50% Obscurity, 50% Mystery Strip: Chester Gould’s Panel Cartoon Series

Chester Gould, later of Dick Tracy fame, spent several years at the Chicago Evening American in the mid-1920s honing his craft and producing a slew of material. Unfortunately this early work by Gould is little known, and the histories I’ve read only talk of it in vague generalities and offer a lot of incorrect information. To that problem I have not been immune, and the information about early Gould material in my own book ticks both boxes — it is vague and offers incorrect information.

For instance, I have since learned from Jean Gould O’Connell’s book about her father that The Radio Catts and The Radio Lanes (which I list separately) are actually the same strip — it went through a title change partway through the run.

O’Connell also shows a few samples of an untitled panel cartoon series Gould produced, but doesn’t really say anything about it in her text. She seems to consider these editorial cartoons, even though most of them are strictly gag-oriented.

I recently got a sampling of the cartoons, all of them dating from August 1925. Although some are vaguely and limply editorial in nature, like the bottom example here, most are strictly playing for laughs. In fact, there was at least one running title used (Things That Can’t Be Done) that would seem to indicate that Gould was trying to achieve something at least adjacent to the Briggs/Webster mold.

Based on this sampling I believe there was a series worthy of listing in my book, though my information is essentially a mere few shards of a smashed pot. O’Connell’s book seems to show a sample of the feature from 1926, so I gather it ran a good long while. I also note with some bemusement from my examples that they are copyrighted to just about any newspaper Hearst owned, the choice apparently being based on nothing more than what the typesetter took a fancy to at the moment.

If anyone knows of a source for good primary source information on Gould’s early series, I’d sure like to know about it. I confess that I haven’t kept up with the various Dick Tracy reprint books, wherein there might very well be the occasional article about his early work. Of course, the ideal solution would be a trip to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield Illinois, the only library that has a substantial amount of Chicago Evening American microfilm, albeit missing some important months. Sadly, crossing the Canada-US border in these days of covid is a major undertaking and I won’t be making that trip anytime soon.

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