Chester Gould (November 20, 1900 – May 11, 1985) was born to Gilbert R. Gould, the son of a minister, and Alice Maud (née Miller). All four of his grandparents were pioneer settlers of Oklahoma.
Fascinated by the comics since childhood, Gould quickly found work as a cartoonist. He was hired by William Randolph Hearst's Chicago Evening American, where he produced his first comic strips, Fillum Fables (1924) and The Radio Catts. He also drew a topical strip about Chicago, Why It's a Windy City. Gould married Edna Gauger in 1926, and their daughter, Jean, was born in 1927. A 1923 graduate, Gould is an alumnus of Northwestern University where he attended the School of Professional Studies.
In 1931, Gould was hired as a cartoonist with the Chicago Tribune and introduced Dick Tracy in the newspaper The Detroit Mirror on Sunday, October 4, 1931. The original comic was based on a New York detective Gould was interested in. The comic then branched to the fictional character that became so famous. He drew the comic strip for the next 46 years from his home in Woodstock, Illinois. Gould's stories were rarely pre-planned, since he preferred to improvise stories as he drew them. While fans praised this approach as producing exciting stories, it sometimes created awkward plot developments that were difficult to resolve. In one notorious case, Gould had Tracy in an inescapable deathtrap with a caisson. When Gould depicted Tracy addressing Gould personally and having the cartoonist magically extract him, publisher Joseph Patterson vetoed the sequence and ordered it redrawn.
Late in the strip's Gould period, the Tracy strip was widely criticized for being too right-wing in character and as excessively supportive of the police. Critics thought Gould ignored the rights of the accused and failed to support his agenda with an adequate story-line. The late 1950s also saw a newspaper readership growing less tolerant of Gould's politics.
For instance, Gould introduced a malodorous, tobacco-spitting character, B.O. Plenty, with little significant complaint from readers in the 1940s. However, the 1960s introduction of crooked lawyer Flyface and his relatives, surrounded by swarming flies, created a negative reader reaction strong enough for papers to drop the strip in large numbers. There was then a dramatic change in the strip's setting, leaving behind the strip's origins as an urban crime drama for science fiction plot elements and regular visits to the moon. An increasingly fantastic procession of enemies and stories ensued. The Apollo 11 moon landing prompted Gould to abandon this phase. Finally, Dick Tracy was beset by the overall trend in newspaper comics away from strips with continuing storylines and toward those whose stories are largely resolved within one series of panels.
Gould, his characters, and improbable plots were satirized in Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner with the Fearless Fosdick sequences supposedly drawn by 'Lester Gooch'; a notable villain was Bomb Face, a gangster whose head was a bomb.