Goings and Comings

August 15th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Dick Locher passed away last week.

As many of you know, I worked with Dick from 1983 until 1992, having taken over the writing of the Dick Tracy strip from Chester Gould in 1977, working first with Chet’s last assistant, Rick Fletcher. My relationship with Fletcher was occasionally rocky, due to my continuing friendship with Chet after Rick fell out with his former boss and father figure. But we did some very good work together.

I felt privileged to work with Locher, another former Gould assistant – one who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Our relationship was generally a positive one, and we were friendly, though never really close. We lost contact when I was fired from the strip and I was somewhat resentful that he had not gone to bat for me. In my incredibly biased opinion, the strip under Dick never recovered from my exit.

A few years ago I joined Dick at Woodstock, Illinois (Gould’s home city), for the screening of a Tracy documentary we were both a part of. We re-bonded very nicely and any bumps in our past road was smoothed. It became clear he was equally unhappy with the editor who’d fired me, but as a company man he’d kept that to himself. We stayed in touch and exchanged e-mails, artwork and books. It was a nice way for our collaboration to evolve into a professional friendship.

The Tribune did a nice write-up about him, but I’m too petty to give you a link, because the Trib has conveniently written me out of Dick Tracy’s history. So I’ll give you this nice link instead.

Here’s one last fond fedora tip to my partner Dick Locher.

* * *

I think I’ve quoted this before, but where Tracy is concerned I often recall what Dean Martin reportedly said about Jerry Lewis: “The two best things that ever happened to me were meeting Jerry Lewis, and splitting with Jerry Lewis.”

I hated getting fired off Dick Tracy. I felt I had revitalized the strip. Friends, like Mike Gold, told me I should only do ten years, since it wasn’t my creation, and Chet Gould himself advised me not to let Tracy dominate my career, since he would always be the creator.

But Tracy was my childhood obsession and I would be still be writing it, had I not been fired by an editor who despised me almost as much as I despised him.

And yet, just as getting Tracy was the best thing that happened in my early career, losing it was the other “best thing.” Road to Perdition came about because I was scrambling to find a new comics project. The dust had barely settled on my Tracy firing when Andrew Helfer approached me to create a noir graphic novel for DC. Off the top of my head I pitched Gun and Son (which became Perdition), combining my love for Lone Wolf and Cub with the real-life story of John and Connor Looney and a betrayed lieutenant in Rock Island’s mob scene of the early 20th Century. The latter had been something I ran across researching my novel True Detective but couldn’t find a way to use, except in passing.

The rest, as they say, is history. No Tracy firing, almost certainly no Road to Perdition. For a lot of years, the famous thing I was known for was Tracy. Now the strip has receded into something of an interesting footnote and “author of Road to Perdition” is the famous thing.

I am leading up here to a wonderful review by that talented writer Ron Fortier about my prose novel version of Road to Perdition. You need to read this review, and if you have not yet purchased for your reading pleasure and edification the Brash Books edition of the complete version of the novel, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Yesterday Crusin’ performed for a late afternoon concert on the patio at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine.

It could have been a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago our guitarist walked out on the band at rehearsal and I had a very limited time to decide whether to cancel our remaining two gigs of the year, or find a replacement.

My way is not to roll over and die, however, and with the recommendation of our drummer, Steve Kundel, I approached a well-known area musician, Bill Anson, to fill in. We rehearsed four times, one of them a marathon session, and Bill proved to be a great guy as well as a skilled, gifted guitarist/singer. What we do is not really his genre of choice, but I am hopeful he will stick around for a while. (I have offered him the position of Permanent Temporary Guitarist, perhaps channeling “Permanent Latrine Orderly” from No Time for Sergeants.)

How did the gig go? The audience was large and appreciative, and while there were occasional train wrecks, there were also no fatalities, and I can say in all honesty I haven’t had a better, looser time on a band job in years.

Thanks, Bill. And thanks to Brian Van Winkle, our bassist extraordinaire, for sticking with us in a sticky personal situation.

We play at least one more time this year, at Ardon Creek Winery on September 1, 6 to 9 pm. It’s a wonderful outdoor venue. Check it out, if you’re in the area.

* * *

Here’s a lovely piece on the Quarry TV series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the new Bibliomysteries collection that includes “It’s in the Book” by Mickey and me – my favorite of the Hammer short stories.

Scroll down and read nice things about the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.


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6 Responses to “Goings and Comings”

  1. Frank says:

    I have read all of your prose books, and I always like your 3 prose Dick Tracy novels. I always hoped you would write more of these, but I guess you could no longer get the rights to do another.

  2. Thomas Zappe says:

    You were fortunate to have a guitarist able to step in as quickly and as painlessly as he did. Such is not always the case.

    Years ago I played in a wedding band in the days when being a DJ meant you had a job in radio. In the course of a 4 hour job we would transition from The Great American Songbook to Polkas and the Ducky Dance to specialty tunes for the Bride and Groom to the Armed Forces Medley [I later combined them with the Polkas] to music for Baptists who did not dance [we went home early that night] to playing behind the bridesmaid who wanted to sing a special song for which she had no music and finally some Rock & Roll. This all happened, of course, after the drunk divorced father of the bride zigzagged up to the bandstand to make it repeatedly clear that he didn’t want us playin’ so fu@$%ng loud while we were still setting up.

    Our singer/keyboardist/guitarist quit to go full time into insurance sales and an Amway franchise. Being a musician was considered to be too low class. It was understandable.

    If those of you who saw the movie THE COMMITMENTS ever wondered if auditioning musicians was so tedious, believe it. We had a keyboardist and guitarist show up and made it quite clear that they were a duo, we would have to hire both of them. We made it quite clear that we didn’t want either of them. Another self proclaimed experienced guitar player said he could play anything. I asked him to play Satin Doll and he said sure, just give me the music. The high point of these proceedings was what appeared to be some descendant of Cousin Minnie Pearl who still had the price tag hanging off his guitar.

    In the words of Jack Paar, “I kid you not.”

    We eventually got things sorted out, but it was just a few more years when the time came that the newlyweds became convinced that real music came off of a record. Fun while it lasted, though.

    Max, do you ever regret not going to New York and try to make it in the “Big Time”?

  3. Max Allan Collins says:

    Hi Frank —

    I had sold a fourth TRACY novel (unwritten) called TRACY ON THE BEAT, which would have had a musical theme (so to speak). But when I lost the strip, the Trib forbid it.

    Well, in writing, I did make the big time, or pretty big, and all of my business is done in/through NYC. As for music, we recorded in Nashville, had a regional hit, opened for a lot of big acts, and that was very satisfying and plenty for me. In fact, on several occasions, when the band got really popular and touring became the best option, I left, not wanting that life. No regrets.

  4. Denny Maxwell says:

    Bill is a good guy and guitarist/singer but call me next time! I will be in your neck of the woods in early Sept.

  5. Max Allan Collins says:

    Denny —

    I answered you privately via e-mail…but what fun to have the great original Daybreakers quitarist drop by this page!

  6. Ron Fortier says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the link to my review, Max. Truly loved this book and hope to get you to sign it for me one day.