What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why is there time travel now? July – October 2021


The current story in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy has super-inventor Diet Smith sending machines back in time. It’s presented as the continuation of something he had tried before with humans.

Back in 2017 there was a throwaway mention of Diet Smith experimenting with time travel. Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit. Some years before 2017, Diet Smith mentioned working on a time machine to rescue his long-dead genius son Brilliant Smith. Brilliant, inventor of the two-way wrist radio, was killed in 1948 by the racketeer Big Frost. But there was no controlling when the time machine would send you, which limits its use for this sort of rescue operation.

I don’t, and Lien didn’t, know quite when this earlier time travel experimentation was done. I assume it’s something from that period in the 60s when Chester Gould tossed all sorts of wacky sci-fi fangles into the strip. You know, the Space Coupe, the psychic Lunarians and Tracy Junior’s bride from the Moon. The nation that controls magnetism controlling the universe. All of that stuff Gould put in with the assertion it was as much hard science as anything done in a forensics lab, scoring an own goal. But I can’t find when time travel was in the strip before. It could have been one of the antics in the Dick Locher run, for example, when the stories became very weird and impressionist and hard to follow. But it’s hard to think of Locher-era characters as driven by the emotions normal people have.

So this should catch you up on Dick Tracy for early October, 2021. If there’s any news about the comic strip, or you’re reading this after 2022 starts, there may be a more useful essay at this link. I’ll try to have one anyway.

And in mathematics blog news: I have interesting material on my mathematics blog. I’ve started my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z, a glossary of various mathematics terms. The first essay of this year’s set discusses Multiplication.

Dick Tracy.

11 July – 2 October 2021.

Vera Alldid and Mysta Chimera have disappeared, eloping, according to their social media. Everyone agrees it’s unlike them. It threw Alldid’s popular comic strip J Straightedge Trustworthy into unexpected reruns, mid-story. And Mysta Chimera, who’d been doing publicity as the comic strip’s Mars Maid character, had thought Alldid a creep. Still, what are the cops supposed to do about two people vanishing on a story nobody who knows them believes? Look for them?

Tracy: 'I'm familiar with Vera Alldid and his comic strip. We've met on many occasions.' Homer 'Peanutbutter' Barley: Then I'm sure you've seen the news. *Do you believe* he eloped with miss Chimera?' Tracy: 'Not a chance. I know Mysta Chimera very well. She'd never marry him.' Tracy, thinking: 'But it's odd nobody close to her has raised the alarm yet.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of July, 2021. Believe me, I feel weird too wondering why Dick Tracy is showing such restraint in investigating the disappearance. I guess it is better that he’s willing to suppose it isn’t inherently a crime if Mysta Chimera marries someone he doesn’t like.

Homer “Peanutbutter” Barley, a freelance cartoonist and old acquaintance of Dick Tracy, takes action. He points out to Dick Tracy that Mysta Chimera is not actually a Lunarian. She’s the brainwashed, genetically-altered daughter of the quite human crime boss Posie Ermine. Thus she is a missing attractive white woman. With this to go on, the cops swing into action. Tracy checks in with Brock Archival, the last person the missing people were known to meet.

It’s the obvious lead, but it’s a good one, since the wealthy Brock Archival has kidnapped them. He intends to keep them both on his private island, and he’s got the private island — and the ring that neutralizes Chimera’s Lunarian powers — to do it. Alldid shoves them into a secret room when Tracy knocks on the door. Mysta uses her last ounce of strength to blast a telepathic cry for help that Honeymoon Tracy (herself half-Lunarian) picks up. And she relays that to her grandfather.

You might ask: wait, Mysta’s telepathy had been starved by lack of direct sunlight. How can she now have the energy to send out a last blast? Yeah, because if there’s one thing we can’t buy in narratives, it’s the last gasp of an exhausted hero finally making the difference.

Narrator: [ Tracy's search of Archival's home yields silver. ] Tracy, thinking: 'It's some kind of metal object, but it seems to be stuck beside, not under the molding ... A used pen nib! The type Alldid uses to draw with ... now I see ... no caulking and *there's an opening in the wall here*.' Out loud: 'Sam, come here, and bring Archival with you!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of August, 2021. I don’t know how Alldid’s pen nib got stuck there. I don’t see where Alldid planted it on-camera or had an unsupervised moment when he could have off-camera. Still, the pen nib is there, isn’t it?

With something that kind of resembles probable cause if you squint, Tracy asks to inspect Archival’s mansion. And he consents, because how could you find people shoved into a closet? This does give us some actual super-detection. Tracy follows strange scuff marks in the carpet to find one of Alldid’s drawing pen nibs. From there he finds the secret room holding Alldid and Chimera. Archival fumes that Tracy can’t possibly prove a kidnapping charge and Chimera kicks him in the Great Hall.

So, the 20th of August, this story resolves. Alldid gets back to his studio to draw comics. Chimera gets home again. The powers-controlling ring gets handed to Diet Smith because when would he ever do something ill-advised or dangerous with super-technology?


The next and current story got seriously under way the 21st of August, although it had a teaser a few weeks earlier. This debuts Diet Smith’s newest creation, the Time Drone. It’s a drone, like you might fly over the park and record video with, except it travels through time and space too.

Hooded woman, wearing a Queen of Spades card: 'Stealing the time drone won't be easy. Dick Tracy's a close friend of Diet Smith. He always shows up when Smith's tech is threatened.' Ace of Spades: 'I have plans for Dick Tracy. There will be plenty to keep him busy.' Queen: 'And what about your friends in the Apparatus?' Ace: '*What* friends?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of September, 2021. I suppose as long as they keep looking around and not seeing a Time Drone pop into the room gathering evidence they can feel confident their plan is working.

Smith’s got a few videos. Dick Tracy’s iconic villain Flattop. The building of the Great Pyramid of Giza. He sends one to Ford’s Theater to catch a show. Another to see Washington’s Inauguration. The “treasure pit” at Oak Island, Nova Scotia. He announces this to the public, and the Ace of Spades, new head of The Apparatus crime syndicate, sees opportunity.

We don’t know his plans. From the 9th of September we got a short diversion, Dick Tracy talking with Briar Rose of Law Enforcement Magazine. Tracy tells the story of how the murder of Tess Trueheart’s father spurred him to move from patrolman to detective. How the city attracted newer and weirder criminals. How Tracy stepped up to become the super-scientific detective of world renown. It all smacks of an anniversary celebration, and it’s curiously timed: the comic strip debuted on the 4th of October, 1931. I’m not sure why this sequence ran a few weeks early except perhaps to get us fans talking about it early?

Tracy: 'I'm glad to tell you what I know of our precinct's history, Miss Rose. It won't be dull, I promise.' Rose: 'Thank you, Detective Tracy.' Tracy: 'This precinct was established during the era when gang bosses, made rich and powerful by Prohibition, reigned over the city with little fear of consequence.' Rose: 'My! How wild and woolly were those days?' Tracy: 'The lives of ordinary citizens were often in peril. It wasn't unusual for gun battles to be fought on city streets. Some of the older buildings still have bullet holes. In fact, it was during a robbery that my fiancee's father was shot and killed.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of September, 2021. This particular strip comes up to but doesn’t quite force us to accept that Tess’s father’s murder was in the Prohibition era (for us readers it was in 1931). Look at precisely what’s said. So that’s a fair squaring of the circle that these characters don’t (much) age without retconning events to have happened later than they appeared in the newspapers.

And then one more story promising to start. Blackjack broke out of prison. Someone stole his collection of autographed Dick Tracy memorabilia and he intends to do something about it.

Not particularly threatening to be a story: Rikki Mortis is pregnant with Abner Kadaver’s child. So there’s the hope for a new generation of horror movie hosts to be Dick Tracy villains.

How does the Time Drone fit into Blackjack’s plans? I don’t know. They might not at all. Staton and Curtis are comfortable introducing something they don’t follow up for months. Sometimes years. Several years ago B O Plenty complained that his house was haunted. Could that be the Time Drone which we saw used to take photographs of the whole entire family? I’m not confident saying it is. We’ll have to check back in a couple months.

Next Week!

Bears discover fire, and they don’t approve. All that and leaf-gathering as as I recap Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, if things go well.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? And What Happened To Jim Scancarelli?


[Edited the 1st of October, 2018 to add] Jim Scancarelli is back, and writing the strip again. The current storyline is a nostalgic tour of the comic’s history, ahead of its centennial. There should be a full recap of this posted around the 15th of October, barring surprises. ]


So I say this for people in my future who’re looking for information about Gasoline Alley, the venerable, long-running serial-comic strip. If I learn more about what’s going on in it than I do now, the first weekend of February in 2018, I’ll post it here. Somewhere above this article on the page should be some more current idea of what’s going on.

