Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy
Chester Gould's Dick Tracy vs. "The Blank" (January 2, 1938)
Author(s) Chester Gould
Mike Curtis
(current writer)
Joe Staton
(current artist)
Current status / schedule Running
Launch date October 4, 1931
Syndicate(s) Tribune Media Services
Genre(s) Action, Adventure

Dick Tracy is a comic strip featuring Dick Tracy, a hard-hitting, fast-shooting and intelligent police detective. Created by Chester Gould, the strip made its debut on October 4, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror.[1] It was distributed by the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate. Gould wrote and drew the strip until 1977.[1]


Comic strip

Characters and story

Chester Gould introduced a raw violence to comic strips, reflecting the violence of 1930s Chicago. Gould did his best to keep up with the latest in crime fighting techniques; while Tracy often ends a case in a shootout, he uses forensic science, advanced gadgetry and wits to track the bad guy down. The strip was an early example of the police procedural mystery story. Actual "whodunit" plots were relatively rare in the stories; the focus is the chase, with a criminal committing a crime and Tracy solving the case during a relentless pursuit of the criminal, who becomes increasingly desperate as the detective closes in.

The strip's villains are arguably the strongest appeal of the story. Tracy's world is decidedly black and white. The bad guys are sometimes so evil that their very flesh is deformed to announce their sins to the world. The evil sometimes is raw and coarse, like the criminally insane Selbert Depool ("looped" spelled backwards—typical Gould). At other times, it is suave, like the arrogant Shoulders, who cannot help thinking that all women like him. It can even border on genius, like the Nazi spy Pruneface, a machine design engineer who dabbles with a chemical nerve gas.

Gould's most popular villain was Flattop Jones, a freelance hitman with a large head as flat as an aircraft carrier's flight deck. Flattop was hired by black marketeers to murder Tracy, and he nearly accomplished that before deciding to first blackmail his employers for more money. This proved to be a fatal mistake, since it gave Tracy time to signal for help. He eventually defeated his assassin in a spectacular fight scene even as the police were storming the hideout, but Flattop himself escaped. When Flattop was eventually killed, fans went into public mourning, and The Flattop Story was reprinted in its entirety in DC's series of Oversize Comic Reprints in the 1970s}[citation needed].

Reflecting some of the era that also produced film noir, Gould tapped into the existential despair of the criminals as small crimes led to bigger ones. Plans slipped out of control and events sometimes happened for no apparent reason, portraying their lives as unpredictable and cruel. Treachery was everywhere as henchmen were ruthlessly killed by their bosses, who were in turn betrayed by jilted girlfriends. "Good people" in the wrong place at the wrong time were gunned down.


Amid these cases, the strip had considerable character storylines in the series. Tracy had a difficult relationship with his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, who found her beau's firm dedication to his work both an irritating interference and a physical danger with her being often caught in the crossfire in his cases. The stormy relationship hit its nadir when she rejected Tracy to marry a charming wealthy ex-baseball player, only to find herself trapped in a deadly family intrigue that led to murder and the suicide of her husband that proved so traumatizing that she resumed her relationship with Tracy with a much more patient attitude toward his commitments.

Tracy had his own concerns with a young homeless boy whom he took under his wing to become adopted son and sidekick with the name, Dick Tracy Jr., or simply "Junior." The boy would often participate in investigations at great personal risk until eventually finding his own career as a police forensic artist at the service of his father's precinct. Tracy had a professional partner, the ex-steel worker Pat Patton. Joining the force, Pat had little confidence in his own abilities to the point of seriously considering leaving the force. However, he gradually grew into his career until he became a detective of considerable skill and courage enough to satisfy Tracy's needs.

Evolution of the strip

The famous 2-Way Wrist Radio

On January 13, 1946,[2] Gould changed Dick Tracy forever with the introduction of the 2-Way Wrist Radio, having drawn inspiration from a visit to inventor Al Gross. This seminal communications device, worn as a wristwatch by Tracy and members of the police force, became one of the strip's most immediately recognizable icons, and can be thought of as a precursor to later technological developments, such as cellular phones. The 2-Way Wrist Radio was upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV in 1964. This development also led to the introduction of an important supporting character, Diet Smith, an eccentric industrialist who financed the development of this equipment.

Towards the end of the 1940s, Gould took steps to shake up the status quo of his strip. In late 1948, for instance, a botched security detail led to the death of the semi-regular character Brilliant, the blind inventor of the 2-Way Wrist Radio (among other devices) and son of industrialist Diet Smith. Chief Brandon, Dick Tracy's superior on the police force and a presence in the strip since 1931, voluntarily resigned in shame. Pat Patton, heretofore Tracy's rather buffoonish partner, was promoted to police chief in Brandon's place. Gould later explained this seemingly improbable turn of events by stating that, within the strip's reality, Tracy was offered the job first but had declined, personally recommending Patton instead. To take Patton's place as Tracy's sidekick, a new character, Sam Catchem (based on Gould's old friend, Al Lowenthal), was introduced.

