I first learned of the existence of a punk plotline in the long-running Dick Tracy series in Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage’s essential compilation Punk: An Aesthetic, which reproduces a page from a 1979 issue of Circus magazine reporting on it.
Here’s what happened. From August through November 1979, Dick Tracy ran an extended plot in which the bad guys were two punk rockers. It certainly bears some resemblance to the famous “Quincy punk episode,” and the timing is right too. Note that the credit line on these comics is Gould/Fletcher/Collins. Max Collins wrote it, and Rick Fletcher was the artist—Chester Gould had created the strip and wrote and drew it for several decades, but he retired in 1977.
In the plot, Dick and his wife, Tess Trueheart Tracy, take a vacation to Washington state to visit their daughter Bonnie. Traveling with them is their elderly actor friend Vitamin Flintheart. While they’re on their trip, two punks named Bony and Claudine are perpetrating some kind of Badlands-ish spree of terror. The idea is that Bony needs money to finance a studio session to record an album, so he’s been holding up stores. We see him hold up a pawn shop, where he also snags an original Les Paul guitar. Eventually Tracy links up with the local authorities—Tracy and the local man on the scene are drawn to look almost exactly the same, to my eyes—and there’s a kind of hostage situation involving Vitamin and Bonnie—during which Bonnie gives birth to Dick Tracy’s second grandchild—and eventually Bony and Claudine are apprehended. In a nice touch, it turns out that the omnipresent safety pin in Claudine’s ear is used to aid in the delivery of the newborn.
The Circus article from 1979 covering the Dick Tracy plot about punk music
The writer of the series, Max Collins, states in the introduction this was inspired by the recent interest in new wave music—Collins himself was in a band called Crusin’, it turns out. There doesn’t seem to be much animus towards the punk musicians here except insofar as the nihilism inherent in the punk philosophy does seem consistent with an amoral attitude and thus a crime spree that can be used as a narrative. Bony doesn’t seem based on anyone in particular, and his criminal tendencies aren’t presented as deriving from his status as a punk musician per se—he’s just a psychopath. The only band name-checked by the series is Cheap Trick, in the strip reproduced by Circus, according to whom the original panels mentioning them were sent to the band as a gift.
I got ahold of the paperback and have scanned in some of the pages here. I’ve included some of the key moments involving Bony, but I’ve left a lot of the story out. IDW Publishing has been putting out the complete Dick Tracy comics for a while now, but I don’t know which volume this plot appears in.
You can see in the Circus article that the Sunday strips apparently just jammed two regular-length strips together with a couple of introductory panels. In a story of this type, told over many weeks 3 panels at a time, narrative compression and curious juxtapositions are paramount. The book presents those panels differently, in groups of three, no matter what day they appeared. The reason for pointing this out is that the dates I’ve provided aren’t to be taken as gospel; in some cases they may be an approximation. (Some of the strips include the date, but not all do.)
The Circus article points out that the plot that came after the Bony plot featured characters named Quiver and Tom Trembly, who were based on Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello; I’ve included pics of those characters at the bottom of the post.
If you click on any image in this post, you will be able to see a larger version.
August 16, 1979
August 17, 1979
August 27, 1979
August 29, 1979
September 5, 1979
September 6, 1979
September 7, 1979
September 8, 1979
September 9, 1979
September 10, 1979
September 14, 1979
September 25, 1979
October 10, 1979
October 19, 1979
October 23, 1979
October 24, 1979
November 10, 1979
November 14, 1979
November 15, 1979
And finally, here are pics of “Quiver and Tom Trembly,” whom the creators of the strip intended to serve as an homage to Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello: