchase from Amazon four LOAC titles: Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie, and Steve Canyon. I have collected other titles as well, including Terry and the Pirates and Russ Manning’s Tarzan. I can safely say that I have rarely accepted the first copy of any of these books shipped to me by Amazon.” Our correspondent went on to describe eight different “hurt” conditions that ranged from holes in the dust jackets and book covers to “marks, stains, and sticky residue” on the books and their jackets. As an example of one specific condition — torn just jackets — the writer included these pictures of Steve Canyon Volume 7, about which the person in question said: “I needed to place five orders [with Amazon] before receiving a relatively undamaged copy [from them].” (Emphasis the original author’s.)

CANYON V7_Front DJ

CANYON V7_Back DJ

After using Amazon’s Leave Packaging Feedback feature “more times than I can remember. The results have been nonexistent”, and making calls to Amazon Customer Service representatives, the reader turned to us to ask if we could help. “I have repeatedly tried to make them [Amazon] aware that the books [from LOAC] are collectibles that need extra care,” said our correspondent. “Amazon makes no allowances for this.”

Here at LOAC, we will do what we can to raise this situation to Amazon’s attention, and we have been in communication with the appropriate sales team within IDW Publishing, sharing our reader’s letter with them and getting their commitment to address the matter with the proper Amazon parties. Obviously, how Amazon chooses to conduct its business is up to them. Our regular distribution channels deliver large quantities of undamaged books to Amazon, so if LOAC books are reaching readers in hurt conditions, the logical conclusion is that Amazon’s procedures are creating opportunities for the damage to occur during the packing and shipping periods.

Meanwhile, if like our correspondent you receive damaged LOAC books from Amazon.com, what can you do to help the situation?

  1. 1. Do not accept damaged books.
  2. 2. Returned the damaged books to Amazon and ask for a replacement.
  3. 3. When returning damaged books, specifically note that the problem lies with Amazon’s shipping.

One thing that does not help is going to the book’s Amazon page and leaving an unfavorable review of the book to protest receiving a hurt copy. Amazon doesn’t screen reviews for comments about its pack-&-ship procedures, so a “down-graded” review only delivers collateral damage to LOAC and leaves Amazon unaffected.

If I may conclude by speaking personally: I am a long-time Amazon customer and find them an invaluable supplier in many ways. Like the person who wrote to us, I have in the past received books in damaged condition, but have followed the three steps above and received an acceptable replacement copy in short order. I may be fortunate in that respect; clearly, our correspondent consistently has had less successful experiences than my own. My hope is that, through whatever avenue one chooses, every LOAC reader receives our books in clean, undamaged condition. That’s what readers deserve in return for paying out their hard-earned cash.

But you’ll pardon me if at this moment I find myself just a bit nostalgic for those Good Old Days of Harvard Square and WordsWorth …

 

 

A Bicentennial Look Back

During a cold, snowy first week of 2017 here in New England, two things occurred to me: [1] we’re overdue for a Fantasy Comics Page in this space, and [2] 2017 marks the 241st anniversary of the acknowledged founding of the United States of America. We’re fewer than ten years away from the USA’s 250th birthday, the Sestercentennial! (Or Semiquincentennial, if you’re cut from Johnny Littlejohn/Hank McCoy polysyllabic cloth — the jury’s out on what the celebration will officially be called.)

When that pair of thoughts collided, I went back into the strips, looking to build a Fantasy Page from the first day of our Bicentennial Year, January 1, 1976. What I put together tickled me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It features a mix of comedy and adventure strips, popular long-running comics and more obscure fare. We begin with two of my all-time favorite series: Al Capp brings Baby New Year back to Li’l Abner (no one knew it at the time, but the strip had less than two years’ of life remaining), while Tom Ryan ignores the new year entirely in his always-wonderful Tumbleweeds.

Gus Arriola’s work always gives me a smile, so including Gordo on this Fantasy Page is a distinct pleasure — and one might think Flash Gordon could use New Year’s Day as an excuse to take a break from tromping around dungeons and fighting monsters, but this lovely example of Flash’s strip by Dan Barry proves that’s not the case. And who among us has not faced the “good diet resolution” dilemma Tom Batiuk presents in Funky Winkerbean? (Though I hope most of us last longer than this before breaking our resolutions!)

Lolly was a new strip to me, and I enjoy such finds, as well as going back to learn a bit about them. In this case, Lolly was the brainchild of former Disney Studios animator Pete Hansen and ran from 1955 to 1983. Lolly herself is a nicely-designed character, and the balance between her home and work life (she was an office employee, supervised by “Mr. Quimby”) gives her the same sort of plot grist that would make the Mary Tyler Moore Show such a hit throughout most of the ’70s (though Lolly, while appealing, is no Mar’!)

