Happy New Year

Growing up, I thought including a holiday recap letter with one’s Christmas card was a new phenomena. I also found most of these holiday messages a bit tedious and self-serving. It turns out that year-end letters weren’t a new concept, but an old tradition, and like many things, the old versions seem better than those from the present.

Kreigh Collins generally wrote his family’s holiday letters, and one could generally tell if he had also typed them up by noting any misspellings (Kreigh was a notoriously poor speller). Throughout his career, his wife Therese (Teddy) served as his secretary and editor, as well as his model and muse. The Collins family’s holiday letters had the added bonus of Kreigh’s illustrations, and included some interesting details in the life of the well-travelled family from Ada, Michigan.

The examples I have start in 1964, and the earliest one is my favorite, as yours truly received top billing.

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The letters also betray a bit of Kreigh’s growing weariness, as his career wound down as the 1970s approached. “Kevin the Bold” never did appear on TV—instead the strip transitioned into “Up Anchor!”—and the family’s sailboat and home away from home, Heather, was sold.

A couple of the letters are missing from my collection (1967, 1970, 1971), and the final one (1972) was written by Teddy. The letter itself was jettisoned, as the Christmas card incorporated the holiday message, and the whole process became simplified.

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For 2018, to both my far-flung readers and those closer to home, I am wishing good health and all the best in the new year. Personally, I hope the new year results in the publication of my “Mitzi McCoy” book, so long in the works (I began scanning the comics nearly five years ago). For any potential readers, I appreciate your patience.

May your dreams also come true this year.

Sincerely, “Muscles”

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

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The Greatest Story Ever Told

Kreigh Collins’ version of the Christmas Story, illustrated in comics form, was hailed upon its release. Locally, it was featured as part of a Christmas exhibit at the Ryerson Library in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the event made the December 13, 1949 edition of the Grand Rapids Press. Today, the bulk of Kreigh Collins’ papers and comics illustrations are found in a collection at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Local History Department, housed in the Ryerson building.

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The final instalment of the series is another beautiful reproduction of Collins’ work by the Chicago Tribune. After seeing the initial results of the Trib’s pressmen, the artist showed his appreciation in a letter to A. M. Kennedy, the comics editor for the esteemed paper. No doubt Collins was sincere, but perhaps he was hoping a little praise would help his chances of seeing his regular comic, “Mitzi McCoy,” also grace its pages.

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While “Mitzi” never did make it into the Trib, the Kreigh Collins was successful in crafting a comic (“Kevin the Bold”) that did appeal to A. M. Kennedy and would appear in the Chicago paper within a year.

Merry Christmas!

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

Fan Mail

Kreigh Collins’ “Christmas Story” initially impressed newspaper editors during its sales phase, and once it was published it impressed the general public. The fourth instalment is another wonderful piece of storytelling, and this time, Stub and Dick Dixon appear more often than in the previous three episodes.

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As was the case during his career as a cartoonist, Kreigh Collins received plenty of mail from readers — positive, negative, and punctilious. One piece of feedback he received caught his attention. In this case, the letter was forwarded to Kreigh from the Chicago Tribune’s office. A reader from Minneapolis offered cautious praise for the first instalment, but took issue with a detail in Collins’ illustration — the saddle of the courier in the first comic’s panel (shown below).

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The reader noted that “according to reliable historians saddles had not been invented until six centuries later.” No doubt Collins bristled, given the countless hours he spent on research, and the fact that he was desperate to impress the executives at the Trib, as he pushed for them to pick up “Mitzi McCoy,” and continue running his work. Kreigh’s response was a classic. He praised the reader while not admitting a mistake, and in a cc to the Trib’s managing editor, tosses off a hillarious encapsulation of himself.

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It’s typical of his wit, and is an expression that I look forward to repeating one day.


