Christmas in July, part 2

The second week of Kreigh Collins’ daily “Legends of Christmas” comic featured an easier-to-follow legend. It starred Peter, a young boy trying to care for his ailing mother while his father was away.

Speaking of legends, joining the bastions of journalism that appeared last week (The Manhattan Mercury, Hazleton Standard-Speaker and Terre Haute Star) is the one and only Kingston Daily Freeman.

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The medicine Peter brought his mother worked wonders — she looks radiant!

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Christmas in July

Kreigh Collins’ comics were familiar to readers of Sunday funnies, and periodically there were discussions with his bosses at the Newspaper Enterprise Association about changing “Mitzi McCoy” or “Kevin the Bold” into a daily. Although these plans never came to fruition, in 1965 Collins illustrated a short-lived seasonal daily for the NEA called “Legends of Christmas.”

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Running in various small-market papers that were typical for the NEA, the “Legends of Christmas” comics are rather curious, and despite their yuletide theme, there was room to squeeze in a little anti-Soviet Cold War-era commentary (December 8). Take thatBrezhnev!

A tip of the cap to Alec Stevens of Calvary Comics for sending these comics my way!

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Where’s Mitzi?

“Mitzi McCoy” was Kreigh Collins’ first syndicated (Newspaper Enterprise Association) comic strip, and in its November 7, 1948 debut, Mitzi bolted from her wedding after realizing her fiancé was a gold-digging jerk.

The comics that followed showed the transformation of Collins’ skills from that of a renowned illustrator to those of a successful cartoonist. Each panel of these early comics are jammed full of detail, and the original artwork is astonishing to behold. About half of the “Mitzi McCoy” originals are in the Local History collection of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

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These early Mitzi originals also show evidence of revisions to the artwork and dialogue. In addition to illustrating and scripting the comic, Collins did the lettering. Kreigh had similar responsibilities for his mid-1940s “Bible Stories Comics” (put out by the Methodist Publishing House) but the NEA required a more structured approach, and had more specific procedures to be followed. There were some growing pains, but the artwork is absolutely amazing.

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While comics fans might have been wondering where Ms. McCoy had gone in 1948, “Where’s Mitzi?” could also be a question posed more recently. Late last year, an announcement was made on the upcoming publication of a book collecting the comic strip’s entire run.

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While production of the book has been delayed, rest assured that the book is still in the works. Once it is published, Mitzi’s whereabouts will be more easily tracked.

A Harsh Mistress

With a sudden storm having wrecked their sailboat, Kevin and Bunny desperately cling to its swamped hull.

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With word of her husband’s rescue coming via radio and newspaper, Jane betrays a bit of jealousy toward her husband’s co-star. However, her fears are assauged with the arrival of a telegram, which reveals Bunny’s true colors.

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On reflection, it’s interesting to note the “modern” touches of these late-period comics of Collins (e.g., the pasted up photostat of the Western Union Telegram); I guess everything is relative, even the groovy dialog.

The sequence immediately following this one ran previously on this blog, and can be viewed here.

The Line Squall

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As he’s escorted around Hollywood by his co-star and director, Kevin learns how the movie game is played. As the action in the comic intensifies, the mood of the topper strip “Water Lore” darkens.

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Jane trusts her husband Kevin enough to ignore the rumors propagated by the Hollywood hype machine — or is she just putting on a brave face? Meanwhile, Kevin and Bunny are lost at sea without ship-to-shore communication. Rescue efforts get under way, and Pedro manages to press the spineless movie star Cecil Dunn into service.

Of note: movie director Rex Fox bears a certain resemblance to one of Collins’ old “Mitzi McCoy” characters, publisher Stub Goodman. Stub was based on the character Frank from the 1947 novel by Thomas W. Duncan, “Gus the Great.” Like Stub, Frank was a newspaperman, and a very richly developed character. Midway through the book, he retires to California (and to my disappointment, isn’t heard from again). It’s nice to see one possible outcome was Frank’s reinvention as a Hollywood director.

Stub on the phone

Smooth Sailing

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Eager to get his friend involved in the movie business, Pedro’s idea is to have Kevin’s wife Jane talk him into it. Jane is leery of the possibility of losing her man to a famous Hollywood starlet, but seems to go along with the plan —  she and Kevin are eventually persuaded by the easy money.

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As the sequence gets off the ground, the action is very light, but there are some interesting details to be noticed. The “Water Lore” topper strips have some nice illustrations of various watercraft to accompany Collins’ observations, technical diagrams, and historical tid-bits. The March 7 topper references the artist’s home port of Holland, Michigan, which was located a short drive from the tiny village of Ada, where Kreigh lived with his family. Another notable from Ada was Amway founder Richard DeVos. DeVos went into business about the same time as Collins started cartooning, and one part of the Amway empire included an air charter service. Collins name-checked his friend in the March 14 comic.

It’s been smooth sailing through this sequence’s first few episodes, but how long can that last?

