Things are looking grim for Dick Tracy these days.
The long-running newspaper strip has declining steadily under the pen of Dick Locher, who may have been an assistant to Tracy creator Chester Gould and – as is apparently obligatory to mention whenever his name is brought up – an award winning political cartoonist, but as a storyteller, he's just awful.
I mean really, have you seen the strip lately? Probably not, as it's not carried in many papers these days. But it can be read daily on the Tribune Media Services website (among others). The art is ugly and crude, the stories are plodding, meandering affairs with uninteresting plots and mundane villains. Ever since writer Max Allan Collins left (or was ousted from) the strip, the chisel-chinned detective's been on life support... and the prognosis isn't promising.
Another sign of the once-iconic character's decline is the closing, this month, of the Dick Tracy museum in Chester Gould's hometown of Woodstock, Illinois.
Back in the early 90's Tracy had a brief resurgence, thanks to Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy film. While it wasn't the Batman-sized blockbuster that Disney hoped for, it was fairly entertaining, marvelously designed, and faithful to the spirit – if not the letter – of Gould's strip. Collins, who had taken over the scripting chores on the newspaper feature back in the mid-Seventies, and who was still handling the strip at the time, knocked out a great movie novelization and a couple of excellent original novels, and even edited a very solid short story anthology. There were various strip collections, tie-ins and merchandise.
Disney published a three-issue miniseries to coincide with the film. The first two issues were written by Jerome Moore, and were prequels to the film, establishing the film's version of the Tracy universe. The third was an adaptation of the movie, scripted by veteran Len Wein. All three issues were illustrated by the astounding Kyle Baker, whose stylized art looked nothing like Gould's, but worked beautifully.
(Trivia note: Apparently, Warren Beatty was unhappy with Baker's rendition of the Tracy character in the comics, and insisted that all the faces be re-drawn. Then, he only approved two faces, which were Xeroxed and pasted over all the Tracy drawings throughout the series. Hollywood. Cripes!)
Now, though the character is nearly forgotten. Attempts to mount new film or television projects have been foiled by Beatty, who insists that he still owns all the rights to the character. Since the strip isn't carried by many papers, Tribune doesn't appear to care too much about its quality. IDW is doing some marvelous hardcover reprints of the early strips, but they're pretty pricey, and I suspect only die-hard Tracy and classic strip fans are picking them up. Checker Books did three collections of Collins' 70's strips, but they didn't finish reprinting his run, so I doubt they sold all that great. (I reviewed them over in my Guns In the Gutters blog, if anyone's interested.)
It's a shame. Personally, I would crawl across broken glass naked for the opportunity to write the character. I think the world could use a tough and tough-minded cop hero like Tracy these days, and it would be an honor to follow in the footprints of Gould and Collins.
Oh, well. A man can dream....