The 1950s

In 1949, Spike Jones was caricatured in the Dick Tracy dailies as Spike Dyke.

In 1949, on Christmas Day, Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart finally married, after a rocky courtship lasting the 18-year history of the strip to that date. Gould changed Tracy with the times, sometimes with mixed results. He introduced topical story lines about television, juvenile delinquency, graft, organized crime, and other developments in American life during the 1950s. Elements of soap opera began to permeate the strip with Dick, Tess, and Junior (along with the Tracys' new baby daughter, Bonnie Braids), at home as a family. Depictions of family life alternated, and intertwined, with the shadowy crime drama that was always the strip's mainstay, such as the kidnapping of Bonnie Braids by fugitive Crewy Lou, or Junior's girlfriend, Model, being accidentally shot and killed by her brother, a wanted murderer of a police officer.

Gould incurred some controversy when he had Tracy, on a police officer's salary, live in an unaccountably ostentatious manner in a large home complete with a personal Cadillac. Gould responded with a story where Tracy was accused of corruption and had to explain the origin of his possessions in detail, such as stating he used personal savings he frugally accrued for his house while the Cadillac was a prototype he was test running for Diet Smith. In his book-length examination of the strip, Dick Tracy - The Official Biography, Jay Maeder suggested that Gould's critics were largely unsatisfied by his explanation. Nevertheless, the controversy eventually faded, and the cartoonist reduced exposure to Tracy's home life.

Chester Gould's Dick Tracy vs "The Mole" (October 12, 1941)

With the exception of The Big Boy, the strip's first villain, a fictionalized version of Al Capone, and a few others, Tracy's cases tended to involve independent operators rather than organized crime figures. In the 1950s, with growing public awareness of organized crime growing, due to events like the Kefauver Hearings, Tracy began to take on a series of big-time mobsters such as the King, George "Mr. Crime" Alpha, Odds Zonn and Willie "The Fifth" Millyun.

As Tess faded into the background as a major character, the changing face of law enforcement in real life was also reflected in Tracy's taking on a female assistant, rookie policewoman Lizz Worthington, who joined the police force in 1956 and immediately was assigned to help in the investigation of her long-lost sister's murder by juvenile delinquent Joe Period. Later in that same sequence, Period hooked up with Flattop's son, Flattop Jr.

Space period

As technology progressed, so too did the methods Tracy and the police used to track and capture criminals. These took the form of increasingly fanciful atomic-powered gadgets and devices developed by Diet Smith Industries. This eventually led to the 1960s advent of the Space Coupe, a spacecraft with a magnetic propulsion system. This marked the beginning of the strip's "Space Period," that saw Tracy and friends having adventures on the Moon and meeting Moon Maid, the daughter of the leader of a race of humanoid people living in "Moon Valley" in 1964. After an eventual sharing of technological information, Moon technology became standard issue on Tracy's police force, including air cars, flying cylindrical vehicles. As such, the villains became even more exaggerated in power, resulting in an escalating series of stories that no longer resembled the urban crime drama roots of the strip. During this period, Tracy met famed cartoonist Chet Jade, creator of the comic strip Sawdust, in which the only characters are talking dots.

One of the new characters, Mr. Intro, was only manifest as a disembodied voice. His goal was world domination in the vein of a James Bond villain. Tracy eventually used an atomic laser beam to annihilate Intro and his island base.

Junior married Moon Maid in October 1964. Their daughter, Honey Moon Tracy, had antennae and magnetic hands. In the spring of 1969, Tracy was offered the post of Chief of Police in Moon Valley. However, Tracy ended up back on Earth when the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 showed that the moon was barren of all life. Many of the accouterments of the space period stories, such as the Space Coupe and much of the high-tech gadgetry, remained for many years afterward. Moon Maid receded from the storyline.

The stories of this period took an increasingly condemnatory tone pertaining to contemporary court decisions concerning the rights of the accused, which often involved Tracy being frustrated by legal technicalities. For example, having caught a gang of diamond thieves red-handed, Tracy was forced to let them walk because he could not prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the diamonds were stolen. As he saw the thieves get off without penalty, Tracy was heard to grumble, "Yes, under today's interpretation of the laws, it seems it's the police who are handcuffed!"


