Just Posted: Author’s Note on Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies

Art Spiegelman, around the time he created the book jacket, frontispiece, and incidental drawings for Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies.

Art Spiegelman, around the time he created the book jacket, frontispiece, and incidental drawings for Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies.


In 1996, I published Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies, a book that never would have been written without the friendship, encouragement, and astonishing generosity of the great cartoonist Art Spiegelman. At Café Pinfold–in the BOOKS section–I’ve just posted a new essay about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the novel of mine that’s my own personal favorite.

Please click here or on the image of Art Spiegelman to read more.

Borrowing Richard Outcault

Richard F. OutcaultSometime in 1995, when I was trying to complete the long-postponed second novel (working title: Walter’s Ghost; final title: Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies) in what I was hoping eventually would be a trilogy of novels about the imaginary Derby Dugan comic strip and the cartoonists who produced it across the twentieth century, I was invited to contribute a short essay about Richard F. Outcault to Inks: Cartoon and Comic Art Studies, an academic journal published by Ohio State University. The issue that my piece appeared in–Volume 2, No. 3, November 1995–was keyed to the centennial of the first newspaper appearance of Outcault’s seminal comic-strip character, The Yellow Kid. Obviously (and flatteringly), the editors had read my first Derby Dugan novel, Funny Papers and knew that not only was Derby Dugan based on the Yellow Kid, but that Derby’s creator, Georgie Wreckage, was based, in large measure, on Richard Outcault. I wasn’t given a very high word-count, as you’ll see; even so I was tickled to appear (my first and still only time) in a “scholarly” publication, although my contribution has nary a footnote, and no bibliography.

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NemoCoverThis is the first essay–an article, really–that I wrote about my great hero and inspiration, Chester Gould, creator of “Dick Tracy.” It appeared in issue number 17 (cover-dated February 1986) of Nemo: the Classic Comic Library, which was founded and edited by Rick Marschall, published by Fantagraphics, and ran for 31 lively, fascinating, essential issues. To my mind, Nemo is one of the great American magazines, a milestone in the development of comics criticism, and I miss it, although Rick subsequently founded a similar magazine called Hogan’s Alley, which is still issued on a wildly irregular basis.

When I was gathering material earlier this year to start up Cafe Pinfold, “Bud, Which Way to the Noble Hotel?” was one of the things I most wanted to include, but I couldn’t find my copy of the magazine. Recently, though, while ambling through the stacks at Special Collections at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Cabell Library in Richmond, I discovered a complete run of Nemos, and Celina Williams and Cindy Jackson, the superbly professional and generous proprietors of Cabell’s comic-art holdings, made and sent me a PDF of my article. I’m delighted to post it here now, alongside of (or actually above) the much-later-written “Heart of Gould.”   Continue reading


LittleNemoThis is a short essay on Winsor McCay that I wrote for the gorgeous catalog (published by Yale University Press) released in tandem with the Masters of American Comics exhibit that originated in 2005 at the Hammer Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and later traveled to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Jewish Museum in New York, and the Newark Museum. The exhibit was organized by John Carlin and Brian Walker with Cynthia Burlingham and Michael Darling; the catalog was edited by John Carlin, (the great) Paul Karasik, and Brian Walker. The first novel in my Derby Dugan Trilogy, Funny Papers was set during the tumultuous newspaper era of the 1890s that spawned McCay as well as Richard Outcault, George McManus, Fred Opper and others who, together, created the grammar and the vocabulary of the American comic strip. It was fun and a real honor to be included in such an auspicious enterprise and to find myself in the company of fellow essayists such as Jules Feiffer, Matt Groening, Pete Hamill, Jim Hoberman, Dave Eggers, and Francoise Mouly.

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From” Dick Tracy” by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, November 16, 2011

Before I loved novels and movies and plays, even before I loved comic books, I loved newspaper comic strips; before I could read, they were read to me, by my mother and grandmother, and certainly long before I turned seven I was reading dozens of them every day of the week myself in the papers we got at home–the Bayonne Times, the Newark Evening News, and the New York Journal-American–as well as the papers I borrowed from obliging neighbors–the Jersey Journal, the Hudson Dispatch, the New York Daily Mirror, and the New York Daily News. The News was, hands down, my favorite paper because it carried my favorite strips–“On Stage,” “Gasoline Alley,” “Moon Mullins,” “Smilin’ Jack,” “Brenda Starr,” “Winnie Winkle,” “Smitty,” as well as my very favorites, Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” and Chester Gould’s “Dick Tracy.” (I always wanted to like George Wunder’s version of “Terry and the Pirates,” but I just didn’t get it.) To me “Dick Tracy” was the pinnacle of strip comics; I remember lying in bed at night wondering what mayhem tomorrow’s installment would contain, and also wondering how old I’d have to be (17? 18?) before I could show up at Chester Gould’s front door (but where did he live?) and beg him to let me be his assistant.  Continue reading