Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dick Tracy and the Sunday Funnies

Sunday comics is the commonly accepted term for the full-color comic strip section carried in most American newspapers. Many newspaper readers called this section the Sunday funnies, the funny papers or simply the funnies.

The first US newspaper comic strips appeared in the late 19th century, closely allied with the invention of the color press. Jimmy Swinnerton's The Little Bears introduced sequential art and recurring characters in William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. In America, the popularity of comic strips sprang from the newspaper war between Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

For most of the 20th century, the Sunday funnies were a family tradition, enjoyed each weekend by adults and kids alike. They were read by millions and produced famous fictional characters in such strips as Flash Gordon, Little Orphan Annie, Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates. Leading the lists of classic humor strips are Bringing Up Father, Gasoline Alley, Li'l Abner, Pogo, Peanuts and Smokey Stover.

Back in 1999 the cover of The Dish featured my vintage Dick Tracy children's set made by Homer Laughlin.  The association received permission from Tribune Media Sevices to use an adaptation of the Dick Tracy characters and art work for the 1931 pitcher from HLCCA.

Dick Tracy® ©Tribune Media Services, Inc.
The final design was used on a White Fiesta Juice Pitcher, shown on the far right above.  The White Fiesta Disc Pitcher and the Gray Fiesta Juice Pitcher were test pieces made during the design process.  I was sorry to see that Mugg wasn't riding atop the squad car as he usually was in the series.

The original set with the graphics covered box has held up very well over the decades since it was produced. 

Do you remember all these characters?
Junior Tracy - The adopted son of Dick Tracy and later a police forensic artist. First appears in a Steve the Tramp episode. In 1937 The Blank episode he is 10 years old. It was learned early on that he was originally named John "Jackie" Steele, and that his birth parents were wealthy prospector Hank Steele and his wife Mary Steele, both of whom appeared in the strip.

Sparkle Plenty - Daughter of B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie. She married Vera Alldid, was divorced, then remarried Junior Tracy. She and Junior have one daughter named Sparkle Plenty Jr. 

Mugg - Boxer Dog who helped Dick Tracy bring down his own particular enemy Pear-Shape; rides on top of Police car. Member of the Police Department Zoo

Bob Oscar "B.O." Plenty - In his first appearance in 1945 he is a bachelor farmer who chews tobacco, lives in a mess of a house, wears torn clothes which he buys on "account"; and hasn't left his farm for thirty years; former criminal and later personal friend of the Tracys; after Shaky's body was discovered by his stepdaughter Breathless Mahoney, Breathless then stole his estate money from her mother and met "B.O." on the run. "B.O." is noted for having a rather "musky" scent that follows him around Plenty soon got caught up with Breathless' efforts to elude Tracy until he finally cornered her and forced her to lead him to the bank where the money was being hidden in a safety deposit box where he then nearly strangled and robbed her in the viewing room. He then escaped with the money and attempted to enjoy his wealth, which unfortunately drew the attention of the widow of B.B. Eyes and the sadistic gangster, Itchy. The criminal captured and forced Plenty to divulge the money and then attempted to murder him tying to a board and casting him into the city sewer system to drown. However, Plenty managed to safely exit the system and entered open sea where he was rescued by a tramp steamer headed for China before returning to the city. where he eventually met Gravel Gertie and finally got his criminal charges resolved. Unable to pronounce Tracy's name correctly (usually calling him Macy or some variant thereof). He and Gertie are the parents of Sparkle Plenty, who is now married to Junior Tracy. {In an Archie TV Comics he guests stars as a captive of "Pear Shape" Tone who tries to capture Dick Tracy!}

Gravel Gertie - former criminal and now wife of B.O. Plenty. Introduced in The Brow episode. In 1944 She is a widow for thirty years after her first husband sold her farm rights for a gravel pit and then died when his car backed into his own gravel pit. Tried to hide the Brow from the police after she found him in wrecked car; arrested when her hair from her clothes brush matched gray hair found near burning car. In a comic relief the Brow flees in terror when he catches his first glimpse of his guardian angel. In his struggle to escape an old fashioned lamp is knocked over; her shack burns down and her long hair is burned off. Later married B.O. Plenty and became mother of Sparkle Plenty. In a later continuity, it was established that Gertie had spent part of her childhood in an orphanage; while she was there, criminals shaved her head and tattooed onto her bald pate a treasure map showing the location of their buried loot, then allowed her hair to regrow to conceal the map ... which was belatedly rediscovered well into Gertie's adulthood. Dick Tracy was a popular strip for the railroad workers, and Gravel Girtie is the affectionate nickname of a part of the Clifton Forge line of the C & O Railroad. It stretches from Hinton, West Virginia to Clifton Forge, Virginia and delivered limestone gravel quarried from Fort Spring to the iron furnaces of Virginia as a fluxing agent.

Dick Tracy - The title character of the strip. Born 1909 (eight years after Creator Chester Gould). In 1931, before even joining the Police, he had captured his first villain Pinkie the Stabber. While leading a posse against The Arsons and Cutie Diamond, Tracy is seen in a Police uniform and not his regular plainclothes. He served as a lieutenant (senior grade) in US Navy Intelligence during World War II.

Tess Trueheart - The detective's love interest and later wife. When she was first introduced, she was kidnapped by Big Boy Caprice's men after they robbed and shot her father Emil Truehart. Served as a WAC in World War II, later on opened up her own photography agency. She is the mother of Bonnie Braids Tracy, Joseph Flintheart Tracy, and adoptive mother of Junior Tracy. Temporarily divorced her husband back in the '90s, but the two have gotten back together.

Pat Patton - Tracy's long-time partner and later was appointed Brandon's successor as Chief of Police. Formerly a steel worker. He served as Tracy's sidekick until he was eventually replaced by Sam Catchem. He was also the comic relief as an inexperienced detective although that role eventually was reduced as his various adventures allowed him to grow into his profession. The introduction of B.O. Plenty/Gravel Gertie and Vitamin Flintheart would later supplant him for humor. However, with Patton's ascension to Police Chief, his character took on a much more serious tone (although still slightly bumbling). Has Irish temper. Recently reappointed as chief after successful treatment for cancer.
Sam Catchem - (a pun on "Catch (th) em") Tracy's current partner since Pat Patton was appointed chief. The 1990 film, Dick Tracy, features both Pat Patton and Sam Catchem as Dick Tracy's partners.

Did you read the Sunday funnies back in the day?

Thanks so much for stopping by again today.


  1. OMG.....what a wonderful trip down memory lane!!! Sparkle Plenty was my favorite character as a child!!! A lot of inventions were introduced in that strip, the "2 way wrist radio" being one. Oh, thank you for this recap!!! hugs...cleo

  2. Hi Candy, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

  3. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon.


Thank you for your lovely comments.

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