Archive | Little Orphan Annie

A Few of My Favorite Things (Part II of II)

Concluding a look at some of my favorite storylines from the LOAC line of books, as it exists as of May, 2016. Let’s forge boldly onward, and remember this entire list is provided in no particular order …

5. Iconic Crossed Swords. Like “awesome” and “friend,” “iconic” is a word sorely abused in our modern language, its true meaning being eroded and dulled by dullards. So I try to use it carefully, and I chose it with care in reference to the last panel of this Flash Gordon Sunday page from August 14, 1938. Throughout the Alex Raymond/Don Moore run there is a reluctance to bring Flash and Ming the Merciless into direct confrontation; in this sequence, with Gordon and his loosely-knit band of Freemen ambushing the Emperor on The Island of Royal Tombs, we get an image of Ming and Flash squaring off, mano-a-mano, that truly lives up to the word “iconic.” It’s not only a perfect encapsulation of the strip, in a larger sense it’s a stirring representation of Good versus Evil. It is perhaps my favorite moment in the entire run of Flash Gordon, and I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.

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4. Before the Famous Sandwich, There Was … The Dagwood Hunger Strike. For years while growing up, this was one of those plotlines I heard about and read about but never got to see. Bringing it to fans in our first Blondie collection was therefore a real treat for me, and I found that absorbing Chic Young’s full original run on his strip (given a first boost toward its eventual uber-popularity by this very sequence) was a fun — and sometimes eye-opening — experience. This January 25 daily, from deep in the heart of the Hunger Strike, especially tickled me, foreshadowing as it does Dagwood’s famous appetite, though his penchant for combining unlikely ingredients was a future development that readers of this story circa 1933 could never have guessed was on the far horizon.

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3. Punjab to the Rescue! One of the things I’m most proud of where LOAC is concerned is that we have preserved large spans of several deserving strips. On occasion I still pinch myself when I realize we have succeeded in putting thirty years of Dick Tracy continuity back into print, and we’re approaching doing the same for twenty-five years of that most American of The Library of American Comics, Little Orphan Annie. Harold Gray treated us to many memorable sequences starring the kid with a heart of goal and a quick left hook, but one of my favorites is “Assault on the Hacienda.” Captured by the nefarious Axel, Annie is whisked to a remote South American retreat and put under the care of the exotic Dona Dolores. “Daddy” Warbucks mounts a rescue, but eventually is captured and imprisoned deep underground with the two gals. “Daddy’s” men are still on the job and Punjab, their leader, gets good play in this July 16, 1939 Sunday page — he displays his wits, his strength, and even shows off his sensahumor!

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2. A (Sailor) Man of the World. I recently did a long piece in this space extolling the virtues of Bobby London’s Popeye, and of the many wild and wonderful stories London spins, my favorite (by about the width of one of Poopdeck Pappy’s whiskers!) is “Heavy Metal Toar.” What’s not to love in a yarn that features classic rock music superstars, a lost land, a fountain of youth, and the wonkiest biker scenes this side of Easy Rider. In fact, the August, 1989 daily below trips off a plot point that has the squinky-eyed sailor and Olive’s shapely cousin, Sutra Oyl, on a rest stop at a refreshing pond after riding a chopper south across the border. Sutra Oyl decides to do some skinny-dipping and gets a surprise after suggesting Popeye is too intimidated by her state of undress to join her — he wades in, picks her up, tosses her over his shoulder, and, well, see for yourself …

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1. Canyon Gets the Point. It’s easy to list any number of fantastic Terry and the Pirates stories that qualify as must-reads, but let’s not forget that Steve Canyon has its share of delights, too. This 1952 melodrama sees Steve among a small band who survive the crashing of their light plane in the remote woodlands south of Alaska. There they run into a most unscrupulous-seeming French-Canadian nicknamed Bonbon and hear a random radio news broadcast that indicates one of their number is hiding a stolen diamond necklace. It’s a classic melodrama of the genus “band of strangers forced together in stressful circumstances, with one of their number More Than He (or She) Seems,” and it’s expertly told with all the Caniffian touches we Milton-fans enjoy. This tale also introduced audiences to the snappy Miss Mizzou, she of the Marilyn Monroe physique and the naked-except-for-her-trenchcoat wardrobe. Mizzou became a favorite of readers, popping up semi-regularly when Steve might least expect it, and she was grist for the Caniff Steve Canyon Publicity Mill. J.B. Winter’s fine book, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics, offers details of Mizzou’s effect on popular culture and the stir she created in the town of Columbia, Missouri. I recommend it as heartily as I recommend this Steve Canyon adventure.