Independently of that, I try to track mathematically-themed comic strips. I discuss them on my other blog, the mathematically-themed one. You can tell it’s different because it uses a serifed typeface for article headlines. The most recent of the comic strip posts is right here. I try to have at least one a week. The past few weeks Comic Strip Master Command has been sending me lots of stuff to write about, although it’s mostly “a student misinterprets a story problem”. But you never know when the teacher in your life is going to need something fresh taped to the door. So give that a try, please.

Gasoline Alley.

13 November 2017 – 3 February 2018.

My last review of the plot in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley came at a key moment in the storyline that’d been running since the 27th of April. Rufus was back from the circus after wrongly thinking another man had won the dear heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother. The day after my last plot review, Rufus — out of his Human Cannonball outfit and back to his regular duds — remembered he needed to get to choir practice. He needs the practice. The Thanksgiving Oratorio is coming up this Sunday. I didn’t think anything particularly odd about this. The commenters on Gocomics.com did.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Thanksgiving oratorio! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of November, 2017. Also his strip for the 25th of March, 2013, with a slightly enlarged word balloon the first panel and some text replaced. From the way it looks I’m assuming the replacement text was stitched together from letters Scancarelli had written in other word balloons. Wikipedia says he doesn’t use a computer to draw or letter the strip, so, someone pasting in a replacement makes sense of the weird spacing and inconsistent line in that panel.

Because Rufus had hurried to choir before. In March and April 2013, he rushed to add his vocal emanations to what was, then, the Easter Cantata.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Easter cantata! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of March, 2013. The secret revealed! I understand the need to fiddle with the word balloon for the first panel; space just doesn’t allow otherwise. The minor differences in coloring intrigue me, though. I’m surprised whoever at Tribune Content Supply Company And Antique Screen Door Manufacturers Inc who’s responsible for the reprints didn’t just use the colorized version of the original. Or else they recolored it all, making mostly but not entirely the same choices. Maybe there’s a reference sheet saying that Holly Luyah should be wearing that color, but wouldn’t it also specify her hair color? And wouldn’t there be some guide to whether Rufus’s shirt ought to be white or yellow? Or whether he wears slacks or blue jeans? In short, everything about the colorizing of daily comics is a strange and unnecessarily complicated mystery.

Nothing had been announced about planned reruns. It’s not unprecedented for a cartoonist to put the strip into reruns a while. They deserve holidays as much as normal people do. Or they have personal crises — a health scare, a house fire, a family emergency — and only a capitalist would complain about their taking time to deal with that. It’s a bit unusual for there to be no news about it, though. This stuff might not draw the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger. But to hear that a cartoonist has had a medical crisis and had to take a few unexpected weeks off is why comics sites have blogs. Also, Lincoln Pierce, of Big Nate, is “attending to family matters” and that’s why that comic strip went into reruns for a month. There’s not any word about when he’ll be back. It does happen, though. Darby Conley, of Get Fuzzy, stopped drawing new dailies altogether without notice over a decade ago. In the middle of a story, too, although it was a boring story he’d done many times before. No explanation, and he’d keep drawing new Sunday strips, although those have tapered off too. Why? No one who knows, says. Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus has been nothing but reruns from the 70s, sometimes touched up with modernized captions. We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice. Dan Piraro and Wayno will redraw some vintage Bizarro, usually remaking a weekday strip as a Sunday. But that’s a complete redraw. And Bob Weber Jr and Sr’s Slylock Fox reuses puzzles. Sometimes, like, the Comics Curmudgeon remarks on both printings of a strip.

So what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who does know and says. It’s an unsettling silence. It’s easy to imagine things that might leave Scancarelli unable to write or draw the strip. Few of them are happy thoughts. Gasoline Alley is — or at least had been — the oldest (American) syndicated newspaper comic not in eternal reruns. It’s terrible to think that the worst might happen and Jim Scancarelli might not be drawing the comic strip when it turns 100 years old this coming November 24.

(If my research doesn’t fail me, the next-oldest is John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, if that counts as a comic strip; it began the 19th of December, 1918. Then there’s John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, begun the 17th of June, 1919.)

I’m sorry to have so little to definitely say. If I get news, or even any good rumors, that aren’t made under a pledge of confidentiality, I’ll share. In my entire life I have exactly once ever gotten a tip about comic strip news, and that was in confidence. So I couldn’t even go into Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and make an accurate “prediction” about what would happen and then be all smug when it came true. In fact, I predicted the opposite of what would happen, because that reflected what I would have thought if I didn’t have inside information.


