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Has Dick Tracy become a laughingstock?

The once graphically brilliant Dick Tracy has fallen on hard times, if last Sunday’s strip is any evidence. Take a look at http://www.gocomics.com/dicktracy/2009/04/12/ and see for yourself: the sadly deformed woman in the Crimestopper panel, Tracy’s amputated fingers in the last panel, the way his trenchcoat appears and disappears…is this what’s passing for professional cartooning now?

Community Comments

#1 Alan Gardner
April/15/2009
@ 9:21 am

As I reported earlier, Jim Brozman has taken over on the drawing of the strip. I’m suspecting that this might be case like Rob Harrell taking over the art duties on Adam, or Eduardo Barreto taking over the art on Judge Parker – the art isn’t going to be EXACTLY like it was before.

#2 Jesse Cline
April/15/2009
@ 9:22 am

this is news?

#3 Ben Rankel
April/15/2009
@ 9:40 am

The decline of quality on a long running comic strip like Dick Tracy is definitely news.

Along with the decline of artistic quality, I don’t remember the writing being this bad back in day.

#4 Rosscott
April/15/2009
@ 9:52 am

I think it’s a matter of letting a comic go. IMHO when the original writer / artist passes on the strip, it should just end. Make way for something new.

#5 Tom Heintjes
April/15/2009
@ 10:17 am

I didn’t intend for this observation to become a referendum on “legacy strips” but rather to ask why TMS couldn’t find someone more capable to draw what should be treated as one of the Tribune crown jewels. I know Chester Gould’s not walking through that door, but good God–a knowledge of basic anatomy and panel-to-panel continuity (dig the disappearing trenchcoat!) would be nice.

#6 Robert Stone
April/15/2009
@ 10:17 am

Sadly, it’s time for Dick to move on. I don’t think that the Tribune Syndicate even reads the strip anymore or they wouldn’t have let this one get out. Warren Beatty might just win his ownership case if this continues.

#7 Noah Rodenbeek
April/15/2009
@ 10:57 am

That is the lamest attempt at staying relevant I’ve ever seen. I’m not trying to be mean or judgmental, but that was painful to read. They should have gotten Dick’s opinion on Bush’s warrant-less wiretapping or other topical investigative procedures. I mean with this strip you almost expect them to talk about those new-fangled walky-talkies the kids are going on about these days.

#8 Mike Lester
April/15/2009
@ 11:18 am

In two hours Warren Beatty could learn to draw this well.

#9 Jesse Cline
April/15/2009
@ 11:18 am

“The decline of quality on a long running comic strip like Dick Tracy is definitely news. ”

right, but my point is this happened a while ago.

#10 Dave Stephens
April/15/2009
@ 11:52 am

Anatomy – Structure – Composition – Body Language – Continuity
=
COMPETENCE

The horrific proportions of the woman in the 2nd panel – a dead giveaway that NONE of the above matters to the artist currently drawing the strip… Ugh.

They mattered to Chester Gould.
They should matter to ANY professional.

At the very least, he can improve his drawing of hands – he’s got a pair himself, right? LOL

I mean a pair of hands. Someone at his skill level drawing Dick Tracy? He’s got a pair, alright…

;)

#11 Phil Tography
April/15/2009
@ 1:14 pm

I know it is never easy accepting a new artist giving his/her take on a classic strip. Though I have to agree with all the previous comments after looking at the strip. The overall quality is poor, but what can you expect ? Nowadays too many so called “artists” go to fashion design school to learn how to draw the human figure instead of going to a legit cartoonist school. It is so evident in Marvel and DC Comics.
I have bought many cartoon books anthologies; Penauts, Dennis the Menance, Calvin & Hobbes collection, The Far Side collection, to study the techniques used by the masters, maybe the next generation should as well.

#12 Allan Holtz
April/15/2009
@ 1:29 pm

Taking the optimist view, perhaps Brozman is just trying to maintain continuity in art style. This DOES look a lot like Locher’s later work on the strip, painful as it might be to behold. There’s a long-standing tradition of doing just that on legacy strips. As Brozman settles in surely he’ll start improving things.

Anyone familiar with Brozman’s work? *IS* he actually better than this?