Color guide for Dick Tracy (March 8, 1970)

In the 1970s, Gould modernized Tracy by giving him a longer hair style and mustache, and added a hippie sidekick, Groovy Grove. Groovy's first appearance in print, as it happened, occurred during the same week as the Kent State shootings. Groovy remained with the strip, off and on until his death in 1984 (at the hands of Gould's successors).

Shortly before his retirement, Gould drew a strip in which Sam, Lizz, and Groovy held Tracy down to shave off his mustache.

At this time, the standard publication size and space of newspaper comics was sharply reduced; for example, the Dick Tracy Sunday strip, which had traditionally been a full-page episode containing 12 panels, was cut in size to a half-page format that offered, at most, eight panels—these new restrictions created challenges for all comic artists.

In one of Max Allan Collins' first stories as the strip's writer, the gangster known as "Big Boy," whose gang members had killed Tess Trueheart's father years ago, learned that he was dying and had less than a year to live. Big Boy, still seeking revenge on the plainclothesman who sent him up the river, wanted to live just long enough to see Tracy's death. He put out an open contract on Tracy's head worth one million dollars, knowing that every small-time hood in the City would take a crack at the famous cop for that amount of money. One of the would-be collectors rigged Tracy's car to explode, but inadvertently killed Moon Maid instead of Tracy in the explosion. A funeral strip for Moon Maid explicitly stated that this officially severed all ties between Earth and the Moon in the strip,[3] thus eliminating the last remnants of the Space Period. Honey Moon received a new hairstyle that covered her antennae, and was ultimately phased out of the strip. Junior later married Sparkle Plenty (the daughter of B.O. and Gravel Gertie Plenty), and had a daughter named Sparkle Plenty Jr. In the 1990s, Tracy's own son, Joseph Flintheart Tracy, took on a role similar to Junior's in the earlier strips. During the late 1970s the strip was thought to have been drawn by a few other artists due to an ailing Gould.[citation needed]

Plenty family

The Plenty family was a group of goofy redneck yokels headed by the former villain, Bob Oscar ("B.O."), along with Gertrude ("Gravel Gertie") Plenty. Gravel Gertie was introduced as the unwitting dupe (accessory) of the villain, The Brow, who was on the run from Dick Tracy. The family provided a humorous counterpoint to Tracy's adventures. The Plenty sub-story was decades long, and saw Sparkle Plenty grow from an infant to a young married lady.

The Plenty family appeared with Tracy in a story that occurred in a bank, where "B.O." found a way to prevent thieves from snatching an envelope of money from a counter.

B.O. and Gertie have just had a second child, Attitude, a boy who is as ugly as Sparkle is beautiful. His face has yet to be shown.

Crimestoppers' Textbook

Beginning in the early 1950s, the Sunday strip included a frame devoted to a page from the "Crimestoppers' Textbook", a series of handy illustrated hints for the amateur crime-fighter. This was named after a short-lived youth group seen in the strip during the late 1940s, led by Junior Tracy, called "Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers." This feature ended when Gould retired from the strip in 1977, but Max Allan Collins reinstated it, and it is still part of the comic strip. After Gould's retirement, Collins initially replaced the Textbook with "Dick Tracy's Rogues Gallery," a salute to memorable Tracy villains of the past.

Later years

Chester Gould retired from comics in 1977; his last Dick Tracy strip appeared in print on Sunday, December 25 of that year. The following Monday, Dick Tracy was taken over by Max Allan Collins and longtime Gould assistant Rick Fletcher. Gould's name remained in the byline for a few years after his retirement as a story consultant.

Collins wrote the 1978 death of Moon Maid, and removed other Gould creations of the 1960s and 1970s (including Groovy Grove, who was gravely wounded in the line of duty and later died in the hospital; Lizz married him before his death). Collins took a generally less cynical view of the justice system than Gould—Tracy came to accept its limitations and requirements as a normal part of the process he could manage. Extreme technology, such as the Space Coupe, were phased out in favor of more realistic advanced tools such as the 2-Way Wrist Computer in 1987.

New semi-regular characters introduced by Collins and Fletcher included: Dr. Will Carver, a plastic surgeon with underworld ties who often worked on known felons; Wendy Wichel, a smarmy newspaper reporter/editorialist with a strong anti-Tracy bias in her articles; and Lee Ebony, an African-American female detective. Vitamin Flintheart, the aged ham actor created by Gould in 1944, who had not been seen in the strip for almost three decades, reappeared occasionally as a comic-relief figure. The Plenty family (B.O., Gravel Gertie, and Sparkle) were also brought back as semi-regulars as well; following the death of Moon Maid, Junior and Sparkle were married, and soon gave birth to their own daughter, Sparkle Plenty, Jr.

