In 1932 Sam Lowe conceived of a special book that would be bulky but small so that it could be easily handled and read by young consumers and The Big Little Book® was born. Sold for ten cents apiece, retail buyers were intrigued with the concept and impressed with the titles that soon included film stars, radio program and comic strip characters and Walt Disney material.
“The Adventures of Dick Tracy” has the distinction of being the first Big Little Book, published by Whitman Publishing in December of 1932, followed soon after by “Dick Tracy and Junior.” Thirteen Dick Tracy Big Little Books were published through 1938, most focused on a particular comic strip story during Chester Gould’s first decade, but also included were Big Little Books covering three of the Dick Tracy Serials.
The reprinted Tracy stories were an interesting way to collect many months of comic into book form. In most cases these Big Little Books included the written story on the left side of the page and a single enlarged and reprinted panel with a caption relating the scene on the right. Perfect for young adventuresome readers.
In the middle of 1938, Whitman’s Big Little Books® transitioned into Better Little Books® and continued to produce Dick Tracy literature, focused again on reprints of the Dick Tracy comics and the Cliffhanger Serials. Another thirteen were published, the last was “Dick Tracy and the Tiger Lily Gang” in 1949.
Whitman stopped producing the Better Little Books in 1950 but briefly produced a series of Big Look Book between 1967 and 1969. This line included the title, “Dick Tracy Encounters Facey”. For more history on all Big Little Books check out Larry Lowery’s detail filled website.
Big Little Books (1932-1938)
|Published December 1932, “The Adventures of Dick Tracy” is 320 pages in length with 152 pictures and tells a story with prints of the strip comics November 19, 1931 through December 28, 1931 and April 12 through May 24, 1932. This includes Dick’s battles with Big Boy. This book is very rare and only a few were produced on its single press run.|
|Published in three printings in 1933, “Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy, Jr.” uses single prints from the strip along with the story to introduce Junior over 320 pages. This retells the story told in dailies October 13, 1932 through December 31, 1932. The first appearance of Junior, September 8th, 1932 is not included. This period instead focuses on Junior’s first adventures with Dan Mucelli.|
|Published in the second half of 1933 and covering 300 pages, “Dick Tracy Out West” includes prints from dailies between March 2, 1933 and May 16, 1933. The story includes battles with Steve the Tramp as Junior is shipped off to his real father Hank Steele in Colorado.|
|Also published in 1933, “Dick Tracy from Colorado to Nova Scotia” was 320 pages in length and prints daily strips May 22, 1933 to August 2, 1933. Here we see they were able to turnaround a printed book in just a few months. The story involves Stooge Viller, Steve the Tramp in the tragic events that led to Hanke Steele’s death. A softcover Cocomalt® Premium Peripheral of this book was also published.|
|Published in 1934, “Dick Tracy and the Stolen Bonds” prints strip dailies that occured between October 2, 1933 and December 5, 1933. In this book we are told the story of Big Boy’s escape from prison after the death of Boss Herod and the plot by Jimmy White and his “25” club steal bond money.|
|The second Big Little Book published in 1934, “Dick Tracy Solves the Penfield Mystery” reprinted daily strips between January 23, 1934 and May 7, 1934 in which Dick Tracy tries to save author Jean Penfield who has written a tell all book about Big Boy. This book has two variations, the second possibly issued as a “Premium.”|
|Published in 1935, “Dick Tracy on the Trail of Larceny Lu” reprinted some of the dailies between August 3, 1934 and October 15, 1934. In this story Larceny Lu returns to plague Dick Tracy and Junior and we are introduced to Junior’s birth mother, Mary Steele, who becomes entangled in a plot for money.|
|The second Big Little Book published in 1935, “Dick Tracy and the Boris Arson Gang” reprints the popular story of Boris and Zora Arson from dailies between November 13, 1934 and February 6, 1935. Coming in at 432 pages, this was one of the larger Whitman books.|
|Published in 1936, “Dick Tracy in Chains of Crime“, this 432 page book reprints some of Gould’s dailies between May 26, 1935 and August 2, 1935. Here we read about Bookie Joe’s gambling syndicate and Mark Masters who tried to rob him. In this story we meet Toby Townly, who would later become Pat Patton’s wife.|
|Also published in 1936, “Dick Tracy and the Racketeer Gang” was 432 pages in length and reprinted some of the dailies September 28, 1935 through December 8, 1935. The Racketeer’s are Cut and Muscle Famon and their “Maw”. Tracy battles them in a classic hunt on organized crime.|
