March 14th, 2011

krazy koati

That's what's soothing about excess

Today (Monday, that is) there's to be a big change in the admittedly somewhat petty world of syndicated comic strips, and in the even tinier world of syndicated story comic strips. The story or serial strips have taken a beating the last half-century what with how they feature barely plausible human beings shuffling around petty dramas which take months to resolve, as opposed to the syndicated humor strips featuring barely plausible human beings shuffling around petty dramas which never ever resolve because that would change the premise of the strip.

A new creative team takes over Dick Tracy, which contrary to your expectations both technically exists and has been running all this time. (Its syndicate has been evasive about just how many newspapers do run it; it's certainly below fifty and have you seen it in print anytime since 1990?) And I'm of slightly mixed feelings about the change. The samples given by the new team have looked very neat, clean, and professional and even --- so far as you can tell from a handful of samples --- seem to have plots that move right along.

But the outgoing team of Dick Locher and Jim Brozman built a Dick Tracy strip which was bad, yes, by any measure. Plots barely moved, spending most of their time reiterating the few plot points until some last-minute retcon was shoved in to say why it was a good thing the guest villain was killed (``Oh, um, those thousand-dollar bills the billionaire withdrew from his bank account and gave away to people he saw doing good deeds ... um ... they were COUNTERFEIT! That's it! Guess you can't keep that thousand he gave you, Dick.'' That one really happened), with Tracy watching passively as (say) a tiger decided to attack its trainer resolving the problem (of a circus ringmaster who was in the witness protection program and where all the performers were criminals who ... uh ... again, this really happened but no it doesn't parse), and artwork that might charitably be described as not literally representational but is maybe more accurately described as ``have Locher or Brozman ever seen any kind of object or body, ever?''

So it was bad. But it was that fascinating, Coleman Francis-esque, sort of bad, that kind where even though the events are packed full of nothing and no recognizable traces of humanity penetrate the fracturing of time, space, and narrative, it's compellingly so. At least if you're of the right mindset. I'd be glad to have Dick Tracy turned into a good comic strip, and assuming the sample work proves to be a reliable indicator it may just, but I worry that it might lose the fascinating attribute. At least it went out on a high note for outstanding awfulness, with a plot that took four months, established a dozen or so plausible leads for a story, not only failed to resolve any of them but failed to use any of them, and in which Tracy's only even remotely non-passive acts were driving a car into a river (by accident) and not being eaten by rats.

Trivia: Chester Gould was among the early attendees of the Northwestern University Scientific Criminal Detection Laboratory's series of biannual monthlong courses, which he signed up for ``to further my knowledge of criminology''. Source: The Lie Detectors: The History Of An American Obsession, Ken Alder.

Currently Reading: Classics Of The Horror Film: From The Days Of The Silent Film To The Exorcist, William K Everson. By ``Classic'' he means anything old as of the time of writing, not new-fangled stuff that's all special effects and no real horror, like, The Exorcist.

(Boy. I guess the recent comic strip is not so bad as the 60s cartoon, now on Netflix Instant, but it's a tough call. The 60s cartoon has jaw-dropping ethnic stereotypes to encourage its eye-gouge-worthiness, though.)