Junior Tracy’s Bicentennial New Year begins earlier than he’d like — note who’s sleeping next to him! You can read the first appearances of the Moon Maid in our just-released Dick Tracy Volume 21. Irwin Hasen was one of the treasures of the comics world, even when newspaper editors mistakenly identified him as “Irwin Hansen;” here’s how his Dondi started off 1976. Snoopy and Woodstock were partying hard in Peanuts, and appropriately, our Fantasy Page ends with a strip created specifically with the Bicentennial in mind, Yankee Doodles. This was also an unknown strip to me when I stumbled across it, but thanks to historian extraordinaire Allan Holtz and his invaluable “Stripper’s Guide” website, I learned this was a feature that lasted only fifty months, and was the product of three creators: Ben Templeton (later of Motley’s Crew fame), Fred W. Martin, and Don Kracke — think of the hilarity that could have ensued if the credits had said, “by Kracke!”

Who knows what sort of comics will arise to take advantage of the Sestercentennial? (Or the Semiquincentennial, should we opt for the longer name …)

Anyway, here’s our look back at January 1, 1976 —

1_abner

2_tumbleweeds

3_gordo

4_flash

5_funky

6_lolly

7_tracy

8_dondi

9_peanuts

10_yankee-d

Movietone News (The CTNYN Edition)

Hollywood has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks.

It started while assembling the week’s worth of puzzles that ran in this space a short time ago; each installment contained one Hollywood connection, and it was great fun sifting through images of wonderful old stars such as Eve Arden and Spencer Tracy.

Over the past couple days days there has been some discussion amongst my oldest friends regarding the new Doctor Strange motion picture from Marvel Studios. When you grew up reading Marvel Comics as we did, and when you dealt with the sneering of the adult population (I remember one bookstore clerk racking up the sale for a fresh stack of comics I was buying and snidely asking, “Are you going to read them all tonight?”), regardless what you think of the finished movie product it’s more than slightly amazing that John & Jane Q. Public now know who Stephen Strange is (and Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, and Peter Parker, and …). Even more amazing to realize how many members of that public-at-large are shelling out hard-earned coin to see their big-screen adventures.

In the course of that discussion, it hit me that that while audiences watching theatrical versions of Marvel Comics characters is a relatively new phenomenon, the practice of audiences filling movie palaces to see cartoon characters move and talk and generally come to life is anything but new — and yes, it was the comic strips that got there first. That led me to put together this two-part look back at Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, focusing this time on the “crown jewels” of the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate.

Milton Caniff’s 1934-1946 run on Terry and the Pirates remains as feisty and entertaining today as it was when it was appearing in daily newspapers across the country. The Columbia Pictures serial version of Terry is less successful than its source material, but back in 1940 comics were considered cheap, throwaway entertainment and chapterplays were simply warm-ups for the featured film, so there were less-discerning filters being applied in those days. Certainly many of the kids attending the Saturday matinee were probably content to see Terry, Pat, Normandie, Connie, and Big Stoop walking, talking, and come to life before their eyes.

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Title card for the Columbia TERRY AND THE PIRATES serial

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“Look, Freddy, look! It’s Big Stoop!” Well, kinda-sorta — in the world of the film TERRY, Big Stoop can talk!

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Spirited conversation between Terry (William Tracy) and Pat (Granville Owen). At age twenty-three, Tracy was definitely “playing young” as teenaged Terry! Owen,. meanwhile, had the distinction of playing both Pat Ryan and Abner Yokum in the same year, since 1940 also saw the release of RKO’s LI’L ABNER movie.

 

As discussed in Volume 5 of our Little Orphan Annie series, 1932 brought RKO’s version of America’s Spunkiest Kid into the cinemas. It fared little better with critics than would Terry, despite featuring one of the premier child stars of the day, Mitzi Green.

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Mitzi Green strokes a pose as Annie. She had previously played Becky Thatcher in Paramount’s adaptations of TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN.

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Title card to the 1932 LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE. The film was co-written by Tom McNamara, the cartoonist-creator of US BOYS, who went on to a second career as a Hollywood writer and director.

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This title card for the ANNIE motion picture features Harold Gray artwork. Go, Sandy, go!

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What is more charming than a child and a dog? In the 1932 production of LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, Sandy has been cast as a German Shepard rather than a mutt — the popularity of Rin Tin Tin may have had something to do with that decision …

 

Arguably the best and certainly the the longest-lived of the celluloid versions of the CTNYN “Big Three” is Dick Tracy. America’s Top Manhunter first hit the movie screen in 1937 as a fifteen-chapter Republic Pictures serial, the first in a series of five from that studio.

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Ralph Byrd certainly looks the part of Tracy, assaying the role in all of Republic’s serials, two of the four RKO movies, and a 1950-51 television series.

