Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #43 (October 24th, 2006)

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Max Collins: Well, when did you sleep?

Chester Gould: I didn't sleep. The Lord gave me one hell of a good body, let me tell you. I'd be sitting there when the Art Department was going home at the American, and the Art Department was right in the editorial room, what they called the newsroom. There were four fellows, and their day was over when the last edition of the American was out. It was an afternoon paper, and that last edition came out just about the time when the commuters were going home, so they would get this hot off the press, and after that the boys got up and put on their coats, folded their Americans under their arms and said "Goodnight." I'd say "Goodnight". And they'd come down the next morning, and most of the time I'd be sitting there just finishing up something. And one would say "Hey, guys come here. He's still here." And the other'd say, "He's nuts! What do you do? When do you sleep?" And I'd just keep on working. And they got my goat there once or twice, but then I laughed it off and said, "They have to go home and do things, but I don't". I had no family, no one I was responsible to. No reason to be home at 5 o'clock. I can just sit here and work, and I said, I'll do the work of two men, and I will get to my goal in half the time that these monkeys will even if they work hard. In other words, I'm on a fast train, doing two lifetimes while they flounder through one.

Collins: The theory being that if you do away with sleep you pick up an extra day's work.

Gould: An extra life, year. I would work right through the night at least two nights a week.

I'm pretty jazzed about this. Ger had to take "Mound o'Mail" (the Christmas offer trades) to the post office so he checked the box while he was there and there was a package for me. So, just when I thought I had gone through all of the mail…it turned out to be a box from IDW publishing with a cover letter from Ted Adams, the IDW president announcing the publication of The Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy Volume 1. All the daily strips from 1931 to 1933, including the complete Plainclothes Tracy strips that Gould had used to sell the strip to the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Release date of November 1, 2006. Could I mention it on my Blog? I don't know which I was more dumbfounded by: the fact that the collection existed, that I was holding it in my hand, that I had gotten it for free (THANK YOU!!) or that someone actually thought that the Pariah King of Comics was anyone you wanted to have flogging your book for you.

Well, you came to the right place, Mr. Adams.

I haven't bought The Complete Peanuts which this package has been modeled on pretty closely (to the extent that Designers Ashley Wood and Robbie Robbins probably owe Seth a royalty cheque!). I've looked at it every time a new volume comes out and I'm just not that interested. When they get to the point where they're reprinting the strips that I collected—and I was a fanatical Peanuts collector in 1969-1970—I think I'll be really interested in that book. I remember discussing my Peanuts heresy with Chester and Seth and Joe (who are all still fanatical Peanuts fans). I think the strip hit an amazing peak from about 1961 to 1971 and, around the time that Woodstock showed up, I thought it just got lost in the woods and never found its way back out. The absolute peak to me was the scene in the A Charlie Brown Christmas animated special where Linus (voiced by Christopher Shea) comes out on stage and lisps the words to Luke chapter 2 verses 8-14

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night/ And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid/And the Angel said unto them, "Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people./ For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord./ And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger./ And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,/ "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men.

And then Linus walks offstage and says, "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." And dear little Christopher Shea gets a hitch in his little lisping voice.

See? You're tearing up. That's why it was brilliant. Even in the worst depths of my years as an atheist, I would tear up watching that scene. I did as a nine-year-old when it first aired in 1965 and I did every year after that. The network didn't want it in there and fought tooth and nail to take it out. Schulz and the animation studio wanted it in and fought tooth and nail to keep it in. And they were right. And they won. Can you imagine anyone even in our forty-years-more-degraded secular age saying to a network exec: "Yeah, we'll rerun it, but this year, take the Jesus part out of it so we don't offend any non-Christian viewers"? Wouldn't happen. Couldn't happen.

Unfortunately for the legacy of the comic strip, I measure everything against that and what I come up with is 1961 to 1971. And I don't share Seth's view that Peanuts is a "profound" strip. Honest difference of opinion.

Drawn & Quarterly is reprinting the complete Gasoline Alley and many is the time that Chester has looked at me in unblinking disbelief at the Beguiling. "You HAVEN'T got the Gasoline Alley book and you're NOT going to buy it?" I finally had to admit that Now & Then Books have a used copy at a substantial discount and I hadn't bought it, either. I'm not sure why. Chet was right about Little Orphan Annie all those years, but Gasoline Alley, from what I've read of it, strikes me as Little Orphan Annie Lite.

So, there's a long preamble that I've felt a little left out of the Complete newspaper strip sweepstakes that are starting to heat up. I got in on the reprinting of "On Stage" as I told you, but nothing in the coffee-table hardcover line of things.

Until now.

The first test is the reproduction. Yeah, they're all in here but if they were shot from second generation photocopies or worse, I'll pass (still hadn't sunk in that I had gotten this for free: that I didn't have to make a buy/not buy decision). I flipped to the first page of the strip's debut (which I had had years ago in the Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy hardcover they published back in the 70s—I don't think they printed much of the first story, as I recall and what they did reprint looked like it was shot from second-generation photocopies) and my eyes bugged out. Holy smoke! These were either shot from the originals or from syndicate proofs or something within shouting distance of them. I couldn't stop looking at that first strip. "He's doing George McManus," I thought. A really bold hard-edged line, geometric precision on the meticulous backgrounds. "He's also doing John Held, Jr. Tess Trueheart looks like a John Held, Jr. flapper inked by George McManus. This is amazing." If you'd have told me when I opened the book that I would be studying the art on that first strip, based on my mental image remembrance of it, I would've told you you were loco. And the more I studied it, the more I saw. Jeez, he looks like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not the later Dick Tracy, of course—the famous profile hinges on that square beak, squinty gaze and cowcatcher chin.

