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Little Orphan Annie Collections Preview

Little Orphan Annie Collections Preview

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Little Orphan Annie Collections Preview
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Published by: Graphic Policy on May 29, 2014
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(Different in Canada)
—New York Times Week in Review
America's spunkiest kid is hospitalized after a car
crash, has to fight off a dope pushing doctor, meets
"Crazy Kate" (who's not all that crazy!), and when
America enters the Second World War, Annie protects
the home front by forming the Junior Commandos,
a group that inspired tens of thousands of real life
children to collect newspapers, scrap metal, and
other items needed for the war effort. The fictional
"Colonel Annie," meanwhile, finds herself face to face
with fifth columnists and a Nazi submarine! Daddy
Warbucks, true to his name, is back making munitions
and leads a mysterious army overseas. And that's just
for starters. Including dailies and Sundays from
November 24, 1941 through August 7, 1943.
Harold Gray was born in 1894 in Kankakee,
Illinois, and began his cartooning career as an
assistant to Sidney Smith, creator of the famously
successful strip The Gumps. Gray wrote and
illustrated Little Or phan Annie for more than
four decades, from 1924 until 1968.
August 5, 1924, and Harold Gray continued
to write and draw the comic strip for forty-four
years, until his death, after which it was
continued, on and off, by other hands for more
than two additional decades. Little Orphan Annie
has become a cultural icon—in both her red-
headed, blank-eyed appearance, and as the
embodiment of American individuality, spunk,
and self-reliance. Even those who’ve never read
the comic strip are keenly aware of the plucky
orphan, her loveable mutt Sandy, and her adoptive
benefactor, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, through
the Broadway play, the hit movie, and the song
“Tomorrow,” made famous by both.
Harold Gray’s
America’s Spunkiest Kid Protects the Home Front!
LibraryofAmericanComics.com • idwpublishing.com
“For the first twenty months after Pearl Harbor, Harold Gray put aside
his partisan objections to the Democratic president. In the past, Gray
might have used Annie as a mouthpiece for bemoaning high taxes and
government regulations but in the early years of the war, Annie
acknowledges that both rationing and taxes are necessary. There’s no
reason to bemoan rationing and ‘taxes takin’ most all we have,’ she says,
since ‘if we lose—we lose everything!’ This spirit of wartime unity,
however, was not permanent. By late 1943, Gray would return to his
critique of New Deal bureaucracy, focusing his ire on rationing, and
once again question FDR's leadership…”
“One of the most impressive comic-strip collections ever produced.” — The Washington Times
FROM 1941–1943


ART DIRECTOR Lorraine Turner
PRODUCTION ASSISTANCE Jackson Glassey, Valarie Jones
Special thanks to the Harold Gray Archives at the Howard Gotlieb Archival
Research Center, Mugar Library, Boston University. Additional thanks to
Jay Maeder, Richard Olson, Stephen Tippie, Julie Josephitis, Heritage Auctions,
Justin Eisinger, Alonzo Simon, Larry Lowery/biglittlebooks.com, John Province,
and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at the Ohio State University.
ISBN: 978-1-61377-951-4
First Printing, April 2014
Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors
IDW Publishing
a Division of Idea and Design Works, LLC
5080 Santa Fe Street • San Diego, CA 92109
Ted Adams, Chief Executive Officer/Publisher
Greg Goldstein, Chief Operating Officer/President
Robbie Robbins, EVP/Sr. Graphic Artist
Chris Ryall, Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief
Matthew Ruzicka, CPA/Chief Financial Officer
Alan Payne/VP of Sales
Dirk Wood/VP of Marketing
Lorelei Bunjes/VP of Digital Services
Little Orphan Annie ® and © 2014 TMS News and Features, LLC.
All rights reserved. The Library of American Comics is a trademark
of Library of American Comics LLC. All rights reserved.