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That’s my list of ten favorite LOAC stories. If you have your own list of ten (or even five) fave-raves, why not share it with us? Zap it to us at info@loacomics.com and who knows? We may do a follow-up in this space that will feature your list …

Happy Birthday, Annie! And Many Happy Tomorrows!

Little Orphan Annie (last name still unknown) turned 90 years old this week. She first appeared on August 5, 1924 in a single newspaper — the bulldog edition of the New York Daily News. The rest, as they say, is history. Here’s Annie and her “real” papa—Harold Gray—and her adoptive one—Oliver Warbucks, in their first meeting. Happy birthday to the mop-haired redhead!

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Radio Orphan Annie

Little Orphan Annie debuted in her own radio program on the NBC’s Blue Network on April 6, 1931. The program, sponspored by Ovaltine, was hugely successful and the income received from it by the Chicago Tribune- New York News Syndicate and Harold Gray rivaled that from sales of the strip itself to newspapers. Today, the show is probably best known from A Christmas Story, the 1983 fim written by Jean Sheppard in which young Ralphie is obsessed with getting an Annie decoder ring.

By the early ’40s, Quaker Oats was the sponsor and the program added a new character, the pilot Captain Sparks.The show ended its run in 1942 after the United States entered WW II, but was in the meantime responsible for additional Annie collectibles, including the giveaway comics produced by David McKay and Co.

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Another puzzler

Every so often we take a comic strip puzzle from the stacks and put it together so we can share it with readers. Here’s a 1933 Radio Orphan Annie premium, complete with the original carboard mailer box. We hope you enjoy it.

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When “the Funnies” weren’t so funny!

Comics are for kids, eh? In this 1947 daily Harold Gray addresses the complaints he received about the “funnies” not being funny. He also takes a swipe at editorial interference, something he wouldn’t have dared done in print a couple of years earlier when Capt. Joe Patterson, the syndicate’s founder, was still alive. We’re scanning ahead in our Little Orphan Annie series and this story featuring Gray’s stand-in, the cartoonist Tik Tok, is one of his best. (Click on images for a larger view.)

 

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A month later, in the February 9th Sunday, Gray ramps it up further. “Fascist moron!!!” Gray was often under attack for his political views and he pushes back in this unusually candid strip!

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Annie and Sandy in the Digital Domain

I have to admit that in 2004-2005 I didn’t read the then-current Annie newspaper strip by Jay Maeder and Ted Slampyak so when I learned that Tribune Media Services (the modern name of the ol’ Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate) was going to issue an e-book containing some of the strips, I was happy to get the chance to sample the series. And, after reading them, happily agreed to write a Foreword to the book.Annie_cvr

The best thing I can say about a continuity strip is that I can’t wait to read the next installment. That’s what happened here—Jay’s stories are that good.

Taking over a well-known comic strip is not an easy task. In fact, my knee-jerk reaction is “why bother?” But then I remember the joy I had reading Leonard Starr’s Annie back around 1979-80. It wasn’t a bad copy of Harold Gray’s Annie but something totally new—and exciting. Jay and Ted have accomplished something similar—staying true to the characters but placing them in fresh, interesting adventures. Just when you think you know where the story’s going, it takes a surprising turn. Martian devil-worshippers? Superhero costume-wearing patriotic gardeners? It’s pretty wild stuff.

Since Jay’s also one of our premier comics historians, he couldn’t help but throw in a few in-jokes for us old-timers. In the top strip, Annie cracks a joke about her age; in the bottom strip, Jay references Annie’s World War II-era “Junior Commandos” outfit. Click on the images for larger viewing.

The book will be available on iTunes in November. You can stay abreast of TMS’s digital plans at their website: rabbitholecomics.com.

 

 

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The Nation’s Capital Loves Annie

In a full-page article in the print (and online) version of the Washington Times on May 6th, reviewer Michael Taube opined that LOAC’s “Complete Little Orphan Annie series is one of the most impressive comic-strip collections ever produced.”