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Lobby card for the final Republic TRACY serial.

 

RKO followed Republic in 1945 with a series of four Dick Tracy full-length films. Morgan Conway played Tracy in the first two before Ralph Byrd resumed the part for Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. In this still with June Clayworth from the latter production (1947), it’s clear Byrd still looks great as Tess Trueheart’s one-and-only.

tracy-4

In case you’re wondering, the “IML” on Miss Clayworth’s jacket are the initials of her character’s name: Irma M. Learned. Yes, she’s Dr. I.M. Learned …

CTNYN wasn’t the only major comic strip syndicator to have its characters entertain movie-goers. We’ll be back soon with a look at a trio of strips from the King Features stable that lived parallel lives in the flicker-pictures.

 

Time Changes Everything — and Everyone!

In my house, when I was a boy growing up, we always had a “junk drawer,” that catchall where everything went that didn’t quite fit anywhere else. When my siblings or I would complain that we couldn’t find a particular item, the inevitable question would come back, “Did you look in the junk drawer?”

Today I still have the equivalent of a junk drawer for a portion of my LOAC filing. I don’t think of it as a junk drawer, of course — there are too many terrific items stored inside it that could never qualify as “junk!” But certain outsized articles, or thick bundles of clipped strips, or, yes, things that otherwise don’t quite fit anywhere else all end up in this one particular file cabinet drawer.

I recently had cause to open that drawer, searching for one specific article, and as typically happens I found myself looking through a batch of other artifacts before I found what I was seeking. One of those stray pieces that caught my attention was the tribute booklet King Features Syndicate assembled in honor of George McManus and Bringing Up Father on the advent of the strip’s twentieth anniversary. Thumbing through that jumbo-sized pamphlet, I took particular note of the spread that featured a look at how Jiggs’s physical appearance had changed throughout the history of the series:

jiggs

Giving equal attention to both main characters, King provided a similar look at how Maggie morphed from stocky dowager to trim fashionista. Maggie’s display went Jiggs’s one better, since it included the years from which the images were taken:

maggie

It occurred to me that it might be fun to see how the looks of other major comics characters had evolved over time. I started by going back to 1926 with Little Orphan Annie, snagging an image from mid-June of that year, culled from one of my favorite Harold Gray stories, guest-starring Pee Wee the Elephant. Almost twenty years later, on April 15, 1946, I selected a panel showing how Annie had grown and matured. Fifteen years after that, in July of 1961, it’s arguable whether or not America’s Spunkiest Kid looks younger than she did in 1946, but her hair has definitely got wilder and more unruly!

annie

Dick Tracy looks lean and lanky in this first panel, from June 27, 1932. In 1947, fifteen years later, he’s favoring a snap-brim fedora and his profile has become even more chiseled. Moving down the timeline another nineteen years, to 1966, Tracy arguable looks more weathered, with deeper lines around his eyes. His chapeau is more compact and close-fitting — but his necktie has remained incredibly resilient! (Note that Moon Maid is present in the background of the 1966 panel — you’ll be meeting her soon in our ongoing Dick Tracy series.)

tracy

Having taken snapshots in time of both Annie and Tracy, it was only natural to look at Terry Lee, the third star in the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate’s three “crown jewels.” As you can see below, in 1935 the star of Terry and the Pirates was a boyish adventurer very much in the Tom Swift/Tintin tradition. A decade later, with America and her Allies poised to emerge victorious from the conflicts of the Second World War, the Terry we see listening with surprise as he gets an earful from Johnny Jingo is a mature young man who has fulfilled creator Milton Caniff’s goal of growing up to displace Pat Ryan as the adult focus of the strip that bears his name. Fifteen years further down the timeline, in this panel from May 1, 1961, George Wunder’s Terry has aged gracefully — he’s filled out, with broader shoulders and a more rounded face. No matter his age, though, Terry Lee’s fate regularly seems to be entwined with that of exotic, mysterious women!

terry

Since King Features characters set me on this path, it seemed proper that I pick another KFS star to conclude my look at character evolution. I think you’ll enjoy examining the radical changes that occur in the look of Secret Agent X-9, Phil Corrigan, as we move from his natty Hammettesque 1935 rendering (the product of Alex Raymond’s talented pen) to his more rumpled, almost slope-shouldered, January 31, 1957 Mel Graff appearance to his suave 1971 look, courtesy of Al Williamson.

x-9

Given the disposable nature of daily newspapers and the inevitable audience turnover, one is left to wonder how many readers noted these visual changes over time. Certainly the stylistic differences of the artists who drew X-9/Corrigan would be hard to miss, but was it a relatively seamless transition for most readers from Caniff to George Wunder on Terry? And for strips produced by the same hand for decades — Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, Dick Tracy — how often did the changes in physical appearance get noticed and, when noticed, how often did they get accepted with a simple mental shrug? None of us were there, none of us can really know — but it’s certainly fun to ponder!