Introduction © 2014 Jeet Heer. With the exception of artwork used
for review purposes, none of the contents of this publication may be
reprinted without the permission of TMS News and Features, LLC.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
any information and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from TMS News and Features, LLC. Printed in Korea.
he Second World War was the single most traumatic and transformative
event the United States experienced in the 20th Century. The anger unleashed
by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized a hitherto isolated and divided
nation, turning it into a global superpower. For cartoonist Harold Gray, the war
years provided an unparalleled opportunity to turn his contentious and divisive
strip, Little Orphan Annie, into a nearly universally celebrated emblem of a
shared patriotism, with the beloved waif organizing her own Junior Commandos
to help speed victory. War brought not just national unity, but also fear, suffering,
and death, ordeals that Gray tried to confront and allay in his storylines. The war
years were also personally tragic for Gray when he lost a close family member in
a tragic accident, an event that cast a shadow on his work.
Gray had been preparing for armed hostility long before Pearl Harbor. In the
run-up to the American entry into the war, Orphan Annie repeatedly confronted
enemy agents trying to undermine the American way of life. She also heard from
“Daddy” Warbucks and others stories about “concentration camps” and mass
killings that gave the strip an ambience of unsettling menace. Due to Gray’s
forthright handling of war issues in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he had an
easier time transitioning to war than many other cartoonists.
How to handle the war was a major issue faced by all newspaper cartoonists
after Pearl Harbor. The problem was made acute by the clashing demands of
readers. Some applauded wartime patriotism in comics but there was a sizeable
body of opinion that wanted the “funny pages” to remain a source of amusement
—an anachronistic demand given the fact that blood-soaked storylines had been
common in strips for more than a decade. Thrills and chills that echoed the
newspaper headlines had long been the norm not just in Gray’s Orphan Annie
but in Milton Caniff ’s Terry and the Pirates, Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs and
Captain Easy, and Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. Still there were readers like “Mrs.
F.O.” of Evanston, Illinois who wrote to the Chicago Tribune in March of 1942
complaining that “in these days of war which bring so much sorrow and worry
over loved ones who have gone and are going into the service of our beloved
country, why not do everything to cheer and uplift them? Why not let our
funnies be funny? Let Daddy Warbucks come back to Orphan Annie….”
Despite readers like “Mrs. F.O.” the fact that Orphan Annie had never been a
humor strip or one with a focus on domestic life made it simpler for Gray to shift
to wartime storytelling than cartoonists whose strips were decidedly more gentle
and genteel, such as Frank King’s Gasoline Alley. King agonized over whether his
main character Skeezix, who was of military age, should be drafted. Even when
Skeezix did join the army, King kept the star of his strip away from combat.
While Gray did not share King’s compunctions about doing wartime stories,
the creator of Orphan Annie was careful to avoid creating a fully military strip in
the manner of Terry, Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy or Ham Fisher’s Joe Palooka
(where the boxer hero joined the army a year before Pearl Harbor). Gray’s heroine
BY Jeet Heer
[Editor’s Note: Important story elements are revealed in this introduction. Readers may wish to read the strips before this essay.]
was a young girl, so she couldn’t join the Army Air Corps in the manner of a
Caniff hero or the Navy in the pattern of a Crane character. As Annie reflects,
she could only join the military if she “was older—maybe—an’ a boy.”
Aside from Annie, Gray did have adult male characters who could have
joined the American military: “Daddy” Warbucks and his hardy band of
experienced warriors headed by Punjab and the Asp. Warbucks and his posse
show up in uniform—not the vestments of the United States military but
the raiment of an unnamed allied power. “I got in a little ahead of schedule,”
he tells his ward.
Why would Gray, who was never shy about celebrating patriotism, make
Warbucks and company soldiers of a foreign power? In part, Gray wanted to
avoid the problems of too close an alignment with the actual military. Before Pearl
Harbor, Caniff and Crane drew stories about adventurers and soldiers-of-fortune,
but after the Japanese attack their main characters were firmly and officially part
of the American war machine. This meant that Caniff and Crane had to work in
close conjunction with the Army Air Corps and the Navy, who suggested story-
lines and topics to the cartoonists, advice that was often accepted by artists eager
to help the war effort. Increasingly, during World War II and especially in the
Cold War Caniff and Crane became unofficial propagandists for the military, an
intimate relationship that bore tremendous advantages in terms of providing them
with a ready-made audience but also limited their artistic freedom. Good soldiers,
Caniff and Crane had no problem working with the Pentagon bureaucracy, but a
freewheeling cartoonist like Gray would have felt more fettered.