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Harold Gray’s forty-plus years writing and drawing the strip has long engendered strong praise from across the political landscape—from rave reviews such as this in the decidedly conservativeWashington Times to huzzahs from libertarians to wildly enthusiastic essays by liberals such as Art Spiegelman and me. Politics be damned, Harold Gray was a phenomenal and compelling storyteller.

In Volume Seven, to be released in August, real politics exist side by side with the fantastic. Gray offers the story of Ginger the flower lady which is a thinly-disguised rant about the Roosevelt Administration, followed by the introduction of the apparently immortal Mr. Am. It just doesn’t get much better than this!

The politics of the strip are covered by Jeet Heer in his introductory essay, and as a bonus, we look at Gray’s work on the much-neglected Little Joe.

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Eat more strawberries

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Once upon a time, about twenty-six years ago, I had a little girl who was fascinated with Annie. She saw the movie with Carol Burnett and, at the age of three, memorized every dang song from it. We still refer to this as her “Annie Phase.” My father bought every scruffy stuffed Sandy and Annie doll he could get his hands on at local flea markets and yard sales. He even told her if she ate enough strawberries, her hair would turn red.

And so it is with great joy and fondness that I now find myself restoring this fantastic work of Harold Gray. This spunky little girl reminds me of my own tough scrappy kid, the one who is now all grown up, the one who has organized and composed all of the music for her own band named after her childhood hero…”Orphan.” Perhaps destiny led me to this remastering work, perhaps fate…or perhaps a calling to be near someone I love and admire.

Comics reflecting moments captured in time…a kid teaching an adult. The story continues 🙂

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More Jabs Than Puns

The end of Annie as a regular newspaper feature received significant media coverage, but here in the Library of American Comics universe we are smack in the midst of Great Moments in AnnieHistory. You’ll see one of the greatest later on this year, as the incredible Punjab marks his debut in the sixth volume of our series.

Check out the extremely rare Punjab Mystic Code Translater above, courtesy our friend Richard Olson. He’d been searching for this elusive premium for nearly forty years and recently added it to his phenomenal LOA collection. Richard has been kindly sharing his goodies for the introductions to our Complete Little Orphan Annie.

The year 1935 opened with Annie, Sandy, and “Daddy” on the bum. Prospects looked bleak, but the first sign fortunes would change occurs in the January 26th daily, when “Daddy” shaves off the scruffy beard he had been cultivating for almost three weeks. “Maybe I was a little bashful about letting people recognize me-the great Warbucks sunk to the level of a tramp,” Warbucks muses. “But what do I care? Let ’em look-I’ve never cringed yet and I’ll not start now.” When “Daddy” gets that steely note of resolve in his voice, it’s only a matter of time before he’s back on top again…

But what’s the one lesson Gray consistently teaches? Even a man as formidable as Warbucks can’t do it alone. This time the path back to respectability leads to “Daddy’s” globe-trotting old friend, Henry Morgan, and his giant bodyguard from India, the exotic Punjab.

We get our first look at Punjab in the February 3, 1935 Sunday; “Daddy” begins introducing him to Annie on Monday, February 11th. In the weeks that follow, Gray’s stoic new character tosses around no-goods like Doc Savage, he appears and disappears like The Shadow, he espouses a Far Eastern philosophy that’s a mix of Rudyard Kipling and Sax Rohmer. As he performs feats of prestidigitation and serves up inscrutable visions of the future, Punjab takesLittle Orphan Annie—always the most hard-headed and pragmatic of series – into the misty realms of mysticism. It is Punjab who shows America’s spunkiest kid there are unseen forces at work in the world, that there is knowledge and then there is Knowledge.

By the end of March, when Annie finds an old tramp near death, lying deep in the woods, it is Punjab who uses his many abilities (including his skill with the “jungle wireless”) to save the tramp’s life. That tramp, as Annieologists know, puts “Daddy” back on the path to respectability as Harold Gray begins to unfold perhaps his most trenchant sociopolitical commentary.

     Little Orphan Annie Volume 6 offers more than a dance around the edges of the supernatural—old friends Wun Wey and (huzzah!) Pee Wee the Elephant make their returns, as well. But the spotlight moment comes in the early months of 1935, when Punjab steps onto the stage and into Annie’s life.

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