Wednesday, December 9, 2009
(plus a couple of Christmas Tracy pix to get you in the mood!)
By Rosemary McKittrick:
Dick Tracy didn’t daydream about becoming a big time detective. In fact, the dashing 34-year-old saw himself as a basic family man.
Unfortunately, his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart gets kidnapped during the first week of the comic strip in 1931 and her father ends up being murdered by a mobster.
What’s a guy to do?
Tracy does what every red-blooded comic strip character would do. He joins the police force as a plainclothes detective and rescues his damsel. Not to mention tracking down her father’s killer and sending him to the slammer.
The eagle-beaked, square-jawed, incorruptible Dick Tracy was a winner with comic strip readers from day one. Introduced in the Detroit Mirror, it wasn’t long before the hard-boiled detective showed up in the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune. By 1937, the comic strip appeared in more than 700 newspapers.
Dick Tracy has been with the cops for seven decades (long past any reasonable retirement) and has brought down such ghastly guys as the Mole, Prune Face, Flattop, Breathless Mahoney and dozens of others. The uglier the better. The more gunplay the better.
“I wanted my villains to stand out definitely so there would be no mistake who the villain was,” said comic strip creator Chester Gould.
Tracy’s mission of getting the bad guys sidetracked his marriage to Trueheart for nearly 20 years. Fortunately, Trueheart was a true heart and waited. The couple finally married on Christmas Eve in 1949.
Gould modeled his comic hero after the ultimate sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. He was also a huge fan of Edgar Allen Poe. Gould originally wanted to call his strip Plainclothes Tracy but a Chicago Tribune Syndicate editor convinced him to go with the name Dick Tracy.
“Dick Tracy was the daddy of all cops-and-robbers strips,” said author Stephen Becker in Comic Art in America.
“Back in 1931, said Gould, “no cartoon had ever shown a detective character fighting it out face to face with crooks via the hot lead route.”
No surprise that Dick Tracy the comic strip would make a triumphant leap to comic books. After all, he was the super sleuth. First published by Dell and then Harvey, it would be Blackthorne Publishing in the late-1980s who put much of the strip into comic books.
I only wish I still had the Dick Tracy comic books I bought in 1959. I never paid any attention to how I stored them. Stacking them in the corner of my bedroom was the first mistake.
Getting top dollar for comic books today demands they be in mint (perfect) condition which means no dog-ears or chocolate finger stains. Mine had both.
Had I been awake my comics would have gone directly into plastic sleeves after I read them. I also would have used cardboard backings so they didn’t bend.
Focusing on one series like Dick Tracy would have made a big difference. Owning the first issue in a comic book series would have been worth money today too.
Such is life.
On Oct. 1 and 2, Heritage Comics in Dallas, Texas, featured the passionate Dick Tracy collection of Larry Doucet. Doucet spent years amassing a wonderful assortment of Tracy memorabilia.
Here are some current values.
Comic book; the first; Dick Tracy The Detective; 100 pages; David McKay, 1937; $2,990.
Original comic art for strip; Chester Gould; Sept. 22, 1932; 20 inches by 5 1/2 inches; $3,220.
Comic book; Dick Tracy and The Kidnapped Princess; Dell, 1941; $3,335.
Original cover art; for Dick Tracy and The Tiger Lilly Gang; Whitman, 1949; 20 1/4 inches by 20 1/4 inches; $9,775.
Four-color series comic book; Dick Tracy; Dell, 1939; rare; $18,400.