Harold Gray supported the war effort and in fact wanted the United States
to be much more aggressive than it actually was, especially during the Cold War.
For that very reason he preferred to keep Warbucks and his men as free agents,
able to launch commando raids whether there was an official declaration of war or
not. Both during World War II and in later conflicts, Gray upheld the commando
as the ideal type of soldier: quick and stealthy, commandos appealed to Gray’s
imagination more than conventional rule-bound warriors did. Warbucks had
always been a bit of an outlaw, a pirate of international capital, so making him
a commando of an unnamed army preserved both the freedom of the billionaire
warlord and Gray’s artistic liberty.
Gray’s predilection for doing grisly and gothic stories also made it wise for
him to keep some distance from the official military. When Punjab gets his
hands on some German prisoners of war, he uses magic to dispatch the hapless
POWs to the land of the genii, a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.
If Punjab had been in the regular army he couldn’t use so entertaining, but also
illegal, a method to deal with captured enemy soldiers.
The physical and psychological damage caused by war makes healing
urgent, so it is not surprising that throughout 1941 Little Orphan Annie
becomes a medical melodrama with a proliferating cast of doctors who have
to mend not just the body but also the mind. Even the villain of the storyline
is a medical man—Dr. Eldeen, a needle-wielding quack who is the prototype
of a figure that Gray will return to in later stories, the sham-healer whose
sanatorium was actually a prison.
Annie herself becomes both a patient (briefly traumatized by news of
“Daddy” Warbucks’s death) and also a lay psychologist. In helping soothe
troubled minds and bringing warmth into the lives of icy people, Annie
returned to the role she fulfilled in the early days of the strip in 1924 when
she most resembled Pollyanna, the cheer-bringing waif created by children’s
author Eleanor H. Porter. In 1942 Annie is at her most Pollyanna-ish in her
relationship with Dr. Zee (the brilliant but cold surgeon hardened after
witnessing the horrors of the Spanish Civil War) and Auntie Priss (the chilly
aristocratic widow who lost both husband and son in earlier wars). Through
her vitality and buoyant spirits Annie brings both these characters out of their
shells, performing a sort of mental healing.
National unity was as important a wartime necessity as healing. The
emergence of President Franklin Roosevelt as war leader presented Gray with a
delicate problem. From 1932 onwards, Gray had used Little Orphan Annie as a
vehicle for attacking FDR and his signature New Deal policies, which the
cartoonist thought verged on socialism, if not communism. Now Roosevelt was
the Commander-in-Chief in a global war. How would Gray handle the change?
For the first twenty months after Pearl Harbor, Gray put aside his partisan
objections to the Democratic president and pointedly made overtures to the left.
In the past, Gray might have used Annie as a mouthpiece for bemoaning high
taxes and government regulations but in the early years of the war, Annie
acknowledges that both rationing and taxes are necessary. In the December 27,
1942 strip Annie reflects that there is no reason to bemoan rationing and “taxes
takin’ most all we have” since “if we lose—we lose
everything!” (There is some unintentional comedy in
Annie, supposedly a poor waif, pondering the high tax
rate paid only by millionaires like her creator).
Gray’s attempt to make common cause with the
political left is most evident in the startling character of
Dr. Zee, the only time the cartoonist created a character
with a progressive political orientation. Dr. Zee was a
volunteer during the Spanish Civil War. Gray doesn’t spell
out which side he helped, but there are grounds for thinking
that Dr. Zee was on the side of the democratic government,
like Rick Blaine in Casablanca or the real-life members of the
Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the radicals (often socialists and
communists) who went to fight against fascism in the 1930s
when the official policy of the United States was neutrality.
Dr. Zee opens a clinic offering affordable health
care for all, charging one dollar for all visits, much to
the chagrin of the local medical establishment. A neighbor
says Zee “must be a socialist or a durn commy!” In
running his household with Annie, he insists that all
resources be pooled, saying “we’ll sort of go socialist or
communist, in a capitalist sort of way.”
Even more startling than Annie’s admitting that taxes
are sometimes necessary or Dr. Zee’s pinkish political
profile is the praise Gray gives to FDR’s strength of will.
