Dave Sim's blogandmail #45 (October 26th, 2006)
ALL THIS WEEK THE BLOG & MAIL IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY
GUYS THE TRADE PAPERBACK
Why is that? BECAUSE DIAMOND HASN’T ORDERED A SINGLE COPY SINCE MARCH! WHICH MEANS THE STORES HAVEN’T ORDERED ANY SINCE MARCH! WHICH MEANS CUSTOMERS HAVEN’T BOUGHT ONE SINCE MARCH
So that means that the GUYS trade paperback with the funniest line-up of GUYS including Prince Mick, Prince Keef, Marty, Boobah, Alec McQuarrie, Squinteye and all the rest IS GETTING ITS ASS KICKED THIS YEAR BY MELMOTH!
ALMOST THREE TO ONE!
Wait a minute, wait a minute.
$%ing MELMOTH? The &%$#ing
trade paperback about the $%#ing...
NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT!
HANH? Are you &%$ing kidding me? Are you... Oh..oh right. Not that there’s
Anything &%$ing wrong with that. EXCUSE ME…I gotta go buy me a
&%$ing copy of GUYS. Right NOW!
GUYS! TODAY IS “HETERO PRIDE DAY”AT YOUR LOCAL COMIC BOOK STORE. GO IN AND PICK UP A COPY OF GUYS OR CLICK ON
From what I understand, the bane of most syndicated cartoonists’ lives was the Sunday page because of all the problems attached. The fact that not all subscribing newspapers carried both the daily and the Sunday was a big one right there. Imagine trying to tell a story in five strips and then continuing the story through the Sunday page and then having to recap everything that had happened in the Sunday strip the following Monday and sometimes Tuesday for those devoted readers who never got to read the Sunday strip. It sounds funny even just to describe it—and it is one of the reasons that I describe Cerebus as the longest sustained narrative in human history. Not only do the characters actually age but there isn’t this fitful three steps forward two steps back structure to have to work around. Reading a collection of newspaper strips you just get adjusted to it mentally. I used to joke to Chester when he was pushing Little Orphan Annie that all of the characters must have had Alzheimer’s because they kept telling each other the same things over and over again day after day. Of course that was just to make the strips accessible to a casual readership, getting folks to read just one strip could be enough to turn them into constant readers so that was a big part of the creative challenge: to create individual strips that would attract the eye and excite curiosity. What happens next?
And, boy oh boy, was Chester Gould ever good at it. Let me give you a rough idea: I had finally gotten around to making a start on William F. Buckley’s The Right Word, a collection of essays, letters and various writings on correct usage in the English language which had been a 50th birthday gift from Uber Uber Yahoo Jeff Seiler (hey, Jeff! And thank you again) who had gone to a great amount of trouble to get it autographed to me by Mr. Buckley personally (and whose secretary had sent along a translation of what the dedication says since Mr. Buckley’s handwriting is atrocious: seriously I would have to go and look up the letter from the secretary in the Archive because I was trying to read it again the other night and couldn’t make head nor tail of it). Now, just to give you the full contrast, Chester Gould repeatedly in this volume spells kidnapped as “kidnaped”. At least a dozen times in one story. He often forgets even basic punctuation. His captions and his dialogue are…well, let’s just say “unique”. Here’s an example from 13 July 1932:
Pat Patton: Look! That door’s giving in we’d better throw the door open and use our pistols on them or we’re goners.
Dick Tracy: PAT! DON’T DO IT! It would require a perfect aim to stop one of those lions—and even if we succeeded in sending bullets into their brains, we should be in danger of being clawed to death before the beasts gave in.
It isn’t just that it should be “before the beasts died”, the peculiar use of the formal “should”—it’s the discordant juxtaposition of the door “giving in” and the beasts “gave in”. Neither usage is correct. The door should be “caving in” and the beasts “died” to keep it conversational. And this was just a strip that the page happened to be open to when I started this part. You don’t have to read more than two of them before you find just such a misuse and/or mutilation of English prose.
But the larger point is that as soon as I had this book in my mitts, Mr. Buckley was, alas, so much eloquent and euphonious lexicographical toast. Sure, I could just read a dozen pages of Dick Tracy for laughs and then cleanse my palette with William F. Buckley’s perhaps endogenous, frequently incondite and difficult to decoct bloviations. Not a chance. I read through all 600 daily and Sunday strips as fast as I could. Not even Ramadan was going to stop me. See, I had owned a copy of Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy so I already knew the effect—the flawless effect—that Chester Gould has on readers like myself. I have to find out what happens next. Dick Tracy doesn’t flow, it careens. Literally. This was a chance to see where and when Gould started that, where he developed that aptitude for the careening narrative and the answer is: almost immediately.
(Here I owe a great debt of thanks to IDW for my comp copy. This is one of those books I would have picked up several times at the Beguiling and thought, “Nah, I bet he didn’t really develop the technique until the late 30’s—I’ll wait until volume three or four”)
It’s complete and total “Perils of Pauline” melodrama. It would not have been out of place to see Tess Trueheart (I mean, the name alone) tied to some railway tracks and the runaway train bearing down on her. But once you get caught up in it—once Mr. Gould has you bagged but good—you start careen reading if you aren’t careful: you become SO eager to find out what happens next that you start skipping strips to find out. In the careening narrative the answer is seldom more than a strip or two ahead of where you are and still the impulse is to GET THESE DARNED CAPTIONS FILLED WITH EXCLAMATION MARKED SENTENCES OUT OF THE WAY!!! I WANT THE ANSWER!!! NOT TOMORROW!!! NOW!!!
Anyway, this becomes particularly funny at the point in the strip where the Sunday pages joined the daily strip narrative (29 May 1932—JFK’s fifteenth birthday). Up to that point the Sunday pages had stood alone as twelve-panel anecdotes (the book reprints all of these stand-alone strips from half page tear sheets in colour in the back—it’s a very complete package). But it appears that Chester Gould was working pretty close to deadline on both the dailies and the Sundays because the blending is a little fitful at first. Pretty clearly he was having to write and draw the Sundays well ahead of time to leave the Syndicate time to have them coloured and engraved and was hooking them up with the continuity in the dailies on the fly as those were completed. In the 10 July 1932 Sunday strip, Tracy informs Pat “You see, the night I hid out here and watched this place, I saw that fellow Bellas enter the cave in this manner—that’s how I knew about it”. In the 6 and 7 July daily strips, he and Pat both hide out and witness the sliding cage trick. The same thing happens with the end of the sequence where the week-long raid of the gangster’s hideout comes to an abrupt four-panel conclusion (made necessary by the Sunday page’s lead caption “After a terrific gun battle” looming):
Dick Tracy: Take these two guys, Milligan. WHY PAT what’s the matter?
Pat Patton: That guy that rolled down the stairs—socked me on the head and beat it.
Dick Tracy: [suddenly outside, firing a machine gun at a concrete lion] I’ll show you where that bozo is!
Pat Patton: Gee whiz, he was hid in that concrete lion!
Dick Tracy: The lion has a hinged top! I saw him get into it when I glanced out of the upstairs window a minute ago. Fellows, meet Mr. Alec Penn, alias B. Bellas—our counterfeiter friend and owner of this zoo! — and the man with the phoney mustache!
Even the Master of the Careening Narrative, Chester Gould must have gotten whiplash on that one!
TOMORROW: How our old pal, Max Allan Collins, finds himself mixed up in this
There’s MORE FOR YOU
BLOG & MAAAAAILLL!
Written Tuesday evening October 17
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