LITTLE ANNIE FANNYMedium: Magazine comics
Published in: Playboy
First Appeared: 1962
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman
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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. In the latter, at least, his "Little Annie Fanny" reached a high point seldom achieved by cartoon art — that
feature was done for Playboy magazine, which, whatever you may say about its content, always did a first-rate job of printing color pictures.
Like nearly all American periodicals of the time, Playboy had been running cartoons for years — in fact, it even had a regular series of them, LeRoy Neiman's femlins. But Little Annie Fanny was not just Playboy's first full-scale, multi-page comics feature — it was the first in any major American magazine, unless you count the old pulps (nearly extinct by the time Playboy began) as "major" magazines.
Annie, said by some comics critics to be an outgrowth of Kurtzman's work on Goodman Beaver, debuted in Playboy's October, 1962 issue, but she was the culmination of a working relationship between Kurtzman and Playboy that went back several years. In 1956, after Kurtzman left Mad, Playboy's publisher bankrolled him in a short-lived humor publication called Trump. And in the December, 1957 issue, Kurtzman became the first comics creator lionized in the magazine as a hip, with-it practitioner of the arts.
As for the way the arts are practiced in Playboy itself, "Little Annie Fanny", like all pictorial features in that magazine, featured a great deal of bare female skin. Like Adolphe Barreaux's Sally the Sleuth before it and Wallace Wood's Sally Forth after, Annie seldom, if ever, managed to keep her clothing on for the duration of an entire episode.
The feature's title is an obvious take-off on Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie — even the logo was done in the same style lettering. Annie's supporting characters, too, were reminiscent of those of the "other" Annie — e.g., boyfriend/benefactor Sugardaddy Bigbucks (Daddy Warbucks) and Bigbucks's mysterious assistant, The Wasp (The Asp). Together, they spoofed advertising, popular culture, and all the other things Kurtzman had been spoofing since the early days of Mad.
And that's not all that was reminiscent of the early Mad. From the very beginning, it was obvious Kurtzman would not be able to handle the artwork alone, as each panel, in keeping with Playboy's production values, was a detailed painting. (And by the way, Annie was the first fully painted feature in American comics.) Kurtzman's first assistant was his number one Mad collaborator, Will Elder. Later episodes showed the artistic touches of Jack Davis (The Rawhide Kid), Russ Heath (The Haunted Tank), Al Jaffee (Ziggy Pig & Silly Seal), and other Mad artists.
"Little Annie Fanny" ran in each monthly issue at first, inspiring the occasional knock-off, such as Penthouse's Oh, Wicked Wanda!. But her appearances slowed during the 1970s. She lasted until 1988, with over 100 episodes appearing in all. Early ones were reprinted in tabloid-size paperbacks in 1966 and '72. During the '90s, Dark Horse Comics (Sin City) brought some episodes out in a new edition.
Playboy revived the feature in 1998 with artwork by Ray Lago and Bill Schorr, and several new stories have been published. But Harvey Kurtzman, who died in 1993, is no longer involved.