Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Haf-and-Haf Controversy

Well, I have avoided it since the beginning of this blog, but now it's ineluctable; it's time for me to weigh on the Haf-and-Haf controversy. Which, if you aren't familiar, goes as follows...

In 1931, Chester Gould created a comic strip about "Dick Tracy", a hard-nosed and intelligent detective in an unnamed metropolis, who fought many colorful gangsters and criminals.  Enormously popular, Dick Tracy was adapted repeatedly into various media, and collections of his early adventures in the late 1930s helped bring readers to the new medium of standalone 'comic books', rather than just newspaper 'comic strips'.

For Dick, it was a Tuesday.

Although Dick himself was painfully straightforward, his surrounding world was bizarre, violent, and unforgiving.  

"Well, I DID lose my tie clip, now that you mention it. 
The one Tess bought me, too."

For many decades until his retirement in 1977, Gould churned out a never-ending parade of weird (and improbably named) foes for Tracy.  While these foes frequently had convenient first-level characteristics (it's not hard to imagine, for example, what Tracy villains "Flatop" and "Pruneface" look like), those were often coupled with oddly unrelated quirks: Mumbles was a guitarist and recording artist, Mr Bribery had a fondness for roses and shrunken heads, and The Brain was never seen without his ocarina.

And the Brain Hat. But that goes without saying.

Yes, long before manatees started working for Seth McFarlane, they were hard at work for Chester Gould, generating random characters and situations for Dick Tracy to deal with.

But in 1966, Gould created a character using someone other than the manatees as inspiration:

Haf-and Haf.

This is not original Gould art. Somehow it's even more terrifying.

In the internet age, this shameless rip-off of Batman villain Two-Face would have been loudly damned the second he was introduced.  But Gould created Haf-and-Haf in 1966, when fandom was disjointed, had no collective medium like the internet, and Harvey Dent hadn't been seen in comics for 17 some years.  

When asked about the, ahem, similarities in a later interview, Gould said he wasn't aware of Two-Face and had been inspired by the 'half and half' diary product. Which, clearly, is the most ridiculous and patent lie a cartoonist has ever uttered.  

Spend some time trying to figure out how he wound up with the left half of his face in the acid if he was the driver of the truck.  I'll wait.

Just like Two-Face, Haf-and-Haf's origin has him scarred in an accident with acid.  And, even though Haf-and-Haf has no obsession--or even interest in--the number 2, his name is:

REALLY, now.
TWOla TWOzon?! Ugh; how obvious could it be?  The only reason to name him that is if Two-Face is your inspiration.  

Also, Batman and Dick Tracy--both modern detectives in a big city fighting weird criminals--were commonly compared. No one can believe that Gould was unaware of Batman's rogue's gallery.  In fact, this was 1966 when live-action Batman began on television and EVERYONE was paying attention to the Caped Crusader.  In February of 1996, this episode aired:


The villain was a female stage magician.

"Stop taunting me, Evol! You know I abhor violence!
All I ever wanted to be was a poor, but honest, magician!"

Guess who Haf-and-Haf's love interest was?  That's right: Zelda the Great, a high diver at the same circus where he was a sideshow attraction.  You know darned well Gould was tuned in, same bat-time, same bat-channel, every week.

Everything about her was terrifying.
But especially the cocktail dress.
Despite everything I've said and all the evidence, there is one fact on the other side of the argument that's hard to ignore: Chester Gould, an odd duck even at his best,  was... not always, um, all there.  In his later years, he sometimes wasn't sure what decade he was in.  And in 1966, his 'Moon Period" was already in full swing. Dick Tracy, who historical fought gangsters like Big Boy and Flattop, was now flying around in air car and his son was marrying "Moon Maid" one of the humanoid creatures who lived in Moon Valley. On the Moon. So... you know.  If there was anyone who could have created Haf-and-Haf without remembering accurately where the inspiration came from, it would be Gould.

Haf-and-Haf, unlike, well, virtually all Dick Tracy villains, actually survived his Gould-era encounters with Tracy.  That meant when Max Allan Collins took over the strip in 1978, eager to bring back some classic foes or their legacy characters, Haf-and-Haf was one of the first.



Whatever Gould may or may not have understood about the similarities between Haf-and-Haf and Two-Face, Collins was completely aware.  Collins, after all, is the comic book writer who gave us the tire-stealing 1-800 version of Jason Todd, whose father was killed by Two-Face.

"Dear Diary; today I cited 'created Jason Todd' as evidence that someone knew what he was doing."

Collins himself deemed Gould "innocent" of plagiarism in creating Haf-and-Haf. As he said in 2010, 
"I questioned Chet about Haf-and-Haf and Two-Face. He claimed, convincingly, that he didn't know about the Batman character. He paid zero attention to Batman, in fact paid little attention to the work of other cartoonists, living in his own TRACY-centric world. Certainly he considered Batman an imitation of Tracy, basically Tracy and Junior in costumed drag.  He told me this sitting at his breakfast table in his kitchen and showed me the Half-and-Half creamer containere he was using on his cereal to demonstrate where the idea came from."
[If you are using half and half on breakfast cereal, you are definitely not right in the head.]