Still, perhaps somehow you weren’t reading Gasoline Alley with care in 2013 or didn’t remember the story. So what did happen? Rufus sings awful. Choir director Holly Luyah and Pastor Present work out that there is one note Rufus can sing, and hold him in reserve for exactly that note. He signs that note with enough power to break a stained-glass window. Rufus and Joel replace the broken piece with part of a beer sign, and then scrub the letters, and all the color, off the window.

29th of November: the next rerun story begins, with Slim Skinner working as a Santa Claus for the Bleck’s Department Store. That’s a plot which ran November and December of 2008. Slim’s not all that enthusiastic about the Santa Claus job, but it gives him the chance for a bunch of jokes about awful kids. Then he gets a sweet bug-eyed girl who wants something nice for her Mommy, since Daddy was killed in Iraq. The weepy melodrama sort of story that the comic does. This was also when I realized something was awry in the dailies. Playing Santa Claus for a grief-stricken impoverished family was where the Rufus and The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother started their storyline.

Slim, driving the truck with a tree and presents to a rickety old cabin. 'Look, Clovia! It's snowing!' Clovia: 'Slow down, Slim! There's the little girl's home!' (In the house) Mother: 'Go to sleep, Mary, and say your prayers!' Mary: 'Yes, mommy! Santa will be here any minute! He promsied!
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of December, 2017. As also seen the 24th of December, 2008, though back then not in color. The strip reads rather well in black and white. I’ve assumed that Scancarelli does the coloring himself; it seems like it’d fit his working style. But I don’t in fact know. Not answered: Slim got arrested breaking into a good-sized house in a “ritzy neighborhood”. How did he get that house mistaken for this?

Slim figures to forego his own family’s Christmas and instead use the money to give the poor kid’s family a proper full holiday. With a fully-decorated tree and bunches of presents he breaks into the kid’s house. Before he can enter, he’s arrested by the Gasoline Alley police, which is about average for a Slim Skinner plot. The people whose house he mistakenly broke into don’t prosecute, and the police donate something to the poor girl and her mother. The girl’s name was finally given as “Mary”, because of course it would be. Close out with some talk about Slim’s resolutions for the New Year and that’s that.

With the 2nd of January the next (and current) story began its rerun. It first ran in January of 2007. It’s got Skeezix hanging out at Corky’s Diner. After a couple gags about about the food story interrupts in the form of Senator Wilmer Bobble visiting. He reminds Corky of the part he played in getting his Uncle Pert to sell Corky the diner back in 1950 (“I’ll talk with you, Corky, but not if Wilmer is in the deal!”). And they think back to the buying and early days of the restaurant that for all I know are faithful reconstructions of how the storyline back then went. And Bobble explains that now that his uncle Pert has died, and deeded the land to him, he’s evicting Corky’s Diner. He notes that “nothing lasts forever”, which is a pretty good line for a longrunning syndicated newspaper comic strip. He’s hoping to build a ten-story parking garage. The bulldozers will be here in two weeks.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of January, 2018. And also from the 27th of January, 2007. Put aside the whole “smoking in a public place? C’mon, was 2007 really that long ago oh my Lord it was wasn’t it” issue. Bobble blowing a triple-decker of smoke into Corky’s face as the papers fly off the table is a good, Walt Kelly-ish bit of emphasis and action in the midst of a talky scene.

And that’s the rerun story where it stands, as of the 3rd of February. (If they keep rerunning the story without interruption, the story will be here about seven more weeks. Spoiler: it doesn’t end unhappily for the core cast.)

Rufus: 'What yo'think my brother Magnus would like fo' Christmas?' Joel: 'Seein' how he's behind bars --- how 'bout some files?' Rufus: 'Naw! Ain't enough room in his cell fo' a cabinet!' [ And after the throwaway panels ] Rufus: 'Oh, man! This is fun ridin' th'elevator at th'mall! Ain't it, Joel?' Joel: 'Well, it shore got its ups and down!' Man getting in elevator: 'Four, please.' Joel: 'Er ... four what?' Rufus: 'Joel! Don't yo' mean, what fo'?' Man: 'Never mind! I'll do it myself! (Sniff, sniff) ... Whee-ew! Someone's deodorant isn't working!' Joel: 'Don't look at me! I don't use th'stuff!' Rufus: 'Me neither!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of December, 2017. Possibly, maybe, the last original strip he’s published? The other Sunday strips from December 2007 were reruns from December of 2007. Must admit I’d rather the comic strip go out on a stronger installment than this. So, according to Wikipedia Jim Scancarelli is an expert model railroader and a prize-winning competitor in the Old Fiddler’s Convention. I mention this as they’re possibly the two least surprising things I could learn about Jim Scancarelli.