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

In Advent

In the autumn of 1949, things were looking rosy for the Kreigh Collins and the NEA. Newspapers that already carried “MItzi McCoy” were praising the upcoming nativity sequence. Fred Ferguson, of the New York Sunday Mirror gushed,  “The MITZI McCOY Christmas Story presentation is certainly a magnificent job. Gosh, but that boy can draw. The stuff is beautiful all the way through and here’s hoping that the sales response justifies all of Collins’ painstaking efforts. The story is also darn well done.”

The NEA’s salesmen were busy knocking on the doors of prospective targets — newspapers that didn’t yet carry “MItzi McCoy” and who might pick up “The Christmas Story” or start running “Mitzi” itself. The first sale was made when the Memphis Commercial-Appeal broke the ice. Several other newspapers would follow, including the Chicago Tribune.

The NEA made a run at a couple of newspapers close to Collins’ homestead in Ada, Michigan — The Grand Rapids Press and the Detroit News. While both papers’ general managers expressed interest in the series, they passed. (The following year, the Press started running “Mitzi” and the News began featuring Collins’ “Kevin the Bold” in 1951).

These days, Christmas preparations seem to come too early, with stores getting decked out for the yuletide season before Thanksgiving has passed. Things were less commercialized in the late 1940s, and the appearance in Advent of a Christmas feature was surely welcome, especially for children, for whom Christmas was the highlight of their year.

Without further ado, here is the third insalment, from 68 years ago today.

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

The Christmas Story in Pictures

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Last week, I forgot to post an accompanying Tribune promotional ad (above) heralding the appearance of its new comic. Not easily overlooked, it is page-high and spans several columns. Somehow I managed. As far as the bit about “internationally famous artist celebrated for his interpretations of Bible stories and personalities,” examples can be found in previous posts on this blog. While “Internationally famous” may have been a bit of a stretch (by the end of 1949, “Mitzi McCoy” had at least appeared in several Canadian papers, in pre-Castro Havana, Cuba’s El Sol, and a Parisian Paper), there is no disputing the acclaim mentioned about Collins’ religious work — Nashville, Tennessee’s Methodist Publishing House published Collins’ “Bible Stories Comics” for five years in the mid-1940s.

Below, the second week’s promotional push: a spot ad and another 24″-tall multiple-column ad. A detail that I especially like is my grandmother’s handwritten dates on the clippings. While my grandfather died young, at  66, his wife Therese (who was Kreigh’s senior) lived to be nearly 102. Among other roles, “Teddy” served as Kreigh’s secretary, muse, model and collaborator, and she delighted everyone she met.

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And finally, here is “tomorrow’s” comic, originally in print 68 years ago today.

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

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Travel

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In each of Kreigh Collins’ three NEA comics, travel is a frequent theme.

Mitzi McCoy flew her private airplane into the northern Canadian wilds, and later to Chicago. She also spent time in Florida. Kevin originated in Ireland but traveled widely throughout Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East — he even visited the New World toward the end of his run (c. 1967). The Marlin family’s travels in “Up Anchor!” mirrored Collins’ own — besides sailing the Great Lakes and the Great Loop, the schooner Heather also called New England and Maine home for two seasons. A change of scenery provides a cartoonist an opportunity for varied tableaux, new storylines, and a chance to meet new characters.

Two years ago, I started this blog with the goal of raising awareness of my grandfather’s career (in advance of the publication of the collected “Mitzi McCoy” comics). While I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, I do know that my blog has done a fair bit of traveling too. According to its statistical data, it has been viewed by people in 55 countries across the world, amazing! I wish I could thank each visitor, I’m sure I’d also meet some characters.

The statistics are interesting, and I am pleased to note surprises. There have been slightly more viewers from France than from the United States, and there have been no visitors whatsoever from mainland China or Russia. Punching above their weight class are #4 Portugal and #6 Croatia (the 88th- and 129th-most populous countries in the world). The top twelve countries make up about 96% of my traffic, and while this is great, it’s more exciting to reach especially distant and smaller places. To my singular readers from Luxembourg, Uruguay, Greece, Guam, Romania, Slovenia, Qatar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Tunisia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Taiwan, Ukraine, European Union (is that even a country?), Singapore, and Greenland (population 56,412), thank you!