Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dick Tracy and the Pirates

As I've mentioned before, these past few weeks have been remarkable for the number of comic strips that have featured cross-overs, referenced other comics, or -- in this case -- incorporated a loving homage to a true genius of the medium.

In the current storyline for Dick Tracy (Mike Curtis, writer; Joe Staton, artist), Tracy calls Wingy Sprinkle, a now-grownup companion to a young Sparkle Plenty back in the 1950's. OK, that's a nice reference to the strip's rich heritage left by creator Chester Gould. But then the team goes farther.

If you don't know much about comics, you can just read this three-day sequence for what it is: a way for Tracy to find out more about a shady financial institution. But for the student of the comics, there's so much more here. (click on images to enlarge)

 The first panel has a very distinctive  portrait over Windy's shoulder -- it's Terry Lee, the hero of Milton Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates." Caniff created the adventure strip in 1934. He wrote and drew it through 1946 when he left to start a similar strip (but one where he rather than the syndicate, owned the rights) -- Steve Canyon. The third panel shows the boss of the airline, Hotshot Charlie, a major character in the latter days of Caniff's run of Terry and the Pirates. And the very last thing the eye sees as it leaves the panel is a portrait of Milton Caniff, at about the age he was working on Terry.

So once Hotshot Charlie's revealed, how do you keep the readers of your subtext interested? Keep the references coming, of course!

The following day there's a portrait over the shoulder of Hotshot Charlie -- Burma, the blonde with the past who was one of the two most important female characters in Terry. And in the final panel, the most important one -- the Dragon Lady.

But Curtis and Staton aren't through yet. Here's the payoff.

In the middle panel, Charlie asks if Bitsy Beekman's checked in yet. Bitsy Beekman was a spunky female pilot with distinctive onion-ring braids and a signature French Foreign Legion k├ępi cap. Beekman and her airplane were key fixtures of -- Steve Canyon, Caniff's other strip. 

Nicely done, gentlemen. This comics fan thanks you for the enjoyable read.

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