BTW, you’d think that Locher, being an editorial cartoonist himself, might have thrown the art chores to one of his brethren, many of whom are now out of work. I can name a half-dozen or more who could use the job and would do a darn sight better job on the strip.

#13 Patric Lewandowski
April/15/2009
@ 1:52 pm

this person draws humans about as well as me.

and i try not to draw humans fairly often because i don’t think i do it well.

i certainly wouldn’t attempt it at a “professional” level.

style is one thing. this is not style. this is oops.

#14 Frank Rizzo
April/15/2009
@ 3:21 pm

I understand Dick Tracy’s value to Tribune as a licensing property. And I have mixed feelings about legacy strips. A legacy strip can be as good as — or even better — than the original (not that it happens very often). But if it’s well-handled and still has plenty of dedicated readers, why not keep it going?
But that’s not an argument that favors the current Dick Tracy strip.
What Tracy needs is an extreme makeover. A new artist and writer, to begin with. And a reboot of the character. Start over with Tracy as a young detective in 2009 and relaunch him and his supporting characters in modern times. “Dick Tracy, CSI,” anyone?
Or perform some radical ret-conning and introduce Tracy’s grown son, Dick Tracy Jr. (The family would have to call him something other than “Junior,” of course). The storyline could gradually shift to the younger Tracy’s efforts to make it on his own, despite his father’s legacy. The senior Tracy could gradually fade from the stories and retire.
But the current tired travesty of a once-great American original just doesn’t suffice.

Speaking of “retiring”: I haven’t done much posting of my personal opinions, but y’all could be hearing more from me in the future. I’m retiring from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and taking them up on their latest buyout offer. My last day here is April 30.
I’ve loved the job of guiding the AJC’s comics lineup for the last 15 years or so, but it’s time for someone else. I just hope there WILL be someone else.
I’ll be at home, reading the comics and blogs, while I look for a job to tide me over for the next few years. You can contact me to chat — or relay potential job openings — at rizzofc@bellsouth.net .

#15 Jeff
April/15/2009
@ 3:53 pm

Frank,

Sorry to hear you are leaving the AJC.

A good man to the comics in syndication.

I hope the next person overseeing the comics at the AJC is as passionate.

And, thanks for being as compassionate and thoughtful as you could be back in January, when the paper went down in the number of comics.

#16 Bobby Timony
April/15/2009
@ 4:21 pm

I think a hypothetical relaunch of Dick Tracy should put him square in the 1940’s where a character like that really belongs. I would make it a stylized period strip with outrageous villains, slinky sexpots and high calibur adventure.

#17 Mike Curtis
April/15/2009
@ 5:57 pm

Well, artist Joe Staton and I have been trying to do TRACY for about five years now.

Our samples are posted at this scite, just scroll down to A COMIC STRIP YOU’LL NEVER SEE.

http://glasshousepresents.com/Mike_Curtis.htm

Joe has so many credits to his name it would take a book to list them. I;ve been writing comics since the 1980’s.

BOTH of us love Tracy and realize the income would be small, but we want to rescue our favorite cop.

Mike Curtis

#18 Howard Tayler
April/15/2009
@ 8:51 pm

@Bobby Timony, #16: I’m with you. Retro is in, and 40’s style radio-drama type stuff could work. The popularity of steampunk and the wildly successful game Bioshock with its retro art-deco feel both show how you can set things in the past and still tell a compelling, modern tale.

(Note: Bioshock wouldn’t play well in papers. I know that.)

@Mike Curtis, #17: That art looks like Dick Tracy ought to look. But per Bobby’s comment, I think our favorite flat-faced detective might need to be re-imagined for the period rather than simply returned to his roots. But it goes without saying that your “audition” samples are better than the strip linked to in the original post.

#19 patty leidy
April/15/2009
@ 10:36 pm

um..when did Dick Tracy get little girl hands…?

#20 Bobby Timony
April/15/2009
@ 11:13 pm

Mike, those Dick Tracy comics are GREAT! You might not be able to work on the comic strip, but I wonder if you couldn’t pitch this as an original graphic novel? I don’t know if the syndicate would go for it, but it might be worth a shot. I’d buy it.

Anyways, I totally understand where you’re coming from regarding Mr. Tracy. I’ve got a similar kind of affection for Popeye the sailor, and I made a couple sample pages of what a Popeye comic by me would look like.