As art spiegelman says in his back cover quote

What great cartooning! Gould understood better than anyone that comic-strip drawing isn't really drawing at all, but rather a kind of diagramming. The stunningly composed panels, which progressed more and more toward abstraction over the years, are a kind of Blueprint Expressionism with art that obeys no natural laws except the laws that govern dynamic story-telling.

But here in these very earliest strips, I swear Tracy looks like F. Scott Fitzgerald (if you have to draw someone that many times as I did in Going Home you get very familiar with his features).

Was this Ramadan reading material? was my next question.

That was an interesting one. Not really. The strip is pretty salacious both for its time and even now and one of its hallmarks is graphic (albeit mostly suggested) sadism. Pretty early on the crooks have kidnapped Tracy and tied him up and force him to write a ransom note by taking a blowtorch to his feet. The sadism became more overt later on and was spaced out widely enough (usually one or two "over-the-top" grisly endings or torture sessions per sequence) that it would get past newspaper editors. And, of course, the fact that it was a cop enduring this and meting it out in the name of "To Serve and Protect" made a great camouflage. But, was it camouflage? I suspected that was my old leftist self patronizingly sneering at the sensibility. No, it was arguably a celebration of the uncommon bravery of policemen and detectives in the face of merciless opposition and certainly informed by what Chester Gould was seeing on a day-to-day basis in Capone-era Chicago where it usually seemed the gangsters had control of the cops and not the other way around. You'd have to be so far off on the squishy left as to have lost your spine completely if you were to read Dick Tracy wondering at what unhappy upbringing had led the Brow or Mumbles or Flattop to their inevitable social choices. "Look, fellas," Gould was saying, "There are irredeemable bad guys, literal mad dogs that society needs to either lock up or extinguish. Here, I'll show you some of them."

But, at the same time, it is sadism. "How could you make up this stuff for a living," I thought, as I hit the mid-point of the book around August of 1932.

Even as another part of brain queried, "I thought you decided this wasn't Ramadan reading material."

Ah, shut yer yap.

The Hollywood gangster lingo—used interchangeably by the crooks and the cops—starts creeping into your own thought processes the more of Dick Tracy you read in one sitting.

(You're avoiding the Ramadan question.)

(I said put a lid on it, see? Stop cracking wise or I'll give y'a knuckle sandwich to chew on.)

– Okay, I really wanted to do seven full-sized entries this week but I really got thrown off (more than was necessary) by Ger coming in on Wednesday and Thursday instead of Tuesday and I have no idea how much time I've put in, but now it's Friday around 4 pm and I have a phone interview to do with In Magazine in Salt Lake City which means I'm not going to be getting much more done besides this entry today…

And Following Cerebus 10 sort of snuck up on both Ger and me—I came upstairs yesterday and he's got this giant image of Jaka's face up on the computer screen from the cover and is doing touch-up on it…it had just sunk in for him that Craig was going to be calling for the finished cover pretty soon and all he had was the solicitation cover. Well, I had just had he same epiphany the day before: I'm supposed to have a three-page "Reply to Roberta Gregory" strip (answering her strip in issue 8) done for the same issue and all I have is a mock-up of it. And I'm thinking of doing, of course, photorealism, but then I think, "It takes me a good three or four days to do a page in that style" so that's it for photorealism (as I'm writing this there's only seven working days left until I leave for Salt Lake City). So that was when I thought—hey, what about my Mort Drucker style? That's reasonably fast. And when I thought that, I thought "Why not make it look like his movie parodies in Mad with the typeset captions?" So I converted all the dialogue I had done from the Joe Kubert hand-lettering font to Franklin Gothic Demi Condensed and it looked pretty darned close, so, what the heck let's go for it. And it actually went pretty fast. I got the first panel pencilled and inked in about a day, but that was two days ago now.

Now it's three days ago and I still have to walk up to Central Fresh Market

Central Fresh Market

"in beautiful but prematurely frigid downtown Kitchener"

Your Ramadan Fast home-away-from-home

Frosted Mini-Wheats! Crusty rolls! Lettuce! Cucumber! Croutons! Ranch Dressing! V-8 Vegetable Juice! And Canned Pineapple

Over and over and over and over again…

Central Fresh Market

"Let us put the `fast' in YOUR Ramadan Fast!"

So, just like Chester Gould, I'll leave you with a cliffhanger on my THE COMPLETE CHESTER GOULD'S DICK TRACY VOL.1 review and pick it up after I get back from Salt Lake City so I can get back to work on my "Reply to Roberta Gregory" strip. I'll leave it up to you if it was worth it when you see the strip in Following Cerebus 10 sometime in late November or early December. Or, if I've already convinced you, click on www.idwpublishing.com and order your copy today.

"A complete reprinting of all five decades of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy is a project as mad and quirky as the strip itself…it's time to build new bookshelves to welcome one of America's singular artistic achievements."

art spiegelman

watch tomorrow for the

(God willing)

first ever LIVE BLOG & MAIL

either from Pearson Airport in Toronto

or the Airport in Salt Lake City


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.