Freedom to read for all!

We’d like to acknowledge Banned Books Week with a daring stance against censorship by Harold Gray in a 1949 “Little Orphan Annie” sequence, which is collected in Volume 14 on sale later this month.

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As Jeet Heer notes in his introduction:

The year 1948 was a peak year for the burning of comic books and in February, 1949 Harold Gray mocked the anti-comics crusade by casting it as the work of Prissy Putsch, a hysterical and puritanical old maid whose demagoguery leads to a building burning down…. Annie compares Prissy to the Nazis and leads a group of children who yell out “Hitler helpers!”

Gray was a right-wing Republican with a strong and unconventional libertarian streak that occasionally led him to clash even with his fans, who were more staidly conservative. He was never a man to walk away from a fight, but in defiantly attacking the anti-comics crowd he picked a battle with some of the most powerful forces in late 1940s mainstream American culture: churches, PTA organizations, law enforcement, and civic government. By the end of 1948 more than fifty American towns and cities had enacted laws banning the sale of certain comics, measures that had the vocal support of local police.

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The whole Prissy Putsch sequence lasted only twelve weekdays and one Sunday, but it provoked an inordinate amount of mail. Gray was inundated with hundreds of letters from irate readers, ranging from entire classrooms (whose petitions seem to have been written by teachers) to countless fathers and mothers. These letters are especially interesting because they show how Gray’s more conservative readers reacted when he rubbed against their expectations. Many of the letters express disappointment as well as anger, since the readers thought of Annie as one of the good, wholesome strips and were surprised at the heroine taking the side of the semi-outlaw form of the comic book.

 

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