#21 Ben Rankel
April/16/2009
@ 12:44 am

This comic strip is visual vomit. Talented artists deserve a shot and someone who either can’t draw or doesn’t respect how lucky he or she is to work on a classic stip enough to put effort into the work doesn’t deserve the opportunity, IMO.

#22 Lucas Turnbloom
April/16/2009
@ 12:49 am

@Mike Lester — LOL!

#23 Wiley Miller
April/16/2009
@ 7:41 am

The relevance of Dick Tracy expired when Chester Gould expired.

#24 Charles Brubaker
April/16/2009
@ 12:32 pm

You guys do know that Chester Gould gave up Dick Tracy to his assistants years before he died, right?

#25 Wiley Miller
April/16/2009
@ 1:11 pm

Yes… so how does that make it relevant?

#26 Charles Brubaker
April/16/2009
@ 1:17 pm

You seemed to imply that Dick Tracy automatically became irrelevant the minute Gould died, even though he stopped drawing the strip years before that.

#27 Wiley Miller
April/16/2009
@ 2:14 pm

He may have stopped drawing the strip, but he was still the creative force behind it. Once that creative force departs, so does the creativity and uniqueness of the feature and all that’s left is a pale imitation. And it’s made only worse over the course of time and more changing of hands.

As Bill Watterson put it so well, if your good enough to do someone else’s strip, you should be good enough to do your own.

#28 Mike Cope
April/16/2009
@ 3:39 pm

“As Bill Watterson put it so well, if your good enough to do someone elseâ??s strip, you should be good enough to do your own.”

Funny, I recently read the same thing in the book “Charles M. Schulz: Conversations” by M. Thomas Inge.

No matter who coined the phrase, it’s a great perspective.

#29 Dave Stephens
April/16/2009
@ 3:45 pm

Bill Watterson is correct: if you can draw someone else’s strip, you ARE talented enough to draw your own. However, the odds of GETTING your own published strip? HAH! If it was near impossible in Watterson’s day (and it was), it’s worse by far these days… A strip in the hand is worth two in the bush.

High ideals are great. But try paying the rent with it.

#30 Wiley Miller
April/16/2009
@ 4:50 pm

The point is, Dave, it would be a bit easier for new, fresh talent to get a chance to break in if syndicates wouldn’t continue features past the death or retirement of the comic’s creator. It may be beneficial to one person and continues a cash flow for the syndicate, but it has done great damage to the industry as a whole.

#31 Norm Feuti
April/16/2009
@ 5:31 pm

All I’ll say after looking at those gorgeous samples by Mike Curtis and Joe Stanton is that whoever decided NOT to hire them to continue the strip must be completely insane.

#32 Dave Stephens
April/16/2009
@ 7:46 pm

My point is, Wiley, if it was actually easier for new, fresh talent to get a break, they would still fail and fail and fail again – it’s the nature of the industry regardless of how many “breaks” they give the talent… The failure rate is hideous and always has been.

If all the old comic strips “past their prime” were instantly gone, it WOULD open up dozens of chances of success, but the failure rate would STILL be hideous and, frankly, the odds would still be astronomically against the very talented person actually employed at drawing a strip professionally…

Odds are that the talented artist would not get another chance at comic strip “success”.

Talent is wonderful. But it’s never sufficient to counter reality.

Nonetheless, I agree with you – that unwillingness to release a proven money makers has hurt comic strips as a whole. But comic strips have been hurt much worse by their shrinkage, size-wise, I think, than keeping strips that should be retired. The shrinkage was a beat-down and a mugging that continues to affect ALL strips to this day… That, and the PC mind-set that is endemic to newspapers everywhere.

#33 Phil Maish
April/17/2009
@ 9:46 am

“But comic strips have been hurt much worse by their shrinkage, size-wise, I think, than keeping strips that should be retired. The shrinkage was a beat-down and a mugging that continues to affect ALL strips to this dayâ?¦ That, and the PC mind-set that is endemic to newspapers everywhere.”