|Entering 1937, “Dick Tracy and the Hotel Murders” included daily strips between March 8, 1936 and May 10, 1936. This was the Gothorn Murders case which introduced us to Lips Manliss, one of the few criminals who turned good. This was the only comic strip based book to be printed in 1937.|
|Published in 1937, “Detective Dick Tracy and the Spider Gang” was the first non-comic strip Dick Tracy Big Little Book to be published. It was released with the 1937 Dick Tracy Serial, The Spider Strikes and is filled with motion picture stills and the story in book form. Two versions of this book were produced due to a publishing stoppage.|
|Published in 1938, “Dick Tracy and the Man with No Face” was the last book printed under the Big Little Book label and was produced during the transition to Better Little Books, thus it has no circular BLB logo. In this book are dailies starting in late 1937 telling the story of Dick Tracy’s encounter with the Blank.|
Better Little Books (1939-1950)
|Published in 1939, “Dick Tracy on the High Seas” was the first Tracy book published under the Better Little Books brand. In this 432 page book are some reprints of Chester Gould’s dailies between January 9, 1938 and March 26, 1938 and features the story of Stud Bronzen and the Slave Trade off the coast of the city.|
|Published in 1939, “Dick Tracy Returns” celebrated the release of the second Dick Tracy Serial of the same name starring Ralph Byrd. This Better Little Book is filled with motion picture stills and the story in written form.|
|Also published in 1939, “Dick Tracy, The Super-Detective” was a 432 page book containing strip daily reprints for the dates November 8, 1938 to March 9, 1939 which includes the Poison Gas Plot involving the villain Karpse and Dick Tracy’s visit to “Pop” Gaines health resort where he helps resolve a botched gem heist.|
|In 1940, Better Little Books published the first Dick Tracy story based on a Ned Wever era radio script, “Dick Tracy and the Phantom Ship.” In this story Tracy, Pat Patton and Junior take a nautical trip down to the Antarctic to help whalers who are plagued by a ghost ship stealing their whales. You can read a Depot review of this novel here.|
|Published in 1941, “Dick Tracy vs. Crooks in Disguises” was 432 page Better Little Book covering comic strip dailies between March 12, 1939 and July 4, 1939. These includes Gas Station hold ups involving Scardol early in the book and the Whip Chute case after that.|
|Created in 1941, “Dick Tracy and his G-Men” was the Better Little Book produced for the third Dick Tracy serial, Dick Tracy’s G-Men in 1939. Like the previous serial book releases, this copy included motion picture stills and the movie’s written story.|
|Published in 1943, “Dick Tracy, Special F.B.I. Operative” was the first Tracy Better Big Book in two years, with the delay possibility attributed to the United States entering World War II. The book features reprints of the comic strip between the years the end of 1942 and start of 1943 during which the German spy Pruneface faced off with Dick Tracy.|
|“Dick Tracy on Voodoo Island” is an original Dick Tracy story written specifically for the Better Little Book format and published in 1944. In this story, Dick is asked to investigate a death at a rubber plantation on a Caribbean island. You can read our review of this book here.|
|Published in 1945, “Dick Tracy and the Wreath Kidnapping Case” is a 352 page book with comic strip reprints for the dates February 4, 1943 through April 14, 1943. This is the story of the kidnapping and rescue of little Johnny Wreath, stolen from daycare by his jealous father Nifty.|
|Published in 1946, “Dick Tracy and Yogee Yamma” was 352 pages in length and reprinted some of Chester Gould’s daily strip pictures from July 14, 1940 through September 18, 1940. In the story, Yogee uses a powerful gas to hypnotize wealthy victims, the gas produced by a chained Professor Roloc Bard.|
|“Dick Tracy and the Mad Killer” was published in 1947 and recounts Selbert Depool murders that took place in the comic strip from February 26, 1941 to May 16, 1941. The Depool case was one of the darker, deadlier cases for Dick Tracy.|
|Published in 1948, “Dick Tracy and the Bicycle Gang” included daily newspaper strip reprints October 24, 1940 through December 19, 1940. This story featured Junior heavily with the Deafy Sweetfellow causing the youngster all kinds of trouble. The cover picture was adapted from page 253 of the Boris Arson Gang book.|
|The final Dick Tracy Better Little Book, “Dick Tracy and the Tiger Lilly Gang” was published in 1949, a year before Better Little Books ceased their publication. This book contains daily comic strip reprints for dates June 14, 1942 through September 22, 1942. We are recounted with the story of Tiger Lily, a criminal with a rather strange reason for causing “accidents.”|
Big Little Books (1967-1969)
In 1967 Whitman Publishing released a short run of Big Little Books (the 2000 Series) from which we were given one last Dick Tracy BLB, “Dick Tracy Encounters Facey“. This was a 256 page book that went through three different printings. Copies of this book are the most common Dick Tracy Little Big Book to be found by Tracy hunters.