It’s a very vivid memory: While rooting among the contents of my grandfather’s bookshelf as a child, I came across a battered copy of a “Big Little Book” — one of those tiny books started in the 1930s that retold newspaper comic strip stories in text form, with an only an occasional drawing reprinted from the strip.
This one recounted part of a 1937 adventure from “Little Orphan Annie,” in which a terrified Annie witnesses the apparent brutal slaying of her protector, “Daddy” Warbucks, and his friend, the Asp. The accompanying drawing showed the Asp, his clothes in tatters, desperately slashing away with a sword and firing a gun against an overwhelming number of thugs.
It’s a frightening image.
That entire hair-raising tale is included in volume 7 of IDW Publishing’s “The Complete Little Orphan Annie,” which came out in 2011 (with strips from 1936 to 1938), and volume 8 (1938-1940), released this past June (294 pages each).
Harold Gray’s phenomenally influential “Little Orphan Annie” flourished at a time when big cities had more than one daily paper, and many readers chose their paper based on the comics it carried. His dark panels — far from the sunny Broadway musical — were packed with self-sacrificing heroes and murderous villains.
As these resurrected strips show, no one ever topped Gray for mood and pacing. And his tales still pack a wallop.
It’s great stuff.