Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dick Tracy and the End of Annie - 1

Mike Curtis and Joe Staton finished up an extended sequence in Dick Tracy that was (in my opinion) something of a tour de force.

In addition to providing an unusual case for Dick Tracy, it also wrapped up loose ends from another legacy strip, while honoring the tradition of that strip in an innovative way.

This post (part 1) I'll lay down the foundation for the sequence. In part 2, I'll show how Curtis and Staton used those elements to tell an unusual story.

A brief history of Little Orphan Annie

Harold Gray began Little Orphan Annie in 1924, and continued it through his death in 1968. Although the strip was continued, it was in something of a creative free fall. Artists and writers came and went, and circulation continued to decline. (click on images to enlarge)

Harold Gray's Annie, from 1936

After the success of the musical Annie (both on Broadway and in Hollywood), the strip, which had been reduced to reprinting sequences from the 1930's was resurrected. Leonard Star (Mary Perkins, On Stage) took over the strip and continued until 2000. (click on images to enlarge)

Leonard Starr's take on Annie

Noted artist Allan Kupperberg took over, and in 2004 handed off to talented artist and writer Ted Slampyak. Kupperberg and Slampyak updated Annie, letting her wear jeans and t-shirts rather than the anachronistic (but iconic) red dress.

The final Annie strip by Ted Slampyak, 2010

Unfortunately, readers wanted the musical Annie, and in 2010, Tribune Media Services abruptly cancelled the strip. Annie was in the hands of the "Butcher of the Balkans" and although Oliver Warbucks was searching frantically for her, she and the Butcher disappeared into the wilds of Guatamala. The End -- for now.

Annie's radio program featured a secret message
at the end of each episode. Buy Ovaltine, send in
the vouchers, and you could get a secret decoder
ring (and be a member of the secret society).

Little Orphan Annie on radio

Little Orphan Annie debuted on radio in 1930 as a 15-minute serial, and continued through 1942. The program settled into a format that differed from the comic strip, where Annie and Sandy were often wandering alone, in a picaresque narrative.

The radio program had Annie living in Simmon's Corner, a small, rural community in Tucker county, the ward of Ma  and Pa Silo. The Silos took care of Annie while Daddy Warbucks was off doing big projects. Of course, it didn't mean that life on the farm was dull for Annie! She crossed paths with gansters, Nazi spies, and other villians that all seemed to converge on Simmons Corners.

The modern world of Slampyak's "Annie" and the radio world of Simmons Corner would be brought together in "Dick Tracy" in a brilliant fashion. As you'll see in part two.

A worthy opponent

The villain of the Dick Tracy sequence comes from the golden age of Annie. Axel first ran across Annie in 1939, and at the time just seemed like another crook. But when he returned in 1940, he was a cold-blooded arms merchant with more than a passing resemblance to Hitler. He was eventually captured and deported.

Axel harangues his followers in 1940. 64 years later, his attitude hadn't
changed a bit.

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