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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

     Sunday, September 12 2004 

Frank Charney. Click for profile.Newspaper comic pages
superheroes and villains

When we open the daily newspaper, one of the first features most of us look at is the comic strip. Seniors might turn to the obituary instead. Today’s comics are generally geared toward family life and workplace—with injected humor, like “Dagwood,” “For Better or for Worse,” and “Sally Forth.” For mainly humor, there are the comics “Beetle Bailey,” “Peanuts,” and “Broom Hilda.” Except for the “Spiderman” comic strip, there aren’t many action heroes in the majority of today’s newspapers as there were in the past. You might see “Batman” or the “The Phantom” appearing in some newspapers, but these action heroes appear to be in limited circulation.

Focusing on the enemies that some comic book superheroes faced, Batman had “The Joker” and “The Penguin” as his major archenemies. Spiderman still has the “Green Goblin” who rides a witch broom that exhausts fumes and “Doctor Octopus” with the creepy, mechanical tentacles that could be utilized better on a car assembly line.

But of all the most memorable criminals from the past, I will always recall those that the rock-jawed detective, Dick Tracy, encountered. These miscreants always had some physical deformity or personal flaw and had names like “The Brow.” “Flattop,” “Gargles,” “Influence,” “Measles,” “Mole,” “Mumbles,” “Pear-Shape,” “Pruneface,” “Mrs. Pruneface,” and “Shakey.” See a roundup of them here.

Chester Gould, the originator of Dick Tracy and the cartoonist from 1931 to 1977, captured the imagination of the reading public during the 1940’s with these notable villains. The present-day cartoonists, Collins and Locher, who inherited the Tracy strip, still try to invent deformed villains.

I remember vividly one criminal “Influence” who was a con man and had a glass eye with which he hypnotized his victims. He was a formidable opponent and one wondered if Tracy could subdue him. Tracy did just that when he knocked out Influence’s glass eye in their final meeting and proved him to be a fraud.

During Tracy’s popular era, I always bought the early edition of the New York Sunday News at “Slim” Emery’s Newsstand, and Dick Tracy was featured on the front page of the comics section. I collected the entire Tracy series where he encountered “Influence” and “Gargles” and stored them away for safekeeping. Like my comic book collection of “Captain America” and “The Green Lantern,” the News comics eventually disappeared or were discarded. If preserved to this day, this collection would have been a treasure trove on Ebay or at a comic book convention. At a convention recently in Florida, a rare 10-cent Dick Tracy comic book from 1939 featuring the villain “Blank” sold for $200. A comic vendor said that this vintage Tracy might climb to $300 on resale.

With terrorists causing conflict in all parts of the world, villains look like they are going to continue to be on the scene for a while. It’s too bad that they couldn’t be relegated to just reading about them in the comic books.

Picture taken from askjeeves for Dick Tracy.

— Frank Charney 


Foreign approach (last in series)

People in other countries sometimes go out of their way to communicate with their English-speaking tourists. Here is a collection of signs seen around the world.

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.


— Sent by Mike Harris

Thought for today

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

—Oscar Wilde  

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