Who is Gruesome?

DickTracyGruesomeWith Halloween right around the corner it’s time to get Gruesome!  Mike Curtis has teased us with Dick Tracy’s fall enemy, the fearsome 1947 film foe Gruesome.  Like Cueball before him, Gruesome’s comic strip introduction is occurring six and a half decades after his 1947 film debut and we excited to see him added to the comic strip canon.

So who is Gruesome?  RKO Pictures created 4 Dick Tracy movies between 1945 and 1947, Dick Tracy Detective, Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, Dick Tracy’s Dilemma and finally Dick Tracy meets Gruesome.  This last film was the most star-studded, with horror genre star Boris Karloff (of Frankenstein fame) playing the role of Gruesome against Ralph Byrd’s Dick Tracy.  Karloff was so well-known in 1947 that his villain role was promoted more than that of the hero.

In this Dick Tracy classic which you can watch below, the stern-faced Gruesome is a cold-hearted ex-con who stumbles upon a poison gas designed to freeze individuals in place.  Gruesome is initially exposed to the gas and thought dead, leading to a classic Karloff moment when Gruesome awakens like a zombie in the city morgue, much to the surprise of Pat Patton.  Gruesome and an accomplice use the gas in a daring daylight bank robbery, which goes off perfectly except for witness Tess Trueheart who hid in a sealed phone booth.

Tracy and Pat Patton investigate the heist and gas, relating it to the disappearance of a scientist named Dr. A. Tomic.  These names are very Gouldian, with A. Tomic’s associate Dr. I.M. Learned either helping or hindering the investigation.  The movie toys with several horror themes during their detective work, an example being Pat Patton’s nervous search of a taxidermist shop.  Yet, the movie pokes fun at itself and the horror genre with Tracy commenting that this Gruesome fellow feels like a character out of a Boris Karloff film.

While Tracy and Patton’s investigation closes in on the bank robbers, Gruesome plays his role with cold malevolence as he silences those who might lead Tracy to him.  Of course Tracy eventually does still track Gruesome down and they face off in a well done battle complete with a conveyor belt feeding a red-hot furnace.  I’ll not reveal if Karloff’s villain ends up in flames like so many of his other monstrous roles. For now, we’ve only gotten our first peek at Curtis’s Gruesome and it will be interesting to see what traits of the character will remain, if any at all!


Belinda Blue Eyes

BelindaBlueEyesEaster Egg, homage, having a little fun, whatever you call it, Mike Curtis and Joe Staton are masters of slipping in references to old comic strips. For the past several months one has been staring me in the face and I didn’t have the slightest clue! As we know, Dick Tracy and Annie Warbucks are trapped in a 1944 version of Simmons Corner, where most of the townsfolk are brainwashed by a daily “Belinda” radio show. While we caught the similarities between the radio shows secret code and a Dick Tracy Radio Secret Codes, I was surprised to learn in yesterdays interview (read it!) with Mike and Joe at Comic Book Resources that Belinda herself was an English version of Little Orphan Annie!


The Mirror, Dec 23, 1941

Belinda Blue Eyes was first published September 30, 1935 in the UK’s Daily Mirror by Bill Connor and Steve Dowling who signed with the name “Gloria”. Belinda was a blond-haired orphan waif of similar age and adventuresome spirit to Annie. The Mirror was Britain’s most important newspaper for strip cartoons and much of their early success came from copying American ideas but adding a regional twist for the home market. In addition to Belinda Blue Eyes, the Mirror introduced England to Buck Ryan (Dick Tracy), Just Jake (Li’L Abner) and Garth (Part Superman, Part Terry and the Pirates).

According to Steve Dowling, the Mirror’s Guy Bartholomew was fanatical about comic strips, having been an artist himself and his excitement towards the medium can be summed up with this 1941 comic page. With World War II paper rationing in effect, the Mirror was limited to 8 pages a day yet still they included a full-page of comics. This one page may have been an important momentary reprieve for British citizens directly threatened by the dominant German war machine.

