Thursday, April 07, 2011

Try the Tracyverse

As most of you already know, Bob Kane was not the single most original author or artist of all time. But they also serve who only sit and synthesize. His sources of inspiration were many, but one was surely Dick Tracy (particularly his host of colorful gangsters and villains). For those of you not familiarity with the lunacy of the Tracyverse, here’s a sample plot synopsis of one storyline (taken from the Dick Tracy wiki):
Almost a year after Tracy married Tess, a horrible explosion burst Tracy house into flames, burning it down to the ground and burning Tracy's hair off. After the fire, it turned out that Junior was missing, the Tracy's were scared that he had perished in the fire, it turned out that Blowtop rigged an invention of Tracy's (an automatic dog door) to set off twenty sticks of dynamite and kidnapped Junior. Blowtop and his goons sealed Junior in a drum and attempted to drop him off a cliff. Junior was rescued and drew a picture of his captor which hit the papers. Blowtop's henchman and moll turned on him and shot him, only to be accidentally discovered by an acquaintance of his late-brother Flattop, Vitamin Flintheart. He managed to fix up Blowtop, and was convinced that he was a wealthy man, not knowing that the money was from a Boston Express Robbery. Flintheart (who unwittingly was fencing the hot money for Blowtop) had traded one of Blowtop's shirts for a shrunken head (unaware that the shirt contained money from the fencing). This was the turning point, Blowtop fled in anger, but was followed by Vitamin who was promised funding for a show from Blowtop. He shot Vitamin and tripped on the same shrunken head from before. Vitamin was hospitalized and Tracy had Blowtop in custody.

Keep in mind this one of the more normal plots, in that it doesn’t involve extraterrestrials, circus freaks, or cloning. Heck, I’m still hung up on the fact that Tracy invented an automatic dog door. And I would really like to go to a Swap Meet in the Tracyverse; “I’ll give you this old shirt for that shrunken head.” The Tracyverse is so bizarre, I’m beginning to wonder whether Dick Tracy isn’t actually set in Apex City.

I first fell for the “Tracyverse” when it was under the pen of Max Allan Collins. Collins, a mystery writer and longtime Tracy fan, took over from series creator Chester Gould, who had been running out of steam during his final years on the strip, whose quality was suffering. When I was a teenager Collins et al. were revitalizing and extending the Tracyverse with crazy plots and sharp powerful art. I can still remember the return of the scarred circus menace Haf-and-Haf, the climactic battle with criminal wigmaker Angeltop on the reproduction of the Santa Maria, and the collusions of evil surgeon Dr Carver and Mumbles, the murderous guitarist.

While I was reading Tracy at that time, I paid no attention to the creators behind it. It was only in the last week or so that I realized it was Collins, whom I had thought of only in the context of his work on Batman, where he created the (reviled by some but adored by me)
Mime. Thanks, Max, for making Dick Tracy fabulous again for many years!

After Collins left he was replaced by others, who authored the strip for some 30 years. The quality of the strip was not maintained, particularly during recent years, when Dick Tracy had devolved mostly into an internet snarking target (a “snarget”, if you will). With muddled art and fuddled storylines, it became an object of ridicule rather than a showcase for American imagination.

But history is now repeating itself, with a long decline under older creators ending with a sudden revitalization of the strip under new creative management. As of March 14, with its new creative team of Tracy fanboys Joe Stanton and Mike Curtis, Dick Tracy is setting the comics page ablaze. It has sharp and solid art with interesting composition, fast-paced plotting, outlandish characters with real-world issues and viewpoints, and a palpable respect for the rich history of the Tracyverse at its disposal.

If you’ve never given Dick Tracy a try,
now is the time.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Apex City Travel Poster

How does one design a travel poster for Apex City, home of the Martian Manhunter? How can you hope to capture the craziness? The bizarre landmarks, like the Statue of Atlas? The ludicrous weather, like the weekly meteor showers? The strange threats like the ubiquitous flying saucers? The seaside location and the Miami-like towering buildings? And if can you do all this, how do you then manage to subtly incorporate the city's hero, the Martian Manhunter himself, into the mix?

Well, I don't you know how you do it. But I do it like this....

Although I may have to do another version, just to see whether I can hang the Human Squirrel off the side of one of those buildings...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A sway with words

Most mornings I do the Washington Post crossword puzzle (for you moderns out there, a crossword puzzle is kind of like sudoko for people who can read). Thanks to puzzling, a lot words come to my mind quite easily that otherwise would never ever occur to me. For example, I seldom utilize decorative, based pitchers, I’ve never seen a decorative needle case, and I rarely discuss pre-Meiji Restoration Tokyo. Yet a week almost never goes by without me writing the words “ewer”, “etui”, or “Edo”. Such words are part of the glory of the genius of English, which is the great linguistic lint-trap, the river delta of dictionaries, the junkyard of jargon. Sure it makes our language a little gunky and confusing. But lint-traps are a treasure trove of spare change, river deltas have the richest soils, and junkyards are the wellspring of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs of tomorrow. Or is it “Chitty Chitties Bang Bang”? Gotta figure that out in case “cinema British flying motorcars” is a clue in a puzzle some day… Anyway, crosswords are not the only medium that helps preserve special sets of words. Comic books do it, too. There are words and phrases that I generally do not hear outside of a comic book context. For example, I seldom utilize henchmen, I’ve never met an invulnerable person, and I rarely discuss my secret identity. Of course, you’re not supposed to discuss your secret identity; but that’s not the point here. Naturally, there are going to be words and phrases that come from comic books that don’t get used in regular speech, like “batarang”, “shrink ray”, and “plastic cat arrow”. But there are also words that, while they may have been born in the real world, now exist mostly as hothouse flowers in the special environment of comic books. Words like “villain”. What words, phrases, or even concepts do you think have been preserved by the medium of comic books?