By Harold Gray
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Format: Hardcover, black and white, $39.99
Reviewed by: Kat Kan
Nowadays it seems most people know something about Little Orphan Annie, usually connected to either the Broadway play or the movie adapted from the play. The song, "Tomorrow," gets used a lot by school choirs and in school talent shows. But, how many people actually know the stories from the comic books? By the time I was a kid reading the newspaper comic strips (ahem, more than 40 years ago), Little Orphan Annie was still being published, but I don't remember reading very many of them. I knew who she was, I knew she had a dog named Sandy, and that she was drawn with blank eyeballs that, frankly, scared me. I didn't bother watching the play, or the movie, I can't stand the song "Tomorrow." I basically did my best to ignore Little Orphan Annie for years. Then, every so often, I'd find the old strips somewhere (Fantagraphics had published some collections), and I started taking an interest in the character again, but I didn't really pursue it. Fast forward to a short time ago, when IDW's Library of American Comics announced it would publish Harold Gray's original comic strips in chronological order. I decided now would be the time to read it. When the book arrived, I sat down with it - one needs to find a good comfortable chair or sofa and maybe even find a cushion for one's lap, because this book is huge and heavy. And I read. And I read.
The stories are full of everyday adventure and exotic ones, too. Annie herself is a forthright child with a sense of right and justice - and a mean left hook. She fights bullies, she goes hoboing, uncovers a swindling rascal's scheme, joins a circus and trains elephants and lions, gets kidnapped by criminals, oh my! She genuinely cares for people, even when they're mean to her, as is Mrs. Warbucks, "Daddy" Warbucks' wife. Annie endures hardships and hard work, and throughout the stories and adventures and misadventures she maintains a mostly sunny outlook about life without any false or overly sweet and drippy feelings. She's the kind of girl I wanted to be who had the kinds of adventures I dreamed about, and I've only discovered her now when I'm middle-aged. However, I don't feel as though I've missed out, because reading her stories in this collection means I get great big gulps of Annie's adventures without having to wait every day and hoping not to miss a single strip. That would have driven my younger self crazy.
This volume is hefty, with 384 pages; its size and landscaped format allow for the strips to be printed at a size my older eyes can handle. The physical object is attractively designed, and I love that ribbon bookmark; I had to use it a lot over the week I took to read the book.
The stories hold up well despite the passage of time. The values of home, family, honesty are still universal in our society today. The kinds of adventures Annie experiences still show up in movies and books today, albeit in more modern trappings. This book may probably appeal most to adults who remember reading the older comic strips when they were younger, but it can also appeal to younger readers who will enjoy meeting Annie, Sandy, "Daddy" Warbucks, and the others. For those interested in comic strip history, Jeet Heer's biographical essay about Harold Gray provides lots of great material, with photographs, old strips, reproductions of playbills and other period memorabilia.