So where does that leave the profession? Who acts as steward for this art form? The syndicates are obviously not interested; look at the fine job they’ve done safeguarding the future viability of comics. Do they ever fight the inclination of most editors to run strips smaller? Do they ever offer any but the most cursory advice or guidance to aspiring cartoonists? All I’ve ever gotten over umpteen years of submissions is form rejection letters with the occasional offhand note added. But maybe I just suck.

I don’t see any professional organization with the muscle or the inclination to fight the degradation of the contents of the funny pages. Usually when a strip gets run larger it’s due to the lobbying efforts of the individual artist, with the “full backing” of the syndicate. Great way to advance the art form, by pitting each artist against the others.

Comics were started by editors like Hearst and Pulitzer, and maybe comics’ only bulwark against irrelevancy is editors like Frank Rizzo… who’s retiring.

#34 Wiley Miller
April/17/2009
@ 10:25 am

“So where does that leave the profession? Who acts as steward for this art form? The syndicates are obviously not interested; look at the fine job theyâ??ve done safeguarding the future viability of comics. Do they ever fight the inclination of most editors to run strips smaller? Do they ever offer any but the most cursory advice or guidance to aspiring cartoonists? ”

Ok… I’m putting you in charge of any syndicate you like. Explain to me exactly what you would to remedy the situation.

#35 Phil Maish
April/18/2009
@ 2:36 am

“Okâ?¦ Iâ??m putting you in charge of any syndicate you like. Explain to me exactly what you would to remedy the situation.”

Wow, and they all said cartooning would never lead anywhere… now I’m head of a feature syndicate! Livin’ the dream. The first thing I’d do is punch up my resumé.

I believe that the syndicates view their business in much the same way as TV networks view theirs: the customers are the advertisers and the product is the viewership the networks attract with their programs. The programs themselves are merely a means to an end. By the same token, syndicates’ customers are the features editors (whose customers in turn are the advertisers) and the product is the buying eyes of the readers of the features they distribute. Comics are just one part of the package, along with horoscopes, advice columns and the Jumble. The editors (certain visionaries excepted) don’t value the funnies like we think they should because the syndicates don’t. Shrink ’em down to teeny-tiny? Purge ’em of any controversial content? Go ahead. The customer is always right. Just keep buying sudoku and the bridge column.

Even in their current state, comics are one of the most popular parts of the paper, but still they get no respect. Why else would Village Voice Media spike the most popular part of the paper to save, as Michael Miner (via Tom Tomorrow) reports, a few thousand bucks? In the American popular imagination, the funnies are a guilty pleasure. I’d guess most people like them, but are embarrassed to admit it. Europe doesn’t have that problem. Everybody in Japan reads comics.

A better business model (for comics) might have been that of a talent agent. Then there might have been some recognition that shrinking the strips hurts the long-term viability of the art form. Maybe there would have been more advocacy for artists’ interests. But we don’t live in that world. The bean counters won that war a long time ago.

So now we have a seriously undervalued art form coupled to a journalism industry that is fighting for it’s life, moving from a daily news cycle to a continuous one which can’t wait for pokey old printing. And it breaks my heart. The comics pages were a wonderful thing… still are, really. Some artists are phoning it in and there are far too many zombie strips, but there are also quite a few creators doing outstanding work, in spite of the size and content limitations. Some webcomic artists seem to have a handle on the new situation and are able to make a living on their own, decoupled from journalism, but many believe that model can’t sustain a large number of comics creators. Maybe they’re right.

Not enough people regularly read the funnies, as a proportion of the population. Again, Europe doesn’t have that problem. Everybody in Japan reads comics.
Growing the whole readership pie is the best solution. The casual readers newspapers attract is an excellent way to get the work in front of new readers, and losing that would be a serious blow.

Maybe the syndicates should get busy and cut a deal with the best of the current print and web cartoonists, put together a package of nice big strips and sell that package to the New York Times and whatever other de facto ‘national’ papers still exist after the current unpleasantness. It would at least generate some buzz, if nothing else.

Oh, and we must all draw manga, ‘cuz the kids, they luuuv that manga.

#36 Mike Peterson
April/18/2009
@ 4:36 am

“A better business model (for comics) might have been that of a talent agent. Then there might have been some recognition that shrinking the strips hurts the long-term viability of the art form. Maybe there would have been more advocacy for artistsâ?? interests. But we donâ??t live in that world. The bean counters won that war a long time ago.”

