July 13, 2022

#08-223: Dick Tracy

Cover of a Dick Tracy comic

Note: The "Sunday funnies" were our favorite source of reading material when I was a kid, and are still around today.

Get Ready: Do you like comics, or comic books? Why or why not?

When I was a boy, some kids read comic books, but every kid--and not a few adults--read the "Sunday funnies," a full-color section of the Sunday newspaper filled with what we called "comic strips."

Despite the name, they weren't all "funny." There were soap operas like Mary Worth (I skipped those); swashbuckling stories like Prince Valiant; environmental stories in Mark Trail; and amazing facts in Ripley's Believe It or Not! Many of those old strips have survived, some for over 80 years.

But a lot were funny, too, where the characters did silly things, usually with a punchline. You might know Garfield, the sarcastic, obese cat; he started life as a comic strip in 1976.

My favorite for many years--always found on the front page of the comics section when I was a kid--was about a square-jawed, no-nonsense, big-city detective named Dick Tracy, who fought a gang of bizarre-looking criminals. ("Dick" was a common way to refer to a detective in those days, for example a "private dick," or the "house dick" who might work in a big department store.)

Tracy's enemies were often creepy-looking characters with nicknames to go with their features: Flattop, the top of whose head was completely flat; Pruneface, whose face was so wrinkled you could barely see his eyes and mouth; Itchy, who had a skin condition that caused him to constantly scratch himself; Mumbles, who didn't speak clearly; B-B Eyes, who of course had very small eyes; and Little Face, whose features occupied only a small area of his face, with a large forehead above and wide cheeks on either side.

The strip spawned movies, TV shows, animated cartoons, and of course, merchandise, like toy guns, a video game, and cheap plastic copies of Tracy's famous "two-Way Wrist Radio" (later a two-Way Wrist TV), which was way ahead of its time.

In 1949, the strip's creator, Chester Gould, introduced a one-frame feature containing hints for the amateur crime-fighter. Called the "Crimestoppers' Textbook," it contained helpful hints about things like how to identify a blood stain or how to use common objects as defensive weapons.

Dick Tracy was always exciting, with plenty of action and cops-and-robbers derring-do.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. bizarre
  2. derring-do
  3. funnies
  4. obese
  5. punchline
  6. sarcastic
  7. spawned
  8. strip
  9. swashbuckling
  10. wrinkled

  1. something long and narrow
  2. gave birth to; created
  3. another word for comic strips
  4. about swordsmen and adventurers
  5. with many lines and folds
  6. making cutting remarks
  7. strange; odd
  8. fat
  9. acts of bravery
  10. The last words of a joke (meant to be funny)

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 13, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. i; 3. c; 4. h; 5. j; 6. f; 7. b; 8. a; 9. d; 10. e