Sunday, 21 October 2007

Hey Look What Isn’t There

The other day, I picked up a copy of Harvey Kurtzman’s autobiography, My Life as a Cartoonist.

It’s a small, slim book with a few notes about his working techniques and an account of his life and career that puts a positive face on everything and skates over the difficult bits, such as the reasons for his departure from Mad.

And it doesn’t mention Little Annie Fanny at all.

Now, My Life as a Cartoonist was published in 1988, by which time Kurtzman had been working on his contribution to the “undressed girl as Candide” genre for a couple of decades. How long exactly? I decided to check the Wikipedia entry on Harvey Kurtzman.

And it doesn’t mention Little Annie Fanny at all.

(Update, later that day: Yes, it does, in the opening section. Let this post stand as a monument to my sloppy reading. My apologies to Wikipedia and its authors.)

Fortunately, there is a separate Wikipedia entry on Little Annie Fanny itself, which confirmed that I hadn’t dreamed up Kurtzman’s strip, and both Lambiek and Denis Kitchen’s web-site were more thorough. Kurtzman had produced Little Annie Fanny for Playboy for even longer than I had thought, from 1962 to 1988. It was, by far, the longest cartooning gig of his career.

So why the reticence?

It may be that the wiki-author was embarrassed that his artistic hero had laboured so long on a girly strip for a porn magazine. Mr Wiki also seems to set great stall by the Comics Journal’s collective opinion of Kurtzman (his five strips in their top 100 of the twentieth century are cited with pride). Perhaps the fact that Kurtzman chose to break with the Journal-approved practice of working as a lone cartoonist at his drawing board, instead setting up a studio to produce Little Annie Fanny, also puts it beyond the pale.

It shouldn’t. The finished Little Annie Fanny may have been the work of many hands, and the fingerprints of, say, Will Elder can be seen in the modelling, or Jack Davis in the caricature, but the storytelling, pacing, rapid-fire gag cracking, layout and movement are all pure Kurtzman. Aesthetically, it’s as much his as any Hey Look strip, and probably more so than some of his EC work.

It’s harder to think why Kurtzman himself should have been quiet. He was certainly happy to talk to Will Eisner at length about his working methods on Little Annie Fanny in an interview in 1981. Perhaps he intended his autobiography for a family audience and didn’t think that Little Annie Fanny was an appropriate subject. Or perhaps it is more than a coincidence that My Life as a Cartoonist came out in the same year that Little Annie Fanny ended. The strip-specific Wikipedia entry says that “Kurtzman ended the strip in 1988 when he felt he had run out of story material,” but perhaps there were some more awkward circumstances that Kurtzman didn’t want to talk about. Does anyone out there know?

Pictures and panels
Cover to Harvey Kurtzman My Life as a Cartoonist, Byron Preiss Visual Communications and Minstrel Books, 1988. Photograph by Ben Asen with drawings by Kurtzman

Little Annie Fanny pencil rough by Harvey Kurtzman, 1968, published in Will Eisner’s The Spirit issue 31, Kitchen Sink Comix, October 1981

Little Annie Fanny by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder with Jack Davis and Larry Siegel, Playboy, June 1968, reprinted in Playboy’s Little Annie Fanny, Volume 1: 1962-1970, Dark Horse Comics, 2000

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As to the question of why Harvey Kurtzman ceased creating the Little Annie Fanny strip,it is believed by some who worked closely with him on the strip that he stopped because he realized that his encroaching Alzheimer's Disease was making it too difficult to continue. Harvey Kurtzman never "ran out of ideas". I would also like to take issue with your grossly unfair characterization of PLAYBOY as a "porn magazine". What it was, was a great magazine with pictures of naked women in it!