Sunday, May 25, 2014

Little Lost Annie

Four years ago, the venerable newspaper comic strip Little Orphan Annie came to an end in mid-story. In the last strip, dated Sunday, June 13, 2010, Annie was being held captive by a villain called the Butcher of the Balkans, who was then on the run somewhere in Guatemala. The penultimate panel showed Daddy Warbucks back home, looking out the window with as much emotion as a character without eyeballs can summon. In the background, one character says to another, "Poor Mr. Warbucks! It's painful for him--he's resigning himself to Miss Annie's being lost forever--". The last panel of the strip reads: "And this is where we leave our Annie. For now--".

Little Orphan Annie was in danger countless times during her eighty-six years in the comics. Every time, she escaped, or she was found or rescued. Every time she came back. Newspaper syndication is a cruel business, though, and if the readers turn their interests elsewhere, there is little that a red-headed orphan can do, even if she is the protégé of the world's richest man. Annie's fate has been unknown for four years, but that is about to change.

Two months ago, writer Mike Curtis and artist Joe Staton announced that they would put Dick Tracy on the case. Mr. Curtis and Mr. Staton, who began working together on Dick Tracy in 2011, have been planning for some time to have Daddy Warbucks seek the help of Dick Tracy in finding Little Orphan Annie. Beginning Sunday, June 1, 2014, "the comics page’s greatest detective will set out in pursuit of the plucky young heroine." Mr. Curtis promises "action-packed, over-the-top thrills and chills as the two features combine their casts for what we hope will be the most historic tale in comic strip history." I don't have any doubt that Tracy and Annie will meet somewhere in this wide world. (1)

Little Orphan Annie made its debut on August 5, 1924, syndicated by the Chicago Tribune. The writer and artist was Harold Gray, who was part Illinoisan and part Hoosier. Born on January 20, 1894, in Kankakee, Illinois, Gray grew up in Illinois and Indiana. He graduated from high school in West Lafayette, Indiana, and from Purdue University in 1917 with a degree in engineering. Gray served for a short time in the U.S. Army during World War I. Beginning in the early 1920s, he assisted Sidney Smith on The Gumps, one of the most popular comic strips of its day. Gray got a shot at his own strip with Little Orphan Annie in 1924. He stayed with it until his death on May 9, 1968.

Like Harold Gray, the creator of Dick Tracy was a farm boy from the Middle Border, drawn to big, bustling Chicago and a chance to be a famous cartoonist. Chester Gould was born on November 20, 1900, in Pawnee, Oklahoma. He arrived in the city of big shoulders shortly after Harold Gray. Like Gray, he created the comic strip for which he is known today for the Chicago Tribune. Dick Tracy first appeared on October 4, 1931, and enjoyed more than half a century under the guidance of its creator. Chester Gould died on May 11, 1985, but his crime-fighting creation goes on. After eighty-three years, Dick Tracy is one of the most famous and enduring of American newspaper comic strips. It is about to join forces with another in that category, Little Orphan Annie.

(1) The quotes are from an article, "Dick Tracy To Set Off in Search of Little Orphan Annie," written by Kevin Melrose and dated April 1, 2014. The first quote is in Mr. Melrose's words; the second is by Mr. Curtis.

Little Alpha Annie, August 4, 1924. This is Annie's ninety-year anniversary.
Little Omega Annie, June 13, 2010, soon to return in Dick Tracy.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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