Little Annie Fanny
|Little Annie Fanny|
Little Annie Fanny Volume 1,
Dark Horse Comics, 2000
|Current status / schedule||Concluded|
|Launch date||October 1962|
|End date||September 1988|
Little Annie Fanny is a comics series by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. It appeared in 107 issues of Playboy magazine from October 1962 until September 1988 in episodes of two to seven pages. The series was collected in two volumes in 2000 and 2001 by Dark Horse Comics.
Little Annie Fanny is a humorous satire of contemporary American society and its sexual mores. Annie Fanny is the title character, a statuesque, buxom young blonde woman, who innocently finds herself naked in every episode. The series is notable for its fully painted, luminous color artwork and for being the first full-scale, multi-page comics feature in a major American publication.
Kurtzman created the series at the culmination of his career. He had previously launched Mad magazine, worked briefly for Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, then worked on a string of solo and collaborative projects before returning to work for Hefner to create Little Annie Fanny. Each episode of the comic strip was designed and written by Kurtzman and intricately rendered in tempera and watercolor by Elder. Hefner edited each episode, often requiring detailed changes, constantly ensuring the series stay true to the magazine's editorial style. Critical reaction has been mixed; most praising the elaborate, fully painted comic but some dismissing the project as limiting Kurtzman's full potential.
Little Annie Fanny began as a male character. Harvey Kurtzman, creator and editor of Mad comic book-turned-magazine since 1952, was contacted by Hugh Hefner, publisher and owner of Playboy magazine (founded in 1953), after Hefner, a one-time cartoonist, picked up an early copy of Mad at a Chicago newsstand and was impressed by Kurtzman's satiric work. The two developed a mutual respect and friendship. Hefner encouraged Kurtzman in 1956 to leave Mad and to work for him, also hiring Mad cartoonists Will Elder, Russ Heath, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, and Arnold Roth. Hefner was forced to fire Kurtzman and the others in early 1958, at which time Kurtzman began to pitch feature proposals to Playboy, all of which were rejected. The discouraged Kurtzman received a note from Hefner, "I bow to no one in my appreciation for H. Kurtzman." Encouraged, Kurtzman published Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book for Ian Ballantine the following year: four satire stories aimed at an adult audience, one of which introduced the innocent and idealistic character Goodman Beaver. After the commercial failure of Jungle Book, Kurtzman continued to correspond with Hefner and with Playboy executive editor Ray Russell. In a February 1960 letter to Kurtzman, who was still trying to convince them to produce his features articles for Playboy, Russell suggested a form of cartoon not yet seen in Playboy or in any major magazine: "Hef and I both strongly feel that there is great value in the comic strip for us ... They are bright, colorful, easily assimilated ... dramatic, and tell a continuous narrative. Big problem, of course, is to adapt this technique to something that would have meaning for Playboy and be defensible and justified in our pages." Single-panel cartoons were an established part of Playboy, but a comic strip was not yet considered respectable and had to be justified. The executive editor then expressed that they wanted a comic that contained satire: "As an excuse or rationale for a slick magazine to be publishing a comic strip", he explained. Kurtzman's further proposals failed to provide what Hefner and Russell were looking for, and after attempts to freelance for other periodicals, Kurtzman began to realize the market was narrowing for artwork he drew himself.
In 1960, Kurtzman entered into a business partnership with publisher James Warren on another satirical magazine, Help! This time, Kurtzman wrote and laid out the stories, but left the artwork to his friend and collaborator Will Elder. Help! furthered the adventures of Goodman Beaver and began to attract a small audience but little financial reward. Becoming dejected again, Kurtzman wrote to Hefner in late 1961, admitting he "might be looking for work soon" and asked if he could submit "a strip for Playboy à la old Mad". He submitted some early Goodman Beaver strips and was surprised to receive a favorable response from Hefner, who liked the "fresh and eager" character, as Kurtzman had described him in his opening panels. Hefner also enjoyed reading "Goodman Goes Playboy", which depicted a boisterous romp in the Playboy mansion, published in Help! the following month. Hefner nevertheless insisted that the material was not right for Playboy, but asked for an explanation of the character and suggested, "Maybe there is a way of launching a similar series ... that can somehow be related to Playboy". Kurtzman replied, "Goodman Beaver's reason for being is ... a character who could be foolish and at the same time wise ... naive yet moral. He innocently partakes of the bad while espousing the good. That way, I can simultaneously treat foibles and ideals. He's a lovable, good-natured, philosophical idiot. He's restless. He wanders and can show up anywhere. He's young and can get involved in sexy situations. (That last sentence was for you.)" A week later, Kurtzman wrote Hefner again: "What would you think of a girl character ... whom I could apply to my kind of situations?" After six weeks, Hefner replied: "I think your notion of doing a Goodman Beaver strip of two, three, or four pages, but using a sexy girl ... is a bull's eye. We can run it every issue."