In late 1942, Dr. Zee loses his arm. To cheer him up,
the refugee child Driftwood cites examples of great leaders
who have overcome affliction, noting “we all know one of
the greatest victories over handicap, right in this wonderful
country.” This is a clear allusion to FDR’s triumph over
polio. This praise of FDR, completely out of keeping with
Gray’s anti-New Deal polemics of the 1930s, is striking
proof of Gray’s commitment to wartime unity.
This spirit of wartime unity was not permanent. By
late 1943, Gray would return to his critique of New Deal
bureaucracy, focusing his ire on rationing and once again
question FDR’s leadership. But for at least the first
twenty months after America entered the war, the
cartoonist made a strong effort to be a team player.
Gray’s investment in the idea of national unity can
be seen in his most famous wartime innovation, the
Junior Commandos, an ad-hoc military group Annie
created. The Junior Commandos fulfilled several useful
functions: they allowed Gray to make a frontal challenge
to the idea that children should be shielded from wartime
news (a notion that was propounded by those who
wanted comic strips not to have war-related stories).
The Junior Commandos also allowed Gray to circumvent
the fact that Annie, as a young girl, couldn’t join the army:
like “Daddy” Warbucks, she could be an officer in her own
fictional army. Finally, the Junior Commandos allowed
Gray to keep the strip based in the United States but
still have a wartime feel. Indeed, the richness of the Junior
Commando storylines comes from the fact that they allow
Gray to vividly portray everyday life on the homefront,
ranging from the collecting of scrap metal to the daycare
needs of war workers to the need for quiet in neighborhoods
where night shift workers lived. From the vantage point of
the 21st Century, the Junior Commando stories are most
valuable for the unique window they provide into the daily
life of ordinary Americans during World War II. No other
strip quite captured the feeling of how the everyday
arrangements of life were disrupted by war as the entire
nation mobilized.
The Junior Commandos were a nifty idea within the
comic strip and they turned out to be an even better one
in real life. Neither Gray nor his syndicate expected Annie’s
make-believe military group to attract flesh-and-blood
imitators but within weeks of the first JC storyline, parents
ABOVE: Harold and Winifred Gray’s
Christmas card for December 1942.
OPPOSITE: The Junior Commandos sequence
spawned more than 50,000 real-life members,
plus a plethora of spin-offs, such as Four-Color
#18 in 1942 and these paper doll and coloring
books from 1943.
and kids all across America started up their own Junior Commandos. These
groups sprang up all over the nation but seem to have been particularly strong in
working class neighborhoods in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. At least fifty
thousand kids participated in the Junior Commandos.
The Chicago Tribune, as the home paper of Little Orphan Annie, had a
special interest in promoting these Junior Commando spin-offs, but the groups
themselves were grass-roots efforts. A Tribune article from October 25, 1942
gives a sense of how these young Annie-imitators operated. “Following in the
footsteps of Little Orphan Annie...a group of more than 30 youngsters from one
south side block have organized themselves as Commandos to contribute to the
war effort on the home front...the south side group is vitally interested in keeping
the streets about war workers’ homes free from unnecessary noise when they are
sleeping. Most of the men in the neighborhood work in steel mills. Those on the
11 to 7 o’clock in the morning shift sleep days. The commandos have obtained
the cooperation of peddlers and tradesmen to reduce noise.”
As Editor and Publisher noted, both Gray and the Tribune Syndicate were
“pleasantly surprised because what was viewed as nothing more than a simple
change in continuity has developed into one of the best promotions ever to
come out of the syndicate.” Whether planned or not, the Junior Commandos
rejuvenated Annie’s popularity with kids at an opportune moment. The Annie
radio show was on its last legs. The show lost its main sponsor, Ovaltine, in 1940
and went off the air for six months. It returned in 1941 but never regained the
wide appeal it had in the 1930s. The radio show was cancelled for good in 1942.
