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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 05/17/2010

Why canceled 'LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE' is really seeing her final 'tomorrow'...

By Michael Cavna


Little Orphan Annie will soon skip off into the newspaper sunset, Tribune Media Services announced last week in canceling the plucky 86-year-old redhead.

So what does it take, exactly, for a syndicate to decide that such an iconic American character -- one who thrived during the Depression and survived her creator's death -- should belt her final tomorrow to newspapers come June?

Comic Riffs posed such questions to Steve Tippie, TMS's vice president of licensing. Here's what he had to say:

MICHAEL CAVNA: "Little Orphan Annie" was said to be down to about 20 newspapers. Was 20 clients too few to make the strip cost-effective to syndicate?

STEVE TIPPIE: Each [strip] is somewhat different. First, we want to pay the creators a decent wage for the work they do. And Ted Slampyak and Jay Maeder did terrific work -- some of the best in the "story strip" line. That need combined with the production costs of getting a strip distributed just crossed the profit-loss curve this year. Believe me. This wasn't a decision we took lightly.

But we also felt that Annie, unlike many strips, has such wide, almost iconic presence in our culture that it would serve the character and our business best if we focused on other channels more appropriate to the "kids" nature of the property.

MC: So does TMS benefit financially from other "Annie" properties?

ST: Yes. TMS owns all licensing and production rights to the Annie characters, trademarks and copyrights. What we do not own, but participate financially in as a licensor, is the Annie musical and its songs. But the musical creators license the property from us.

MC: Is there a realistic chance "Annie" would ever be resuscitated as a comic strip?

ST: If you mean as a print newspaper comic strip, there is a very, very slim chance, depending on how newspapers refashion themselves over the next few years. Not terribly likely, but nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

As a sequential visual story-telling property in mobile, eReader/iPad and other yet-to-be conceived electronic channels, I would pump up the probability considerably that we'll see new products. Remember, just a few years ago, Iron Man was a second-tier vintage comic book known only to fanboys and fangirls (and boomers) -- and Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland were tired and putatively "done-to-death" classics without much relevance to contemporary audiences. Just look at them now!

If the right people with the right vision apply themselves to the property, the sky's the limit. Annie herself is a good example. In the late 70's, new production of the strip had ended and we were running "classic reprints." Then the musical refashioned the property and gave us another 30 years of original Annie in print.

MC: Are you yourself an Annie fan?

ST: Yes, I am personally an Annie fan (and a "Dick Tracy" fan and a "Terry and the Pirates" fan, etc.). The comic strips have tapped into our dreams and fantasies for almost a hundred years. They've reflected their times and changed with the times to remain relevant to new audiences.

Just like I firmly believe that there will always be a need and desire for the things that newspapers do (even if the format and delivery vehicle change), I think that there will also always be a need and desire for the way stories are told visually and sequentially as they are in the classic and contemporary comic strips.

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By Michael Cavna  | May 17, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Arts, Comic strip, Comics, Dick Tracy, Jay Meador, Little Orphan Annie, Sherlock Holmes, Ted Slampyak, Tribune Media Services  
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Oh, a year's wages if he would have said, "No. Too sophomoric." in reply to that last question.

Posted by: greasypores | May 17, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Little Orphan Annie has been less about Annie and more about Daddy WARbucks, the country builder. Or at least it was when I finally bailed on hte strip. I think Steve likes the original strips (based on his other references), as do I. The updated strips haven't always kept the heart of the original theme. Annie, in the the thirties, was a plucky and resourceful person.

Posted by: Rudesan | May 18, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

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