That's probably why Collins didn't hesitate to bring back Haf-and-Haf.  Collins at least gave Haf-and-Haf a new angle; thanks to his circus background he was now an animal trainer. Training animals for crime of course.

Guy who looks like Two-Face uses trained crows to steal purses.
Yep; sounds like Dick Tracy, alright.

I remember this version of Haf-and-Haf, because I was a kid reading 'the funnies' at the time.  And even then I remember not being able to wrap my head around what a blatant rip-off he was of Two-Face (one of my favorite Batman villains).  


You know, "Two-Tone" Tuzon woulda worked; ya coulda just left it at that.
I found the style of the late artist Rick Fletcher mesmerizing. Still do.

I'm pretty sure that that version of Haf-and-Haf eventually got shot (to death).

Sure looks like it. But he gets better.

After Collins left Dick Tracy in 1992, there was a, um. non-ideal interregnum where the strip was written and drawn by ...others.  But in 2011,  the strip underwent a dramatic refurbishment under the new creative team of talented uber-fans Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, and I've been reading it daily ever since. I don't always understand or agree with what's going on it, but, hey, it's Dick Tracy, it doesn't need my understanding or approval and if I sass it, it just might appear in a cloud of gun smoke and shoot me in the face. 

BUT.... Staton and Curtis have now done the unthinkable (yet inevitable). They have brought back Haf-and-Haf.  

Tuzon seems to be talking to himself about fate, with a real-time interactive split-personality. Imagine!

And here is where it gets... complicated.



Staton and Curtis have re-styled Haf-and-Haf as... Split-Face.  Under ordinary circumstances, this would be an unpardonable lunge toward making the character a Two-Face clone.  But, this is the world of Dick Tracy and there are no 'ordinary circumstances.'

There has never been a Split-Face in the Dick Tracy strips...but there was one in Dick Tracy films.  Split-Face was the serial killer slasher in the first "Dick Tracy" film (1945).  

You get points if you remember the time Mike Mazurki played Ginger Grant.

Acknowledging the cinema Tracy as part of their world, Staton & Curtis are basically merging the characters of Split-Face and Haf-and-Haf.

The real mystery is why screens in the Tracy-verse are always shaped like nightmasks.

On the one hand, this is an absolutely brilliant way of re-inventing Tula Tuzon in a more usable way, while employing elements already part of Dick Tracy's history.  Staton & Curtis are extremely inventive in re-introducing as many parts of Tracy's history back into their world in a refreshed, coherent way as they can. Dick-Tracy-coherent, I mean.  Their work at world-(re)building is truly impressive and because of it Dick Tracy is the only comic strip I follow.

On the other hand, this is BY FAR the most explicit Two-Face ripoff of all time.  S&C don't have Gould's excuse of having no idea what they are doing. They aren't following in Collin's footsteps by trying to take the character in a direction away from Two-Face.  They are, in fact, quite knowingly shoving the character toward duplicating Two-Face as much as possible (Haf-and-Haf was never shown as mentally unstable before, let alone as a split personality).

And, despite all this writing about the controversy, I am still... of two minds on the subject.  Which may be appropriate but still gives me a headache.

What do YOU think?

9 comments:

Unknown said...

I always read the name as Tulsa Tucson. Route 66 is where he crashed, right?

Unknown said...

Ah, yes..you knew that and your comment was a joke. Sorry.

John C said...

By my count, that origin's two parts Two-Face, one part Joker, a smidgen of Robin, and Zelda? Yeah, dumping cream on Froot Loops definitely sounds like the most likely inspiration. Sure. I hear that's basically how we got most enduring literary works, after all...

Of course, it's not like Batman doesn't draw fairly directly from many sources, with entire panels of early stories known to be almost identical to Tarzan comic strip panels. And the "weird adventure fiction" settings are generally packed full of pastiches and knock-offs. So, even if it was all deliberate adaptation, I'm OK with that.

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad somebody's putting Two-Face to good use.

-- Jack of Spades

cybrid said...

"Dick Tracy, who historical fought gangsters like Big Boy and Flattop, was now flying around in air car and his son was marrying "Moon Maid" one of the humanoid creatures who lived in Moon Valley."

So, not unlike the phase Batman and Robin themselves went through during this timeframe, then.

cybrid said...

Maybe Gould simply didn't expect readers to care. Sometimes writers don't realize how important details can be to fans.

Anonymous said...

Can we at least agree that Haf-and-Haf was voiced by Larry Storch?

Redforce said...

Yet once again, a very insightful analysis of comic literary pop culture by the esteemed Scipio Garling.

Audie said...

"What do YOU think?"

1. By a coincidence I just finished reading Gould's introduction to a hardback collection, "The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy," and yeah, he came off as having some very strong & very nutty opinions. On the Moon plots, he was sure we'd shortly have easy moon travel, just as soon as as those stupid scientists got their act together and stopped fiddling around with antiquated rockets and 'cross your fingers' calculations.

2. I'm glad you're starting to write here more often. I always enjoy your insights.