Dan Dunn in action, from a comic book cover. Artist: Norman Marsh.


Original medium: Comic books
Published by: Humor Publishing Co.
First Appeared: 1933
Creator: Norman Marsh
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Success breeds followers, and when Dick Tracy became a big hit in newspaper comics, it wasn't long before the papers were full of strips like …

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Red Barry, Radio Patrol and other Tracy knock-offs. The first to see print was Dan Dunn — who also started as one of the most "faithful", in the sense of slavish imitation.

Dan Dunn had a sharply squared jaw like Tracy's, a short, pudgy partner like Tracy's Pat Patton (Dunn's was named Irwin Higgs), and a tendency to behave violently toward those who deserve it — just like Tracy's. What he didn't have was Tracy's success — he did reasonably well, but very few strips are as successful as Dick Tracy. Cartoonist Norman Marsh, Dunn's creator, used a cartoony style, also like Tracy's Chester Gould, but didn't pull it off as well.

Dan Dunn rose to fame in newspaper comics, but started out in comic books. Humor Publications Co. was a few years ahead of its time, publishing non-reprinted comics in 1933, even before Famous Funnies, the first in modern comic book format. Theirs were done as tabloids, and had rather odd subject matter, considering the name of the company — they were all about detectives. The one that introduced Dan Dunn was titled Detective Dan, Secret Op. 48.

Humor Publishing folded after three releases (only one of which was Dunn), but Marsh took his detective to Publishers Syndicate, a small outfit that also launched Judge Parker, Dotty Dripple, Rex Morgan and a dozen or so other strips over the years. Publishers was eventually merged into King Features, but that was long after Dan Dunn's time. The strip was first seen in newspapers on Monday, September 25, 1933. A Sunday page was added shortly afterward. At its peak, it appeared in about 135 papers.

It wasn't long before Dunn diverged a little from Tracy. The latter was in his element with inner city crime — his gangsters may have been flamboyant, but they weren't world conquerors. Some of Dunn's were. Also, Dunn hung out with an orphan girl named Babs and had a dog named Wolf. But in personal appearance, art style, and methods of operation, Dunn always remained close to the original.

Dunn's adventures were adapted into seven Big Little Books during the mid-1930s. They were reprinted in Dell Comics' Crackajack Funnies, which also ran Wash Tubbs, Freckles & His Friends, Apple Mary, and several other strips. There was a pulp magazine about him in 1936, which lasted all of two issues, and a radio show that was similarly short-lived. He never appeared in movies.

Marsh remained the creative force behind Dunn during most of the strip's existence. How his tenure ended depends on which source you hear. Marsh himself said he was so inflamed by the Pearl Harbor attack, he immediately joined the Marine Corps. Another account has it that he was drafted. Writer Allen Saunders (Mary Worth, Big Chief Wahoo), who took over that aspect of the job from Marsh, said he left in such a rage, when he slammed the door on the way out, the glass in it shattered. Whatever the case, Saunders and artist Paul Pinson took over early in 1942.

Pinson was only temporary. The syndicate approached Alfred Andriola, who was then doing its Charlie Chan strip, about taking it over, but Andriola was only interested in working on a creation of his own. A compromise was reached, in which Andriola drew Dan Dunn while existing distribution contracts ran out, and then would be permitted to replace it with a new feature.

On Sunday, October 3, 1943, the Dan Dunn strip ended with Dan following his creator off to war. On Monday the 4th, it was replaced by Alfred Andriola's new strip, Kerry Drake.


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Text ©2004-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Publishers Syndicate.