Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray

Harold Gray, Little Orphan Annie, May 31, 1958

Harold Gray (1894-1968) began Little Orphan Annie in 1924 and drew it until his death in 1968. It was one of the most popular comic strips in America during his life, and has lived on after him in theater and film. His heroine, Annie, is an orphan of super-human pluck and gumption who never seems fazed by whatever dire situation which she finds herself in. Her adoptive father is Daddy Warbucks, a brilliant capitalist--but a terrible parent who ends up leaving Annie to fend for herself for months at a time. Gray's scratchy drawing at first may seem quite anonymous--the characters even have blank eyes. But he was a master at depicting body language and of panel progression.

Little Orphan Annie was unusually political. Unlike the later Pogo (or Doonesbury), it wasn't satirical and didn't feature caricatures  of political figures, but Gray's Midwestern Republicanism was often right on the surface as he valorized big business, demonized organized labor, mocked do-gooders who wished to help the poor and downtrodden as self-important busy-bodies, and celebrated the idea of self-reliance. Horatio Alger, Jr. seems to have been an inspiration. However, much of the strip was taken up by largely apolitical adventures, often involving somewhat mystical forces, as represented by her Indian friend, Punjab, and Mr. Am.

Eight volumes of Little Orphan Annie strips are in print. I recommend volume 3 especially.