Chasing Mitzi

When I first started collecting comics, I dreamed about putting together a book featuring “Kevin the Bold.” Being a graphic designer who worked in publishing, it didn’t seem too far-fetched. My Uncle Kevin had given me a large amount of my grandfather’s comics in 2011, and the question seemed to be what comics to use. I didn’t have the entire 18 year run, but I did have several years complete. The logical starting place for a serial like “Kevin” was its beginning, but my collection had some missing comics among the early ones. I didn’t get off to a flying start.

A year or so later, uncle Kevin sent me another massive package of Kreigh’s comics. Inside were hundreds of “Kevin the Bold”s, as well as the complete run of Collins’ earlier comic, “Mitzi McCoy.”  I’d heard about “Mitzi”, but had never seen any examples of the short-lived strip (it ran for less than two years). They comics were beautiful and fresh. Its run of 99 comics seemed like a manageable size to tackle in a first effort at publishing a book, so I switched gears.

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Mitzi’s debut comic.

Unsure how to proceed, I got to work thinking I’d figure it out as I went along. I started scanning my “Mitzi”s. Although it was a time consuming task with my ancient Microtek tabloid scanner, in retrospect, it was the easiest part of the process.

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Every time I switch it on, I pray that its lamp hasn’t burned out.

Nearly three years ago, while scouring the internet for information on “Mitzi,” I came across an essay with a ton of information on the strip, much of which was new to me. I began corresponding with the essay’s author, and soon enough we had a loose agreement for him to write the introduction to the book.

The next progress was reconnecting with a publisher  with whom I had discussed the possibility of doing a “Kevin” book. He showed interest in “Mitzi,” and the project gained momentum.

I started color correcting and retouching my comics in earnest, and I soon realized a major problem with my book was that for some of the comics, I only had one-third page versions. The bulk of my comics were half-pages (from the Indianapolis Times or the Pittsburgh Press), and others were tabloids or half-tabloids (New York Mirror).

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It’s so sad to see this comic cropped and squeezed into a one-third page format!

Two years ago I paid my first visit to the Grand Rapids Public Library. Its Local History department has a fantastic collection of Kreigh Collins’ illustrations and papers, with numerous original comic illustrations, including many original “Mitzi McCoy”s. Several of these originals were comics I had the inferior one-third page versions of, so I was getting closer to my goal of upgrading my lesser comics. Shortly afterward, I realized my prospective publisher had several more larger versions, and my list of inferior comics was down to six.

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Even though I live 800 miles away, the librarians are starting to recognize me (I’ve now made the trip three times).

Unfortunately, progress slowed during the next year and I wondered if I would ever find the elusive comics, or even get the book finished (and published). I’d been looking high and low, with occasional eBay purchases from sellers as far away as Switzerland.

However, my persistence paid off, and last month I found the last six comics I needed at a single source — a comic book shop 12 miles away from my house. The comics cost a bit more than I wanted to spend, as they were each part of intact New York Sunday Mirror comic sections. But being able to seal the deal made me willing to splurge.

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Eureka! (But the cost more than 10 cents each).

Amazingly, the shop employee that sold me the comics was as much of a site for sore eyes as the comics themselves. I wondered if these comics had been lurking in Moonachie, NJ all along, but Shannon told me they’d been acquired relatively recently, at last year’s Baltimore Comic-Con.

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Shannon wasn’t in costume when she made the sale, but she was sweet as she is pretty.

The lesson I learned was to always follow your dreams.

 

 

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.

Timeless

While “Kevin the Bold” had a long run, it didn’t last forever. Its debut was in October, 1950, with its demise coming 18 years later. One can be forgiven for thinking its life was longer, as the history covered in the strip spanned nearly two centuries.

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Published in September, 1954: the sequence with evil Sarov was set in the year 1491.

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16 months later, Kevin was set in the year 1515, along with King Henry VIII.

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The final “Kevin” was implicitly dated as being the year 1668; when the comic morphed into “Up Anchor!,” a contemporary strip set in 1968.

Much of the action was the product of writer Kreigh Collins’ fertile imagination, but peppered through “Kevin” were historical figures and incidents that figured into the comic’s plot lines.

Previously, we’ve met Leonardo da Vinci, and in the following sequence (set in 1588, or 73 years after the episode with King Henry and 80 years before the finale), a couple of English notables are introduced. It picks up where the action in this previous sequence left off, with Maria, Glen, and Inky en route on a trans-Atlantic voyage.