The Belinda strip ended October 17, 1959 with artist Tony Royle and writer Don Freeman at the helm, and now you know.

Thanks to Mike and Joe for keeping it fun!

Talk Like a Pirate Day (Terry and the Pirates)

MystaChimeraQuestionHaving seen Hotshot Charlie’s B-17 flying over Simmons Corner a few days ago and in celebration of “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, I thought I’d do a blog post on Terry and the Pirates.  Don’t worry, I promise not to do it in pirate slang.

Terry and the Pirates was created by Milton Caniff in 1934, appearing in black and white newspaper dailies for the first time on October 22 with color Sunday’s following on December 9th.  An adventure comic strip, Terry’s early plot is best summarized by The New Yorker,

“In this ground-breaking adventure serial, a pair of eager Americans, a boy named Terry Lee and a young fortune hunter named Pat Ryan, land in China to search for an abandoned mine and quickly find themselves facing a succession of gangsters, warlords, pirates, and femme fatales up and down the coast. Period colonialism and chinoiserie occasionally combine for some awkwardly overheated depictions, but Caniff visualized his setup—Robert Louis Stevenson by way of the pulps—with a cinematic flair that remains thrilling because it is played straight. Ryan, a two-fisted, often shirtless he-man, exhibits an arrestingly sexual chemistry with various bad girl.”

King George VI and Terry and the Pirates B-17 Bomber.

King George VI and Terry and the Pirates B-17 Bomber.

When the United States went to war in December 1941, Terry and company went to war as well.  The war years were some of Caniff’s finest work with current events woven into the stories and authentic planes, ship, uniforms and weapons researched and depicted.

Terry himself joined the Army Air Corps (this was before the Air Force) and he quickly became a fighter pilot.  Terry’s entire comic crew joined the fight and many new faces were added, including one Charles C. Charles, aka Hotshot Charlie.  The comically flippant Boston pilot became Terry’s best friend in the air force.

Shortly after the war in 1946, Milton Caniff ceased art and story duties on Terry and the Pirates.  As was normal in those years (and is the case with Dick Tracy) the comic strip was owned by the parent newspaper and would continue without Caniff who went on to write Steve Canyon comics. Terry’s story was adopted by George Wunder who carried the comic strip forward another 27 years into the 1970’s before it was cancelled.  George’s art and story work was not well received by many Pirate fans.

Like Dick Tracy before it, Terry and the Pirates has spun off an 18 episode television series (1953), a cliffhanger serial through Columbia Pictures (1940) and several radio programs from 1937 to 1948.  A choice selections of this media are linked below.

If you are interested in reading Terry and the Pirates, Idea and Design Works, LLC (IDW) has reprinted the entire Milton Caniff collection in a six volume set using the same high quality production used for the Dick Tracy collections.  Hermes Press is pitching in to print the follow-up George Wunder years.

Happy Talk like a Pirate Day!

P.S.  – Going back to today’s post title did you know that Talk Like a Pirate Day was created by a couple of guys named John, Mark and maybe Brian while playing racquetball in the 90’s?  They celebrated the day on their own for years until they emailed humorist Dave Barry (who I find hilarious) and the special day really started to roll.

Dick Tracy Joins the Search for Annie


Tracy-AnnieCHICAGO (March 28, 2014) — Faithful readers who’ve wondered what happened to Annie Warbucks will learn all the hair-raising details when two of the greatest adventure comic strips of all time collide starting June 1 in the daily and Sunday adventures of “Dick Tracy.”

When last seen on Sunday, June 13, 2010, in the “Annie” strip’s finale, Annie Warbucks was in the clutches of the war criminal known as “The Butcher of the Balkans” somewhere in Guatemala. Although this notorious assassin assured Annie she wouldn’t meet the same gruesome end as his countless other victims, he warned her she’d never see Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks again and that for the rest of her life she’d accompany him on his deadly travels.

