The next two films – Dick Tracy and Sin City deal with the nature of the art work in the comics. In addition to the art work two things are important here to notice here – the nature of the violence and way it is depicted and affected by the fact that it is drawn

The next two films are also mysteries of the "Who dunit?" variety. In this the film is certainly a member of the mystery genre.

Cartoon (Oct. 1 1931)=> radio program (1934-1948)=>serial films (Dick Tracy,1937; Dick Tracy Returns, 1938; Dick Tracys G-Men, 1939; Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc.(1941) =>films (Dick Tracy, 1945; Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, 1946; Dick Tracy’s Dilemma, 1947; Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, 1947;) =>comic book (1947)=>TV (1951) =>cartoon (1960-1961) => movie (1990) => video game (1990). There was even a proposed ride planned, which fell through. This would have been a good example of a film => ride unlike Pirates of the Caribbean which was a ride => a film!

Chester Gould introduced a raw violence to comic strips, reflecting the violence of 1930s Chicago. Gould also did his best to keep up with the latest in crime fighting techniques and, while Tracy often ends a case in a shootout, he uses forensic science, advanced gadgetry, and plain hard thinking to track the bad guy down. It has been suggested that this comic strip was the first example of the police procedural mystery story. Others have noted that actual "whodunit" plots were relatively rare in the stories since the comic strip format is a difficult one for that kind of plot. The real focus, they argue, is the chase with the criminal seen committing the crime and Dick Tracy figuring out the case and relentlessly pursuing the criminal who becomes increasingly desperate as the detective closes in.

Dick Tracy is a comic strip detective and a popular character in American pop culture. The character of Dick Tracy is a hard hitting, fast shooting, and supremely intelligent police detective who has matched wits with a variety of often grotesquely ugly villains. Dick Tracy was created by cartoonist Chester Gould in 1931 for a newspaper comic strip also entitled Dick Tracy. The strip, which made its debut appearance on October 4, 1931, was distributed by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Gould wrote and drew the strip until 1977.

The strip's villains are arguably the strongest appeal of the story. Tracy's world is decidedly black and white where the bad guys are sometimes so evil, their very flesh is deformed to announce their sins to the world. The evil sometimes is raw and coarse like the criminally insane Selbert Depool ("looped" spelled backwards, typical Gould). At other times it is suave like the arrogant Shoulders, who cannot help thinking that all women like him. It can even border on genius like the Nazi spy Pruneface who is not only a machine design engineer but also dabbles with a chemical nerve gas.

Obviously the strip is involved with crime dramas and as such has relevance to similar works of the thirties- the hard boiled detectives.

Reflecting some of the era that also produced film noir, Gould tapped into the existential despair of the criminals as small crimes lead to bigger ones and plans slip out of control and events happen sometimes for no reason at all because life can be unpredictable and cruel. Treachery is everywhere as henchmen are killed ruthlessly by their bosses, bosses are betrayed by jilted girlfriends and good people in the wrong place at the wrong time are gunned down.

However, the later stories were often shackled with a stubborn grousing condemnation of the rights of the accused which often involved Tracy being frustrated by criminals because of legal technicalities and proselytizing about it. A not at all atypical sequence from this period saw Tracy, having caught a gang of diamond thieves red-handed, forced to let them walk because he could not prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the diamonds were in fact stolen. As he saw the thieves get off scott-free, Tracy was heard to grumble, "Yes, under today's interpretation of the laws, it seems it's the police who are handcuffed!"

This right wing interpretation of law and order led to difficulties with the younger anti establishment generation of the ‘60’s and caused some problems in the strips readership.


Clearly one of the important aspects of the Tracy strip was its involvement with Tracy’s cleverness and his reliance on technology which was also very novel for its time in comics (Sherlock Holmes is far stronger in these areas but was not a comic strip).

Art Work

The comic strip artists are not involved in extremely sensitive color renditions since the newspapers are not printed in high resolution. The comic books themselves have a better chance, but the process is costly. From the very start the paper used for the newspapers has not been high quality either and the so the use of fine variation in color is not important.

Very early in the history of the American comic strip a character appeared called the "Yellow Kid". Joseph Pulitzer a major publisher of papers had attempted to reproduce great works of art with a four color press with catastrophic results. He switched to making big panel drawings. The color yellow had been elusive and as a result when a way to produce it was found, they tested it on the nightshirt of this comic "kid" which led to his name. The nightshirt was used as a place for text. The other major newspaper publisher was Randolph Hearst, who proceeded to steal the artist from Pulitzer who stole him back. Hearst ultimately got him but the battle over the Yellow Kid is one idea about the origin of the phrase "Yellow journalism)


How is the film like or unlike the comic itself?

(1) The film uses only the 6 primary colors
(2) Villains are physiologically strange: Internal ugliness is manifest outside. Does this suggest something immutable about negative behavior – genetic perhaps?

Differences from comic

(1) The film has multiple villains in it which did NOT Happen in the comics which always had only one villain at a time.
(2) There is NOT a emphasis on technology as is the case in the strip.
(3) The film does look like a comic but not particularly like Dick Tracy although his character and the grotesque make up of the villains holds

Imitation of comic – In the film, Beatty was in a surreal comic strip-inspired world with only primary colors, restyled automobiles, and extensive makeup treatments for Tracy's famed villains. In some sense foreshadows Sin City

Remember the names - they are often clues. Dick Tracy is obvious. "Dick" is a word for detective and "tracy" seems rooted in the idea that detectives trace things.

Tess Trueheart needs little explanation. The villains are named largely for the distinctive physical or behavioral traits (Flattop, Mumbles). Remember the idea that ugliness within becomes represented without. (Does Dustin Hoffman's performance of Mumbles remind you of Benicio del Toro's performence 5 years later in The Usual Suspects?


Does the violence lack reality in comic? Does it in the film

(Do you see any parallel’s with Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde film?)

Dr. Frederick Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent picked up many scenes of violence and sexuality in the comics – some of which are rather accurate (but minor) and others seem pure fabrication. None the less, Wertham argued that comics were bad for young people and reading comics led them into juvenile delinquency. He showed example of extreme violence (eyes being gouged out, police being shot, women being beaten and a baseball game played with body parts). Most his examples came from comics that were being published by small non main stream companies like Disney which accounted for the major share of the market. He did refer to Batman and Robin as a homosexual dream – the two of them living together like that. England outlawed some of the American horror comics A “Comics Code Authority” (Only Dell objected, saying there was nothing to censor. The comics were fine). The newspapers were upset since people didn;’t distinguish comic books and newspaper “funnies”. The newspapers had always been cautions since syndicated strips went everywhere and they didn’t want to lose family readership over a comic strip.

Although the plot is weak and many people felt that the weak plot had become subservient to getting many famous performers in the film, to some degree the film plays with the idea of organized (and disorganized?) crime, exploitation of the weak and helpless. The kid is alone and Tracy is a loner too. The film ends with an indication that perhaps being totally alone is not a good thing. Tracy gives a ring to Tess Trueheart and one suspects the kid will be adopted. The loners will be made into a family.