PENNYMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Herald Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1943
Creator: Harry Haenigsen
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In the early 1940s, teenage comic strip stars were a long-familiar sight — Harold Teen, in fact, had been around longer than he was old. But when Harry Haenigsen's
Penny debuted (on June 20, 1943, from The New York Herald-Tribune's syndicate, which had also syndicated , among others, Mr. Twee Deedle), strips starring teenage girls, such as Etta Kett, were still relatively rare. But Penny was an early example of a move toward balance, as Bobby Sox came along only a year later and Susie Q. Smith the one after that.
Haenigsen had been doing Our Bill, whose star was a teenage boy, for the Herald-Tribune for several years, when Helen Reid, wife of editor Ogden Reid (and herself a pioneering female newspaper executive) asked him to make a new strip with a girl in the lead. He hesitated at first, but finally consented, and Penny, which replaced the aging Betty on the syndicate's roster, became his most successful creation. He handled both strips for decades, but it's Penny that he's remembered for.
Penelope Mildred Pringle had Katharine Hepburn's cheekbones and Dick Tracy's jawline. She also took after them in personality, never gawky or shy, or for that matter, less than totally confident and self-assured. She had a best friend, Judy, but no long-term, steady boyfriend — still, she never had a problem getting dates. Her parents, Roger and Mae Pringle, were utterly mystified by her, but coped reasonably well.
Inevitably, the strip was full of teenage slang, starting with that of the bobbysoxer era but moving with the times. Haenigsen (who was 43 when it started, by the way) kept up to date by hanging out at soda fountains in Lambertville, New Jersey, where he lived and worked. He also had a trick to keep it sounding current — he'd occasionally make up his own expressions. That way he not only avoided sounding quaint — there was also a chance the reader may figure that if he'd never heard it before, it must be the newest of the new.
Penny was drawn in a deceptively simple, yet highly distinctive style, anticipating the uncluttered look found in such 1950s strips as Peanuts, Miss Peach and Hi & Lois. It was a solid, mid-circulation feature for years, but never broke out into animation or feature films. Avon Periodicals, remembered in comics mostly as an EC wannabe (tho it did field a few characters of its own, such as Space Detective and Taanda, White Princess of the Jungle), reprinted the strip in a half-dozen comic books during the late 1940s, but that's about the extent of its media penetration.
But on the newspaper page, Haenigsen kept his strip lively and fun until well into the 1960s. He relinquished it only when a traffic injury made it impossible for him to continue, in 1965. Bill Hoest, who later created The Lockhorns and Agatha Crumm, took over most of the work, tho Haenigsen still supervised and signed it.
In 1970, Hoest left to start a feature of his own, My Son John. Rather than replace him, Haenigsen ended the strip and retired.