The Modern Way

In the summer of 1949, Kreigh Collins and Ernest Lynn (his boss at the NEA) came up with an idea for a seasonal year-end sequence for “Mitzi McCoy” — a retelling of the Christmas Story. It also provided a new marketing angle for the fledgling comic strip, as the NEA (and Collins) eagerly tried to expand the strip’s market.

The strip that begins the sequence is a delight. Despite the absence of the strip’s namesake, its other characters shine. The plan for the sequence is neatly laid out for the reader, and includes a (self-deprecating) meta moment when Collins references himself as the guy who is “going to draw the pictures” telling the Christmas story. Stub also offers a strong validation of comics in general. Another nice detail is found in the final panel, where Dick presents the recently-delivered package containing Kreigh’s artwork. The large package is drawn to scale — Collins’s comics were done on 20″ x 30″ illustration boards.

MM 112049 150

Rebranded as “The Christmas Story” for newspapers that did not yet carry “Mitzi,” it became the first NEA comic feature to appear in the Chicago Tribune, and ran for five weeks. (For papers that already carried “Mitzi McCoy,” the strip continued under its usual shingle). Its first panel contains the caption “first instalment,” an interesting alternate spelling. (“Mitzi McCoy” used other unusually spelled words on occasion, as when Stub once asked Tim to buy Tiny a “cooky,” or in the strip’s debut, where Mitzi blurted out a hasty “goodby” before leaving town — in her airplane, after she called off her wedding).

Today’s comic first appeared on this day, 68 years ago. The sequence will continue at its original pace — one comic per week. Happy holidays!

CS 112649 HF 150 cc wbg.jpg

Advertisements

Throwaways Revisited

Ten months after first appearing in Sunday comics sections across North America, “Kevin the Bold” underwent a minor revision. Kreigh Collins began creating special versions for the Chicago Sunday Tribune, as a result of a suggestion made by A. M. Kennedy, the Trib’s Sunday editor. When he received this letter, Collins would have been inking the comics that would run three months later, in October. These are the comics that were featured over the last several weeks.

IMG_4817 150

 

A couple of years earlier, the salesforce from the NEA (Collins’ syndicate) had approached the Trib and tried to sell them on the idea of picking up Collins’ first comic feature, “Mitzi McCoy.” Frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations, Kreigh had taken to corresponding directly with the Trib’s brass, and even paid them a visit. Collins had previously lived in Chicago, and was happy to make the 200-mile drive to the big city from his home in West Michigan. His efforts resulted in the Tribune running Collins’ five-week Christmas feature in their Saturday edition, the first NEA strip to grace the Tribune’s pages, and a relationship was forged.

What seemed superfluous to Kennedy were the comic’s throwaway panels. After receiving Kennedy’s letter, Collins mentioned it to his Ernest Lynn, his boss at the NEA. Lynn explained to Kennedy that these small panels were a necessity due to the NEA’s comics formats, but he agreed that Collins could produce special versions for the Trib on occasion.

 

IMG_4820 150

These unique versions ran eight times, initially on October 28, 1951. With fewer panels, “Kevin” would more closely resemble the Trib’s other comics.

Below are the Chicago Tribune’s comics with their corresponding NEA proofs. The comics work nicely either way. Eliminating the throwaway and enlarging another panel produced handsome results for the Trib, but the original versions’ throwaways are charming as well, allowing for an injection of humor, mood, or feminine beauty. The December 2, 1951 comic simply added a gutter to divide one of its panels into a format from which the NEA could produce its tabloid version.

The modified panels were successful, but it became apparent that they weren’t needed in all cases. Lynn pointed this out in a letter he sent Kreigh a couple weeks later, specifically mentioning the November 4, 1951 comic, shown below.

IMG_4821 150

KTB 110451 HF 150 QCC

By my count, there were eight comics with the throwaway panels eliminated; the final one was published on January 27, 1952. I don’t have examples showing the throwaways for two of the dates — November 11 and 18, 1952 — those BW proofs are missing. Worse yet is the fate suffered by the proof of the January 13, 1952 comic.

KTB 011352 BWP paint 150 CC.jpg

In this case, the collaborating “artist” was either my brother or myself, or one of my cousins. As kids, when we’d go visit Gramma Teddy, she had a wonderful collection of comics for us to read out in Grandpa’s old studio — we must have also thought of them as coloring book fodder. Oh well, at least the October 28, 1951 comic remained unscathed! It’s an absolute masterpiece.

KTB 102851 BWP 150 cc

Cliffhanger

In another dramatic episode, Kevin faces von Blunt on foot. Calm as ever, and despite the Baron’s duplicity, Kevin continues to fight honorably. The comic ends with a genuine cliffhanger, and for me, this wasn’t the only mystery it held.

KTB 010652 HF 150 QCC

My comics collection came about largely through packages periodically sent by my uncle (also named Kevin). At this point, I have copies in some form or another of the first 15 years of my grandfather’s comics. Initially, I didn’t have many of the earliest “Kevin”s, but I did have this compelling cliffhanger.

At the time, I wasn’t even sure which newspaper it came from; now it is obvious that its origin was the Chicago Sunday Tribune. What added to its mystery was its lack of a date, and the reverse side of the comic didn’t yield any clues, either. The NEA copyright line identifies it as from 1952, but in lieu of a publication date, its panels were sequentially numbered (to my knowledge, the only time it occurred with Kreigh’s comics, and in my opinion, completely unnecessary).

Every year or so (as my uncle cleared out the old family homestead), a new comics bonanza would arrive. Eventually, the gaps were filled (until October 21, 1962, anyway), and it became apparent that this comic was dated January 6, 1952. Meanwhile, the fates of Kevin and Baron von Blunt also became known.

KTB 011352 HA CST 150 qcc

Von Blunt’s remains were identified by the spectators, but there was no sign of Kevin, and he was feared (and to the reader, appeared) dead. Kevin’s apparent demise has left both Stub and Princess Lea heartbroken, and as the comic transitioned to a new chapter, a new character was introduced.

KTB 012052 HF 150 QCC

Suddenly, sadness became elation, as it was discovered that Glaustark’s savior, Kevin, lived. Kevin’s adventures would also continue. The tale of Brett Hartz and his grandfather previously appeared on this blog, and can be seen here.


For more information on the career of Kreigh Collins, please visit his page on Facebook.

Honor vs. Treachery

The December 16, 1951 comic is another beauty. Wonderfully drawn and superbly reproduced, Kevin and Stub are quite relaxed despite the impending danger. In fact, Stub seems more interested in Kevin’s love life than his imminent battle with Baron von Blunt.

KTB 121651 150 HF qcc

KTB 122351 150 HA qcc.jpg

Whereas Kevin stands for honor, von Blunt represents treachery. Knocked from his mount by foul play, Kevin must face the Baron on foot. However, his hours of training with Stub will prove to have paid off.

KTB 123051 150 HA qcc.jpg

The trick of the thrown claymore was demonstrated a year earlier, in one of the earliest “Kevin the Bold” episodes. Despite its success, Kevin still faced the daunting task of facing von Blunt, this time armed with a dagger. He has kept his cool, and perhaps the Baron has underestimated Kevin yet again.

KTB 122450 HA 150 qcc

Stay tuned — next week features the battle’s dramatic conclusion.


For more information on the career of Kreigh Collins, please visit his page on Facebook.