Decoding Little Orphan Annie: a heart of gold and a mean left hook.
If you just read the title of this post, you are more likely to be humming “Hard Knock Life” instead of thinking of your favorite moment in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip. And thats fair. The musical just had a new film revival, the strip began in1924 and has been gone for years. Though highly regarded by classic newspaper comic aficionados, it’s hardly a common comic denominator amongst most people, even comic book fans.
While most of the stories are slice-of-life americana, a surprising amount of the strip is dedicated to adventure and crime conspiracies! Not as hardcore as it’s contemporary Dick Tracy, who is pretty much the Golden Age Judge Dredd, Annie spends a lot more time running from criminals and international spy rings than singing and dancing. And in case you didn’t catch it in the name, Daddy Warbucks is a straight up BILLIONAIRE WARRIOR.
Lets start slowly.
Here is an average early Little Orphan Annie comic:
Pianos suck, right guys? Bring on the harmonica party! We’ll get into the working class vs upper class elites themes of Annie another time. Lets jump into some ass kicking!
Not too crazy, but you can at least say modern comics wouldn’t get behind this kinda fighting, particularly Daddy back-seat driving this face stomping.
But hey-Daddy knows his stuff when it comes to beat downs.
The Beard-yank is pretty uncool Daddy. Daddy’s business concerns are global, and eventually the series increases the scales of the conflicts. Daddy brings in his wrecking crew, a pair of international assassins with hearts of gold.
They are very comfortable with killing bad guys, and have a friendly rivalry over who will kill the most in battle, sometimes politely offering the other the next batch of villains to dispatch.
Daddy gets in on the action too.
STABBIN’ CHUMPS! That terrifying drawing of Punjab is my favorite!
Annie herself gets caught up in the action too.
Here, she just kinda hangs out while Sinsin drowns a spy.
She later helps in taking out the whole spy ring.
And we can’t forget the time she and a friend blew up an entire u-boat full of Nazi’s.
The stories all this action is exploding from are fun, exciting, and sometimes pretty weird. The most recent volume, containing strips from 1943-1945, has Annie living in a secret apartment complex for criminals. Each tenant of the strange residence has a specific criminal vocation, be it pickpocket, forger, or bank robber. The “rats” depicted above deserve their drowning, as they committed several murders and planted the bodies in the crime house in an attempt to control/destroy it.
And they put his hat back on! In case you weren’t sure what kinda bad dudes Annie’s gotta deal with…
I’ve honestly never seen the musical. If there is a part where Annie finds a severed head, let me know.
In a story in a previous volume, Annie and some friends are breaking into a crooked sanitarium to save a wrongly committed man. As they dig a tunnel under the facilities wall, they find…
… a mass grave! The sun’ll come out…
It isn’t all just finding dead bodies. Annie loses friends along the way. The character deaths in Little Orphan Annie are frequent enough that you know the strip has stakes, but not so often that you know not to get too attached to anyone. It isn’t exactly Game of Thrones…
Don’t worry, Sandy the dog is ok! Just Ginger, the old lady on the left who took Annie in off the streets and gave her a home for weeks, is murdered! Whew!
When I started reading Little Orphan Annie, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I’m forever grateful to IDW’s Library of American Comics for reprinting these stories, as well as many other fantastic classic newspaper strips. All the images above were taken from their reprints, save the “stacked” panel pages of the earliest examples, which come from a collection printed in the 1920′s I miraculously found at a thrift store! Please forgive my cell phone photography.
-nolan, realizing the violent life of an orphan is a weird Mother’s Day post…
80 years ago today, one of the most acclaimed American comic strips “Li'l Abner” made its debut. The recurring “Li'l Abner” comic strip, created by Al Capp in 1934, focused largely on groups of hillbillies and villains living in a Kentucky mountain village. Beginning in the Depression era, the comic strip satirized powerful individuals in America with sharp, sometimes bawdy humor. The insightful humor of “Li'l Abner” along with its distinctive illustrative style drew millions of more intellectual Americans that hadn’t read comic strips to do so in the post-war years. “Li'l Abner” became so popular that it was eventually featured in hundreds of newspapers and had a circulation estimated at 60 million.
Artifact: Newseum Collection
Cartoons can be powerful yet amusing tools to reach the American public and sway opinion. While some cartoons are more satirical, like “Li'l Abner,” others make us laugh at and love the characters within. Comic strips are a beloved part of newspapers, and we celebrate them and their endearing stars in our Funny Pages exhibit.
Revisit some of your favorite comic strips with us at the Newseum.