The fine comic strip writer-artist Leonard Starr died today at the age of 89. He did a great many things in his day but is probably best known for the newspaper strip, Mary Perkins On Stage and for taking over the Annie (aka Little Orphan Annie) feature, as well as his work on the ThunderCats cartoon series.
Starr was born in New York where he attended Manhattan's High School of Music and Art followed by Pratt Institute. It was while he was studying at Pratt that he began working in the earliest comics books, more or less around 1942. His first accounts seem to have been with Harry "A" Chesler and Funnies, Incorporated but before long, he was drawing and occasionally writing for all the major New York publishers including Timely (now Marvel), Fawcett, A.C.G., E.C. and DC, plus he was a frequent contributor to comics produced by the Simon and Kirby studio. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby both considered him a first-rate talent.
Around 1955, as business began faltering in comic books, Starr began assisting on various newspaper strips and working harder on a long-held dream to have one of his own. In 1957, he achieved it with the debut of On Stage. Some newspapers billed it as Mary Perkins (the title character) and some called it Mary Perkins On Stage and that eventually became its official name. The strip was very popular with the public and much admired by his peers. The National Cartoonists Society gave it awards in 1960 and 1963 and then gave Starr their prestigious Reuben Award in 1965.
The strip lasted until 1979 when he dropped it and instead took over writing and drawing Annie, putting a fresh spin on Harold Gray's long-running feature. Some comic strip scholars will argue this but I always thought Gray's strip was an unreadable bore but Starr's take on it was quite wonderful. Still, Annie's time had passed and while he built up the following on a fading property for a time, it eventually lost enough subscribing papers that Starr gave it up in 2000 when he more or less retired.
In the meantime, he'd begun writing scripts for animation and was the main showrunner for ThunderCats, a popular cartoon series produced in the late eighties. He also, in tandem with fellow strip artist Stan Drake, created a series of popular graphic novels named for their title character, Kelly Green.
As noted, Starr was widely admired by his fellow cartoonists. His Mary Perkins strips are currently being reprinted in a series of books which I highly recommend. He was truly one of the greats and it's always sad to lose one of those.