Posts Tagged ‘Harold Gray’

Talking Orphan Annie


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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Back in July I appeared on the Michael Coren show as part of the semi-regular arts panel. During the show I talked a bit about my Orphan Annie research. You can see the show by clicking on here. The Annie discussion starts at about 30 minutes into the show.

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Class and Comics: Labour Day Notes


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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Reid Fleming: Working Class Hero

Labour Day is coming up, so let’s talk about social class:

1. In the R. Crumb Handbook, the creator of Mr. Natural writes: “Some of the other comics that Charles and I liked, Heckle and Jeckle, Super Duck, things of that ilk, featured very primitive stories on the crudest proletarian level….The super-hero comics of the 1940s also had this rough, working class quality. A cartoonist like Jack Kirby is a perfect example. His characters – Captain America, for instance – were an extension of himself. Kirby was a tough little guy from the streets of New York’s lower east side, and he and he saw the world in terms of harsh, elemental, forces. How do you deal with these forces? You fight back! This was the message of all the comic strips created during the Great Depression of the 1930s, from Popeye to Dick Tracy to Superman.” Crumb as usual is right: I’d add that the anti-comics movement of the 1940s and 1950s had a class dimension as well. Genteel, middle-class Americans were shocked by the plebian violence, crude sexuality and general spirit of irreverence of the early comic books.


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Talking About Orphan Annie


Thursday, June 17, 2010

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Harold Gray drawing Annie.

Click here if you want to see a brief but interesting discussion of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie.

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Little Orphan Annie in the News


Friday, June 11, 2010

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Annie, Daddy Warbucks versus the evil labour union leaders.

If readers of this blog are up on Sunday morning and want to catch some comics talk, then you should tune into the CBS show called, appropriately enough, Sunday Morning. They’ll have a segment on Little Orphan Annie. I was interviewed for the segment and the people doing the show really know what they’re talking about, so it should be an interesting overview of Harold Gray’s masterful comic strip.

Because Tribune Media Services is canceling Annie, there have been a number of retrospective articles in the press. Sharon Cohen of AP has an interesting analysis which can be found here, and Michael Taube, a former speech writer to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, weighs in here.

As always, I’d encourage readers to take a look at the Complete Little Orphan Annie series issuing forth at a rapid rate from IDW.

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Harold Gray Unbuttoned


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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Before you go any further, please take a look at the ongoing auction in support of this blog….

As Jog noted, there is a new Little Orphan Annie volume out this week: the fifth in the “Library of American Comics” series edited by Dean Mullaney. The volume covers the years 1933 to early 1935. As usual, I’ve foisted one of my longish introductions on the book. In writing my introduction I was immeasurably helped by Jeff Kersten, a scholar who is doing research on Chester Gould. Jeff provided me with a series of letter that Harold Gray wrote to Chester Gould in 1933. In these letters Gray complains at length about the policies of the Tribune-News Syndicate, especially that of publisher Joseph Patterson and Vice-President Arthur Crawford, who Gray thought were “chiselling” their staff cartoonists out of royalties from spin-offs. Gray also gossips a bit about their other cartoonists in the Tribune-News Syndicate such as Sydney Smith.  These letters give us an unprecedented look into the business side of the comic book industry, and both Jeff and I will be mining them for future research.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in the history of comics to pick up the books in the Annie and Dick Tracy series. As an appetizer, I’ve decided to share an excerpt from the first letter Gray wrote to Gould with some annotations:

Harold Gray to Chester Gould, May 23, 1933:

Dear Chester; —

Your letter written Sunday arrived just now and I am delighted to hear from you. Also I am considerably embarrassed, for I have meant to write you long before this and now you’ve beaten me to it. Time and time again in following your strip I have sworn to drop you a line to tell you how sincerely much I like it and how dam glad I am to see you going over with such a solid success. It’s a whale of a strip in every way, and it has tickled me a lot watch you avoid many of the pitfalls many wise guys predicted for you in the handling of the strip and in the handling of yourself.


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Word Balloons in Visual Space


Monday, March 22, 2010

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Clowes' "Wilson", from The New Yorker

Joe’s excellent post on thought balloons got me thinking about comics balloons (or text frames) in general: not just thought balloons but also word balloons, narrative boxes, and labels (like the famous arrows in Dick Tracy which diagrammatically call attention to two-way-radio-watches and other items of interest). It would be great to have a history of text frames in comics. There have been stabs here and there by scholars. Thierry Smolderen’s “Of Labels, Loops, and Bubbles” in Comic Art #8 is a good start.

