This, the first volume in a two part collection put out by Dark Horse Comics shows off the partnership of Kurtzman and Elder at its best. Little Annie Fanny (a direct parody of the Harold Gray strip Little Orphan Annie) was a strip that featured in Playboy's intellectual heyday after a bleak time of rejections and failed projects for Kurtzman. A former cartoonist himself Hugh Hefner wrote a letter to Harvey telling him of his undying belief but also gently guiding him in times when the humour of his material had dried up due to a dent in his self confidence. Presenting him with the Goodman Beaver strip Hefner rejected it due to it being unsuitable for his readership, but when Kurtzman proposed a sexy buxom blonde as the strips lead, Hefner was won over(*1). It was Hefner's insistence that caused the strip to be done in a full painted style as opposed to the pen and ink of the Goodman Beaver strips and I for one am glad. The colour and the depth breathes life, warmth, and movement into the strips and the amount of detail put into each panel is just stunning. As I have previously mentioned it was one of Elder's signature moves to fit as many visual puns into the frame as possible. What did surprise me however is how much more of a team effort Little Annie Fanny really was. Although you can tell that the majority of the writing process took place between Kurtzman and Elder, across the board backgrounds and other details were filled in by a whole host of Mad luminaries such as Russ Heath, Jack Davis, Arnold Roth, and Al Jafree, showing the professionalism with which these artists could mimic another style. Little Annie Fanny is nothing short of a visual feast, colourful, lively, with double page spreads, split panels and suitably mocking use of text, from OTT comic sound effects to tongue in cheek 'groovy' lettering.
We are treated to parodies of everything from Timothy Leary and Dr Strangelove, right through to the Klu Klux Clan, Bob Dylan and Pop Art, and when the humour hits the mark it's like a sucker punch. The Bob Dylan parody still resonates with us today, as he sings about the troubles of the world before going off in his limousine to see his stockbroker (replace Bob Dylan with Bob Geldoff and you get the picture). The Beatles parody is also pretty hilarious, as left alone in a room with Annie and a large amount of hay the only thing they can think of doing is making the hay into enormous long hair wigs that make them look like Cousin It from The Adams Family. Finally another joke of note is the clever take on the story o The Emperor's New Clothes Kurtzman gives us using the then popular fashion of see through dresses. The only problem for me is as follows. When I attended a talk recently by Gerald Scarfe he told us that his only problem with the cartoon format is that it becomes dated quite quickly. When he drew a picture of Harold MacMillian naked on the front cover of Private Eye it was shocking, but now nobody knows who Harold MacMillian is. With Little Annie Fanny it's a bit like being in a room full of people telling in-jokes to each other that you have to pretend to understand. Because there is so much detail and nothing is simply throwaway, the jokes have their own glossary, which although essential for a non babyboomer like myself, breaks up the reading process a bit. However this is only a minor hiccup as far as I'm concerned, and if you want to create a history of the world and culture using comic books, you can't go far wrong by adding Little Annie Fanny to your collection.
(*1) Which reminds me that despite Playboy selling itself as a magazine of sophistication and cutting edge literature at the time, was still just about naked women (it was Hefner thatmade sure Annie got naked in every strip)