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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 06/13/2010

TODAY'S FAREWELL: 7 Reasons why 'Little Orphan Annie' will never see another tomorrow

By Michael Cavna

lastannie.gif (Courtesy of TMS -- to see a larger version, click here )

"Poor Mr. Warbucks! It's painful for him -- he's resigning himself to Miss Annie's being lost forever -- "

And so, just seven weeks shy of 86 years after its debut, does end "LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE." As announced last month, the comic strip is singing its final "To-mor-rah!" Today's comic -- said to be the feature's last -- concludes with the teasing final line: "And this is where we leave our Annie. For now -- "

Ah, a classic cliffhanger, with Annie and her pupils both missing in Guatemala. Instead of a tidy conclusion, "Little Orphan Annie" has decided -- in the truest spirit of a serial -- to leave us forever suspended in the mystery.

The motives behind the newspaper strip's farewell today, however, aren't so mysterious. Here are Comic Riffs's Seven Reasons Why "Little Orphan Annie" Will Never Return to your funnypages:

1. The comic was not raking in enough warbucks.

As Steve Tippie, Tribune Media Service's vice president of licensing, told Comic Riffs last month: "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."

And of course, that's all because...

2. Newspaper editors were no longer buying Annie.

The comic strip's earnings were so Depression-era low, of course, because so few newspapers were willing to run the comic, which Harold Gray created back in the days of silent films and 23-skidoo. As TMS told 'Riffs, the comic was now carried by fewer than 20 newspapers. For a small self-syndicator, 10 or 20 clients might be enough; but for Tribune Media Services's once-grand Annie, that just couldn't cut it.

3. TMS doesn't need the newspaper comic in order to remain an "Annie" profiteer.

Leapin' lizards, can Tribune Media Services continue to license the Annie character! According to Tippie, TMS owns all licensing and production rights to the Annie characters, trademarks and copyrights.

So TMS can safely shed the comic like a spent booster rocket because...

4. Annie's iconic status has long transcended her newsprint presence.

"Annie, unlike many strips, has such wide, almost iconic presence in our culture," Tippie told 'Riffs, "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."

5. Those more promising new channels include online content and other digital product.

"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," Tippie told 'Riffs. "Remember, just a few years ago, Iron Man was a second-tier vintage comic book known only to fanboys and fangirls (and boomers). ... If the right people with the right vision apply themselves to the property, the sky's the limit."

(Hmm. Come to think of it: Robert Downey Jr. as Daddy Warbucks -- like Tony Stark, another baron who invests in matters of war and peace. Now that we'd like to see.)

6. Follow the kids -- and not enough kids sought out little newsprint Annie.

If you have a highly marketable comical commodity for kids, you (as a media company) follow the money -- specifically, the money being spent by, and on, kids. If that means shifting your focus to iTunes or kids' television programming or kid-centric websites, then you do so believing that it's not worth it to try to appeal to today's kids via the funnypages.

7. Independent of the funnypages, Annie will have many more tomorrows in musical theater.

The power of Annie the musical has proved remarkably enduring. Several decades back, "The musical refashioned the property and gave us another 30 years of original Annie in print," Tippie says.

Tippie also notes that Tribune Media Services does see money from such musical productions. "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." (Just several days ago, it was announced that "Annie" will return to Broadway in 2012.)

So is there a chance Annie will ever return to the funnypages?

"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."

In other words; Daddy Warbucks would never bank on it. And neither should you.

By Michael Cavna  | June 13, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Harold Gray, Jay Maeder, Little Orphan Annie, Ted Slampyak, Tribune Media Services  
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This is a national tragedy. I have been reading Little Orphan Annie since I was 11 years old, and it is the first cartoon I look for in the paper. Why does not the WPO reprint older editions of the strip, just like you do with Peanuts?

Posted by: edwardallen54 | June 13, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I would like to hear from the people who loved the original about why they loved it, how they feel about the comic updates, the musical etc.

There are several print comics that are in their second or third generation that I wish would just drop dead -- because the originals were so crusty (stereotyped, misogynist etc.) I'm able to appreciate the intelligence of Pogo now, I think in part because I didn't have to suffer through various decades of it. But I can't appreciate BC, or Hagar, or Beetle Bailey that I actually read regularly growing up. To me they are the original brands - no matter what subsequent writers have been able to create. My problem with Annie is really that I heard that Broadway-whine "ToMOWWOW" far too many times. Nothing about the print strip...

Posted by: elizh1 | June 13, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Punjab and The Asp were the really great characters in the strip. Third was Sandy!

Posted by: hlabadie | June 13, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

This isn't the first time the strip's continuum ended. For a few years in the mid-1970s, in the middle of the nostalgia craze, the syndicate reverted to Gray's strips from the 1930s.

Posted by: kampeas | June 13, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

It's high time! It's been a long time since this strip lost the original spirit and style. I liked the early Annie, definitely not the later iterations.

Posted by: michbar2468 | June 13, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Maybe an anime/manga version?

Posted by: Common_Sense_Not_Common | June 13, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Goodbye Annie, I'd say we hardly knew ye, but lord, we knew ye too too well.

Posted by: 2old2readcomics | June 14, 2010 1:46 AM | Report abuse

It seems a shame that Annie didn't get the opportunity for an artistic curtain call (such as Watterson's final Calvin & Hobbes, or Breathed's final Opus). Instead, the syndicate simply pulled the plug on profit considerations. Not a happy ending, but at least it is better than ressurecting Annie as yet another zombie strip merely for nostalgia's sake. R.I.P.

Posted by: kilby | June 14, 2010 5:15 AM | Report abuse

Much as I'd personally love to see the original version resurrected, it couldn't possibly resonate with today's generation. Too wordy, too preachy, too right wing, too many racial stereotypes, etc.

I know that this makes it seem as if I'm simply parroting the PC case against LOA, and I guess I am, even though I love the original strip IN SPITE OF all that. There's never been a storyteller like Harold Gray, and there have never been comic strip characters with more well-defined characters that Annie and Daddy, not to mention many of their sidekicks.

But the truth is that it takes a certain amount of time and patience for anyone not familiar with the original strip to get around those abovementioned stumbling blocks, and of course Harold Gray wasn't writing for the readers of the 21st century. It boils down to simply too great of a mismatch between early / mid-20th century writer and 21st century readers. And for a newspaper with a circulation base where at most 1% of its readers are serious comics mavens, there's no real way around this.

Posted by: andym108 | June 14, 2010 6:08 AM | Report abuse

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