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posted: 4/17/2014 3:11 PM

Cop on the Dick Tracy comic strip beat speaks on love of whodunits

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Submitted by McHenry County Historical Society

Jim Doherty's has been stuck on good gumshoe stories since he was a kid growing up in San Francisco.

And at the top of his list was and is fictional detective Dick Tracy.

"I think the graphic images were very interesting. There was a style to it that was very gripping -- a combination of cartoonish figures in a realistic setting," Doherty said. "There was a primal appeal. When you think of our whole image of what a hard-boiled detective is supposed to be like, it came from Dick Tracy."

Doherty, an Amtrak police sergeant who now serves as police technical adviser to the Tracy comic strip and caption writer for the Crimestoppers' Textbook panels on Sundays, will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, April 21, at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

Doherty believes authors Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett took their cue from Tracy creator Chester Gould. Fictional detectives portrayed by actors Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell and Stacy Keach, among others, solidified the trademark fedora and trench coat look.

"Dick Tracy is the second most famous detective in any fictional medium whatsoever, behind Sherlock Holmes," Doherty said. "He certainly is the most famous policeman; more famous than Joe Friday, Dirty Harry, Sam Spade, Phillip Marlow or Mike Hammer. And it is a piece of Americana that almost wasn't. It got created by accident."

Doherty said Woodstock's Chester Gould submitted 60 sample strips to the then Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate during a 10-year period before one was accepted. Doherty went through a similar apprenticeship.

He met celebrated mystery writer Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition) at a mystery convention in California and Collins would reminisce about his friendship with Gould and about his experiences writing for the Dick Tracy strip before Naperville's Dick Locher.

Doherty later wrote a blog about the Tracy comic strip and collaborated with current writer Mike Curtis and artist Joe Staton on their own digital Tracy strip which ran on the "Plainclothes" website.

Plainclothes Tracy was the strip's original title when Gould submitted it in 1931.

Following Locher's retirement, Doherty joined Curtis and Staton three years ago on the actual printed version.

The Chicago resident also writes crime fiction, true crime, and critical articles about crime fiction and its history. His first book, a collection of true crime articles titled "Just the Facts -- True Tales of Cops & Criminals," was followed by "Raymond Chandler -- Master of American Noir," and "An Obscure Grave."

Doherty credits the popularity of mysteries and true crime novels to more than a public fascination with "Whodunits." They tell a story in a narrative prose that people enjoy, he said. And equally important, they tap into the historically compelling struggle between criminal behavior and justice.

"It is about one of the most primal conflicts there can be: A conflict between good and evil," Doherty said.

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