There are, unfortunately, many ways in which the ship has sailed, the toothpaste is out of the tube, the bell cannot be unrung, choose your metaphor.

The most important factor is that you can’t just put Phil in charge of one syndicate — he has to be in charge of them all. One syndicate that decides to bring back the glory will have no customers. They’ll all be dealing with the other syndicates that offers cheap strips and no hassles.

The disturbing thing about VV dropping comics is that they were supposed to be the “alternative” media. Which became a joke because, like everyone else, they sold out and became part of the problem instead of part of the solution. I hope nobody thinks comics are the only part of the old Village Voice that has hit the skids.

But then again, when did “alternative” and “make me some good money” ever belong in the same sentence? If the key to continuing the medium is to work in the alternative press, well, don’t look to Wall Street level paychecks. Asking the VV to remain an alternative but to also be big was unrealistic all around.

The model I think could be viable is a throwback to the early 80s, when Chuck Asay was cartooning for the Colorado Springs Sun. He not only did his political cartoon for the editorial page but did dingbat little pieces throughout the paper, including illustrations for light local features and “brites” from the wire service. He was part of the total paper and in many ways helped to brand it. He even went to public events and did caricatures for folks.

Until the older, established crosstown rival finally crushed the Sun and put it out of business, but I think that’s less of a threat than it used to be, however.

A paper that would put a cartoonist on staff and then blend him into the total operation would find the move a good way to awaken interest throughout the community. But I’m not sure you can fix the syndicates. They are well and truly broken.

#37 Wiley Miller
April/18/2009
@ 7:09 am

Ok, Phil…? I asked you what you would do if you were in charged of any major syndicate to get newspapers to stop running comics so small and “offer more than cursory advice” and give guidance to aspiring cartoonists. You wrote a very long post that said absolutely nothing about what you would do to change what you perceive is the problem. What is clear from your post is that you have absolutely no knowledge of syndicates or newspapers and make broad generalizations based on your assumptions rather than any facts or first hand knowledge.

When one presents an opinion in such an absolute manner as you have, it would help a great deal if you had at least some knowledge of the subject you’re expounding. As far as I can see, your only experience with syndicates is being rejected for years.

#38 David Emerson
April/18/2009
@ 8:25 am

“As far as I can see, your only experience with syndicates is being rejected for years.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the always classy Wiley Miller.

Back to the question of fresh talent vs. old established strips being pushed on in zombie corpse form. The sole reason this is done is for familiarity to readers. People inherently know things about Dick Tracy. It’s a classic. Were it to be removed and it’s space filled with fresh talent, readers would have to learn about an entire new universe because, let’s face it, each of our comics exist in alternate realities.

Faced with the proposition of learning this new world or jumping ahead to the next cartoon, there’s a decent percentage that will choose the latter. If we were to replace the entire page/section with unknown comics there would be an even larger percentage that wouldn’t read it at all. That’s the last thing that newspapers are willing to take a chance on right now.

#39 Wiley Miller
April/18/2009
@ 9:43 am

>>â??As far as I can see, your only experience with syndicates is being rejected for years.â?

Ladies and gentlemen, the always classy Wiley Miller.<<

If you’d scroll up and read his earlier post, you’d see what I was referring to.

And you are correct about the zombie strips. Editors are petrified of doing anything that will make the phone ring, and getting rid of a legacy strip will do just that. It never occurs to them that all they have to do when someone calls to complain is simply tell them, “he’s dead”. That pretty much ends the conversation and they can get on with selecting new features that appeal to young readers today instead of pandering to the oldest readers, who they are not in danger of losing by dropping old, dead strips.

#40 Brian Fies
April/18/2009
@ 9:50 am

“He not only did his political cartoon for the editorial page but did dingbat little pieces throughout the paper, including illustrations for light local features and â??britesâ? from the wire service. He was part of the total paper and in many ways helped to brand it…”

Interesting example, Mike, because that’s kind of what Wiley Miller was doing for my hometown paper in the late 70s. As I recall, they even flirted with “graphic journalism”; for example, Wiley drew a full-page “Day at the County Fair” piece that I clipped and still have in a file somewhere (as I think I’ve told him before) because I thought it was such a cool approach to doing a feature story.

