Book Report: The Dick Tracy Casebook selected by Max Allan Collins and Dick Locher (1990)

I inherited The Dick Tracy Casebook Selected from my aunt, who undoubtedly bought it at a garage sale to sell on eBay. So I got it free, which explains why I got it, since I’m not a particular fan of the comic strip.

This book collects some representative story arcs from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Each story arc begins with one of the contemporary (for 1990–who knows what they do now) producers of the comic strip. Each one elevates, to the point of comic apotheosis, the forthcoming collection of black and white panels. Chester Gould at his greatest, this period in Dick Tracy, that period in Dick Tracy. It was a cartoon serial, for crying out loud.

As a serial, each story contains a single plotline. Given the daily nature of the serial, though, a large number of the individual panels sum up the action so far; that is, of a day’s three or four panels, the panel deals with something that has already happened. Indeed, sometimes whole daily strips catch the reader up on the story so far. It gives the stories a particularly recursive feel.

The nature of the storylines also seemed, at times, a little as though Gould was trying to run the stories a little longer until he could maybe get his next idea. Two of the stories run 50 pages; at about the midpoint of the “Crewy Lou” story, the cops had Crewy Lou, but she escaped and a sudden brother decided to spend over a week trying to kill her for the dishonor to her family. And then she conks Tess Trueheart over the head and steals Dick Tracy’s car and spends a week or so driving it through mountains. And so on and on.

Perhaps I’m not the comic connoisseur, but I didn’t dwell over the panels. I didn’t contrast the styles nor depictions of Dick Tracy at times in his career. Nor did I study the character names to determine their underlying meanings. I just read for the story, much like the book’s selectors did when they first read Dick Tracy and quite unlike, so the introductions suggest, the book’s selectors do now that they’re doing it for a living and want to promote the comics as something more than drawings, exposition boxes, and dialog bubbles.

I enjoyed the book, but I won’t subscribe to the paper to receive it, and I won’t run out and collect all sorts of Dick Tracy comic books or collections. There you have it. Besides, I already have too many books on my to-read shelves as it is.