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
This essay, which was published in Comic Art No. 9 (Fall 2007), is the second I wrote about the great cartoonist Chester Gould (the first one, entitled “Bud, Which Way to the Noble Hotel?” appeared in Nemo: the Classic Comics Library back in the mid-1980s). I’ve always maintained–because it’s the truth–that had it not been for my early discovery of, and infatuation with, Gould’s “Dick Tracy” comic strip, I never would have become a writer of fiction; that weird and compelling stuff of his just fired my imagination, made me want to make up stuff like it myself. His work is still inspiring to me and I still regularly reread the classic strips, now happily available in gorgeous hardcover editions published by the Library of American Comics. When I was preparing that article for Nemo 30 or so years ago, Chester Gould was still alive, and I spoke with him briefly, twice, on the telephone. It still makes me happy, remembering that I did. I’ve had quite a few heroes in my life, but none to compare with Chester Gould–and I actually got to talk to him!