Original villains seen during this period included Angeltop (revenge-seeking, psychopathic daughter of the slain Flattop), Torcher (whose scheme was arson-for-profit), and Splitscreen (a video pirate). Collins brought back at least one "classic" Gould villain, or revenge-seeking family member, per year. The revived Gould villains were often provided with full names, and marriages, children, and other family connections were developed, bringing more humanity to many of the originally grotesque brutes. "Flattop", particularly, had a number of relatives, all with his characteristic head structure and facial attributes, who one by one turned up to avenge their ancestor on Tracy.

Rick Fletcher died in 1983 and was succeeded by editorial cartoonist Dick Locher, who had assisted Gould on the strip in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Locher was assisted by his son John, who died in 1986.

In 1992, following a financial reorganization of their comic strip holdings, Max Allan Collins was fired from the strip, and Tribune staff writer and columnist Mike Kilian took over the writing. Kilian was paid less than half of what Collins was making per strip[citation needed], but continued until his death on October 27, 2005. Locher was both author and artist for over three years, beginning on January 9, 2006. On March 16, 2009, Jim Brozman began collaborating with Locher, taking over the drawing duties while Locher continued to write the strip.[4]

In 2005, Tracy was a guest at Blondie and Dagwood's 75th anniversary party in the comic strip Blondie. Later, Dick Tracy appeared in the comic strip Gasoline Alley.

On January 19, 2011, Tribune Media Services announced that Locher was retiring from the strip and handing the reins to artist Joe Staton and writer Mike Curtis.[5] The new creative team has previously worked together on Scooby Doo, Richie Rich, and Casper the Friendly Ghost.[6] Their first Dick Tracy strip was published March 14, 2011. Staton and Curtis are assisted by Shelley Pleger, who inks and letters Staton's drawings, along with Shane Fisher, who provides the coloring on the Sunday strips.

Awards and recognition

Chester Gould won the Reuben Award for the strip in 1959 and 1977. The Mystery Writers of America honored Gould and his work with a Special Edgar Award in 1980. In 1995, the strip was one of 20 included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative postage stamps and postcards.[7]

On May 2, 2011, the Tennessee Senate passed Resolution 30, congratulating Mike Curtis and Joe Staton on their professional accomplishments, including Dick Tracy.

Other media depictions


Dick Tracy had a long run on radio, from 1934 weekdays on NBC's New England stations to the ABC network in 1948. Bob Burlen was the first radio Tracy in 1934, and others heard in the role during the 1930s and 1940s were Barry Thompson, Ned Wever and Matt Crowley. The early shows all had 15-minute episodes.

On CBS, with Sterling Products as sponsor, the serial aired four times a week from February 4, 1935 to July 11, 1935, moving to Mutual from September 30, 1935 to March 24, 1937 with Bill McClintock doing the sound effects. NBC's weekday afternoon run from January 3, 1938 to April 28, 1939 had sound effects by Keene Crockett and was sponsored by Quaker Oats, which brought Dick Tracy into primetime (Saturdays at 7 pm and, briefly, Mondays at 8 pm) with 30-minute episodes from April 29, 1939 to September 30, 1939. The series returned to 15-minute episodes on the ABC Blue Network from March 15, 1943 to July 16, 1948, sponsored by Tootsie Roll, which used the music theme of "Toot Toot, Tootsie" for its 30-minute Saturday ABC series from October 6, 1945 to June 1, 1946. Sound effects on ABC were supplied by Walt McDonough and Al Finelli.

Directors of the series included Mitchell Grayson, Charles Powers and Bob White. Cast members at various times included Walter Kinsella as Pat Patton, Helen Lewis as Tess Trueheart and Andy Donnelly and Jackie Kelk as Junior Tracy. Announcers were Ed Herlihy and Dan Seymour.

On July 8, 1945, during a New York newspaper deliverers' strike, New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia read a complete Dick Tracy strip over the radio.


Jim Ameche portrayed Tracy in a two-record set recorded by Mercury Records in 1947. The record sleeves were illustrated with Sunday strips reprinted in black-and-white for children to color.[8]

Film serials

Dick Tracy made his live-action debut in Dick Tracy (1937), a Republic Pictures movie serial starring Ralph Byrd. The character proved very popular, and a second serial, Dick Tracy Returns, appeared in 1938 (reissued in 1948). Dick Tracy's G-Men was released in 1939 (reissued in 1955). The last was Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. in 1941 (reissued as Dick Tracy vs. the Phantom Empire in 1952).

The sequels were produced under an interpretation of the contract for the first, Dick Tracy (1937), which gave license for "a series or serial." As a result Chester Gould received no further money for the sequel serials.

