“My only thought is to keep my strip faithfully realistic and powerful enough so that it will stand out from the usual run of wishy-washy everyday stuff.”
– Chester Gould

Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s

In the early 1930s, Chester Gould dramatically altered the comics landscape with a new style of gritty realism torn from Chicago’s headlines and fueled by the hard-hitting gangster films of the era. And with this new kind of storytelling came a new way of coloring comics, with strong, solid blacks and primary colors, a style as bold and vibrant as the stories themselves. Now, to fully appreciate Chester Gould's incredible artwork and storytelling, Sunday Press has reprinted these comics for the first time in the original colors, fully restored and in full tabloid size.

This selection of Dick Tracy Sunday pages from 1931 to 1939 features Gould’s most infamous villains of the decade, with four complete stories, plus forty more fabulous Sundays highlighting the villains and heroes not seen in the featured cases. Each of these sections features detailed commentary by Tracy historian Garyn G. Roberts. The high-quality, hardbound volume was produced in collaboration with the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum.

Experience the adventures of the world’s most famous comic strip detective just as they appeared more than three-quarters of a century ago. 

Excerpted from INTO THE ABYSS—Unprecedented Crime, Press Corruption Invite Possibilities for Detective by Jeff Kersten

In mid-July of 1931, Captain J.M. Patterson received five daily comic strips entitled Plain Clothes Tracy. In Tracy, Chester Gould cast an alternative vision of steadfastness and integrity in response to the ineptitude and corruption that permeated the public institutions that the innocent were encouraged to rely upon. Not since Harold Gray piqued the Captain’s interest in his conceptual Little Orphan Otto had the publisher been offered such a promising serial comic strip idea. He saw in Plain Clothes Tracy the possibility of showing the American public—who were mostly attracted to the popular mythologies of the gangs—another way. On August 20, Gould met with Patterson in his Tribune Tower office to discuss the possibilities the successful syndicator envisioned. A name change, an introductory plot and an urgent request for a handful of Sunday pages resulted.
Patterson had big plans for the newly minted Dick Tracy.

In its first year, Dick Tracy was a grand success. Responding to the first letter he received from Chet in the spring of 1933, Harold Gray offered his generous compliments: “Time and time again in following your strip I have sworn to drop you a line and tell you how sincerely much I like it and how dam [sic] glad I am to see you going over with such a solid success. It’s a whale of a strip in every way, and it has tickled me a lot to watch you avoid many of the pitfalls many wise guys predicted for you in the handling of the strip and in the handling of yourself.” Chester Gould was working harder than he had ever worked in his thirty-three years, and he couldn’t contain his joy, penning in a New Year’s greeting to Patterson that “my good luck with ‘Dick Tracy’ under your guidance has been the most heartening experience I have ever had and I have much to be thankful for. I am constantly fired on with new ambition as the weeks pass in your employ.”

Excerpted from Gould Takes Heat for Hot Lead Route by Paul Tumey

On March 4, 1935, a newspaper reader fired off these angry words to Chester Gould (getting the artist’s name wrong):

Clarence Gould:
Will you kindly do me a favor and walk East until your hat floats. Where on earth do you get such crazy ideas abut drawing your Dick Tracy pictures. Yes indeed, they’re very nice ideas for present day graduate hoodlums and racketeers, hold-ups, killers and what have you but not for people who like to see nice and interesting funnies. Of course, realizing the crowd you’re with perhaps you are compelled to draw such impossible, hideous pictures.

The author, who signed the letter, Dick Tracy-style, as “Astoria Likable,” probably echoes the shock some comic strip readers must have felt when first encountering the strip’s violence. It was graphic in all senses of the word. Prior to the creation of Dick Tracy in 1931, newspaper comic strips in America mostly delivered humor and fantasy, with only a scant handful of strips, such as Wash Tubbs (1924), Bobby Thatcher (1927) and Tarzan (1929) offering adventure stories. Chester Gould, inspired in part by Chicago gangland reports of the time, fashioned something new and sensational with his continuing comic strip about the grim pursuit and avenging of crime.

Excerpted from A Hero for His Times by Garyn G. Roberts

Like all archetypal heroes and famous comic strip adventurers of the Thirties, Dick Tracy has a significant origin. The origin story of the comic strip hero has two important functions. First, it provides the audience with a background in terms of the character’s composite traits and lifestyle. Second, it sets forth a justification for the hero’s cause and proceedings.
In the first daily episode of Dick Tracy, the hero is the helpless witness to a holdup during which his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, is kidnapped, and her father shot dead. Emil Trueheart, Tess’s father, was the owner of a delicatessen and was just beginning, after a lifetime of work, to enjoy a little financial comfort. Tracy has come to the Trueheart residence one evening to have dinner with the family of his sweetheart. Two gangsters enter the residence and shoot Emil. When Tracy attacks the gangsters, he is jumped and gun-whipped. He awakens to find Emil dead and Tess kidnapped. Tracy states, “Over the body of your father, Tess, I swear I’ll find you and avenge this thing—I swear it.” . . . A hero was born whose cause was evident and justified, and who was destined to grow with the American public for more than eighty years.

Tracy expressed prominent beliefs and sentiments during the Thirties, and was credible enough not to sound contrived. Chester Gould said it himself when he stated that the hero of his creation was “my own idea of a successful law enforcement officer.” His vision was obviously embraced by many faithful readers.