THE DICK TRACY CASEBOOK Favorite Adventures 1931-1990 <i> selected by Max Allan Collins & Dick Locher (St. Martin’s: $15.95)</i> : DICK TRACY America’s Most Famous Detective <i> edited by Bill Crouch Jr. (Citadel: $14.95) </i>
Two anthologies of Chester Gould’s classic comic strip, obviously geared to the media hoopla surrounding the upcoming Disney film.
Gould was never a draftsman of the caliber of Hal Foster (“Prince Valiant”) or Milt Caniff (“Steve Canyon”): The human figures in his strips always look awkward, and his animals are barely recognizable. His strength as an artist lay in his exceptional ability to use black and white to suggest a brooding, urban atmosphere. “Dick Tracy” has a stark moodiness unmatched in contemporary comics. The source of the strip’s popularity was not its graphic style, but the baroque array of thugs who challenged the square-jawed hero. The Brow, Sleet, Burpee and Fresh Upp, Crewy Lou and Spots are among the grotesques who stalk these pages.
The anthology edited by Bill Crouch Jr., provides a great deal of information about “Dick Tracy,” including reprinted interviews with Chester Gould, and the artwork is reproduced clearly. Collins and Locher include several complete adventures, but the printing is often fuzzy and hard to read. Neither book really tackles the problem of Gould’s conservative tirades that reduced the strip to a grim caricature during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Both devote far too much space to the work of the artist/writer teams (including Collins and Locher) who continued “Dick Tracy” after Gould’s retirment and death: Their work lacks the imaginative panache of the original and doesn’t warrant the attention.