In these serials Dick Tracy is portrayed as an FBI agent, or "G-Man", based in California, rather than as a detective in the police force of a Midwestern city resembling Chicago, and, aside from himself and Junior, no characters from the strip appear in any of the four films. However, comic relief sidekick "Mike McGurk" bears some resemblance to Tracy's partner from the strip, Pat Patton; Tracy's secretary, Gwen Andrews (played by several actresses in the course of the series, including Jennifer Jones under a variation of her real name, Phyllis Isley), provides the same kind of feminine interest as Tess Trueheart; and FBI Director Clive Anderson (Francis X. Bushman and others) is the same kind of avuncular superior as Chief Brandon. The first serial, Dick Tracy, is now in the public domain.

Early feature films

Six years after the release of the final Republic serial, Dick Tracy headlined four feature films, produced by RKO Radio Pictures. Dick Tracy (aka Dick Tracy, Detective) (1945) was followed by Dick Tracy vs. Cueball in 1946, both with Morgan Conway as Tracy. Ralph Byrd returned for the last two features, both released in 1947: Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. Gruesome is probably the best known of the four, with the villain portrayed by Boris Karloff. All four movies had many of the visual features associated with film noir: dramatic, shadowy photographic compositions, with many exterior scenes filmed at night. Lyle Latell co-starred in all four films as Pat Patton. Anne Jeffreys played Tess Trueheart in the first two, succeeded by Kay Christopher and finally Anne Gwynne; Ian Keith joined the cast as the actor Vitamin Flintheart for two films; Joseph Crehan played Chief Brandon. RKO stocked the films with familiar faces, creating a veritable rogues' gallery of characters: Mike Mazurki as Splitface, Dick Wessel as Cueball, Esther Howard as Filthy Flora, Jack Lambert as hook-handed villain The Claw; baldheaded, pop-eyed Milton Parsons, mild-mannered Byron Foulger, dangerous Trevor Bardette, pockmarked, gently sinister Skelton Knaggs.


The strip has had limited exposure on television with one early live-action series, two animated series, one unsold pilot that was never picked up, and a proposed TV series currently held up in legal litigation.

First live-action series

Ralph Byrd, who had played the square-jawed sleuth in all four Republic movie serials, and in two of the RKO feature-length films, reprised his role in a short-lived live-action Dick Tracy series that ran on ABC from 1950 to 1951. Additional episodes intended for first-run syndication continued to be produced into 1952. Produced by P. K. Palmer, who also wrote many of the scripts, the series often featured Gould-created villains such as Flattop, Shaky, the Mole, Breathless Mahoney, Heels Beals, and Influence, all of whom appeared on film for the first time on this series. Other cast members included Joe Devlin as Sam Catchem, Angela Greene as Tess Tracy (née Trueheart), Martin Dean as Junior, and Pierre Watkin as Chief Patton. Criticized for its violence, the series remained popular. It ended, not in response to criticism, but because of Byrd's unexpected, premature death in 1952. The series was filmed on a low budget, with many long hours and a rushed shooting schedule.


DVD release of the 1961 cartoon.

In the first cartoon series, produced from 1960 to 1961 by UPA, Tracy employed a series of cartoon-like subordinate flatfoots to fight crime each week, contacting them on his two-way wrist radio. Everett Sloane voiced Tracy and supporting characters and villains were voiced by Jerry Hausner, Mel Blanc, Benny Rubin, Johnny Coons, Paul Frees and others. These subordinates included "Go-Go" Gomez, Joe Jitsu, Hemlock Holmes and Heap O'Calorie. 130 five-minute cartoons were designed and packaged for syndication, usually intended for local children's shows.

Since UPA was also the production company behind the Mr. Magoo cartoons, it was possible for them to arrange a meeting between Tracy and Magoo in a 1965 episode of the season-long TV series The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. In that episode, "Dick Tracy and the Mob," Tracy persuades Magoo (a well-known actor in the context of the Famous Adventures series) to impersonate an international hit man whom he resembles, and infiltrate a gang of criminals made up of Flattop, Pruneface, Itchy, Mumbles and others. Unlike the earlier animated Tracy shorts, this longer episode was played relatively straight, with Tracy getting much more screen time. Pitting Tracy against a coalition of several of his foes would be adopted more than two decades later in the 1990 film mentioned below.

A second cartoon series, produced in 1971, was a feature in Archie's TV Funnies, produced by Filmation, which adhered more closely to the comic strip although hampered by cruder animation, typical of the studio's production standards, than the UPA shorts.

