Chester Gould, cartoonist and creator of Dick Tracy, 1900-1985.

Chester Gould was born November 20, 1900 in Pawnee, Oklahama Territory. His father, the publisher of a local weekly newspaper, routinely brought home syndicate proof sheets and out-of-town newspapers. Gould later said that these had inspired in him "the frame of mind to become a cartoonist."

Gould completed the W. L. Evans Correspondence Course in Cartooning (a popular course whose alumni also included E. C. Segar, creator of Popeye) and, in 1921, moved to Chicago to complete a college program in business administration. Upon graduation, Gould found employment in the art departments of a variety of Chicago newspapers, including the Tribune and the American. Initially drawing only spot illustrations for advertisements, Gould was eventually assigned a succession of short-lived strips, the most significant of which was Fillum Fables, which was carried by the Hearst syndicate.

Wishing for greater autonomy, Gould tried to create new strips for himself. In the late 20's, he created the tepidly received Why It's a Windy City and The Girl Friends, and in 1931 Gould drew a sequence of five strips titled Plainclothes Tracey. Gould later recalled that "Chicago in 1931 was being shot up by gangsters, and I decided to invent a comic strip character who would always get the best of the assorted hoodlums and mobsters." Gould presented the five strips to "Captain" Joseph Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News and president of the Chicago Tribune-N.Y. News Syndicate. Patterson had previously taken an active role in the development of many strips, including Moon Mullins, Gasoline Alley, and Little Orphan Annie (originally conceived by artist Harold Gray as Little Orphan Otto, Patterson suggested the sex change), and he recommended that the name of Gould's hero be changed to Dick Tracy. Patterson also devised Tracy's origin story, in which Tracy joins "the plain clothes squad" to rescue his kidnapped fiance, Tess Trueheart, and to avenge the murder of Tess' father.

After a brief trial run in the Detroit Mirror, Dick Tracy debuted on October 12, 1931, and quickly became a sensation. Dick Tracy strips were grimmer, more violent, and -- soon enough -- visually darker than anything else in the funny pages, and readers loved them.

Though sometimes considered a weaker draughtsman than many of his peers, Gould developed a striking visual style characterized by the evocative use of flat black shapes in his compositions, particularly in shadows and silhouettes. The resulting starkness of contrast between black and white figures parallels Tracy's struggle against evil, while it connotes the desperation of that struggle by emphasizing the violence depicted in the strips.

Chester Gould won the National Cartoonists Society award for outstanding achievement, the Reuben, in 1959. He retired from the Dick Tracy strip on Christmas Day, 1977, and won a second Reuben for that year.

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