Wiley would know better than I, but I don’t think the experiment lasted long. My impression was that editors just didn’t know what to make of it or how to use it. I always thought it was a great idea.

#41 Wiley Miller
April/18/2009
@ 10:11 am

“My impression was that editors just didnâ??t know what to make of it or how to use it.”

That would require imagination and initiative, Brian, which is in short supply among editors. It’s just not what they do (I’m speaking broad terms here, there are exceptions), as the very aspect of what makes an editor an editor is the analytical part of their brain, not the creative side. Use it or lose it, as the saying goes.

And thanks for remembering that stuff from so long ago!

#42 Josh McDonald
April/18/2009
@ 11:07 am

I’ve occasionally seen similar “graphic journalism” pieces in the Boston Globe and sometimes in little alt-weekly papers. And I did something like it myself, years ago, for a web publication. It’s a great form, and I wish we saw more of it around.

I think, too, that some editors just get nervous about anything they can’t tweak for publication.

#43 Wiley Miller
April/18/2009
@ 11:18 am

“I think, too, that some editors just get nervous about anything they canâ??t tweak for publication.”

Very true. That’s why editors are scared to death of cartoons in general. When and editor can’t edit, they don’t know what to do with themselves.

Another piece of graphic journalism I did at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat back around 1980 was day I spent at the Oakland Raiders training camp, which was in Santa Rosa (I don’t know if they’re still training there or not). John Madden was the coach, and I remember him looking at me, as though he was trying to place me as someone trying to make the team and wondering why I wasn’t in pads. John Matusak took me under his wing and showed me around camp and we had lunch at the training table. He really was a terrific, nice guy.

Thanks for bringing that back, Brian. Good memories of a bygone era.

#44 Phil Maish
April/18/2009
@ 11:32 am

I prefer “the pooch has been screwed”. That’s not swearing, is it?

I didn’t offer any suggestions because I don’t think the situation is salvageable. I’ll admit that my opinion is a bit jaundiced due to my legacy of failure and shame, but since I “…have absolutely no knowledge of syndicates or newspapers”, I must base my opinions on what experiences I have had, which I’m betting are more common than yours.

I’m truly delighted to hear that I’m all wrong. Gives a guy hope.

#45 Wiley Miller
April/18/2009
@ 11:46 am

” but since I â??â?¦have absolutely no knowledge of syndicates or newspapersâ?, I must base my opinions on what experiences I have had, which Iâ??m betting are more common than yours.”

Not sure what you mean by that.

#46 Garey Mckee
April/18/2009
@ 2:54 pm

Okay, I’ll admit it here. I’ve never been a fan of Dick Tracy in any form. I can’t really put my finger on why. I guess it just never really spoke to me.

The only redeemable factor for me is that it gave rise to Tex Avery’s great absurdly surreal Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Twacy.

#47 Josh McDonald
April/18/2009
@ 3:33 pm

“The only redeemable factor for me is that it gave rise to Tex Averyâ??s great absurdly surreal Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Twacy.”

I assume you mean Bob Clampett’s great absurdly surreal Daffy Duck cartoon “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery”…

#48 Garey Mckee
April/18/2009
@ 3:52 pm

Yes I apologize it was Bob Clampett

#49 Josh McDonald
April/18/2009
@ 4:55 pm

One of the great but underappreciated Looney Toon talents :)

#50 Jason Nocera
April/20/2009
@ 11:18 am

A syndicate is not going to end a long-running strip like Dick Tracy when it’s already established a spot in some papers. They’ll run the risk of another syndicated strip moving in on the space. Or what if a new strip they suggest moves in, fizzles out after a year or so, and again a strip from a different syndicate moves in and takes that spot? No, it’s better to play it safe and keep that spot secure – the editor feels safe because it’s been running a long time and the syndicate feels safe.

#51 Mike Curtis
June/28/2010
@ 6:15 pm

Hi everyone

Joe and I are doing it. Go to http://www.plainclothescomics.com for a Dick Tracy tribute site featuring an unpublished comic book story by Max Allen Collins and Joe Staton, lots of prose fiction and articles, and a MAJOR CRIME SQUAD “daily” strip answering the question: Why was the Space Coupe retired?

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