A niche area of comic collecting that has grown the past 20 years is pre-code crime (and horror), a label referring to those genre comics published roughly from 1948-1954. The most sought-after books in this category tend to be those with the most shocking or gruesome cover imagery and graphic story content. The more violent and gruesome, the better! This apparently is driven by a nostalgia for and/or interest in the halcyon days before Frederic Wertham and the nanny state revoked toddlers' right to enjoy depictions of beheadings, zombies, lingerie and torture in their comics. Basically, anything that would be considered not politically correct or inappropriate for kids today is hot and getting hotter. Books like Fight Against Crime #20 and Crime Suspenstories #22 are examples. These are well-known (and therefore valuable) books, but here I am going to talk about a run of comics with graphic covers that are cheap and overlooked by many.
Dick Tracy began in newspaper strips in 1931, and was published in comic books starting in 1939. Dell published his adventures until 1949, when Harvey picked up the series at issue 25. Whereas Overstreet highlights particular issues of other series of the era with notations like "severed head cover" or "torture cover", for the Dick Tracy series only #28 gets a notation for depicting bondage (actually, torture).
I picked out issue #56 as the focus of this post only because I consider it the most graphic of the run, but #28 and #56 are also good (bad?) covers. Below is a list of several more with graphic-content covers (comic cover blood is actually very rare, but this run features plenty). Even this list excludes other covers depicting scenes of violence against women and children, for example, and you may want to browse them and see what catches your fancy (sicko!).
|# 28||Jun 1950||Torture cover|
|# 36||Feb 1951||Man slugs woman|
|# 37||Mar 1951||Torture cover|
|# 52||Jun 1952||Man stabs woman with pipe|
|# 53||Jul 1952||Blood (Dick Tracy's mouth)|
|# 55||Sep 1952||Dead man lies in trail of blood|
|# 56||Oct 1952||Mans beats woman with blackjack; woman bleeds profusely|
|# 58||Dec 1952||Bleeding head wound|
|# 59||Jan 1953||Dog mauls man; man bleeds from face and torso|
|# 65||Jul 1953||Criminals bleed from arm and head|
|# 69||Nov 1953||Criminal bleeds from head|
|# 70||Dec 1953||Dog mauls criminal's arm|
|# 71||Jan 1954||Criminal bleeds profusely from head|
|# 74||Apr 1954||Criminal in pool of blood|
|# 75||May 1954||Criminal bleeds from face|
|# 78||Aug 1954||Criminal shot through hand|
Here is a copy of #56 which recently sold for $9.98:
Several File copies of these books hit the market a few years ago and generally sold at guide ($40 for a VF, for example). Guide values are $12 (VG), $40 (VF) and $105 (NM-). This hasn't changed in at least two years which means these books are really, really under the radar.
April 1955's issue 86 cover is the first to feature the seal of the comics code, and the fun was over!
Why aren't these books more widely known? I have some theories. Firstly, the crime genre is not the most widely collected. Secondly, Dick Tracy is a character much more famous for his newspaper strips. Thirdly (and this is an important note), many of the stories were reprinted from the newspaper strips. Series featuring fully reprinted material (such as Famous Funnies) have historically been shunned by collectors and guide values reflect that. The good news however, is that this is vast unexplored territory. Information at comics.org is scarce, with many of the books containing blank listings. Archivists/volunteers have not begun to sort through them and figure out exactly what is original material and what is not. If I had to guess, I would bet that the interiors of #56, to take an example, has a mix of original and reprinted material (would you know, I don't have my copy on hand at the moment to flip through, but I will update this post when I do). All covers are almost certainly original to the comic. As an example, here is the original cover art for #28.
Here is a $173,000 sale of a comic with a cover featuring a bound woman with Nazi and KKK imagery by Alex Schomburg. Investment in comics with striking cover imagery is a category of its own which I will discuss more in future posts. Since attraction to particular cover subject matter is subjective, this can be tricky. There are certain things that have proven value however, and if you get the hang of it you can be successful at identifying undervalued winners.
Meanwhile, enjoy the gallery below with a couple more of the cheap Dick Tracys, followed by graphic-content covers that will cost you considerably more than $10!
Thanks for reading!
|Sold for $2748 in Feb 2016|
|Sold for $430 in Mar 2014|
|Sold for $8,962 in Nov 2015|
|Sold for $860 in Feb 2014|
|Sold for $17,925 in Aug 2015|
|Sold for $1314 in Dec 2015|