Blackwolf the Dragonmaster's Diary of Magecraft

Being a Chronicle of the Inner Secrets of, and Spells of Magick as Wielded by, the Philosopher of the Internet and Unofficial Sorcerer-in-Residence of the City of New York

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Location: New York, New York, United States

As New York's Unofficial Wizard, my mission is to encourage the Mortals of Manhattan to imagine responsibly!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The sun won't come out tomorrow: A Remembrance of Annie

This from Phil Rosenthal, Media Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune:

Through more than 85 years of hardships and challenges --- spanning the Great Depression, a World War, foreign cabals, corruption at home, several kidnappings and, well, simply being an orphan --- somehow, she always found a way to triumph.

But in the ever-changing media landscape, Little Orphan Annie has apparently run into an adversity that not even she could over come. And so, while the sun'll come out tomorrow, the tomorrow after Sunday, June 13th will be the first to dawn in generations without Annie appearing in a daily newspaper.

The final Sunday panel of the strip, once seen in hundreds of newspapers across the country, but now run by fewer than 20, will end with Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks uncertain over Annie's fate during her recent run-in with the Butcher of the Balkans. And, leapin' lizards, what of her always loyal dog, Sandy? Arf!

This cliffhanger is in fact a show of faith that there's still life the ol' gal. At least, that's the opinion of Tribune Media Services, division of Chicago Tribune parent company Tribune Company, which initiated the strip during the adminstration of Calvin Coolidge, profiting mightily as it parlaryed pop-icon status into a oft-performed Broadway musical, a hugely popular radio series, John Huston's 1982 theatrical feature of the musical, and two made-for-TV remakes in the late 1990s, along with tons of merchandise.

"Annie is definitely not dying," says Steve Tippie, TMS' Vice President of Licensing. She "will definitely have a life beyond this newspaper incarnation. The newspaper strip will go away, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Annie won't come back .... whether it's [in] comic books, graphic novels, in print, electronic --- it's just too richa vein [not] to mine."

Ironically, the strip is leaving, Tippie continues, because it's been targeting young readers who rarely "are encouraged to read newspapers these days." Yet in the almost 44 years when Harold Gray wrote and drew the strip until his death in 1968, Little Orphan Annie was decidedly adult, despite its preteen heroine at its epicenter.

One wouldn't necessarily know that from the upbeat 1977 Thomas Meehan-Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin Broadway musical, or its 1982 movie adaptation, directed by John Huston, or even two made-for-TV remakes of that film in the 1990s, all of which have come to define the strip's characters. Or even the late 1930's and 40's children's radio broadcast which once aired on Tribune's WGN-AM 720 Radio, then on the NBC Radio Network and, finally, on the Mutual Radio Network, as recalled by Bob Clark's wry holiday drama, A Christmas Story.

But Jay Maeder, who with artist Ted Slampyak has presided over these last years of the strip, described it in 1997 as "the eeriest comic strip of all time" and that, in its Depression-era phase, became "a terrifying pilgrimage through a loony, dark, paranoid and quite uniquely American nightmare."

Today's Annie has been reformatted into a kids' adventure, with the auburn-haired orphan very much a 21st-Century girl, and Daddy Warbucks into what Steve Tippie calls "sort of a buff, bald, Clive Owen-type," who, separately and together, have adventures all over the world.

Back when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nominated to run for a fourth term as President in the midst of World War II, the decidedly anti-New Deal Little Orphan Annie killed off Daddy Warbucks, in part protesting on his deathbed that he need not have to apologize for being so successful.

" 'Some have called me [a] dirty capitalist,' " were Daddy's last words that August of 1944, says Maeder. " 'But I've merely used the imagination and common sense and energy that that kind of Divine Providence saw fit to give tome. And now? Well, Annie, times have have changed, and I've grown old and tired. And I guess it's pretty much time to go!' "

The following year, however, with FDR dead, Daddy returned to the living. " 'Somehow,' " he said, smoking his trusty cigar, " 'I feel that the climate here has changed since I went away.' "

Compare that with the 1977 stage and 1982 movie Annie, where we see Roosevelt coming off as nothing short of heroic.

Licensed merchandise has long been a top moneymaker in the world of Tribune Media. But, as Steve Tippie will tell you, the Charnin/Strouse/Meehan musical has practically become an annuity for the company, also keeping the cast of Annie alive as cultural touchstones.

It all began quite modestly. Gray, a Purdue grad from Kankakee, Illinois, joined the Tribune as a $15-a-week cub reporter, later moving to the art department. Following a stint in the Army, he spent 5 years assisting on the then popular strip The Gumps, frequently pitching story concepts to Tribune Syndicate boss Captain Joseph Medill Patterson a variety of ideas. The one about the orphan eventually got greenlit, with the Captain supposedly suggesting the switch from boy to girl.