Live-action television pilot

In 1967, William Dozier, the producer responsible for the 1966 Batman television series, produced a pilot for a live-action Dick Tracy series, starring Ray MacDonnell in the title role. While the quality of the pilot ("The Plot To Kill NATO", featuring "Special Guest Villain" Victor Buono as 'Mr. Memory') was slightly above-average, the series was not purchased by either ABC or NBC as ratings for the Batman series were dropping, and a similar series featuring The Green Hornet had recently flopped. To the networks, the "Hero Camp" or Batmania craze was dying, and they chose not to take a risk on another series.

The pilot is notable for the non-appearance of the future Jan Brady (Eve Plumb) as Bonnie Braids. Although cast in the role, she only appears in the title credits at the opening of the show.

1990 film

In 1990, Warren Beatty directed and starred as the title character in a live action all-star cast film, along with Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Madonna.

Comic books

Chester Gould's cover for 1947 Quaker Puffed Wheat giveaway comic book reprinting early 1940s Dick Tracy strips.

Tracy made his first comic book appearance in 1936 as one of the features included in the first issue of Dell's Popular Comics. As would be the case with most Tracy comic book appearances, these would be reprints from the newspaper strip, reconfigured to fit the pages of a comic book. Tracy would remain a regular feature in Popular Comics through the publication's 21st issue.

The first comic book to feature Tracy exclusively was the Dick Tracy Feature Book, published in May 1937 by David McKay Publications. McKay's Feature Books were magazines that rotated several popular characters from comics strips through 1938. Three more of McKay's Feature Books starred Tracy in the following months.

In 1939, Dell started a comic magazine series called "Black and White Comics," essentially identical to McKay's "Feature Books." Six of the 15 issues featured Tracy. In 1941, Dell's "Black and White" series was replaced by the "Large Feature Books," the third issue of which featured Tracy. As with the McKay series, the Dell "Black and White" and "Large Feature" series were abridged reprints of the strip.

In 1938, Tracy became one of several regular newspaper strips featured in Dell's regular monthly Super Comics, remaining a regular part of that publication until 1948. In 1939, Tracy was the sole feature in the very first issue of Dell's Four-Color Comics, which put out over 1300 issues starring hundreds of characters between 1939 and 1962. Tracy was featured in seven more Four-Color issues throughout the 1940s.

Tracy was frequently featured in comic books used as promotional items by various companies. In 1947, Sig Feuchtwanger produced a comic book that was a giveaway prize in boxes of Quaker Puffed Wheat cereal, sponsor of the popular Dick Tracy radio series.

In January 1948, Dell began the first regular Dick Tracy comic book series, Dick Tracy Monthly. This series ultimately ran for 145 issues, the first 24 of which were published by Dell, after which it was picked up by Harvey Comics. Continuing the same numbering, Harvey published the series until 1961. As with most previous Tracy comic book incarnations, these were, with the exception of the last few Dell issues which featured original material, slightly abridged and reconfigured reprints of the newspaper strips.

Dick Tracy was revived in 1986 by Blackthorne Publishing and ran for 99 issues. Disney produced a series of three issues as a tie-in for their 1990 film. This miniseries, True Hearts and Tommy Guns, was drawn by Kyle Baker and edited by Len Wein. The third issue was a direct adaptation of the film.

Recent events

Media outlets reported a legal battle being waged over rights to the Dick Tracy character. Warren Beatty announced plans to make a sequel to his 1990 movie. At the same time, television producers announced plans for a new Dick Tracy TV series. Both sides claimed that they were the legal owners of the rights to Dick Tracy. In May 2005, Beatty sued the Tribune Company, claiming he has owned the rights to the Dick Tracy character since 1985.[9] Pressure from Beatty led to the cancellation of a proposed collaboration between artist Mike Oeming and writer Brian Bendis on a new serialized Dick Tracy comic.[10]

The lawsuit was resolved in Beatty's favor, with a US District judge ruling that Beatty did everything contractually required of him to keep the rights to the character.[11][12]


Over the years, many reprints of Dick Tracy newspaper strips have been published. Beginning in 2007, IDW Publishing reprinted the complete strip in hardcover volumes. Other collections include:[13]

  • The Exploits of Dick Tracy, Detective: The Case of the Brow. Rosdon, hardcover, 1946.
  • The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, 1931-1951. Chelsea House, hardcover, 1970
  • Dick Tracy: The Thirties—Tommy Guns and Hard Times. Chelsea House, hardcover, 1978.
  • Dick Tracy: His Greatest Cases, No. 1—Pruneface. Gold Medal, paperback, 1975.
  • Dick Tracy: His Greatest Cases, No. 2—Snowflake and Shaky plus The Black Pearl. Gold Medal, paperback, 1975.
  • Dick Tracy: His Greatest Cases, No. 3—Mrs. Pruneface plus Crime, Inc.. Gold Medal, paperback, 1975.