The dangling fate of the radio show might have influenced the storylines
of 1942 and 1943. The plots in these years are less complex and more episodic
than the adult-oriented novel-length sequences Gray offered the public in the
1930s. The stories where Annie tangles with Nazis seem particularly oriented
to child readers, offering them the kind of thrills found in Hardy Boys or Nancy
Drew adventure tales. These sequences seem closer in spirit to the radio show
than Gray’s earlier work. It’s possible that Gray wanted to emphasize Annie as
a kids’ strip again in order to re-ignite interest in radio producers, to convince
them that she was still a prize vehicle for children’s entertainment.
National unity was more than just a slogan for Gray. He genuinely believed
that for the United States to win the war, it needed to bring together all its
citizens. He was particularly concerned that the country was foolishly neglecting
the role of women and African-Americans in the war effort, which led to
two striking political commentaries. When he introduced Dr. Clover, a highly
competent female surgeon, she complained that “our country does not want to
send women doctors to the fighting front. But to our allies, a surgeon is surgeon.”
Like Warbucks, Dr. Clover takes up uniform in an allied army.
The issue of race was more fraught than even the question of women on the
front. The Second World War was the seedbed for the modern Civil Rights era.
Arguing that America couldn’t afford to be racist in a war against Nazism, civil
rights groups battled to desegregate the military, a victory they wouldn’t achieve
until Harry Truman issued an executive order in 1948. Even within a segregated
army, black soldiers asserted their rights. In the Jim Crow South, there were many
incidents of African-American soldiers refusing to sit in the back of the bus, small
acts of rebellion that anticipated Rosa Parks’s historic act of civil disobedience in
1955. As the American economy started humming at full wartime capacity, rural
blacks migrated to the north, where they found new opportunities as factory
workers. This internal immigration created a racist backlash, including a violent
anti-black riot in Detroit in 1943 which left thirty-four dead.
Against this background of rising racial tensions, Gray made one misstep and
one important statement. The mistake was a Maw Green cartoon from May 31,
1942 which had featured a black character who was a chicken thief. The joke
was both corny and embarrassing. It drew protests from black readers. Walter
Scratch of the Oakland Tribune in California sent a note to the Chicago Tribune-
New York News Syndicate to indicate that readers were upset about this cartoon.
“Oakland has a large Negro section and we have considerable circulation there,”
Scratch noted. “So you can see that a comic feature dealing with chicken stealing
by Negroes will hurt us. We hope your artist will be able to avoid gags about
Negroes in the future.”
Gray’s next major foray into race relations was much bolder and thoughtful.
In the August 2, 1942 Sunday page, Gray showed a little black boy named
George ask if he can join the Commandos. “Who says you can’t be a
commando?” Annie asks. “You’ve got as much right in this outfit as I have.
You’re an American! We’re all loyal Americans.” This defense of George’s right
to be an American is framed within the context of the Junior Commandos
being an explicitly multi-ethnic group, with members such as Angelo, Fritz,
Marie, and Chu. (Gray repeatedly emphasized that German-Americans could
be good citizens and shouldn’t be confused with the Nazis. Unfortunately,
displaying a racial blindspot common to the era, he didn’t make the same
distinction with Japanese-Americans.)
George immediately proved his worth as a Junior Commando by leading
the troops to an abandoned locomotive, a rich source of scrap metal. Annie
rewarded George’s ingenuity on the spot by making him a sergeant in the
Junior Commandos.
Given the fact that many comic strips in 1942 still depicted African-
Americans using minstrel show stereotypes, George was a revolutionary
character. To be sure, he’s depicted as being politely deferential and speaks
with a slight rustic accent, but he is also drawn in the same style as the white
children and displays great savvy and dignity. In terms of being a respectful
portrayal of African Americans, George compares favorably to characters such
as Ebony White in The Spirit, who were the norm in comics. At a time when
the military was still segregated, having George as a sergeant commanding
white soldiers (albeit fellow children) was a radical statement and an implicit
critique of the racism in the actual military. As an anti-racist statement, the
strip featuring George was at least twenty years ahead of anything else in
comics or popular culture at large.
