Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Obscurity of the Day: The G-Man
One of the more elusive of the many Dick Tracy-wannabes that popped up in the 1930s, The G-Man was syndicated by King Features, essentially in competition with their own other entry, Secret Agent X-9. According to one writer this strip was meant to appeal to younger readers than the Dashiell Hammett production, a dubious marketing slant.
The strip featured FBI agent Jimmie Crawford, a fresh faced kid who got involved in solving murders, kidnappings, all sorts of ... er ... appropriate reading for the younger set. He was often joined by his kid brother who conveniently showed up anytime a criminal needed a human shield or a bargaining chip.
The art was by the usually excellent Lou Hanlon, but Lou either didn't have the feel for this material or wasn't well-enough paid to invest a lot of effort. In The G-Man all the figures seem to be statues, there's never any real feel of motion in even the most supposedly thrilling action scenes. Scripts were by George Clarke (not Clark as almost every reference has it) -- Clarke, I seem to recall reading somewhere, was a syndicate manager of some sort (don't quote me on that, I may well be misremembering). If the art was a bit sloppy, the writing was a thousand times worse. Well, don't take my word for it, read the dailies above. You're going to be absolutely certain that there are strips missing in that sequence, but there aren't. Somebody must have told Clarke that the key to a successful adventure strip was fast slam-bang action. He therefore made every word balloon sound like a tabloid newspaper headline and never paused for even a single panel's worth of exposition or background. There's no pacing or build-up to climax -- every single panel seems to scream as if it was a climax in itself. The story requires that readers fill in their own plot holes from strip to strip, apparently presuming that readers must already know all these stories from gangster movies anyway (not such a leap, I suppose).
The daily and Sunday feature is said to have debuted in Hearst's New York Mirror plus a few client papers sometime in 1935 but I've not yet found any appearances earlier than February 1936. Many references claim that the strip ran until 1940, but that seems to be based on a misreading of the E&P listings -- the last year it was available in the U.S. was 1937, and I think its listing was offering reprints after that. My last Sunday is September 26 1937. Does anyone know of earlier or later examples?
The Sunday strip, which I've never seen in anything other than a tabloid format, gained a topper strip called G-Boys in 1937 sometime between May and August but it was dropped quickly -- it last appeared on September 5 of that year.
The G-Man! was published here in Italy during the mid-thirties, and the first daily I have is dated June 21, 1935. Strangely enough, it's a Friday, so the strip might have started even earlier.
It was a daily/Sunday continuity, although I don't know when the Sunday page actually began. The first I have seen is dated Jan. 26, 1936.
A curious note: In the Oct. 28 and 29, 1935 dailies, a police commissioner who is a dead ringer for Dick Tracy appears along with Jim Crawford. Since he only appears in these two strips, someone at Hearst must have told Hanlon not to use it anymore, fearing that The Chicago Tribune might sue them.