Chester Gould was an American cartoonist. He was the creator of the comic strip Dick Tracy, which he wrote and drew from its debut in 1931 until his retirement in 1977.
Gould was born in Pawnee, Oklahoma, some seven years prior to Oklahoma's admission into the Union as a state. His father was a printer and editor of the local paper. From a very early age, Gould became fascinated by comics and cartooning, and was a particular devotee of Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff. He sold his first professional cartoon at the age of 14, earning himself $5.
He attended Oklahoma A&M University, but left after two years to move to Chicago, the mecca of the newspaper industry in the Midwest. Enrolling at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to complete his studies, he graduated in 1923 with a degree in Commerce and Marketing. He began work as a free-lance cartoonist. His goal was to create an original comic strip, and place it with the Chicago Tribune/New York Daily News syndicate, the top distributor of comics features at that time.
Over the next ten years, he worked, at one time or another, for almost every paper in Chicago (and, at that time, there were more than a half-dozen dailies in Chicago), doing advertising art, political cartoons, sports cartoons, etc. He placed two strips with William Randolph Hearst's Chicago American, Fillum Fables, spoof on silent movies similar to Ed Whelan's Minute Movies, and Radio Catts, a "funny animals" strip about a family of anthropomorphic felines obsessed with that newly available technological marvel, the radio. Offered the chance to take over the popular King Features strip Little Annie Rooney, Gould turned the chance down and left Hearst. At the Chicago Daily News he placed his third feature, a "cute babe" strip called The Girl Friends. During this time, he met, fell in love with, and, in 1926, married the former Edna Gauger. A year later, their daughter, Jean, was born.
During this time, he was sending one strip idea after another to Captain Joseph Patterson, who was in charge of the features syndicated by the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News. Over the course of that first decade in Chicago, he sent the captain 60 different submissions. Though Patterson was impressed with the young man's determination, he turned every one of those submissions down, occasionally responding with an encouraging note to keep trying.
Dick Tracy Begins Edit
Gould described his inspiration for Dick Tracy in this way- In June of 1931, Gould happened to be listening to an episode of a popular radio series based on the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one of the cartoonist's favorite authors. As he listened, his eyes drifted to the front page of the paper, which had a headline story about Al Capone, the most powerful organized crime figure in Chicago, possibly the entire United States. Thinking about Capone at the same time he was listening to a radio drama about Sherlock Holmes, it occurred to Gould that the mobster was a modern-day Moriarty, and that what was needed to deal with him was a modern-day American Sherlock Holmes. He was this inspired to try another submission to Patterson.
He immediately prepared a series of five audition strips for a feature he called Plainclothes Tracy. The titular hero was the Chief of Detectives in a City that closely resembled Chicago. The villain was a mob kingpin called "The Cleaver," deliberately drawn to resemble Capone. And in those five strips was a level of violence and criminality never before seen in the nation's funny pages. He sent the samples off to Patterson the next morning. It was his 61st submission.
The following August, Patterson sent Gould a telegram:
YOUR PLAIN CLOTHES TRACY HAS POSSIBILITIES. WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU WHEN I GO TO CHICAGO NEXT. PLEASE CALL TRIBUNE OFFICE MONDAY ABOUT NOON FOR AN APPOINTMENT.
At that meeting, Patterson told Gould that the character needed a first name. Recalling, from his days as a police reporter, that detectives were sometimes referred to as "dicks," he suggested calling the character "Dick Tracy." He then suggested a plot for the opening story arc involving the abduction of Tracy's sweetheart, and the murder of the sweetheart's father, acts that would motivate Tracy to join the detective bureau of the City Police in order to solve the crimes. Gould had finally reach his goal.
The first Tracy Sunday strip appeared in the Detroit Mirror on October 4, 1931, and the first daily strip in the New York Daily News on October 12, 1931. In addition to incorporating Captain Patterson's suggestions, Gould worked in some of his own. The Cleaver's nickname was changed to "The Big Boy." His moll, Texie Garcia, went from a blonde to a brunette. The hero's sidekick, Pat, lost some weight and shaved off his mustache. And Tracy's headgear went from a straw boater to a fedora. A pop culture icon had been born.
Gould's creation gained him considerable acclaim due to its serialized drama, memorable characters and graphic violence. In service of the strip, Gould rarely preplanned his stories and usually preferred to improvise his plotting as he drew with the idea that if he didn't know where a story was going, neither would his readers. While this approach often led to fast paced stories with considerable creative energy, Gould occasionally found his stories trapped in awkward situations he found difficult to resolve. One of the most notorious example was the caisson deathtrap that seemed genuinely inescapable. Frustrated at a solution, Gould resorted to a crude fourth wall breaking deus ex machina where Tracy directly appealed to his cartoonist to get him out and Gould's hand is drawn reaching into the picture to move Tracy to safety. However, Captain Patterson firmly decided that this was unacceptable and ordered Gould to redraw the sequence to something within the bounds of the comic strip's definition of realism..
As the strip became more popular, Gould embraced the potential for merchandising, with many officially licensed Tracy products being made available. Gould also responded favorably to adaptations of Tracy into other media, including radio, television and film.
Later Years Edit
Gould's artistic style developed and advanced over the years, and became increasingly stylized. This was partially due to his growth and experimentation as an artist, as well as in response to demands from the print-newspaper industry. A particularly difficult change was in 1974 when Gould's syndicate fell in line with an industry standard dictating a sharp reduction of allotted publishing space in Sunday newspaper comics pages. This meant that Gould had to deal with a typical maximum panel number being reduced from 12 to 8, a change Gould never comfortably adjusted to and his pacing was badly affected.
In the 1960's, Gould (like much of America) was caught up the excitement of the Space Race, and he incorporated several science-fiction elements into the strip, resulting in what is commonly referred to as the "Moon Period". This drew in many new fans, but alienated other readers who preferred the traditional "cops and robbers" storylines. Many of these fantastical elements were later made less prominent, especially after the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969, which made the true reality of the natural satellite impossible to ignore. Additionally, Gould had Moon Maid engage in dangerous vigilantism in the 1960s, to which Tracy and his comrades approved of with a degree of enthusiasm that would seem irreconcilable with their professional ethics.
In the final years of his career, Gould continually pursued a strong recurring theme of disapproval of contemporary legal reforms to due process, such as the Miranda Decision (which required police officers to inform suspects of their constitutional rights before questioning, i.e. "You have the right to remain silent..."). This attitude affected Gould's storytelling as his plots became formulaic in the late 1960s, which continued into the 1970s. For example, Tracy would often arrest a criminal and be forced to stand by as the criminal was released due to evidence deemed insufficient to hold the suspect and/or legal technicalities. Furthermore, Tracy and his comrades would then spend much time grumbling at how they were restrained by the law, to the point where such sequences halted the progress of the story.
RetirementEditGould retired from the strip in 1977 and oversaw the passing of the creative reigns to the writer artist team of Max Allan Collins and Rick Fletcher. Collins had been a long-time fan of the strip and had been in contact with Gould on several occasions.
Gould's name remained in the credits of the strip, and many newspapers continued to give him the sole by-line on the strip (a not-uncommon practice). Gould's by-line stopped appearing in 1981.
Chester Gould died in Woodstock, Illinois on May 11th, 1985 from congestive heart failure. He was 84 years old.
- Received the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Award in 1959 and 1977 (the 3rd repeat winner).
- Received a special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1980.
Appearances in the StripEditGould has been caricatured at several times in the strip, with characters based on his physical appearance. Since Gould's weight fluctuated during his lifetime, these characters do not always look the same.
- The appearance of the minister who performed Junior Tracy's wedding to Sparkle Plenty (later identified as Uncle Ray Tracy) was based on Gould.
- Similarly, the physical appearance of the priest who performed Lizz Worthington's marriage to Groovy Grove was inspired by Gould, though it was not meant to be the same character as Uncle Ray (as Dick Tracy did not recognize him or address him with any familiarity, and the priest was apparently Catholic while Uncle Ray was a protestant minister).
- The coroner who appeared at the end of the 80th Anniversary storyline was also based on Gould.
- The character of Lester Gooch, the creator of Fearless Fosdick in Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner, was a parody of Gould. Capp frequently spoke of Gould and Tracy in glowing terms.
- In August of 1944, Life Magazine ran a story on Gould and Dick Tracy (pp.43-46; 51-53). Gould drew a special illustration for the piece that showed Tracy being confronted by Faceless Redrum (aka The Blank), The Brow, The Mole, Pruneface and his wife, Flattop Jones Sr., B-B Eyes, 88 Keyes, Mamma and Jerome Thohs, Little Face Finny and a glimpse of a unknown hood. Gould drew himself nearby, ready to erase the villians out of existence if they proved to be too much of a challenge for Tracy.