Although he only appeared in one Sunday strip, George provoked
a strong reaction from both black and white readers. Many, but not all,
African-American readers were overjoyed. Benzell Graham, an 18-year-old
black sophomore studying at the University of Southern California, sent
Gray a “note of appreciation for the fine spirit expressed” in the George
strip. She added that “my family and many friends who saw the strip join
me in thanking you.” She echoed the idea of national unity that Gray had
expressed in the strip, noting that, “We negroes, as all other faithful
Americans, are doing our best to help win this war. It encourages us to
know that our effort is appreciated.” (Graham would go on to become
a school teacher and write the 1959 children’s book That Big Broozer.)
Graham’s sentiments were echoed by Private Robert B. Mitchell, then
serving at Fort Francis E. Warren in Wyoming. “I must say I am an American
negro, born in the deep south and such comics are not prevalent there and
hardly nowhere else save here in the west,” Mitchell wrote, adding that the
ideas expressed in the strip “shall become a highlight in my life and for many
other negroes... Here is hoping that repetition of such thoughts and actions
will be characteristic of the new era in which the world is entering. Then
there will be no more wars, and what will be more heaven like?”
Helen Selgrainer of Hinsdale, Illinois was another reader who was grateful
for George as a symbol of national unity, saying that Annie welcomed him in
the way “many of us wish to be [welcomed]. She made the lad appreciated
being an American....we do want to help win the war.”
Not all African-American readers celebrated George. Elsie Winslow
of New York engaged in a passionate correspondence with Gray. She
acknowledged that Gray’s “intentions were good” but complained that
George was too servile. “The Old Uncle Tom is dead and in his place is
the youth who is willing to shed his blood for America, but not in your
kitchen or Pullman’s as ‘George’ or ‘Liza’,” Winslow wrote. “There are so
many who even deny us the will to die for America.” Winslow protested
the fact that George spoke in a mild dialect, saying that a modern black
youth should be shown talking like Annie.
Gray wrote back to Winslow but unfortunately his letter hasn’t
survived. Based on a subsequent letter from Winslow, we can infer that
ABOVE: Character studies on vellum for
stories reprinted in this volume.
he wrote to defend the use of dialect as realistic, saying that “we must win
our point by indirection” and noted that many Southern white readers
were upset by George.
“Thank you sincerely for your nice letter,” Winslow responded. “Your
letter was also startling and depressing, for I had never before realized that such
hatred existed. It is pretty deep, isn’t it? It is easy to understand now, how you
must have felt when you received my letter. Under existing circumstances, you
have done a very splendid thing; your comic did create a furor. It hasn’t died
down....You deserve encouragement for the ‘wedge’ you’ve made....Being a simple
idealistic fool, I like people to like me, to live in harmony with a neighbor, black
or white. This I shall try to continue, no matter what. And it’s very consoling
to know that there are thousands more like me. Perhaps you know this and
know[ing] it, will continue to drive wedges. Thanks.”
Wilamelia Wilson of New York City also objected to Gray’s use of dialect,
arguing that “in the deep South Negro children do not speak as you portrayed
the little Negro boy in your script.” For Wilson, George was portrayed as
Some black readers were upset that George only appeared once, which
to their minds meant that he was used only as a token and not an integral part
of the strip. Henry Crawford of Cleveland wrote a note to complain that both
George and the Chinese-American boy called Chu had only cameo appearances
in the strip. Writing in late October of 1942, Crawford stated that “I have
watched your comic strip each and every day since [George was introduced]
but have failed to see the Negro or the Chinese youths appear with the Junior
Commandos since. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that your
introduction of them was typically American; that is to make a lot of fanfare
about equal rights, democracy, etc., with no intention of ever practicing it.”
Three Civil Rights organizations—the Southern Education Foundation
of Washington, D.C., Youthbuilders in New York, and the Chicago Urban
League—took an interest in George and encouraged Gray to continue doing
strips of this sort. Sabra Holbrook of Youthbuilder praised Gray for using his
strip as “propaganda for inter-racial unity and understanding” and hoped that
Gray would continue to use the strip to promote “all the ideals incorporated
in the American Bill of Rights.”
In October of 1942, A.L. Foster of the Chicago Urban League expressed
pleasure that Gray created a black character who was not “a servant or a clown.”