About thought balloons: When did they emerge? I know Harold Gray was very chary of using them: he only used thought balloons a handful of times in his 44 year run on Little Orphan Annie. I think this was deliberate. While his characters where gabby they were also secretive – this is true not just of Warbucks but even Annie, who never says all she knows. Gray wanted to keep his characters mysterious, hence he avoided thought balloons.


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Notes on the Midwestern School of Comics


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

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The Comics Journal 300 carries a conversation between Kevin Huizenga and Art Spiegelman. During the course of the interview, Kevin brings up the idea of a Midwester school of cartooning, something that I’ve discussed in various essays on Little Orphan Annie and Gasoline Alley. The conversation goes like this:

Huizenga:In one of the recent Annie reprints, Jeet Heer talks in the introduction about this idea of a Midwestern, or Chicago school of cartooning that was more preoccupied with everyday life and the quiet rhythms of everyday life. The style was quieter and more repetitive. I think you can definitely see how Ware fits in that tradition, and also he’s called more attention to that kind of cartooning. Visually, it might look boring, at first, to some people, but it’s a form that’s fitted to content. What they’re doing is comics about mundane things like talking to your wife, or whatever — the “little things.”
Spiegelman:I guess. But I think rather than just Midwest, I would make it Protestant, you know. Like they don’t have those ornate crucifixions.
Huizenga:I have those two strikes against me, I guess, here. [Laughter.]
Spiegelman:It’s definitely suspicious of ornament and exuberance…

A few points can be added to this discussion. I elaborate one what I mean by the Midwestern comics tradition in an interview with Tom Spurgeon in the Comics Reporter, where I talk about this school of art and how it links together Harold Gray and Chester Brown. Here’s a relevant part of that interview:

The geography of rural Illinois left a strong mark on Gray’s imagination, as can be seen if he’s compared to his Wisconsin-born colleague Frank King. In King’s work, the country-side is always rolling and sloping, with cars constantly sputtering up hills or flowing down valleys. In the early Little Orphan Annie strips, by contrast, once our heroine leaves the city, the countryside is as flat as a quilt spread out on a bed, each acre of farmland its own perfect square, with stacks of hay and isolated silos the only protrusions on the land. The flatness of the prairies, the prostrate manner in which the horizon spreads out as far as the eye can see, spoke to something deep in Gray’s imagination: it perhaps explains his sense of the isolation of human existence, the persistent feeling of loneliness his characters complain of, and their commensurate need to reach out to Annie and create strong (although temporary) families, with the orphan as their child.

Brown of course didn’t grow up in the prairies, which are the setting for Louis Riel. His childhood was spent in the very different landscape of Quebec. But I do think that appropriating Gray’s style helped Chester capture the landscape of western Canada, especially the flatness and isolation of the region. I do think there is a tradition of mid-western cartooning, a family tree that is rooted in John T. McCutcheon and extends to Clare Briggs, Harold Gray, Frank King (with a crazy branch that includes the grotesque approach of Chester Gould and Boody Rodgers). The latest branch of this tree is the alternative comics of Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, and Kevin Huizenga. Brown is interesting because he’s not from the mid-west at all, in fact is not even an American, but has absorbed the aesthetics of this

A few other points:

1. Spiegelman is on to something when he says that this is a Protestant tradition. What I’d say is that the tradition of Midwestern comics brings together various strands: partially regional tradition of vernacular, low-key literature (the line of George Ade, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner) with its focus on small town life, partially from the low church Protestant tradition of plainness, partially out of the Chicago Tribune’s populist stance. So I prefer the more expansive term Midwestern cartooning, which seems to bring most of these things together. But perhaps we could also say that this is Midwestern Wasp cartooning?

2. If we were doing a genealogy of ideas, credit for the concept of Midwestern catooning should go to Gilbert Seldes, who talked about the “Chicago school” in his 1924 book The 7 Lively Arts. In the 1980s, Richard Marschall revived the idea of Midwestern cartooning in a few scattered essays in Nemo magazine. I’ve tried to give a third life to the idea by linking up the great Chicago Tribune cartoonists of the 1920s with their modern counterparts like Ware and Huizenga.

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