Other editions:[13]

  • The first Big Little Book was a Dick Tracy title and many subsequent ones in the series followed. Some were reprintings of newspaper strips and some alternate between text and original black-and white drawings.[14]
  • Dick Tracy and The Spider Gang, a novelization of the Republic serial, Big Little Book #1446, the pages alternate between text and black-and-white photos from the movies.
  • Dick Tracy, Ace Detective. Whitman, hardcover, 1943.
  • Dick Tracy Meets The Night Crawler. Whitman, hardcover, 1945.
  • Dick Tracy and the Woo Woo Sisters, Dell, un-numbered paperback with a pictorial back cover but not a mapback, 1947.


Licensed products

In the 1960s, Aurora produced a plastic model kit of Dick Tracy sliding down a fire escape ladder into an alley, in hot pursuit with gun drawn. A Dick Tracy Space Coupe model came next. Also in the market were Mattel's Dick Tracy range of toy weapons.[15]

In 1990, Playmates Toys released a line of action figures called Dick Tracy: Coppers and Gangsters to coincide with the Dick Tracy movie. The figures were 5" tall, stylized with exaggerated comicy looks and came with lots of accessories.[16] Two figures in the line had limited availability; Steve the Tramp (called "The Tramp" on the package front) was pulled from the assortment after complaints of portrayal of a homeless person as a criminal. The figure of "The Blank" was added to the assortment well after the film's release to keep the secret of the identity of the character. As a result, only limited quantities made it to store shelves.

The Dick Tracy video game was developed by Titus Software in 1990. It was ported to many platforms including Amiga, Commodore and MS-DOS. Dick Tracy is a side scrolling action shooting game. Player controls Dick Tracy through five stages.[17]

There were also games made for the Nintendo Entertainment System (1990), Sega Master System (1990), Sega Genesis (1991), and the Game Boy (1991).[18]

In 2010, Shocker Toys released a monochromatic Dick Tracy action figure as an exclusive product for the San Diego Comic-Con. The figure appears in a suit with two-way wrist radio. There was also a variant figure released of Dick Tracy in his signature trench coat and fedora with a tommy gun accessory.[19]

Character development

Many of the comic characters were based on local citizens of Woodstock, Illinois where Chester Gould wrote the majority of the strip. However, Gould modeled many characters after close associates, such as his publisher Joseph Patterson as Big Frost, and even himself as Pear-Shape Tone.

Max Allan Collins indicated that Flattop Jones was based on the real-life gangster Pretty Boy Floyd. Both Floyd and Flattop hailed from Oklahoma's Cookson Hills.

