Great detectives in comics: Burns

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 11, 2013

My mother once related a novel little story of school fundraising and flash fashion trends from, I’m guessing, some time in the mid 1960s. (Bear with me, this is leading to the subject promised in the headline.) Traditionally, whatever grade she was in at the time conducted some or other type of fundraiser for a class trip. When the time came for her class to hustle money from friends, family and neighbors, for whatever reason they elected to sell beanies.

By which I mean cheap, round soft-cloth caps. Similar to the of caps worn by Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Tenniel’s illustration, essentially. Which, given both this specific association and the broader association between beanies and dorkiness, might have suggested the 196X class trip was going to be on a very modest budget.

And well it might have been, except for the unfathomable potential for random things to become trends. In my lifetime, I recall brief periods when people would do almost anything for Tickle-Me-Elmo, or a Nintendo Wii; in Monticello, in that particular year, beanies became a craze. Whatever the reason, the beanies caught on, and everyone had to have one. Mom and classmates sold out the first order. They sold out a reorder, and possibly another after that, and might have sold more but for some adult with the wisdom to quit while they were ahead. As it happened, they had sold enough beanies to pay for the most lavish class trip in memory and set aside a nice head-start for future years that might not benefit from such a random windfall.

Most of half a century later, I recall the Great Beanie Craze for a nearly-as-odd connection with one of the subjects of my book, and comics.

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Ellis Parker: the lost Dolan brother?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 15, 2013

This is almost certainly coincidence. But it’s something of an amusing coincidence, I think. I recently purchased several back issues of the late Will Eisner’s classic comic strip, The Spirit (it was adapted into a ridiculous-looking action movie a few years ago). I’ve been acquainted with The Spirit for a number of years, but as I read through these latest acquisitions, I was struck by the odd resemblance of Police Commissioner Dolan to someone else I’ve gotten to know through extensive reading…

Photos of Ellis Parker and drawings of Commissioner Dolan

Dolan’s the one in the bottom row (Parker photos courtesy William Fullerton)

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Detective fashion

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 5, 2013

I’m hardly an expert on fashion, either modern or historical. But I have given some thought to how it relates to the great detectives of my book, particularly after receiving one remarkable comment on the cover from a good friend: “Wait a second — I’m looking at their ties!  Holy crap — the first guy looks like 1820 – 1830s.  Then a civil-war era guy — then a 1880s – 1890s guy — then the last one from the 1930s or 40s?  Wow — quite the time range.”

This was one of those moments that remind you people how much people can surprise you, even after you’ve known them for years. I have no idea where it came from, but he just nailed it, without any background about the book’s content, from these photos alone:

Portraits from front cover of Brilliant Deduction

Right to left: Vidocq (prominent in the 1820s); Allan Pinkerton (prominent around the Civil War); William Burns (prominent in the 1890s); Ellis Parker (prominent c. 1930)

For my part, I hadn’t even consciously intended to arrange these portraits in a chronological order, or even realized that I had done so. Still, the discovery that four at least of the great detectives were very much men of their time in terms of style made quite a bit of sense upon thinking about it.

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