Michael Avon Oeming does, and so will readers beginning April 24 when Dick Tracy Forever! #1 (of 4) debuts from IDW Publishing. Oeming is writing and drawing the series with his long-time collaborator/wife Taki Soma coloring this ‘square one’ story of the detective with a square jaw. In Dick Tracy Forever!, Oeming and Soma explore not just his early days on the force, but also where the present day (and future!) take the yellow-clad law man.
Oeming and Soma spoke with Newsarama about their shared love of Chester Gould’s Depression-era crimestopper and what they plan to do now that they’re on the case.
Newsarama: Mike, Taki…. before we dig into your upcoming series, what’s your history with Dick Tracy?
Michael Avon Oeming: Way back in the mid 1990’s there was a brief opportunity for Brian Bendis and I take on Dick Tracy. But at the time, Warren Beatty still had some plans for the character so it didn’t work out. I never imagined the chance would ever come around again but the only downer here is that I’m not writing it with Brian. That said, I’m honored and excited to be back on the case.
Taki Soma: Dick Tracy is an icon, and anyone who tells you different is in serious denial, or they’re time-travelers and missed out on being exposed to it. I unfortunately am not a time-traveler that I know of so that’s my history with Dick Tracy.
Nrama: Many current readers may have had their first experience with Dick Tracy in the 1990 film by Beatty. Did you draw any inspiration from the film?
Oeming: I did for sure. That film really caught the world that Chester Gould created, bringing the big bold characters out in big bold colors and characters. To be honest, I only ever thought of Dick Tracy as black and white – from the comic strips. The film really informed my mindscape with how the sets and colors- the city itself are as much of a character as Dick himself.
Soma: Most people will know Dick Tracy from the movie, so I think it’s a natural foundation to draw from. But I also believe characters shouldn’t be stagnant, they need to grow, level-up, change with the times. I think Michael is doing just that by mixing many influences.
Nrama: How about the other cinematic and television series – was there anything that stands out to you?
Oeming: Interestingly enough, Dick Tracy brings me back to the original visual inspiration to Powers, those are the great noir films of Anthony Mann, T-Men and Raw Deal. I’m trying to marry that aesthetic with a Chester Gould flair. At least for the first two issues, and then #3 and #4 totally break out into new directions.
Nrama: Obviously, you both have a keen interest in crime comic books given your work together on the United States v. Murder Inc. along your work, Mike, on Powers. How does Dick Tracy Forever! scratch that itch in a way the others haven’t?
Oeming: There is a natural cartoony-ness to Dick Tracy that doesn’t exist in Murder Inc. and even Powers. Mind you, most people don’t see a huge difference in my style, but to me, they are worlds apart. Dick lends itself to a cartoony-ness that isn’t over the top, it isn’t really like Batman Adventures, but it certainly isn’t asking for Al Williamson either. I hope people are excited about me being on this project, since it feels like a natural fit. I kinda hate to say it, but after finishing the first 9-page story, it’s the happiest I’ve felt with any of my pages in years. I guess because I’m not guessing at how cartoony or less cartoony to make it. It just flows right.
Soma: I feel that I learn new things with every page whether I’m writing, drawing or coloring – I’m excited to try new (to me) styles, technique, etc. I’ve acquired so far on Dick Tracy Forever!. I certainly want to respect the history of its esthetics whilst making him feel current and relatable. Let’s see what happens!
Nrama: Mike you mentioned that 1990s attempt at a Dick Tracy series by you and Brian back in the 1990s. Can you tell us about this series you were planning and why it didn’t come to fruition?
Oeming: Honestly, we didn’t get far. The opportunity was almost gone before we had a chance to talk about it. Our main objective was to make him timely, relevant of today, to update him without losing his core identity. I’m still attempting to do that here, by placing him in a different timeline for each issue.
My first thought was that Dick Tracy isn’t Dick Tracy without the yellow hat, coat and watch… and that can only really work in the past, because who could take a look like that seriously now? He just feels like he’s from another time. Then I saw that as a challenge. Really, Taki got me thinking and reminded me of what Brian and I were going to attempt back in the day. Then in doing my research I realized that Dick didn’t have the bright yellow suit and watch for the first ten years or so. Those aren’t the things that define him, those are actually just surface things.
Nrama: And yet, you’ve stilled dug deep in terms of ensuring all of the little elements from the comics are brought into light. For example, you have him using his left hand as a gun hand – a detail from the comic strips early on when his right hand was permanently injured. I’m looking at a minor detail here, but what physical element did you think was most important to really nail down though?
Oeming: For me, his face is the most important visual for Dick. It’s really what Chester Gould built Dick Tracy on. His sharp, broken nose to sniff out and fight crime and his squinty eyes constantly on the lookout for criminals. It isn’t the yellow outfit and watch, not for me anyway. So that’s when Dick Tracy Forever! came about.
I didn’t want to just tell one story, but many that were self-contained yet still tied together, almost like clues to a bigger story. But most importantly I decided to challenge myself to show how relevant Dick Tracy can be under any timeline, not just in the past, or as a modern reinvention, but also the future. I’m hoping to show the core values of the character that makes him relevant to any time period, not just a retro character.