Cultural legacy

  • The superhero The Tick had several villains that made fun of the disfigurements of Dick Tracy villains, including Chairface.
  • The artist Jess Collins used an X-Acto knife and rubber cement to reassemble Gould's strip into Tricky Cad. Gould threatened to sue if the Tricky Cad collages were published.[20]
  • In Al Capp's satiric comic strip Li'l Abner, there was a long-running parody of Dick Tracy called Fearless Fosdick. An intermittent, strip-within-the-strip feature in Li'l Abner, Fosdick lampooned every aspect of Dick Tracy—from Fosdick's impossibly square-jawed profile to his propensity for bullet-riddled "ventilation." The style of the Fosdick sequences closely burlesqued Tracy, complete with outrageous villains, ludicrously satirical plotlines, and ramped-up cartoon violence. Whatever Capp really thought of Dick Tracy, he was always careful to praise Gould and his strip in conversation and in print, invariably referring to it as "Chester Gould's magnificent Dick Tracy."
  • On February 15, 1945, Command Performance presented "Dick Tracy In B Flat," or "For Goodness Sakes, Isn't He Ever Going To Marry Tess Trueheart?" Billed as "the world's first comic strip operetta", it starred Bing Crosby as Dick Tracy, Dinah Shore as Tess Trueheart, and Bob Hope as Flattop Jones. The cast also included Jerry Colonna (police chief), Frank Morgan (Vitamin Flintheart), Jimmy Durante (The Mole), Judy Garland (Snowflake Falls), The Andrews Sisters (The Summer Sisters—May, June & July), Frank Sinatra (Shaky), Cass Daley (Gravel Gertie), and Harry Von Zell (narrator).
  • Dick Tracy is also spoofed in the comic strip Red Meat by Max Cannon. The character of Stacy is a down on his luck alcoholic kicked off the force.
  • A classic Warner Bros. cartoon with Looney Tunes star Daffy Duck called The Great Piggy Bank Robbery spoofed Dick Tracy as "Duck Twacy". The cartoon was directed by WB legend Bob Clampett in 1946. Daffy wore Dick's yellow hat again in a Tiny Toons episode where Plucky Duck becomes the protagonist of a Dick-Tracy-themed dream sequence just like Daffy did in TGPBR.
  • The "Crimestopper's Textbook" was parodied in two editions of The Stan Freberg Show in 1957, both in a discussion sketch called "Face the Funnies." In the first, a self-proclaimed Dick Tracy expert (voiced by Daws Butler) advised, "If vandals kidnap you, look for fingerprints on or about your person." In the second example, Butler said, "If someone shoots you in the chest, extract the bullet and look for small tell-tale bore markings on the slug, and then call a doctor."
  • Mad once eulogized Tracy as having died from lead poisoning, which resulted from being shot in the left shoulder 47 times (noting Gould's repeatedly showing Tracy being wounded in that spot). Other issues of Mad showed Tracy identifying Pruneface despite a facelift (by viewing his still-wrinkled buttocks), or ranting in Doonesbury style about changing trends in police procedures. (In the latter, Junior suggests "There's always the CIA!") A parody of the 1990 film was also made, where Warren Beatty's Tracy is killed in the end by the Blank, who reveals himself to be the original comic-style Dick Tracy.
  • In issue #5, October/November 1954, Mad's sister magazine, Panic, ran a full-length Tracy parody titled "Tick Dracy."
  • Parody show Robot Chicken recently parodied the Dick Tracy strips labeling of villains based on their facial features. Tracy nicknames everybody, in an insulting way. It's later revealed that Tracy himself is named Dick because his head looks like the head of a penis [dick].
  • Parodying a period when Tracy was blind, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Underground comix books featured Tricky Prickears, a very conservative blind and deaf detective. These comic-within-a comic episodes appeared under the heading Crime Stoppers, Mein Kampf.
  • In the crime drama The Closer's episode Tapped Out, a character named Richard Tracy was a psychotic man who thought he was a cop.
  • The February, 1949 issue of The Yale Record (cover titled Record Comics) contains several full-color comics parodies, including the Dick Tracy parody called "Hotshot Stacy". In this two-page feature, the detective pursues "The Head", a man with a giant egg-shaped head, and corners him at the head, literally, an outhouse. During the strip, The Head puts "Bright Boy" through a meat grinder. The art is signed by Sylvester Goul, in the style of Chester Gould's signature. The whole magazine is a precursor to the comics parodies in early issues of Mad.
  • In 1933, Humor Publishing Co. produced a comic featuring a Dick Tracy knock-off named Dan Dunn.
  • In 1960, American Pop artist Andy Warhol made several paintings, each called Dick Tracy, faithfully reproducing Gould's hero in a faux Abstract Expressionist style.

See also


  1. ^ a b "I Like 'Em Tough", Jim Doherty, 2009, webpage: ME-like_em_tough: notes villains and includes short bio of Chester Gould.
  2. ^ Garyn G. Roberts, Dick Tracy and American Culture: Morality and Mythology, Text and Context (McFarland, 2003), p38
  3. ^ Dick Tracy, August 13, 1978. Strip reprinted in Dick Tracy - The Official Biography by Jay Maeder, 1990 (color plate #12).
  4. ^ http://dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2009/03/17/jim-brozman-working-with-locher-on-dick-tracy/
  5. ^ Chicago Tribune: Dick Locher passes 'Dick Tracy' to new artist, writer
  6. ^ The Comics Journal: Dick Locher Hangs Up His Fedora
  7. ^ Detective Fiction on Stamps, United States 1995, Comic Strip Classics: Dick Tracy, http://www.trussel.com/detfic/tracy.htm
  8. ^ Billboard, July 26, 1947.
  9. ^ Comics Reporter Spurgeon, Tom (2005). "Dick Tracy and the Attached Sub-Rider". The Comics Reporter. Accessed 2006-11-17.
  10. ^ /Word Balloon John Siuntres (2010). "The Bendis Tapes Part 4: Secret Origin of Manuel Sanchez". "Word Balloon". Accesssed 2010-09-22.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ a b Crime Fiction IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1749-2000, by Allen J. Hubin, addenda to the revised edition with annotations by Steve Lewis, accessed September 10, 2009
  14. ^ An alphabetical listing of Big Little Books and Better Little Books, 1932-1949, accessed September 10, 2009
  15. ^ TV Advertisement
  16. ^ Dick Tracy: Coppers and Gangsters
  17. ^ Mobygames: Dick Tracy
  18. ^ Mobygames
  19. ^ Shocker Toys
  20. ^ Poems and Poetics: Tricky Cad


  • "75 Years of Continuous Crime-Stopping," Jim Doherty, 2007, webpage: MysE-like_em_tough: notes villains, real gangsters and includes a short profile of Chester Gould.

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