Saturday, January 9, 2010

Crimestoppers Textbook

Jerome Rothenberg's "Poems and Poetics" blog has a reminiscence about the somewhat legendary incident in which "Dick Tracy" cartoonist Chester Gould threatened to sue Jess for "Tricky Cad" (above). Jess [Burgess Collins, 1923-2004] was an atomic scientist turned beat-era artist. One of his collages, "Tricky Cad," is a comic book composed entirely of cut-up text and images from Gould's syndicated strip. This was the 1950s, when comic strips were big business and the law on appropriation was moot. Writes Rothenberg,

When O! [the book they were publishing] was nearly done & ready to pass along to the offset printer, Jess raised the sometimes dicey question of permissions. His secret wish, he said, was to make contact with Dick Tracy's creator Chester Gould, who was one of his longtime heroes, & this would give him a chance to do so. I gave him the go-ahead, only to hear a few weeks later that Gould had not only denied permission but had threatened to sue all of us, if I remember it correctly, for every cent we had. There was a lesson in all of that, but in the face of Gould’s threats, which he could afford better than we could, the only choice we had was to retreat. Jess therefore constructed a marvelous comic-style centerfold, “That Sly Old Gobbler or the Orange,” carrying forward the Victorian imagery, and it took a legal/judicial change in the status of parody & appropriation before Tricky Cad was finally – & safely – published.

Rothenberg appends several Tricky Cad images (which are still hard to find on the Internet). For another Gould-sets-the-artiste-straight tale — involving Robert Crumb — take a look at this strip by by Jay Lynch (who was a participant) and Ed Piskor.

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