CHICAGO — Come this summer there will be no more tomorrows for "Annie."
After 85 years, Tribune Media Services announced Thursday that it will cease syndication of the comic strip featuring the iconic redheaded orphan on Sunday, June 13. Instead, the company will bring Annie into the Internet age by pursuing new audiences for her in digital media and entertainment, like mobile readers and graphic novels.
"I'm going to miss the girl a lot," Jay Maeder, the strip's writer, said Thursday. "I wrote her for 10 years. She was a fairly large part of my everyday life."
"Little Orphan Annie" made its newspaper debut on August 5, 1924, first written and illustrated by creator Harold Gray. The strip later was renamed simply "Annie," telling tales of the spunky orphan adopted by Daddy Warbucks and joined by her lovable dog, Sandy.
Annie was famous for wearing a red dress with white collar and cuffs. Over the decades she became the center of the 1930s radio program "Adventure Time with Orphan Annie," a 1977 Broadway musical and several movies.
"It is no longer a great marketplace for adventure comic strips in the daily newspapers," said Maeder, of Houston. "It's not surprising to me that at some point the strip would come to an end."
Less than 20 newspapers in the United States currently take the comic strip, and Tribune Media Services vice president of licensing Steve Tippie said the cost of creating the strip started to outweigh its revenue. Tippie said the company is considering future live-action and animated television and film projects for the character.
"Our emphasis going forward will be on bringing her more in line with current pop culture and shaping her development as a property that appeals to children and adults on a whole new level," Tippie said.
Fans of the strip will be interested to know it promises to end with many unanswered questions. Tribune Media Services says the strip's last panel is a cliffhanger, showing Annie caught in a tangle with the Butcher from the Balkans. Daddy Warbucks is left to mourn her loss.
Unlike the Annie of stage and screen, Maeder said Gray started "Little Orphan Annie" the comic strip with dark and political themes. Maeder said he attempted to stay faithful to that legacy, for example pursuing story lines about terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to Tribune Media Services, Gray used the comic strip to express his conservative philosophies and pro-capitalism views.
The first strip of "Little Orphan Annie" from 1924 shows the heroine kneeling at her orphanage bed, praying for a family and scrubbing the floor while saying, "Gee, I wish some nice folks would adopt me – then I could have a real papa and mama like other kids."
"Annie" illustrator Ted Slampyak of Bernalillo, N.M., said the character received a modern makeover about 10 years ago, leaving her signature red dress behind for jeans and a new hairdo that kept her looking like a "girl of today."
"Annie is the symbol of looking on the bright side when everything looks bad," Slampyak said. "She's the symbol of picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and getting back into the fight. That kind of character will always resonate with people."
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