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Gruesome (real name unrevealed) was a criminal who had committed crimes in Dick Tracy's city. After escaping from prison, he received a back-alley operation from Dr. Einstein to alter his features, though he found himself left with an especially unpleasant-looking face.

Legitimate Theater[]

Gruesome went to a theater in the city seeking an old associate named Mel O. Dee who owed him money. He was greeted by Vitamin Flintheart and a director who was seeking an actor for a production of the play Arsenic and Old Lace. The director thought that Gruesome had the right appearance and gave him the role of Jonathan.

On the play's opening night, Gruesome was approached by Otis, a custodian/stagehand at the theater. Otis had recognized Gruesome, and suspected that Gruesome had hidden money from a bank robbery in the theater. Otis threatened to expose Gruesome unless he received a payoff. Gruesome killed Otis and hid the body in part of the set on stage.

The opening night performance was attended by Dick Tracy and Tess. From the audience, Tracy recognized Gruesome and summoned Sam Catchem using his Wrist Wizard. Catchem arrived during intermission and confronted Gruesome backstage. Gruesome overpowered Sam and forced him into a trunk, taking Sam's Wrist Wizard.

The play resumed. During the second act, Otis' body was discovered by the other actors (including Dee, Flintheart, and Agate Aggie). Tracy realized that the actors had broken character and made his way backstage. Entering from the wings, Tracy was joined by Sam Catchem, who had escaped from the trunk. As they prepared to take Gruesome into custody, Gruesome detonated a cache of plastic explosives that he had hidden backstage. The set was destroyed, but the audience was largely uninjured.

Escape and Hiding[]

In the confusion, Gruesome fled in a car driven by Dr. Einstein. They nearly ran down Lizz, damaging their own vehicle in the process. Abandoning the car, they entered a monster movie convention being held at Locher Auditorium, planning to lose themselves in the crowd.

Gruesome received unwanted attention, due to his resemblance to monster movie icon Boris Karloff. However, Gruesome was soon approached by Sara Karloff (the actor's adult daughter, who was attending the convention), and she stated that she did NOT see a resemblance. Gruesome was charmed by Sara, and asked for permission to write to her from prison.


Gruesome and Einstein were able to sneak away from the convention with the help of Rikki Mortis and Abner Kadaver. Kadaver took the men to an abandoned theme park/miniature golf course where the fugitives could hide out.

Gruesome and Einstein hid in the golf course windmill, and decided to build a fire to ward off the cold. The fire soon burned out of control and attracted at the attention of Dick Tracy and Sam Catchem, who were still pursuing Gruesome in a police car. Gruesome abandoned Einstein and attempted to escape through an access hatch that led to the windmill's roof.

Gruesome encountered Dick Tracy (who had tracked him) on top of the windmill. The two men grappled as the fire burned around them. The structure collapsed, but both men survived and Gruesome was taken into custody.

Appearances in Other Media[]

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome[]


Gruesome was the main villain in the 1947 feature film Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. Gruesome was played by the actor Boris Karloff.

In the film, Gruesome was an escaped convict who discovered a scientist's secret formula for a gas that induced a temporary paralysis that simulated death. Gruesome used this gas to rob a bank.

After attempting to eliminate his cohorts to keep them from informing on him to the police, Gruesome engaged in a shootout at lumber yard with Dick Tracy. Gruesome was shot by Tracy.


  • Gruesome01
    Gruesome's fate in the film is ambiguous. After the lumber yard shootout, the bank robbery gang was described as having been "captured", though it is unclear if Gruesome himself survived Tracy's gunshot. A later Rogues' Gallery entry on the character indicated that he had survived and was serving a life sentence.
  • Though not explicitly stated, Gruesome's back-story in the Dick Tracy comic strip is apparently the same as in the film, inasmuch as he was a bank robber who was sent to jail by Dick Tracy.
  • Early in the Gruesome storyline, Dr. Einstein addresses him as "Johnny". This may indicate his real name, or it may be an alias.
  • Like the other RKO features (and earlier serials), the film Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome has entered the public domain, meaning that characters from it can be used without securing permission from the original rights holders (see also Cueball and Gordon Tracy). It also available to watch online for free from several outlets.
  • Title
    Gruesome was played by actor Boris Karloff, who is well-known for appearing in various monster movies, most notably as Frankenstein's Monster in the original Universal feature film and its sequel. Karloff's daughter Sara (who has become a character in the strip) has a friendly relationship with writer Mike Curtis.
  • The title cards for the film Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome credit two writers with the screenplay (Robertson White and Eric Taylor) and two additional writers with the story (William H. Graffis and Robert E. Kent) as well as Chester Gould. This is why so many people are credited with "creating" the character.
  • KarloffCapp

    "Karloff" in "Li'l Abner, as drawn by Al Capp

    Boris Karloff had previously appeared (identified by his own name) in the comic strip "Li'l Abner" in October 1946. The storyline involved the hideous "Lena", and Karloff (as an expert in horror) was part of the group who decided in what manner the public would be allowed to see her image.
  • In his first in-strip appearance, Gruesome mentions that a woman (whom he claimed he was trying to help) said that he looked like Boris Karloff. This is a reference to the play Arsenic and Old Lace in which a killer (played by Karloff in the original Broadway production) explains his reason for murdering someone as "He said I looked like Boris Karloff" (The line was changed for touring company productions in which the role was played by Bela Lugosi).
  • The connection to Arsenic and Old Lace was further expanded when it was revealed that Gruesome's associate Dr. Einstein (the name of the doctor in the play) had given him his current face in a rushed plastic surgery operation, and when Gruesome was cast in a production of the play.
  • GruesomeAbe
    Gruesome gave his name as "Christopher Cushing". This is apparently a reference to the actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who co-starred in many British horror films (including works based on Dracula and Frankenstein) produced by Hammer Studios. It is unclear if this has any connection to Gruesome's real name or if it is an entirely manufactured alias.
  • Gruesome's appearance evolved throughout his storyline in the strip, going from a more photo-realistic look to a highly-stylized, slightly cartoonish one. Some readers have commented that he eventually looked as much like Abe Vigoda as he did like Boris Karloff.