Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chester Gould's Early Years of Struggle

Above: a sports feature by Chester Gould. The feature was rejected the same year that TRACY was accepted.

Chester Gould created DICK TRACY. Yeah, yeah, everyone knows that.

But, before that -- before TRACY -- Mr. Gould persisted, enduring rejection after rejection, for a decade, before he hit on what was then called PLAINCLOTHES TRACY.

Mr. Gould took a cartoon correspondence course when he was a teenager. He began submitting cartoons for possible syndication beginning in 1931, while in college.

He did get a job at Hearst's Chicago Tribune a year after graduating from North Western, in 1924, and he cranked out some early efforts, syndicated by Hearst's King Features. The efforts were "uninspired" (to quote Gould himself) with titles like FILUM FABLES (a spoof on the movies) and RADIO CATS. They did not last long.

Why is it some people are driven? Gould was working at the paper, making $100 a week by 1928. He had been married for two years by then. Not a bad living at all! But he was constantly putting new comic strip ideas in front of Hearst: strips with kids, strips with girls, sports strips, even a science strip.

Here are some of his 1920s rejected comic strips.

Above: like most of these strips, this domestic drama featuring a young girl names Sal, has no name. The debt to fellow-Chicago cartoonist Harold Gray is apparent in its layout and subject matter.

The above strip, drawn in a bigfoot style and starring a boastful fellow named Buzzy is static and wordy.

There's a lot o action in this rejected submission which stars a Mister Larkin and his man servant and glaring racial stereotype Halitosis.

Above is a non-fiction strip titled "The World's Notebook."

Why Gould persisted, he only knows. He was comfortable, but he wanted more.

Talent is cheap. Persistence is everything. Gould had talent -- talent enough to be making $100 a week. His persistence for a breakthrough concept paid off.

Mr. Gould would go on to win awards, including the coveted Reuben Award (twice!). The strip, under a new creative team of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton, will see its 70th anniversary this October 4th.

These early strips have, so far as I know, only been reproduced once: in the program book for the 1978 "Dick Tracy: The Art of Chester Gould" exhibit, curated by Bill Crouch, Jr., at the old Museum of Cartoon Art in Port Chester, NY.

My thanks to Charles Green for his "Biographical Sketch" of Gould from that book, from which these samples are scanned.

200 Characters from Dick Tracy 1931-1977
CIGARETTE SADIE by Chester Gould

1 comment:

Tom Hart said...

Great post mike. Thanks!