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Special No. 4

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Published by Southdown Press Pty. Ltd. (of West Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), my copy of Special No. 4 isn’t in the best shape — it’s pretty brittle. I’m not familiar with comic book grading scales, and this one might not fare so well. If it was an LP record it would be a cutout, with its corner hole punched like that. It features the transitionary comic between Mitzi McCoy and Kevin the Bold, and the first two sequences is Kevin. And that’s not all.

In order to squeeze in an ad, the sixth comic has been edited, omitting a few panels. (The original October 29, 1950 comic is shown for comparison). Another thing I’m unfamiliar with is the Australian classic Marmaduke Mouse. Perhaps that’s just as well.

Southdown Press was really going to bat for its other titles in Special No. 4. While Kevin’s first sequence has appeared earlier on this blog, this second one, featuring Count DeFalcon as the villain, hasn’t. A comic early in the sequence was edited to allow for another house ad. It’s a shame because the original December 24, 1950 comic is a beauty. One line of dialog from a lost panel was salvaged and added to a remaining panel, so it could’ve been worse.

Arriving at Castle McCoy, Kevin’s squire is introduced, and MacTavish Campbell MacGregor gets busy training Kevin. To atone for a feckless youth, Kevin has sworn to protect women and children, and apparently his responsibilities include the well-being of animals, too.

Later, Special No. 4 eliminates an entire Kevin the Bold episode, leaving out an important detail — where Kevin obtained some mail to wear in his showdown against Count DeFalcon. (One would hope Southdown Press had a good reason. I’ve included this missing episode for the sake of continuity). In advance of the duel, the squire’s character is nicely developed, and readers of Kreigh’s previous strip (Mitzi McCoy) will recognize him as Tim Graham’s boss, Stub Goodman.

Preparations have been finalized for the tournament field and the action gets underway. Riding a mare and wearing ancient mail, Kevin seems ill-prepared to face an opponent as strong as DeFalcon.

Kevin is able to outwit his adversary, and even spares his life. He has earned the respect of DeFalcon, and takes over the Count’s quest. The sequence is over, yet there is one spread left in Special No. 4. What was important enough to justify excising the January 21, 1951 comic?

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No Comment.

Like Special No. 6, the back cover features a one-color ad for some of the publisher’s other titles. It has a certain charm but fails to remove the bitter taste in my mouth left by Specks. Yeesh!

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Special No. 6

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Since writing previously about Australian Edition comic books, I have acquired a couple more. Tip-Top Comics No. 4 was nice because it had the transitional comic where “Mitzi McCoy” became “Kevin the Bold” and included the new strip’s first two sequences. No. 6 was pretty cool because it also had early Kevin comics. I knew these Tip-Top comics sometimes ran storylines out of sequence, yet I didn’t actually flip all the way through No. 6 — the comic was somewhat fragile and the print quality of these things isn’t all that great. My mistake!

Being especially interested in Kreigh Collins’ first NEA comic (Mitzi), I really wanted to get my hands on the earlier Tip-Top comics. No. 3’s cover, which I’d seen online, featured a late “Mitzi McCoy” storyline, so I figured Nos. 1 and 2 would have earlier Mitzis.

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I finally got around to paging through the No. 6. Since it contained the same early 1952 comics I’d been running for the past six weeks — the Death Trap and Moab — now seemed like a good time to run No. 6 on this blog. I didn’t want to damage the comic book by flattening it out completely on my scanner, so I took some photos of it outside with a sheet of plexiglass holding the spreads open. This produced mixed results — in addition to some reflection, the early February afternoon didn’t provide ideal lighting. But the shots are OK, and are interesting to compare to the Sunday comics versions I just featured.

I noticed Tip-Top eliminated several panels from the February 24 comic in order to squeeze in an ad, and I learned that the Great Dane in Brad Anderson’s gag cartoon wasn’t the first comics critter named Marmaduke. (For what it’s worth, Anderson hailed from a town next to the one in which I grew up). But wait — there’s more.

The comic on page 18 wrapped up the Kevin sequence, and its final transitional panels were deleted to Squeeze in another small ad hyping a “Red Ryder” comic book. “Red Ryder” is the former NEA comic strip whose departure for a rival syndicate opened the door for Collins’ “Mitzi McCoy” at NEA. Coincidentally, on the facing page is a Mitzi comic. I doubt anyone else would be as excited to have seen it as I was. Generally, storylines in Mitzi ran for two or three months, but this comic was a stand-alone episode. My assumption that it was a filler page between Kevin sequences proved to be wrong — eight more Mitzi comics followed!

