Annie’s tomorrow may come, but it won’t be in the newspaper
CHICAGO — Talk about a hard-knock life: She has been jailed in North Korea, kidnapped repeatedly, accused of murder, trapped in a cave, roughed up by gangsters. And she is just a kid — more precisely, a red-haired girl named Annie.
Over 86 years, the spunky (and forever young) orphan has endured hundreds of curly hair-raising adventures, not to mention homelessness, poverty, and other Dickensian hardships. She has even survived the death of the man whose pen and imagination turned her into a comic-strip heroine.
Annie, the character, may be indomitable. But Annie, the comic strip, is not. Facing a shifting media landscape — the closing or shrinking of newspapers, a dwindling audience for comic adventures, and an explosion of new forms of entertainment — Tribune Media Services has determined there will be no more newspaper tomorrows for Annie.
After today’s strip, Annie, her father figure and frequent rescuer, Daddy Warbucks, and her beloved pooch, Sandy, will disappear from the funny pages. They will have a future, but for now, where that will be is unknown.
“Annie is not dying, she’s moving into new channels,’’ says Steve Tippie, vice president of licensing and new markets development at Tribune Media, which owns the license to the character. Annie, he says, has “huge awareness’’ and possibilities include graphic novels, film, TV, games — maybe even a home on a mobile phone.
No matter where she lands, it is clear there is still gold in that red mop of hair and those white, pupil-less orbs. Tribune Media continues to collect revenues from various productions of “Annie,’’ the sunny musical that charmed Broadway more than 30 years ago — and is expected to return to the Great White Way in 2012.
“Annie is one of those iconic characters in American culture,’’ Tippie says. “If you stop 10 people on the street, nine of them will drop down on one knee and start singing ‘Tomorrow.’ ’’
It was, in fact, the popularity of the musical that gave the strip a second life. Tribune Media revived the comic after the death of its creator, Harold Gray, who had used Annie as a megaphone for his conservative political views.
From its opposition to the New Deal in the ’30s to its hard line in the war on terror, the comic strip has never shied away from its beliefs.
“I always like to think of ‘Annie’ as the Fox News Channel of the funny papers,’’ says Jay Maeder, Annie’s most recent writer. “It was a very political strip.’’ But even with timely story lines, public interest in newspaper comic adventures faded decades ago. Fewer than 20 newspapers ran the strip at the end — which, by the way, leaves Annie’s fate hanging as she remains in the clutches of a war criminal, the Butcher of the Balkans.
Still, Annie had one amazing run. And one of her creators thinks he knows why.
“The appeal of Annie is simply that she doesn’t give up,’’ says Ted Slampyak, the strip’s artist for the last six years. “She always ends up in one scrape after another. She doesn’t have a lot of resources but she has a lot of spirit, a lot of pluck. . . . “It always was good to open a newspaper and see a little girl who should be helpless but is out there, tough as nails, out to win the day,’’ he adds. “Everyone finds that inspiring.’’