The Violence and Villains of Little Orphan Annie

In all likelihood, the writer of the Little Orphan Annie Radio Show theme song never read the great comic strip by Harold Gray. "Never seems to have a care"?!?! "Always wears a sunny smile"?!?! That songwriter must've been reading The Nebbs. or some such strip by mistake. The problem could lie, however, in one's own interpretation of a phrase such as "never seems to have a care." If one were to count having your house maliciously burned down a number of times, not seeing your father for months at a time (while being left to fend for yourself), living in run-down tenement slums, fighting and capturing hordes of Nazis, dealing with gangster heads of organized crime, being kidnapped and tortured numerous times, walking what seems to be thousands of miles every year and having people attempt to murder you too many times to count, as falling into the realm of "never seems to have a care," I guess there'd be no argument!

Little Orphan Annie was easily one of the most violent comic strips in the history of the medium. Violence doesn't only refer to the physical act of violence (though there was plenty of that), but to the feeling, expression and inference of violence as well. Gray has been described as an "expressionist" artist by writers. Most of that "expressionism" however, does not occur through an expressive use of mark-making, as is the case with Jackson Pollack or Oskar Kokoshka paintings. Rather, it occurs through the expressive mood set up in the strip.

Chester Gould's masterpiece, Dick Tracy, was flat-out violent. Bullets were shown going through various body parts. Torture machines were depicted in-use on victims. Sadism was a prevalent feature in most of Gould's villains. There was a lust to maim, torture and/or kill. In essence, there was nothing left up to the reader's imagination. Gould spelled out every violent horror fully. In contrast, the violence in Little Orphan Annie was built up in slower fashion; layer upon layer. Emotions were voiced. The reader could hear small sounds around a corner. The very air could be breathed. The mood was set. The build-up to violence allowed the reader to use their imagination; to be on the same stage as the players. Harold Gray was a master at setting that stage.

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