Little Annie Fanny
Medium: comic
Year: 1962
Keywords: boobs
Writer: Harvey Kurtzman
Artist: Will Elder
Format: 107 episodes, each 2-7 pages long
Website category: Comics
Review date: 5 April 2021
It's a comic strip that ran irregularly in Playboy for 26 years, about a lady called Annie who got naked in every episode. (The title and some of the characters are a parody of the long-running 1924 comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, today probably better-known as the Broadway musical Annie and its multiple film adaptations.)
It's surprisingly good if you're just expecting porn. It's a long way from being Harvey Kurtzman's best work, though.
Firstly, the creators. Kurtzman and Elder are a big deal. Kurtzman wrote and edited Mad magazine from 1952-56 and worked on EC Comics's New Trend line. He was the editor of Help!, giving work to Terry Gilliam (pre Monty Python) and first-time cartoonists Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York and turned down an offer from Stan Lee of a senior position at Marvel Comics. The Harvey Awards (an industry award voted on entirely by comics professionals) are named after him.
As for Elder, he was one of Mad magazine's seminal artists and a frequent Kurtzman collaborator. Of his work on Little Annie Fannie, Al Jaffee has said this... "Little Annie Fannie was the most unique, lavishly produced cartoon cum illustration feature ever. Each panel was a miniature masterpiece that Willie glazed and re-glazed in brilliant watercolor until he reached the level of 3-D-like translucence that he wanted. I know from first-hand experience what went into this project."
(This process took so long that Elder often needed help to finish an episode. These art assistants included Russ Heath, Arnold Roth, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Frank Frazetta and Paul Coker.)
As for Little Annie Fannie, though... the problem is the porn, really. Nudity was mandatory, since this was Playboy, but also Hugh Hefner was a heavy-handed editor. He loved Kurtzman, Elder and their work, but he'd sometimes disagree about what was funny. The results are a mixed bag. The strip's always light-hearted and easy to read, but you won't always laugh. Sometimes it will, though. Kurtzman could be brilliant and there's gold here if you look for it. The intro preambles (sometimes), the 007 parody, the evil Sugardaddy Bigbucks (based on Annie's Daddy Warbucks)... the Nazi Health Spa Beast also made me laugh, which is deeply wrong of me and I should probably be ashamed.
"Achtung! I am ze Beast of ze Health Spa! You vill now exercise!" "You vill now go to ze showers! You vill ignore ze faint odor of gas. You vill BELIEVE when I say zey are showers!"
It's very culturally aware, though. (Kurtzman's era of Mad magazine was also noted for its social critique and pop culture parodies.) I've been reading lots of comics lately and it's almost unknown for any of them to show awareness of when they were published... but this series explodes with it. Kurtzman puts the boot into the 1960s, then again into the 1970s. Hippies, underground culture, fads, celebrities, politicians, you name it. It's all for laughs, obviously, but parodists and cartoonists are often the sharpest observers.
Elder's contribution is huge too. He was famous both for his background gags and for his chameleon-like artistic skill. All kinds of people show up in this strip, from Norman Rockwell to comic strip pastiches like Dick Tracey, Beetle Bailey and Mandrake the Magician. If there's a crowd scene, Elder will go to town equally on every single face, usually as a top-notch caricature of someone famous.
It's an amusing series. Great artwork and sometimes funny writing. Annie herself is always friendly, unshockable and likeable, with the craziest thing about her being her beehive hair. Even the weaker episodes (which is most of them) are still a lot better than you'd think.