Nrama: So, tell us about where things kick off. What can we expect in #1?
Oeming: #1 takes place in 1931 (the year Dick Tracy was first published and long before the watch and Yellow became part of Dick) and 1951 for #2 which is the iconic Dick Tracy we all know.
Issue #3 takes place today. How would Dick Tracy work as a modern detective? His watch… well, we all have that now. So what technology and cutting-edge detective skills would he use today that others are not? Remember, when Chester Gould created Dick Tracy, it was always about the cutting-edge technology of the time, so much so he was often honored by the police, not just in creating a detective hero, but showcasing real detective skills. So I’m going to try and continue with that tradition in issue #3 especially.
Issue #4 takes place in the future, the year 2031, one hundred years after Dick Tracy was introduced. How will Dick Tracy be relevant in the future? Showing that he can be relevant in any time period and that his jacket and hat do not define him is the challenge I wanted to take up.
Nrama: Artistically then, what can we expect from one issue to the next?
Oeming: Taki will be coloring issues #1 and #2 a bit more traditionally and then letting loose with issues #3 and especially on issue #4. The issues themselves are self-contained with two to three stories per issue where they all connect despite the giant leaps in time. Issues #3 and #4 really break away from the homages and into some hopefully new territory for Dick while being true to Gould’s vision.
Nrama: Shifting gears a bit, we all know a good hero needs a good villain, and the crime syndicate Dick Tracy fights is no exception. Who are your favorite villains, and what is it about them that you find so appealing?
Oeming: I don’t know where to begin. I’m definitely using some classic characters like the Brow, Prune Face and Flat Top, who all make an appearance. But I’m more excited to create a few new bad guys and to dig through the most obscure Tracy characters as well.
The thing I find appealing about it is… well socially unexceptionable now… Gould created a very black and white look at crime. The philosophy in Dick Tracy was that criminals were ugly on the inside and crime made them ugly on the outside. That’s just not how the real world works, but it is a great compass to follow in this fictional world and served the comic well.
Nrama: As the series begins in #1, what’s going on in the life of Dick Tracy? Where is he in the early life of his career busting criminals?
Oeming: Issue #1 takes place in 1931 and begins shortly after Dick has established himself as the city’s top detective. I was tempted to show him coming up as a detective, but for me, that is a curtain I’m not ready to look behind. I like the idea that Dick is a social force of nature. He’s always been there, a cop who is ready to jump into the fire, but always by the book. He loves the law as much as his mother, and he’s just always been that way in my mind. Like Athena leaping out of Zeus’s head, fully formed.
Nrama: The goal for most – if not all – comic creators is to entertain their readers. But after reading this first issue, what response are you hoping to elicit from readers?
Oeming: Fun! Fun and humanity. I want the world to breathe and be dimensional. I want it to feel abstract and absurd but also have a nuance of reality and familiarity. Relatable crime fiction… but fun.
Especially for the first two issues, complete with puzzles and some detective games like the old Gould “Crime Stoppers” gag.
I am trying to inject a bit more humanity into some of the criminals, to give a little more than the black and white view of crime, especially in the first issue.
Out of respect to Gould’s vision and character history, the classic villains will remain bad to the core, so I’ll only be playing around with the morality of any new bad guys. Issues #3 and #4 are where I’ll be taking big chances and giving my modern and future takes on Dick Tracy.
Soma: Yeah, first and foremost, the goal is to entertain. So, I agree 100% with Michael. Fun is good.
Nrama: What’s the likelihood for getting more Dick Tracy from team Oeming/Soma? Is this limited series all that’s planned for now or are there other stories in the works?
Oeming: It’s a mini, but you never know, right? I also love what Mike Allred and Rich Tomasso did, I’d love to see more from them or other creators, each bringing their own vision to Dick Tracy.
Soma: Never say never. That’s my spirit animal – I always want to do more.
Nrama: Last question: For fans of the character, IDW’s announcement was no doubt a welcome one and an easy sell. However, it has been a while since Dick Tracy has been in the movies, on television or lined up on a comics newsstand. How is this character and the story you both are telling one that new fans shouldn’t miss?
Oeming: My greatest hope is that we can deliver both classic Dick Tracy that most people are at least tangentially familiar with – and a fresh forward-looking take that makes him relevant for all ages and times.
Originally, Dick Tracy took on not only violent crimes – but political corruption. Sadly, these things are still relevant and probably always will be. It’s hard not to draw parallels when we live in a time where banks, corporations and politics are all holding hands empowering each other as the middle class starts to deteriorate. When Dick Tracy came out, the Great Depression was in full swing. People were hurting. Food and soup lines were a thing and I put those into the background of a few pages already… and sadly today, many honest working-class families are receiving food stamps to get by while the rich get richer, corporations avoid taxes through laws written for them by their political allies… well it seems the more times change, the more they stay the same.
I may fall on my face, but like Dick Tracy looking to lock up every criminal ever, I’m swinging for the fences. Dick Tracy Forever!