Kurtzman, working with Will Elder, suggested to Elder an "outlineless" style, but expressed a preference for a fully India inked outlined style with flat comic book color behind it. Hefner, whose opinion prevailed, preferred the more difficult and virtuosic fully painted look. When it came time to name the feature, Kurtzman's suggestions included The Perils of Zelda, The Perils of Irma, and Little Mary Mixup; he settled on Little Annie Fanny, a title and logo parody of Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie. The feature was to be in a multi-page comic strip format. Kurtzman began to submit story ideas to Hefner for approval. He was allowed, with Playboy 's substantial budget, to travel to locations to research stories, take photographs, and produce sketches. He followed this with a preliminary script and submitted it to Hefner, who edited and revised it. Kurtzman then worked out the story's composition, pacing, and action in thumbnail drawings, pencil roughs of each page of the comic, then drew larger, more detailed layouts on translucent vellum specifying everything, such as lighting, color, and speech balloon placement. These also needed Hefner's approval—a typical two to seven-page episode would take as many as nine pages of layout—then Kurtzman discussed them with Elder, who drove from his home in New Jersey to Kurtzman's in New York. The two sat on Kurtzman's back porch for hours where he acted out every detail; Elder said, "He would change his voice and take on the characteristics of each role ... We'd crack each other up and fall down laughing." This gave Elder what he needed to create the penciling, including "eye pops"—background gags worked into holes in Kurtzman's layout (many Hefner rejected, so Elder created as many as possible) and then the final rendering. Elder painted in tempera and watercolor, never using ink. His technique included layering numerous color washes to give Annie its luminous tones. Elder said he began with "a three-ply illustration board. The white board works as white paint. With oils you can pile things on; you can pile the light colors on top of the dark colors. In watercolor, you leave the white board alone and you hit the dark spots first ... This was always a job of painting." Deadlines were tight and occasionally other artists were enlisted to help finish the art, including Russ Heath, Arnold Roth, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Frank Frazetta, and Paul Coker. Jaffee, a childhood friend of Elder's, reminisced about the experience: "Little Annie Fannie was the most unique, lavishly produced cartoon cum illustration feature ever. Each panel was a miniature masterpiece that Willie glazed and re-glazed in brilliant watercolor until he reached the level of 3-D-like translucence that he wanted. I know from first-hand experience what went into this project." Letterers inked the dialog balloons and Kurtzman cleaned and submitted the finished work. Little Annie Fanny became not just Playboy 's first comic strip, but the first full-scale, multi-page comics feature in a major American publication.
Annie Fanny is the feature's lead character. Like any young woman appearing in a Playboy pictorial, Annie is beautiful and often unclothed. Her character remains sexually innocent, oblivious to the worldliness around her. She is the morally upstanding Goodman Beaver character who came before her, conceived as a modern Candide, and remains above the story's corruptions and temptations. Unlike Goodman, Annie is never shocked or offended; she remains blithe. The authors of Icons of the American Comic Book say Annie "glides through a changing world with an untiring optimism, despite the base desires of many of her admirers ... she remains untainted; a buxom blonde whose own good-natured lack of desire insulates her from the pitfalls of others." These others are the ones to explain the new rules of society introduced each episode. Ruthie, Annie's roommate, appeared in the first episode and remained in the strip through its entire run. Sugardaddy Bigbucks, Annie's surrogate father, a powerful and manipulative capitalist, is taken from the Daddy Warbucks character in Gray's Little Orphan Annie, as is his mysterious assistant The Asp (who, in the strip, becomes The Wasp) and his bodyguard Punjab (who becomes Punchjab). Wanda Homefree, Annie's wild and shapely best friend, first appears in Episode 10 in a beauty contest as Miss Greenwich Village, then is often seen at Annie's side throughout the remainder of the series. Ralphie Towzer, Annie's nerdy-but-hip, do-gooder boyfriend, is a combination of actors Mickey Rooney and Robert Morse but with the look of Goodman Beaver (with playwright Arthur Miller's eyeglasses and pipe), coming across as straight-laced as ever. Solly Brass, Annie's huckster agent, is based on actor Phil Silvers. Other supporting characters include ad man Benton Battbarton (his name taken from the ad agencies Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn and Benton & Bowles), ad rival Huck Buxton (modeled on the gap-toothed British actor Terry-Thomas), Duncan Fyfe Hepplewhite (a starving artist), and Freddie Flink (a look-alike of comic actor Fred Gwynne from Car 54, Where Are You?).
