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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 🙂
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.
In a sign of changing times and technologies, it was announced today that Little Orphan Annie will end it run in newspapers next month. We all know that newspapers are going through tough times and are losing print readership; and that daily and Sunday comics have long since been reduced and shrunken and diminished so that they are but shells of their former glorious selves. So, this announcement is not unexpected, and I’m sure we’ll see similar ones about other long-running strips in the future. But the fact remains that it’s always sad to witness the end of an era.
We raise our glasses with a toast to the current creative team of Jay Maeder and Ted Slampyak, and to Leonard Starr and the other writers and artists who contributed to the strip’s history in the past forty years.
And in salute to Harold Gray—who created and directed Annie’s adventures for forty-four years—there’s no better way for us to celebrate his achievement than by bringing his work back into print for all to read…on paper.
Some said we couldn’t do it…some said we shouldn’t do it…but we did it and now everyone seems glad we did!
Here’s a little behind-the-scenes gossip: when we were planning the Library of American Comics’s release of Little Orphan Annie, we spent a lot of time discussing whether we should go in chronological order, beginning with the 1924 strips that marked Annie’s debut, or whether we should begin in the 1930s, considered by many to be the “golden period” for America’s spunkiest kid. Some Big Names argued for the “golden” approach, while other knowledgeable Annieologists warned it could be difficult to locate all Harold Gray’s earliest strips. We gnawed at the question the way that loveable mutt Sandy gnaws worries an offending thug’s shin-bone.
If you’re reading these words, odds are you know those hours of contemplation and debate led us to begin at the beginning. It took several visits to Boston University’s Mugar Library (and the unstinting assistance of Mugar Archivist J.C. Johnson and Associate Director Sean Noel) plus a little timely assistance from select Annieologists, but our first volume not only reprinted all the original dailies, it also contained a “lost” 1924 strip that had never appeared in any newspaper. During those first few visits to B.U., it was a great delight to be seeing and actually holding Harold Gray’s original artwork. It was great fun, during a later visit, to meet both Jeet Heer and Chester (Yummy Fur) Brown, who were in town pursuing their own lines of Harold Gray-related research.
Now, fortified by having seen strip’s first decade of storylines and character development, we’re positioned to fully appreciate Little Orphan Annie’s “golden period” as fifth volume in the series offers sixteen months of continuity spanning 1933-1935. When Annie gets a taste of show biz during her alliance with Uncle Dan, we’re ready to accept it because we’ve seen her 1926 days performing with the circus. When the Bleeks appear, claiming to be Annie’s parents, we fully appreciate how plausible this could seem to “Daddy” Warbucks, because we watched him live through the 1928 fire that destroyed Miss Asthma’s orphanage, along with all evidence of Annie’s lineage. After Phil O. Bluster and his cronies have wiped out the Warbucks fortune and put Our Heroes on the bum, we have confidence in “Daddy” and Annie’s ability to prevail, because we’ve cheered them on as they’ve survived the machinations of Count DeTour in the 1920s and Tom Bullion’s 1931 financial squeeze play that left them rooming with Maw Green.
The stories in Little Orphan Annie Volume 5, together with Jeet Heer’s latest historical/biographical essay, are a showcase that remind us why Annie remains an enduring American icon.