That cliffhanger left unanswered the fate of the courageous young woman whose globe-spanning adventures have thrilled millions since her Aug. 5, 1924, debut and inspired a Broadway musical and two motion pictures based on the show — the most recent set to hit the big screen Christmas 2014. Now, thanks to “Dick Tracy” artist Joe Staton and writer Mike Curtis, fans won’t need to wonder much longer about Annie’s fate.

According to Curtis, it turns out that after some time spent fruitlessly searching the world for his beloved adopted daughter, Warbucks has decided to enlist the help of the only man who can rescue Annie: Dick Tracy.

“As a lifelong admirer of Annie, I felt the need to unravel her disappearance,” says Curtis, who’s helmed “Dick Tracy” with Staton since March 2011. Curtis’ previous writing credits include “Richie Rich” and “Casper the Friendly Ghost” for Harvey Comics.

“Joe and I have planned Annie’s rescue for some time, and we’ll deliver action-packed, over-the-top thrills and chills as the two features combine their casts for what we hope will be the most historic tale in comic strip history,” Curtis says.

Staton says this story arc is a dream come true for him. “Whether I’m working in the DC, Marvel or any other universe, it’s always a privilege to be standing on the shoulders of so many giants,” he says. The artist, who’s been drawing comics for many years and has more than 1,000 credits under his belt, is perhaps best known for his work with the Green Lantern series, for which he created several alien Green Lanterns, including Kilowog, Salakk and Arisia.

“Dick Tracy” was created by Chester Gould, and “Little Orphan Annie” created by his friend Harold Gray. Both are owned and trademarked properties of Tribune Content Agency. Fans across the country, as well as the industry, have given the creative team of Staton and Curtis high marks for having breathed new life into the iconic adventure strip. “Dick Tracy” won the comics world’s signature Harvey Award in 2013 for Best Syndicated Strip. The strip is produced by artist Staton and writer Curtis, along with inker Shelley Pleger, colorist Shane Fisher and technical consultant Sgt. Jim Doherty.

For more details, use our Response Form and we’ll provide you with contact information for Mike Curtis “Dick Tracy” writer and Leigh Hanlon, Associate Editor.  (I don’t want to post their email’s here for a spam bot to pick up)

Flattop Junior’s Car

Fifty-seven and a half years after it’s destruction, Flattop Junior’s car has returned.  Swindler and murderer Silver Nitrate and his sister Sprocket are on the run from the police and have just the vehicle to escape, the sweet ride of the late Flattop Jr!

NitrateCarIntroduced in March of 1956, the teenage son of Flattop was a mechanical genius who modified his ride with features well ahead of his time. Sporting a dash-board fridge, passenger side television and safe, with a running water sink and a hot plate stove in the back, young Jones and his passenger Joe Period lived for a time in the car, listening to tunes on a hi-fi LP record player.  Everything was available at the push of a button and hid back into the vehicle just as easily.  To help keep ahead of the cops, Flattop Jr. also installed a short wave radio scanner, bulletproof glass and a hidden emergency brake to keep the vehicle where he left it.

FlattopInCarThe Junior Jones’s car is one of the well remembered technical marvels created by Chester Gould.  It reminds some of the James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, but that spy-mobile didn’t come about until Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger in 1959 (the movie came later) so Flattop’s vehicle has seniority.  As an interesting side note, Fleming was also the author of another well-known car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which he wrote for his son Caspar.

As if often the case of these engineering marvels, destruction occured.  Flattop Jr’s awesome car was trapped inside an abandoned theater when police surrounded him and he chose to burn the theater down.  The vehicle was torched with very little besides the frame surviving.  Still it allowed the teenage criminal cover to escape…for a time.  Now it appears the vehicle has been restored to its original glory and will once again take part in a classic Dick Tracy chase, which begs the question, where do Silver and Sprocket put their Hyena, Lena?