Little Annie Fanny takes the reader through the changing attitudes of American culture, showcasing trends and fads through biting satire. In each of the 107 episodes, Annie experiences the latest hip movie, fashion statement, edgy politics, or societal headline. In the first decade of the strip's existence, when the strip ran up to eleven times per year, Annie meets caricatures of the Beatles (who have eyes for Annie), Sean Connery (playing agent "James Bomb"), reclusive The Catcher in the Rye author J. D. Salinger (as "Salinger Fiengold"), NFL champions the Green Bay Packers (as the "Greenback Busters"), and Elvis, Dylan, and Sonny & Cher on the "Hoopadedoo Show" (Hullabaloo show), all the while poking fun at miniskirts, LSD, free love, and bra burning. Background caricatures include Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, prissy but powerful J. Edgar Hoover, unisex fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, and Humble Oil's "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" advertising campaign In the 1970s, when the strip ran three to five times per year, Annie copes with violent movies such as A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection and meets sex novelist Philip Roth, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, chess champion Bobby Fischer, and shock rocker Alice Cooper, while experiencing disco, streaking, C.B. radio, nudist colonies, and women's liberation. "Eye pops" in the background include Hollywood heavy Charles Bronson, Laugh-In 's Arte Johnson, Avis TV commercial's O. J. Simpson, and Star Wars 's C-3PO. In the 1980s, when the strip appeared one to two times per year, Annie dealt with personal computers, went to Urban Cowboy 's Gilley's Club, cruised on The Love Boat, and encountered Indiana Jones, Ayatollah Khomeini, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Woody Allen. Elder's background gags include the Coneheads, Howard Cosell, Miss Piggy, E.T., and Billy Beer.
Comics historian Don Markstein professes the comic "reached a high point seldom achieved by cartoon art." Speaking from his website Don Markstein's Toonopedia, he said, "Harvey Kurtzman, founding editor of Mad magazine, strove for most of his life to advance the boundaries of comics, not just in terms of storytelling, but also in production values" and that Annie achieved at least the latter of these. As for its venue, he said, "Playboy magazine, whatever you may say about its content, always did a first-rate job of printing color pictures." Comics commentators Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith expressed respect for the series, saying it "reads today as an amusing look at the evolving mores of the sexual revolution". Comics editor Monte Beauchamp named it "the most elaborate comic strip ever created" and cartoonist-critic R. C. Harvey called it "a masterpiece ... the most lavish color comic strip of all time". Not all were impressed. After observing that Kurtzman was strapped financially before making his living for twenty-six years only from Playboy, history scholar Paul Buhle stated, "The strip had many brilliant early moments, but went downhill as the writer and artist bent to editor Hugh Hefner's demands for as much titillation as possible." Cartoonist Art Spiegelman said the more interesting Goodman Beaver "devolved into Little Annie Fanny". Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose career Kurtzman helped launch, scorned both Playboy and Annie. Art agent and publisher Denis Kitchen, who handles the estate of both Kurtzman and Eisner, stated that "most Kurtzman devotees would not consider Little Annie Fanny genius work" and "some would argue the opposite: that it was genius diluted or degraded". The focus of ire of these devotees, continues Kitchen, is on Kurtzman's employer Hefner, who "was often a punctilious taskmaster with a heavy red pen who often had very different ideas about what was funny or satiric" and who insisted each strip "had to include Annie disrobing". Beauchamp agrees: "Unfortunately, Hefner was notorious for his heavy editorial hand." Duncan and Smith also admit some agreement: "Humor sometimes mixes awkwardly with the loaded topics of the era, and some have found Annie's lack of character development and the requisite sexual hijinks an impediment to taking her seriously." Regardless, they repeat their respect: "The eternally innocent Annie performed admirably as a nonjudgmental witness to the changing tides of the sexual revolution."
Twice Annie was attempted to be adapted into a motion picture or television feature; twice the attempt failed. The December 1978 issue of Playboy mentioned a "world-wide search for the actress" who would "portray Little Annie Fanny in a live-action movie", but no film was ultimately made. In 2000, Playboy TV approached Mainframe Entertainment to create a CGI animated television series based on Little Annie Fanny, but no series was ever produced.
