Well Preserved

I’ve been regularly reading comics since I was eight years old, meaning my association with comics spans more than four decades. Something I’ve come to realize is that one of the neat things about this medium is that no matter one’s age, no matter the sophistication one may develop after exploring the depth and breadth of the artform, there are always little fanboy games one can play, just for the fun of it.

It starts out in boyhood, the first time someone wonders, “Who’s stronger, The Thing or the Hulk?” or “Who would win if Captain America faced Batman?” (My late friend, Howard Downs, had an answer to the latter that strikes me as being absolutely perfect: “Cap wins—the first time.”)

Even now, when among us my comics-loving friends and I have logged more than two centuries of combined four-color (and black-and-white) reading, we find fresh questions to lob at one another. These days the questions revolve more around the passage of time than anything else: “Do you realize that the same twenty-four year span exists between Frank Miller’s first Sin Citystoryline (1991 to 2015) as between Fantastic Four # 1 (1961) and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths(1985)? And that the distance between FF # 1 and the first Sin City is only six years longer than the gap between Sin City and today?”

What does all this have to do with comic strips, you ask? Simply that my friends and I aren’t the only ones who are occasionally entertained by thoughts like that…

On April 7th I received a note and a scan of the April 11, 1971 Dick Tracy Sunday page from one of The Library of American Comics’s best friends, Ed Maslow, who is also a devotee of that dauntless detective, Dick Tracy.

“The Mole says he was in the slammer for nineteen years,” Ed said in his e-mail. “Actually, the Mole was captured and jailed in 1941. That is an eleven year discrepancy in real years. So in Gould years, thirty years is actually nineteen years.”

Here’s Ed’s scan of the Sunday page in question, so you can see the Mole’s statement for yourself:


He went on to say: “Now, if Tracy himself was twenty [years old] in 1931, [using Gould’s distortion of time], in 2015 he would be seventy-three-and-a-half years old. Not exactly aging a la Walt and Skeezix, but still looking pretty good for someone approaching octogenarianhood.”

Ed’s message tickles my fancy, so I did a little math that turns out to have paralleled his own. Here’s how I ciphered it:

  • The ratio of 19 (number of years The Mole says he was incarcerated) to thirty (number of “our” years that actually passed) is 63.33333%.
  • Divide twenty (Tracy’s assumed age when we first meet him in 1931) by that ratio: 20 / 0.6333333 = 32.
  • Thirty-two subtracted from 1931 indicates that Tracy was born in 1899.
  • There are one hundred sixteen of “our years” between 1899 and 2015 (2015 – 1899 = 116).
  • To convert “our years” to “Gould years,” multiply one hundred sixteen by the 63.33333% ratio: 116 x 0.6333333 = 73.5.

So Ed was exactly right: if we take the Mole’s little bit of “time passage trivia” as gospel, Dick Tracy would today be seventy-three-and-a-half years old.

And the capper, as Ed himself pointed out when we talked about whether or not I could use our discussion in this space? “Dick Tracy being born in 1899 means he was born a year before Chester Gould was!” (Which is true, and you can check that for yourself: Gould was born November 20, 1900.)
That’s exactly the sort of train of thought that has inspired any number of comics stories down through the decades, isn’t it?

Our thanks to Ed Maslow for brightening our day by calling the question of, “How old is Dick Tracy?” to our attention…

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