NEWS COLUMNS

SUNDAY, APRIL 20, 2014

THE BLACK BAG MYSTERY

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
May 2, 2007

One of Chester Gould’s classic adventures was titled “The Mystery of the Black Bag.” Developed as a circulation booster in 1949 for the Chicago Tribune, the story was a serialized grouping of clues from which newspaper readers could solve the case. The winner or winners received an award from the Tribune. Gould made a bet with Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the paper, that the story would attract many new subscribers. Gould was right. The contest generated thousands of readers eager for each new strip as it was released. McCormick was ecstatic, and after Gould modestly declined a cash payment, McCormick bought a new Cadillac as a surprise gift for his star cartoonist.

The mystery began with a bank, which was about to be evicted from its building, deciding to buy the building for a price of $1 million. The bankers were not aware that the landlady, who had ordered them to leave, was being held by criminals in an extortion attempt. The purchase price had to be paid in cash, and the bankers arranged for the money to be placed into a black bag. A bank secretary was sent to deliver the bag to the seller, but she disappeared en route. The mystery then unfolded with clues as to what happened to the secretary and the money.

Gould always paid careful attention to accuracy and details of the strip. In one panel, the bankers verified that the weight of the currency, in large bills, would not exceed the ability of the secretary to carry it. In another panel, Chief Patton made an amusing comment that Dick Tracy was a “Jack Benny” when it came to finances. This was a reference to Benny’s famed tightness with money. Could that have been a clue? Readers would have to wait to find out.

Andy Feighery is republishing the entire “Black Bag” series in his bimonthly Dick Tracy magazine. Feighery’s Spec Productions of Manitou Springs, Colorado, publishes a wide variety of classic comic reprints, and “Dick Tracy” is one of his specialties. Edited by historian Vic Wichert, the magazine contains extensive strip reprints, news from the comic strip world, “Dick Tracy” trivia and articles by Tracy experts.

The Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum preserves the record of Gould’s contributions to America and continues the heritage of the comic strip and its values for this and future generations.

Follow-up note: Photos of Chester Gould, Col. McCormick and the new black Cadillac are on the website. Could such a contest increase Tribune circulation today? Perhaps Dick Locher could repeat this success.

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“I decided that if the police couldn't catch the gangsters, I'd create a fellow who could.”
- Chester Gould
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