June 06, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Here’s a look at the revamped ”Orphan Annie” strip

There?s an amusing irony in ”Orphan Annie,” a retooled version of the 75 year old newspaper comic strip. The new Annie, whom you may have seen for the first time in yesterday’s papers, has thrown away the white-collared red dress she wore through every globe trotting adventure her creator, Harold Gray, put her through; the 2000 version wears sensible jeans, a T-shirt, and fashionable platform sneakers.

This isn’t the first time Annie’s gotten a radical makeover. According to comics historian Rick Marschall, the inspiration for ”Annie” came from another strip, called ”Little Orphan Otto,” which had been submitted to New York Daily News publisher Joseph Patterson in the early ’20s. The newspaperman liked the idea of the strip, but not the notion of yet another boy hero. ”Put skirts on the kid,” he is said to have ordered, and so Otto became Annie, and to paraphrase the Broadway hit that ”Annie” inspired, the sun came out tomorrow and tomorrow for three quarters of a century.

”Annie” is now in the hands of artist Andrew Pepoy and writer Jay Maeder. Traditionalists should rest easy, though: Maeder knows his stuff, having written the ”official” biography of Dick Tracy, and entries in ”The Encyclopedia of American Comics.” Maeder has taken the liberty of slimming down Daddy Warbucks — in Pepoy?s sketches, he now looks a little like a hairless Don Johnson — and Annie has a new grown-up friend, a curvaceous pilot named Amelia Santiago. In Monday?s debut strip, Warbucks made a reference to fax machines, something the original Daddy couldn?t have fathomed. Some things never change, though: Annie?s still 11 years old, and her eyes are still the trademark eyeball-less blanks that Harold Gray drew, and Sandy the dog is still her stalwart pup who says ”Arf!.”

Given what a globally minded, often implicitly political strip the old ”Annie” was, it?ll be interesting to see how Maeder handles world affairs. Originator Gray was a liberal turned conservative who used his strip to rage against union organizers and such. (The New Republic once published a critique of ”Annie” titled ”Fascism in the Funnies.”)

Me, I?m betting the new denim-clad Annie steers clear of controversy and carries a Palm Pilot in the back pocket of her jeans, so she can call up a map of China (The better for she and Amelia Santiago to plan their next adventure, of course). See you in the funny papers.

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