Calling All Space-Age Beauties!

Finally! The eight letters that forever changed America’s favorite police strip…

M…O…O…N……M…A…I…D!

It’s (literally!) out of this world action in the twenty-first volume of our COMPLETE DICK TRACY — on sale in December. Here’s a little tease we found while researching the basement archives of the Chicago Tribune-New York News.

Trib

Syndicate_ad_A

Calling All Crimestoppers: Errata Noted!

Loyal Dick Tracy reader Kendall Smiley pointed out that the Sunday on page 111 of Volume 19 contained a duplicate panel, which meant that there’s also a panel missing. Here’s the correct, complete Sunday (with the missing panel at the bottom left). We’ll include the page in Volume 20 for all completists. (In the meantime click on the image below for a larger version.

Layout 1

From the Chester Gould archives

In addition to providing groundbreaking historical essays to our complete Dick Tracy series, Jeff Kersten was a founding member of The Chester Gould/Dick Tracy Museum and serves as the Museum’s resident historian and President on its Board of Directors. He, his wife, Keri, and their two little ones, Norah and Halas, recently paid a visit to the home of Jean Gould O’Connell, Chester Gould’s daughter, to say hello to their long-time friend. They were also there to scan material from Chester Gould’s archives to use in the next couple of volumes of our Tracy series. Keri captured photos of Jeff at work and posing with Jean next to a blow-up of her father on the wall. Some of the scans Jeff made will be in Dick Tracy Volume 17, in stores late summer.

Jeff_scanning

Jeff_Jean

Progressive Signs on a Sensitive Subject

Here in the 21st Century, violence against women has become socially unacceptable, though unfortunately it has yet to be eradicated from the culture. For decades during the prior century society was much more forgiving in this area – as late as 1964, network TV was willing to shrug off wife beating as an acceptable situation comedy story plot (see the Dick Van Dyke Show episode, “The Lady and the Tiger and the Lawyer,” which may be the most infamous achievement in the exceptional career of multi-talented Garry Marshall, who co-wrote this Van Dyke teleplay). By 1977 producer Norman Lear and writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf brought a seriocomedic look at rape and its consequences to All in the Family in a controversial hour-long episode entitled “Edith’s 50th Birthday,” which prompted one female TV reviewer to write, “The point is that the program was not prepared to ‘deal’ with reality, only to exploit it.”

What do these ruminations have to do with good ol’ LOAC? They were spurred by a recent gift by longtime Friend of the Library Ed Maslow.

Over the course of the past few years, Ed has shared several wonderful e-mails with us describing his younger days, reading the New York papers of the day and savoring strips likeFlash Gordon and “the crown jewels” of the Tribune Daily News syndicate. Most recently, Ed gave us a fascinating look at violence against women in Dick Tracy. Notice this panel from November 6, 1943. As Ed observed in his note, “The strip that was published in newspapers had Tracy saying ‘I hate to shove a lady–but, ow!'”

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But, as Ed went on to both show and tell us, “The way Gould wrote it is the panel below with Tracy saying ‘I hate to slap a lady–but, ow!’ The art is the same only the word shove has replaced slap.”:

Slap

Apparently by 1943 the syndicate had decided that “It’s not right to hit a lady,” and that, as a symbol of What’s Right, Dick Tracy would abide by that rule, even when tussling with someone as nasty and potentially dangerous as Lois, who certainly had no scruples about beating up Tracy.

Gould’s editors had fewer scruples only five years before, Ed reminded us, as he sent this sequence between baddies Karpse and Marrow from the November 13, 1938 Sunday page (click on strip for larger size):

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And shortly after our exchange with Ed on this subject, I was going back through my early Tracys and found this sequence from March 29, 1934. Never mind villain being villainous with villainess, in this shot Tracy is laying a hand on brunette spitfire Jean Penfield, who was trying to move in on him and cut Tess Trueheart out of the picture:

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Of course, to be fair to both Tracy and Chester Gould, the idea of “making a woman come to her senses” by slapping her across the face was a melodramatic device that remained in use well into the 1960s.

Ed Maslow’s e-mails to us revealed an intriguing editorial change to the Dick Tracy daily of November 6, 1943, but it also spurred more sobering thoughts about this particularly sobering subject. Despite still-shocking cases that get reported in the news even today, it’s clear our society has increasingly moved to reject the idea of violence against females – and, thanks to his editors, Dick Tracy was moving in that direction before World War II had ended, literally decades ahead of many other pop culture heroes.

 

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