Chester Gould (November 20, 1900 – May 11, 1985) was an American cartoonist, best known as the creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip, which he wrote and drew from 1931 to 1977, incorporating numerous colorful and monstrous villains.
Blowing into the Windy City
Gould was born and raised in Pawnee, Oklahoma. In 1919, his family moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he attended Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State University) and was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity until 1921. That year, he moved to Chicago where he transferred to the Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies. He graduated from Northwestern in 1923. Fascinated by the comics since childhood, Gould quickly found work as a cartoonist. He was hired by William Randolph Hearst's Chicago Evening American, where he produced his first comic strips, Fillum Fables (1924) and The Radio Catts. He also drew a topical strip about Chicago, Why It's a Windy City. Gould married Edna Gauger in 1926, and their daughter, Jean, was born in 1927.
In 1931, Gould was hired as a cartoonist with the Chicago Tribune and introduced Dick Tracy. He drew the comic strip for the next 46 years from his home in Woodstock, Illinois. Gould's stories were rarely pre-planned, since he preferred to improvise stories as he drew them. While fans praised this approach as producing exciting stories, it sometimes created awkward plot developments that were difficult to resolve. In one notorious case, Gould had Tracy in an inescapable deathtrap with a caisson. When Gould depicted Tracy addressing Gould personally and having the cartoonist magically extract him, publisher Joseph Patterson vetoed the sequence and ordered it redrawn.
Late in the period of Gould's control of it, the Tracy strip was widely criticized as too right-wing in character, and as excessively supportive of the police. This commentary argued that Gould was using the strip to push his own political agenda such as attacking the rights of the accused at the expense of storytelling. Additionally, the late 1950s saw a changing newspaper readership that was perhaps less tolerant of Gould's grotesque style.
In the 1940s, Gould introduced an odoriferous, chewing tobacco spitting character, B.O. Plenty, with little significant complaint from readers. However, the later introduction of the crooked lawyer "Flyface" and his relatives surrounded by swarming flies, created a negative reader reaction strong enough for papers to drop the strip in large numbers. There was then a dramatic change in the strip's paradigm to feature science fiction plot elements with regular visits to the moon. This led to an increasingly fantastic procession of enemies and stories that largely abandoned the strip's format of urban crime drama. The Apollo 11 moon landing prompted Gould to abandon this phase. Finally, Dick Tracy was beset by the overall trend in newspaper comics away from strips with continuing story lines and toward those whose stories are largely resolved within one series of panels.
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