But Foster wanted to know why George only appeared once. Foster, a 49-year-
old social worker and activist, was a pillar of the Chicago African-American
community. An entrepreneur as well as an activist, Foster had started a savings
and loan company, a music shop, and an insurance company. He had a weekly
column in the Chicago Defender and ran the Chicago Negro Chamber of
Once again, it is regrettable that Gray’s side of the correspondence hasn’t
survived. He seems to have written to Foster noting that opinion on George was
divided fifty/fifty, pro and con. Gray also seems to have indicated that some black
readers objected to his use of dialect. In response, Foster wrote that he himself
hadn’t even noticed the use of dialect and urged Gray to ignore the critics, since
complainers were always more vocal, and try to bring back George.
As against the complex response of black readers and civil rights
organizations, the reaction of white racists was more clearcut. R.B. Chandler,
the publisher of the Mobile Press Register of Mobile, Alabama, gave voice to
the objections of the Jim Crow South. “Your Orphan Annie Sunday page of
August 2 brought in a Negro boy character, George,” Chandler noted. “While
I have heard only two or three subscribers who stated that they had read
Orphan Annie for the last time because of mixing a negro character in with
the white children, I want to submit my suggestion that you give careful
thought and due consideration to the problem of the South on this issue.”
Chandler went on to offer a defense of Jim Crow as a policy “practiced for
many generations in the South.” Chandler also defended the idea of military
segregation that Gray had implicitly criticized in the strip.
Surprisingly, within the context of the Jim Crow South, Chandler was
a moderate representative of white opinion, however extreme he may sound
today. He supported the economic policies of the New Deal even if he opposed
the efforts Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were making on behalf of racial
equality. In 1943, when there was a race riot in Mobile, Chandler rebuked
whites who had attacked black defense workers. But this stance, like his letter
to Gray, came in the context of a larger commitment to racial segregation and
the status quo that kept African-Americans as second-class citizens.
Just as he had responded to black readers, Gray also answered Chandler’s
letter. Gray faced a delicate task since Chandler, as a newspaper publisher, was a
client, with the ability to bite into Gray’s income. Perhaps for that reason, when
responding to Chandler’s letter Gray declaimed any political intent and argued
that he was simply trying to please a valuable demographic—urban black readers.
Gray’s lengthy letter is worth quoting in some detail because it gives some
insight into how he tried to balance the competing claims of a white southern
editor and black readers:
Use of this particular character [George] was more
tactical than tactful, no doubt. I figured it would do no harm
in the South, and yours is the only criticism I have received
on the matter so far. On the other hand I have received
considerable favorable response.
God knows I’m no reformer. I am fully as strongly in favor
of the south, or any other section of the country handling its
own problems as even you can be, Mr. Chandler. I am no
relation to Mrs. Roosevelt [the president’s wife and outspoken
advocate of civil rights], either, nor do I subscribe in any way to
the text that the color line should be broken down.
But as you will realize, Annie depends for her circulation
on her ability to build and hold friendships with all classes.
Annie fraternizes with Jews, Chinese, East Indians, tramps,
gangsters of the golden hearted and rough exterior type, even
with the Clergy. As she is now engaged in work involving a
semi-military setup, and since colored people are in our army
in large numbers now, it seemed logical that a colored boy
could appear briefly and do a good job and be rewarded with
at least non-commissioned rank.
New York is the largest colored city in the world, as they
say. Chicago too has a very large colored population. Also cities
like Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, all have large
dark towns. And since Annie too is in business after all, and
since the bulk of Annie’s income derives from such cities as the
above, one naturally is prone to appeal to the side of heaviest
financial support, and not fear too much the displeasure of
those on the other side. Of course that may be the wrong
attitude for me to take, but it is arithmetic, and I believe you
will agree with me that it is a normal human attitude.
I appreciate your feelings on this matter keenly, Sir.
I hope you see my point and realize that Annie for August 2
was merely a casual gesture toward a very large block of
readers. I also hope that you, while regarding me as a Yankee,
will not put me down as a Dam Yankee.
Gray’s letter is a most curious performance. On the one hand, he’s trying
to smooth over a client in a chummy manner. But he’s also reminding Chandler
that Gray has other clients as well. The point about big cities with large black
populations takes on some bite when we realize that the Mobile Press Register was
a relatively small newspaper which only paid $11.50 per week for running Annie
(of which Gray got $5.75). While trying to ingratiate himself with Chandler, Gray
also wanted to remind the publisher that there were much bigger papers out there.