Little Orphan Annie was among six new strips the New York Daily News would introduce on August 5th, 1924, just ahead of its then sister paper, the Tribune. But it was not until the Trib left Annie out of its comic strip section on October 27th, 1925, that it came to realize just how popular the Gray strip had become.

Issuing a front-page apology the very next morning, Annie's abscence was said to have "caused more rumpus on the Tribune switchboard than a World War, a big league baseball game or even the bombing of the post office."

The Chicago Tribune stopped running Annie, which has continued with fresh panels, save for 5 years of reruns of classic Harold Grey strips during the early to mid-1970s, in 1992. The New York Daily News remains among the last to still run the strip.

"Annie is more of a kids' property, so it's less relevant to newspaper audiences than, say, Dick Tracy or Brenda Starr," remarks Steve Tippie. "it's much easier for today's kids to get their comic fixes from TV or the Internet... Yet comic books and graphic novels still have huge audiences in print form."

For that little orphaned redhead in the world of newspapers, it truly is a hard-knock life.

That being the case, then, what will become of King Features' Prince Valiant, to which your Dragonmaster remains unceasingly loyal? What will become of Val's present conundrum, wherein he must now rescue his beloved Queen Aleta from the clutches of the vengeful Horridus, back from the dead to deceive the Thuatha into avenging themselves upon Humankind, who drove them into their underground world centuries before?

I know not about ye, Mortals, but at least Val's strip always leaves us pondering until next Sunday. May it e'er remain thus!

Master Blackwolf

Oh, this is fun: My living room gets flooded, and suddenly here comes Apocalypse Now to ruin my Thursday. Boy, do I feel rotten!

Thank you so much, NASA!

Last night's rain totally flooded my living room; now here comes a team of NASA senior scientists, saying there's this cataclysmic force from the heavens on its way to trash life as we know it. Here's the gory details, from the files of The Scotsman of Edinburgh:

The sun, these scientists say, is awakening from a long, deep slumber --- and is now set to embark upon a period of violent solar activity that could send devastating electromagnetic radiation racing toward Earth.

A single massive storm on the solar surface, 93 million miles away, would have enough power to literally knock out power grids, destroy satellites controlling all GPS and other communications networks, ground every last airline you can name on your fingers ..... and practically toss the world's banking systems into an unprecedented state of utter chaos.

The disruption to the fuel chain and the subsequent breakdown in social order could leave every government on the Planet completely powerless, and deprive tens upon millions of human beings of clean water, and access to fresh food and sterile medicines, according to the team's findings.

Don't laugh. These guys were apparently so serious about this that they took their concerns to a team of government officials, disaster response managers, power company chiefs and certain other interested Mortals, all of whom had just happened to be in town for a space weather forum in Washington, D.C. the other day.

Basically, your bearer of bad tidings is Chris St. Cyr, senior astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Baltimore. "A storm of this magnitude would be a low probability event but would have a very high impact," he says. "It might not happen as often as hurricanes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, but we're more vulnerable now than ever before. Now, we use satellites for mobile phones, navigation, communication; just running your Visa card through to make a purchase. Our power grids are interconnected, and would act as one giant antenna in a huge geomagnetic storm. There's a need to highlight all these facts to those in decision-making positions, and to get them to understand that this is a natural hazard that we didn't have to worry about in the 1970's, but now we do."

Chris and his homeboys, working out of NASA's Division of Heliophysical Sciences, based at Goddard, and dedicated to studying the sun and its relationship to Earth and the other planets, explain that solar activity runs in cycles averaging about 11 years, and the next peak is due around late 2012 and well into 2013. "We have been in an extended phase of minimal activity, which typically lasts 2 to 3 years," says Chris, "but this time has been a little over four years."

Under normal conditions, the Earth's magnetic fields defend us from the constant stream of energized particles coming from the sun. But one "perfect storm" of a huge, hyper-charged ball of plasma and pure energy on course for Earth at lightspeed could have enough strength to overwhelm the Planet's defenses and set up an unprecedented global economic disaster, says a NASA-financed study written up by the National Academy of Sciences.

And the cost to the United States alone would exceed the $2 trillion level in just the first year, the report goes on.

Basically, kids, we're talking Apocalypse Now. I'm sure ol' Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Tomorrow, and a frequent guest-blogger in this Diary of Magecraft, is gloating about how right he was. As for your Dragonmaster, this puts the damper on an already-ruined Thursday, 24 hours removed from me damn living room being flooded by the rain last night. Fortunately, we're back to sunshine mode upon the morrow, according to NY1's Weather on the 1s. It better stay that way, dammit!

I gotta go, Mortals. I'm in mope mode right now, and you do not wanna be on ol' Blackwolf's bad side when I'm in mope mode. C ya!

Master Blackwolf