No more tomorrows for Orphan Annie comic strip

Little Orphan Annie, the plucky redheaded star of Broadway musical and comic strip fame, has run out of tomorrows --at least in print.

The pop culture icon who sang and danced her way to international fame in the Broadway musical that gave us tunes such as "It's The Hard-Knock Life," and "Tomorrow," ended her decades-long run as a comic strip heroine on Sunday, June 13.

Tribune Media Services, the division of media conglomerate the Tribune Company that syndicates the strip to US newspapers, is pulling the plug on the irrepressible Annie, her trusty dog Sandy and her wealthy benefactor Daddy Warbucks after 85 years.

The comic strip debuted in 1924, the brainchild of cartoonist Harold Gray who created a spunky, nine-year-old orphan with an unruly crop of red hair and saucer eyes who had the good fortune to be adopted by a wealthy entrepreneur, Daddy Warbucks.

The character bounced from one hair-raising adventure to another, battling greedy bankers, ruthless gangsters or Nazis, depending on the zeitgeist of the time.

Gray had two rules for his character. Annie could never reach a "happy ending" and she could never grow up.

The "Annie" franchise later grew to include a 1930s syndicated radio show, a 1977 Broadway musical, a 1982 movie, and a 1995 commemorative stamp.

At the height of its popularity, the strip was carried by hundreds of newspapers, but a mere 20 papers carried the cliffhanger finale in which Annie tangled with the Butcher from the Balkans in the last panel.

The strip's shrinking distribution is a function of the ongoing shake-up in the newspaper industry: declining newspaper circulation, a preference for comics that are jokey or humorous rather than adventure-driven, and the defection of younger readers to the web.

"Newspaper comic strips are going the way of the radio drama and the soap opera, long gone art forms," said Heidi MacDonald, editor of The Beat, The Blog of Comics Culture on the industry website comicsbeat.com.

So some are looking toward a different, more modern future for Orphan Annie.

"Over the years, Annie has generated an enormous amount of international awareness and affection through three generations - and now it's time to go where this new base of Annie fans finds their entertainment," said Steve Tippie, vice president for TMS Licensing and New Market Development.

TMS plans to modernize and repackage the franchise for film, television, and digital media in the hopes of reaching a larger, more global, cross-over audience of children and adults in the style of the Harry Potter franchise.

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