 

Balance

If one was to include the pre-Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) weekly “Bible Stories Comics,” Kreigh Collins’ comics career lasted nearly three decades.  “Up Anchor” was his final comic, and it ran for nearly three and a half years.

As summer ended in 1959, Collins and his family packed up his sailboat and headed south. They ended up spending a year on the boat, traveling down the Mississippi, and wintering in Florida. He continued with his work while aboard Heather, producing artwork for the comic as his family’s journey progressed.

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With help from the NEA, Collins was happy to do promotion for his work, and given his unique situation as a sailing snowbird, this was sometimes front-page news. In an interview with the Panama City News-Herald that appeared in the daily’s November 1, 1959 edition, Collins explained how he was able to do it: “Maintaining a comic strip is a high-pressure sort of thing. You’re dealing with it every day, meeting deadlines, writing scripts, doing the artwork, and so on. To stay normal, you just about have to have your mental balance.” The article continued, Collins maintains his balance by writing children’s books, adventure stories, and travel articles. He also considers his 45-foot yacht a mental life saver. 

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A syndicate proof of the comic that appeared in Panama City News-Herald, above 

 

 

After “Kevin the Bold” had run its course, Collins launched his next comic, “Up Anchor!,” in 1968. He used many of his family’s experiences aboard Heather as fodder for his scripts, but much of the material came from his imagination. While there was talk in 1966 of spinning off “Kevin” into a television show, movies weren’t really in the conversation. Nonetheless, Hollywood did come into focus in one of the final sequences of “Up Anchor!”

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The original illustrations for the comics that will follow in the next several weeks are all in the collection of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Targeting a younger demographic

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The light-hearted sequence with young Will Shakespeare continues, and so do the cribbed lines. Looking them up is a nice way to be introduced to some of Shakespeare’s body of work, and I imagine Kreigh Collins and his editor had fun working them into the dialog. Who knew? (not me), there’s some good stuff in there. O tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide, and prepare to die… this stuff would keep me coming back for more if I was a reader of mid-’60s Sunday comics… which I guess I was, sort of (well, big brother Brett anyway).

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Standing in front of our ’64 Ford Fairlane 500, from left to right, Edward Bear, Brian, and Brett (holding the Detroit News’ comics section).

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The sequence is nearing its curtain, but there is still time for more fun with Shakespeare’s lines (Kill me tomorrow…).

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Overall, the sequence is more whimsical than any other I can think of, as far as “Kevin the Bold” is concerned. Its mood is more reminiscent of “Mitzi McCoy,” and it serves as a nice change of pace from Kevin’s usual antics dealing with despots, pirates and thugs. It is followed by another sequence in which Brett plays a prominent role, likely these were an attempt to engage younger readers.

Stealing from the Best

Kevin comes to Will and Brett’s aid by dispersing the unruly crowd from the Unicorn.

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As the sequence unfolds, and the references to Shakespeare’s work appear, let me count the ways (oops, that’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Begins with a street brawl, check. Teenagers in love, rival houses, corny dialog (sorry), check, check, check. Oh wait, here comes a balcony scene. (I’m going to need that ladder to keep cherry picking like this).

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Liberties were clearly taken with a couple of Shakespeare’s lines in the January 17 comic, and if the final double-decked panel isn’t a visual representation of a tempest, than I’ll be a monkey’s grandson.

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Did I miss any? If so, I’d love to see any references a better-trained eye can spot.

Brett’s Friends

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Perhaps Kevin’s penchant for saving dameselles in distress comes from him always keeping his eye on the “scenery.” The character upon whom Kevin was molded (to a degree), Tim Graham, from “Mitzi McCoy,” had a similar predilection. In this case, Kevin has unknowingly rescued the pretty friend of his ward, Brett.

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While Kevin spent the summer in the West Indies, Brett had stayed behind in London. Upon his arrival, Kevin meets another friend of Brett’s, a boy named Will Shakespeare (an example of the sort of historical figure that can be found in “Kevin the Bold.”) With the date established as 1588, Shakespeare would have reached the age of 14. Brett is likely a couple years younger, while Julie appears to be a young lady, about 18 years old.

Will and Brett are rehearsing a play at the Unicorn Theater, and it turns out that Julie’s step-father (Jake Waggar) owns the rival theater, the Lantern. As far as step-fathers go, Jake falls into the “evil” category, and he stoops low in his competition with the Unicorn.

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Along with the appearance of historical figures in his comics, Kreigh Collins could also be counted on for some related education. Collins was known for the depth or research he put into his subjects, all in the name of historical accuracy.

With Will Shakespeare a part of this storyline, one can expect numerous references to the famous author’s oeuvre. And with my personal knowledge of Shakespeare somewhat lacking, I bet my grandfather would get a kick out of the research I need to do in order to write these posts. I will mention references where I see them, but I would appreciate it if any reader would point out any that I have missed in the comments.