Twenty-six early episodes of Annie were reprinted in book form by Playboy Press in 1966 and 1972. After Kurtzman's death in 1993, Playboy revived the comic in 1998 with art by Ray Lago and Bill Schorr, publishing two episodes in the magazine before it was discontinued. Dark Horse Comics collected all episodes of the series into two volumes with annotations by Denis Kitchen and others, publishing the two books in 2000 and 2001.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 203; Markstein 2001; Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 428; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 188, 210; Beauchamp 2014, p. 68.
- Beauchamp 2014, pp. 103–110.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 203; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 121; Beauchamp 2014, p. 109.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 203; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 121; Beauchamp 2014, p. 66.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 203; Markstein 2001; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 122–123; Beauchamp 2014, p. 67.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 203; Kitchen & Buhle 2009; Beauchamp 2014, p. 67.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 204; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 209.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 205; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 151–153.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 206–207; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 211.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 207; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 160–183.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 208.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 208; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 188; Beauchamp 2014, p. 67.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 205, 208.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 209; Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 428; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 204.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 208–209; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 210.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 208–209; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 211.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 210–211.
- VandenBergh 2001, pp. 203, 205; Kitchen 2001, pp. 213, 221, 222, 225; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 211–212, 226.
- VandenBergh 2001, pp. 207, 209.
- Kitchen 2000, p. 4.
- Jaffee 2001, p. 211.
- VandenBergh 2001, p. 209.
- Markstein 2001.
- Markstein 2001; Buhle 2007, p. 304.
- Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 428; Kitchen 2000, p. 208; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 213, 215.
- Duncan & Smith 2013, pp. 428–429.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 212–213; VandenBergh 2001, p. 205.
- Kitchen 2000, pp. 212–213; Duncan & Smith 2013, pp. 428–429; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 213, 215.
- Kitchen 2001, pp. 233–237; Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 429; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 213, 215.
- Kitchen 2001, pp. 237–240; Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 429; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, pp. 213, 215.
- Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 428.
- Beauchamp 2014, p. 110.
- Harvey 1996, p. 140.
- Buhle 2007, p. 329.
- Witek 2007, p. 96.
- Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 209.
- Beauchamp 2014, p. 68.
- Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 429.
- Playboy magazine December 1978.
- Edwards 2000; Atherton 2000.
- Markstein 2001; Kitchen & Buhle 2009, p. 215.
- Kitchen 2000; Kitchen 2001.
- Beauchamp, Monte, ed. (2014). Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-4919-2.
- Buhle, Paul, ed. (2007). Jews and American Popular Culture: Music, Theater, Popular Art, and Literature. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 978-0-275-98795-4.
- Duncan, Randy; Smith, Matthew J., eds. (2013). Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-39924-4.
- Harvey, Robert C. (1996). The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-0-87805-758-0.
- Jaffee, Al (2001). Reminiscence (Overview and Annotations to Playboy's Little Annie Fanny: Volume 2: 1970–1988). Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics. ISBN 978-1-56971-520-8.
- Kitchen, Denis (2000). The Origins of Little Annie Fanny (Overview and Annotations to Playboy's Little Annie Fanny: Volume 1: 1962–1970). Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics. ISBN 978-1-56971-519-2.
- Kitchen, Denis; Buhle, Paul (2009). The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics. New York, NY: Abrams ComicArts. ISBN 978-0-8109-7296-4.
- Kitchen, Denis (2001). Eye Pops and Gags (Overview and Annotations to Playboy's Little Annie Fanny: Volume 2: 1970–1988). Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics. ISBN 978-1-56971-520-8.
- VandenBergh, Gary (2001). Little Annie Fanny Through The Eyes of Will Elder (Overview and Annotations to Playboy's Little Annie Fanny: Volume 2: 1970–1988). Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics. ISBN 978-1-56971-520-8.
- Witek, Joseph, ed. (2007). Art Spiegelman: Conversations. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-934110-12-6.
Journals, newspapers, websites
- Atherton, Tony (March 25, 2000). "Children's TV Producer Gets Playboy Contract". Ottawa Citizen.
- Edwards, Ian (April 17, 2000). "Mainframe". Playback. Archived from the original on February 6, 2015. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
Mainframe, meanwhile, continues to wait for the green light from Playboy TV to be the service producer to do a computer-animated series based on Playboy magazine's decades-old comic strip Little Annie Fanny.
- Markstein, Don (2001). "Little Annie Fanny". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 16, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
- "Little Annie Fanny: The Motion Picture". Playboy (Chicago, IL: Playboy Enterprises). December 1978.