It seems that in writing to both Chandler and to his black readers, Gray was to
some degree playing both sides of the fence, telling each side what they wanted
to hear. Chandler and Gray would clash once again in 1947 when the publisher
strenuously objected to the anti-labor union editorializing in the strip. Once again,
Gray reminded Chandler that his paper was a minor client.
Race relations was clearly a minefield. While Gray would in the future
occasionally put anti-racist messages in Annie, he would never again create
a character like George. The fact that George appeared only once shows that
Gray was aware how controversial he would be. The disappearance of George
wasn’t a response to the letters, since Gray was working six to eight weeks ahead
of strips being printed, but it is possible that the polarized reaction to George
made Gray wary of attacking racism in so bold a manner.
Harold Gray’s parents lived in Lombard, just outside of Chicago, in a house
where the cartoonist had resided before his second marriage in 1929. On Monday
November 30, 1942, Gray’s father, Ira Lincoln Gray, went to the Lombard train
station to meet his wife, who had just spent the day in Chicago. As Ira Gray crossed the tracks to get to the
Chicago incoming platform, he was struck by a train and killed. He was seventy-six years old.
If Harold Gray’s comic strip is a faithful record of his thoughts and fears, it’s clear that the cartoonist had
a dread of vehicular accidents. Cars, planes, and trains are constantly crashing in Little Orphan Annie. Now
Gray had to confront a real life tragedy that mirrored the accidents he had so often imagined and drawn.
An only child, Gray had been close to both his father, who was now dead, and his mother, who now
needed comforting. Gray was in his farm in Connecticut when he heard the news. Because he didn’t like
to fly, the only way he could make it to Lombard in time for the funeral was to drive all night. Gray did
so in the company of his cousin Bob Leffingwell (who did some assisting on Little Orphan Annie) and
Ed Leffingwell (the son of Gray’s late cousin Harry Leffingwell).
Outwardly Gray was a controlled person. Ed Leffingwell, interviewed for this book, recalls that
Gray kept his composure after his father’s death. The cartoonist gave little sign of emotional anguish
and continued to work like a professional on Annie every day.
Yet if we read Little Orphan Annie for 1943, it is hard not to think that Gray, for all his public
strength, was experiencing intense internal pain. The long storyline that runs from January to July 1943,
with Annie battling Nazis in a castle, is not one of Gray’s strongest works. The story is repetitive, with
the buffoonish Nazis falling time and again into the traps set by Annie and her friends.
The art is also below Gray’s normal standards, especially in the dailies. Some of the drawings are stiff
and awkward, with a poor use of empty space and ill-proportioned characters (Punjab in particular seems
to shift in size from panel to panel). A prime example of Gray working below par can be seen in the strip
of July 31, 1943.
It’s not known why Gray’s work lost some of its lustre in 1943, but one plausible answer is that the
death of his father made him weary, so he invested less energy than usual into the strip. While he didn’t
express his emotions to others, his writing and drawing gives us a peek into his inner malaise.
If Gray was downcast for much of 1943, he quickly regained his fighting spirits by the fall of the year.
In fact, he started to rethink the truce he had made with Franklin Roosevelt. Once he came out of his funk,
Gray decided the time was right to resume his argument with liberalism and the New Deal, even if it meant
challenging a popular wartime president. Wartime unity or no, Gray was ready to go back to hammering
FDR. But that’s a story for the next volume…
LEFT: Two 1943 releases from Whitman Publishing that were adapted from daily
newspaper strips reprinted in this volume: Little Orphan Annie and Her Junior
Commandos (June 15, 1942 to January 3, 1943) and Little Orphan Annie and
the Underground Hide-Out (January 4, 1943 to April 27, 1943).
aNd Pins
AVOIDS the DOPE (CuRE) and MeEts
doctors both blunt and Zee-rific
necessarily CRAZY while others
may be just a LITtle BIT ZAny
AND meets a padre who
WOn’ t LET A lAZy sawbones
chuck it all…
November 24-26, 1941
November 27-29, 1941
November 30, 1941
December 1-3, 1941

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