Here’s the sixth installment of “The Black Bag Mystery” by Chester Gould! The first five appeared yesterday; we’re keeping all previous installments uploaded so you can refer back to them to help solve the mystery at the end!
This month marks Dick Tracy‘s 80th anniversary! Chester Gould began the story of his intrepid policeman on October 4, 1931 and established him as the foremost comics detective—often copied and parodied, but never equalled.
The strip was so popular that in late 1948 the Chicago Tribune‘s publisher, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, asked Gould to create a serialized mystery case for Dick Tracy to investigate that could be used to boost the paper’s circulation. Gould came up with “The Black Bag Mystery,” in which readers were encouraged to submit solutions for cash. The Colonel staked the promotion with $25,000 in prizes. Gould wrote and penciled the strips and the syndicate hired another artist to ink and color.
The contest ran for thirty-six consecutive color weekday strips in January and February 1949—the only Tracy “dailies” ever to appear in color. It was a great success, netting the Trib 50,000 new subscribers and Chester Gould a brand new black Cadillac as a “thank you” from his boss.
The complete color strips and full details of the story are in The Complete Dick Tracy volume 12, which will be on sale this month. We’re very grateful to Jean Gould O’Connell, Chet’s daughter, for loaning us her father’s personal scrapbook of these strips so we could scan them.
The syndicate hoped to duplicate the promotion in newspapers from other cities and so never published the solution to the mystery. It’s still an open case, folks! Here’s your chance to match wits with Dick Tracy: we’ll run one strip per day every day this month right here! To kick things off, we’ll start you with the first five today!
Check back every day to get the latest clue. After the final strip appears on November 1st, we encourage you to write your own solutions in fifty words or less. Please send YOUR solution by November 20th. Don’t look for any part of that twenty-five grand—the Trib gave that away more than sixty years ago! Instead, we’ll print our favorite solutions here by the end of November.
No, that title doesn’t refer to the denouement of a newly-discovered continuity (though wouldn’t it be great to unearth a lost Chester Gould work featuring a heretofore unknown grotesque antagonist?). Instead it marks a minor milestone, as with our upcoming July release Dick Tracy becomes the first Library Of American Comics series to require a tenth volume. In many ways this next Tracy installment, reprinting eighteen months of continuity from September 1945 to March ’47, is my favorite of the run. While no criminal in Volume 10 is as wily as Flattop, as sadistic as The Brow, as shocking in appearance as Pruneface, time and again this group strikes close to home in ways that are tense and sometimes disturbing.
Which Tracy rogue is as amoral and tenacious as Itchy? He pursues the late Shaky’s ill-gotten gains, threatens both Junior and Tess, then teams up with a distaff member of the criminal element to ensnare Tracy in a fiendish trap. During this sequence, a great panel showcases Tracy’s indomitable will: when all seems hopeless, Tracy nevertheless manages to snarl, “Itchy – – – I promise you one thing – – – when we leave this house – – – I’ll WALK out, but they’ll be carrying you!” Look for it in the December 12, 1945 daily.
This volume also features the rotten apples hanging from a few family trees. The innocent boy-scientist Brilliant is done wrong by his relatives. Nilon Hoze and her cousin Rod connive to get their hooks into their rich aunt’s moolah, while what happens to spunky little Themesong is a reminder that in Chester Gould’s world, no one is truly safe (relevant today, when people are quick to surrender civil liberties for vague promises of “security”).
The book’s final sequence is its most spine-chilling, as Vitamin Flintheart—that overwrought thespian and “capsule receiver” (as Themesong christens him)—returns in time to cross paths with the eerie Influence, who has the power to bend others’ wills to his own. Mental take-over stories always creep me out—as a kid, I didn’t even find it funny when Dr. Boris Balinkoff used his robot rings to take control of Gilligan and the other stranded castaways! So my flesh crawled as Influence systematically seized mind after mind, cementing his unscrupulous plans, toying with people like a cat at a mouse convention. Brr-r-r-r!
I’ll admit there’s one more reason I’m a Tracy booster besides Chet Gould’s crackling good stories and the exceptional behind-the-scenes insights offered by Jeff Kersten and Max Allan Collins: I’m the guy who writes each volume’s “Previously in the Case Files of Dick Tracy” feature. It’s a challenge to compress over two hundred pages of continuity from the previous book into two pages of text and images, but what great fun to write first-person commentary in Tracy’s voice!
It’s a pleasure to salute The Master Sleuth on the advent of his tenth LOAC volume, and it’s delightful to know there are plenty more to come…