Dick Crazy

From my friend Max yesterday, a postcard version of artwork by Michael Kupperman for The Believer:

It starts with a series of rhyming compounds — Maceface, Spacerace Face, Afro Laceface — and then branches out into merely preposterous compounds (with images to go along with them), like Moby Dickface and Mount Rushmore Face.

And then there’s Dick Crazy, an imperfect pun on Dick Tracy.

That’s /krézi/ vs./trési/, /k/ vs. /t/ (both voiceless stops, differing only in point of articulation) and /z/ vs. /s/ (differing only in voicing). (Note: Dick Crazy, as a proper name, has primary accent on its second element; the compound dick crazy ‘fond of penises’ is a garden-variety N + N compound, with primary accent on its first element.)

Now, on Kupperman. From Wikipedia:

Michael Kupperman, also known by the pseudonym P. Revess, is an American cartoonist and illustrator. He created the comic strips Up All Night and Found in the Street, and has written scripts for DC Comics. His work often dwells in surrealism and absurdity “played as seriously as possible.”

Among his recurring characters are “Underpants-On-His-Head Man — A costumed crimefighter who wears underpants on his head”  — and “The Mannister — A man who can transform himself into the shape of a banister”. A preposterous compound and a portmanteau.

Dick Tracy itself has plenty of strangeness, especially in the villain department. From Wikipedia:

Dick Tracy is a comic strip featuring Dick Tracy, a hard-hitting, fast-shooting and intelligent police detective. Created by Chester Gould, the strip made its debut on October 4, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror. It was distributed by the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate. Gould wrote and drew the strip until 1977.

… Chester Gould introduced a raw violence to comic strips, reflecting the violence of 1930s Chicago. Gould did his best to keep up with the latest in crime fighting techniques; while Tracy often ends a case in a shootout, he uses forensic science, advanced gadgetry and wits to track the bad guy down. The strip was an early example of the police procedural mystery story. Actual “whodunit” plots were relatively rare in the stories; the focus is the chase, with a criminal committing a crime and Tracy solving the case during a relentless pursuit of the criminal, who becomes increasingly desperate as the detective closes in.

The strip’s villains are arguably the strongest appeal of the story. Tracy’s world is decidedly black and white. The bad guys are sometimes so evil that 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, a machine design engineer who dabbles with a chemical nerve gas.

Gould’s most popular villain was Flattop Jones, a freelance hitman with a large head as flat as an aircraft carrier’s flight deck. Flattop was hired by black marketeers to murder Tracy, and he nearly accomplished that before deciding to first blackmail his employers for more money. This proved to be a fatal mistake, since it gave Tracy time to signal for help. He eventually defeated his assassin in a spectacular fight scene even as the police were storming the hideout, but Flattop himself escaped. When Flattop was eventually killed, fans went into public mourning, and The Flattop Story was reprinted in its entirety in DC’s series of Oversize Comic Reprints in the 1970s.

Other features of the strip: Tracy’s girlfriend, eventually wife, Tess Trueheart (Gould’s name choices were never subtle) and his adopted son “Junior” (who appears in Kupperman’s strip above), And the famous 2-Way Wrist Radio, introduced in 1946. Here’s the absurdly square-jawed detective with this piece of technology, so far ahead of its time:

Other characters include the Plenty family:

The Plenty family was a group of goofy redneck yokels headed by the former villain, Bob Oscar (“B.O.”) [first appeared in 1945, along with the play on B.O. ‘body odor’], along with Gertrude (“Gravel Gertie”) Plenty [and B.O.’s brother Goodin, as in the licorice candy Good & Plenty]. Gravel Gertie was introduced as the unwitting dupe (accessory) of the villain, The Brow, who was on the run from Dick Tracy. The family provided a humorous counterpoint to Tracy’s adventures. The Plenty sub-story was decades long, and saw Sparkle Plenty grow from an infant to a young married lady.

So Gould dipped into hillbilly humor, in the spirit of Li’l Abner and the Snuffy Smith of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. A very small sample:

(That’s the EPA; compare “the F B and I” for the FBI.)

One Response to “Dick Crazy”

  1. The comics in the rural South | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Finally, in 1945 came a farcical version of the Southern strip, the Plenty family in the Dick Tracy strip. From Wikipedia: […]

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