Dick Tracy: Dick Tracy:
The Ethics of Violence and the Legacy of an American Comic Strip The Ethics of Violence and the Legacy of an American Comic Strip
  Introduction    Context    Analysis    Legacy    XRoads  




    *First Appearance

    *First Storyline

    *Menagerie of Ugly

Dick Tracy's Legacy


Analysis of the Dick Tracy Comic in the 1930s Analysis of the Dick Tracy Comic in the 1930s

Even though the discussion of Dick Tracy within this project is limited primarily to the 1930s, there is still any number of ways in which an analysis of the comic (the fundamental, though not only, vehicle for Dick Tracy) could manifest itself. I have chosen here to limit the discussion to four separate instances in which the comic plays out a particular storyline or idea. The first section of analysis deals with The First Appearance of Dick Tracy. This is a single, one-off piece that falls outside the familiar framework of the Tracy universe, though it provides key insights into the character. The second is the First Storyline. This section is concerned with the "origin story" of Dick Tracy and how that story establishes a foundation upon which the ideologies and values that Gould's detective embodies continued to build, repeat, and expand upon-especially regarding the protection of the bodies of women. The third section is about Steve the Tramp, a recurrent character throughout the 1930s whose stereotyped image relays the complex relationship that Tracy (and Gould) had with the depiction of the working class. And lastly, the section entitled A Menagerie of Ugly examines the first storyline in Dick Tracy to include a villain who could properly be called a "Grotesque," a feature that came to dominate the strip, particularly throughout its golden age of the 1940s and 1950s. Though limited to one storyline, this section is an attempt to understand and explain the role of physical features and social marginalization to Gould's narratives of good versus evil. All of these sections include partial or whole reproductions of the strips under examination, alongside their attendant analyses.

There have been several interesting texts that attempt to analyze the Dick Tracy comic. Not least of these is Garyn G. Robert's excellent Dick Tracy and American Culture: Morality and Mythology, Text and Context. However, on the whole most of the work that has been done on Dick Tracy tends to be celebratory in one sense or another, and not strictly critical of the comic's ideological content. Eschewing this tactic, this analysis begins with the premise that Dick Tracy has had a profound and important impact on American culture and that comics are significant cultural texts worthy of analysis-all arguments that have been put forward efficiently and convincingly elsewhere. From this starting point, then, I begin by asking, "What are the negative repercussions of such a powerful instance of cultural narrative as Dick Tracy?"

In that question lies the dominant argument of this project: that the representation of characters like Dick Tracy in American culture serves to reestablish and perpetuate particular social dynamics of power, authority, and order. That premise is a complicated and-at times-contradictory one, in that the choice of writing about a topic is often based in a fondness or

(less affectionately) an interest in the material that one is writing about. Suffice it to say that I do enjoy the Dick Tracy comic. The drawing, though certainly not as innovative or "artistic" as some of Gould contemporaries (George Herriman's Krazy Kat being a prime example) does possess an appealing quality of film noir-like chiaroscuro lighting, and even the villains are evocative and expressive in their purposeful ugliness. The storylines, critical of their effective content as this project is, rank alongside the aforementioned Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett-writers who both have acquired substantial clout in the realm of "literature"-in their primacy as examples of crime and detective fiction. Nevertheless, as a series of texts that have received the critical acknowledgement of widespread influence, it is important to turn a hard eye to the effect of that influence. As I attempted to explicate in the section Dick Tracy in Context, the comic can be understood as both a continuation of long-established cultural narratives and a critical revision within its era of inception. As the revised version of "regeneration through violence" continues to permeate the narratives that surround us everyday, Dick Tracy provides crucial insight into the way that mode was formed, as well as illumination for its dismantling.