The Sunday strips have been the usual spot gags, not part of any particular story continuity. Sunday strips have a longer lead time than weekday strips do. So it’s likely that the most recently published Scancarelli comic was one of the recent Sundays. I don’t know which. Commenters on rec.arts.comics.strips (particularly D D Degg) and on the GoComics.com pages have identified most of the rerun dates. This strip from the 17th of December was a rerun from 2007, as the phone suggests. The last new strip might be that of the 10th of December, 2017. Can’t say for sure.

(Late-breaking addition, punishing me for getting this all written up like 30 hours before deadline: I can’t find where the strip for today, the 4th of February, 2018, ran before. The lettering, to me, makes me think the strip is another from around late 2007 or early 2008. But I can’t find the original if it is out there. Maybe we worried for nothing? Or Scancarelli had a couple strips almost done and was now able to do the Sundays at least? Even if he isn’t able to get the dailies done?)

I promise. If I get news, and can share it, I will.

Next Week!

Has Nature killed you, or anyone you know? Has it dropped parachuters onto any bank robbers? Have you ever counted the prairie dogs outside Rapid City, South Dakota? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “the heck are you even talking about?” please join me as I check back in on James Allen’s Mark Trail. Be warned: it does involve geographically implausible appearances of giraffes. Also be warned: it appears to build a story around things mentioned during but not directly related to a previous story. Also it’s been years since we saw a giant squirrel discussing the smuggling poachers. Just saying.

Driving With The Comics


And then I noticed this banner at gocomics.com. They’re celebrating National Golf Month. I only saw the banner ad once, and then haven’t seen it since. My assumption is the comic strips are celebrating National Golf Month by just going about their business as usual. If there’s one thing syndicated comic strip artists love, it’s making weeklong stories about how stupidly pointless it is to give kids souvenir trophies for participating in big events. But if there’s another thing they love, it’s making up creepily unnatural names for social media their characters use instead of Facebook and Twitter. But coming up soon after that is telling golf jokes, because deep down syndicated cartoonists think it’s still World War II and they can get in good with their officers by talking a lot about golf, the way the senior officers seem to. And then they get to characters having to do their taxes, even if it’s August and tax forms aren’t due for eight months.

'Happy national golf month - these comics are a hole-in-one!' Featuring a picture of Snoopy golfing, the way he did really quite a lot.
Which nation, by the way? Also which month, since this appeared like the 18th so they either started way late or fairly early.

Me, I just talk about mathematics in the comic strips, and in this case, I analyze one joke about entropy until it falls all apart.

Happy Hooligan: A Trip To The Moon


So, back in the first third of the 20th century, the cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper created a comic strip featuring a hobo named Happy Hooligan. I admit knowing the name mostly because it was one of those archaic references occasionally passed down from my father or old cartoons or the like. (The character’s way too old for my father to have read in the papers, although he did reappear in the short-lived Sam’s Strip by Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas.) Like many comic strips it got adapted into a cartoon, and this A Trip To The Moon is an example of the set. It’s only half a reel, as I make it out, and I think the ending a disappointment, but it’s got that engaging oddness I appreciate silent cartoons for.

I’m not certain who produced the short; the Big Cartoon Database claims it was animated for the International Film Service by Walter Lantz, later of Woody Woodpecker fame, and that seems plausible enough. Don Markstein’s Toonopedia says the various shorts were produced by “at least” three different studios.

Math Comics, And Isn’t That Enough?


Over on my mathematics blog there’s another of my collections of comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, and cartoonists were able to find another way to mention the infinite monkey problem of Shakespeare-writing, so, there’s that.

I’d like to offer the non-mathematically-inclined readers some comic strips to talk about here, but right now, I haven’t got anything good, I’m afraid. I suppose I could discuss some of the comics that I find compelling in their badness, but, this is the Internet. You can find something agonizingly bad just by looking at something, and if that doesn’t make you feel bad enough, look at a forum for its fan community, or its Wikipedia Talk page, and that’s enough to make you regret things in general and that thing in particular.

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