From Letters Of Note in celebration of what would have been John Updike’s 80th birthday:
As creator of his widely-adored comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the late-Harold Gray no doubt received many a fan letter during his lifetime. The following example of such a missive was sent in 1948 by an eloquent admirer named John, aged just 15; an aspiring cartoonist who, after lavishing four paragraphs worth of praise upon his idol’s work, took the opportunity to ask boldly, and politely, for a favour in return.
A lovely letter, made all the more interesting by the fact that the 15-year-old boy was, in fact, a young John Updike.
January 2, 1948
Mr. Harold Gray
c/o New York News Syndicate
220 East 42nd Street
New York 17, New York
Dear Mr. Gray:
I don’t suppose that I am being original when I admit that ORPHAN ANNIE is, and has been for a long time, my favorite comic strip. There are many millions like me. The appeal of your comic strip is an American phenomenon that has affected the public for many years, and will, I hope, continue to do so for many more.
I admire the magnificent plotting of Annie’s adventures. They are just as adventure strips should be–fast moving, slightly macabre (witness Mr. Am), occasionally humorous, and above all, they show a great deal of the viciousness of human nature. I am very fond of the gossip-in-the-street scenes you frequently use. Contrary to comic-strip tradition, the people are not pleasantly benign, but gossiping, sadistic, and stupid, which is just as it really is.
Your villains are completely black and Annie and crew are practically perfect, which is as it should be. To me there is nothing more annoying in a strip than to be in the dark as to who is the hero and who the villain. I like the methods in which you polish off your evil-doers. One of my happiest moments was spent in gloating over some hideous child (I forget his name) who had been annoying Annie toppled into the wet cement of a dam being constructed. I hate your villains to the point where I could rip them from the paper. No other strip arouses me so. For instance, I thought Mumbles was cute.
Your draughtsmanship is beyond reproach. The drawing is simple and clear, but extremely effective. You could tell just by looking at the faces who is the trouble maker and who isn’t, without any dialogue. The facial features, the big, blunt fingered hands, the way you handle light and shadows are all excellently done. Even the talk balloons are good, the lettering small and clean, the margins wide, and the connection between the speaker and his remark wiggles a little, all of which, to my eye, is as artistic as you can get.
All this well-deserved praise is leading up to something, of course, and the catch is a rather big favor I want you to do for me. I need a picture to alleviate the blankness of one of my bedroom walls, and there is nothing that I would like better than a little momento of the comic strip I have followed closely for over a decade. So–could you possibly send me a little autographed sketch of Annie that you have done yourself? I realize that you probably have some printed cards you send to people like me, but could you maybe do just a quick sketch by yourself? Nothing funny, just what you have done yourself. I you cannot do this (and I really wouldn’t blame you) will you send me anything you like, perhaps an original comic strip? Whatever I get will be appreciated, framed, and hung.
(Signed, ‘John Updike’)
Elverson P. D. #2