In order to squeeze the entire “Yolo” sequence into the back of Special No. 6, one comic was eliminated, which is a shame for several reasons. We miss some of Jerry’s back story, we don’t see a nice rendering of “Moroccan Heat Wave” Yolo, and we are faced with some hack’s miserable lettering in a following comic’s introductory caption. (Even worse, it’s misleading — page 20 in the comic book).

I have inserted the missing comic (July 30, 1950) above. From here, the comics run without interruption or editing, which is a good thing, since the final three comics in this sequence are quite compelling.

Sometimes, Australian editions have filler comics, often really lousy stuff. Special No. 6 turned out to be a real treasure. Of its 28 pages, there is a cover (mine is in very nice condition), 17 pages of Kevin comics, nine pages of Mitzis, and a pretty cool monochromatic back cover, as well.

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The other thing I noticed was that the front cover image was redrawn, as there are subtle differences from the original comic panel that inspired it. Brett has been added to the frame (it looks like the reference for Brett is the March 16 comic), the attacker’s sword is in a different position, and Kevin’s left leg has straightened out (leaving him in an awkward defensive stance, which I’m sure Kreigh would have found most egregious of all). ktb-panel-for-cover-no-6

 

Happy Birthday

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Kreigh Collins was born on New Year’s Day, 1908. As a baby he may have resembled the tyke on the Saturday Evening Post’s annual New Year’s cover, but he eventually grew up to be a large man — 6’3″ and 240 pounds.

Kreigh developed an interest in art and cartooning at an early age, and by the time he was about 11 years old, he was producing some rather fine work. His father served in the United States Army, and during the Great War, First Lieutenant Stephen Collins was stationed on the front lines in France. Germany was the enemy, and so it was that German soldiers played the fool in some of Kreigh’s early comics.

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These comics are in the Local History collection of the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Public Library. Despite the horrors of World War I — trench warfare and the use of poisonous gas — it’s refreshing to see a more gentle take on the portrayal of our adversary.

Another cartoon seems to have been inspired by current events — likely the 1919 anarchist bombings or the 1920 Wall Street bombing. Approximately a year older than when he created the earlier cartoons, Kreigh had now advanced to a multiple-panel format.

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Some later drawings look like character studies, and appear to show a couple of British gents and a portly businessman. Two are nicely developed, and it seems Kreigh thought so too, as these were signed.

Our final comic is a two-panel job showing a clueless man strolling down the street reading a newspaper’s sports section. By this time, the Collins family had settled in Grand Rapids after living in various locales across the U.S. since Kreigh’s birth. Who knows, maybe Michiganders always made fun of those rubes from Toledo? A nice detail is the shading used in the second panel showing the subterranean darkness, and it’s interesting that the comic would still work today if a cell phone replaced the man’s newspaper.

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Happy New Year from the Kreigh’s Comics blog, and a happy 109th birthday to Kreigh Taylor Collins.

The Stoning of Stephen

In September, 1942, Kreigh Collins got a letter with some positive feedback on a job he did for one of his long-time clients, the Nashville-based Methodist Publishing House (MPH). In addition, the letter asked Kreigh to tackle a new project — illustrating a comic based on stories from the Bible.

An outline was included, and the editor’s instructions were purposefully vague (in order to give Collins plenty of leeway). A full page was requested, with six panels, featuring “as much action as a Superman comic.” The entire story was to be told in the characters’ speech balloons, with no explanatory captions.

A New York City publisher had started producing Bible comics, and they had approached the MPH to see if they would be interested in running them. If not, the New Yorkers planned to approach the Methodist Church directly. Not wanting to lose out on this business opportunity, the MPH turned to their favorite artist, Collins, and encouraged him to get right to work.

Three days later, in a letter accompanying his first sketch, Kreigh pointed out the difficulties of not using expository captions. Collins modified the outline in order to better set the scene, and added dialogue where appropriate. It also became apparent that the outline covered too much material for one comic. However, the suits at the MPH were pleased with the results, and after hiring a writer, the series began to take shape. The comic would appear in the weekly publication “Boys Today” and Collins would earn $75 per episode.

First dubbed “Pioneers of the Bible,” the series’ official title became “Stories from the Bible.” Work began in earnest for Collins in March, 1943, and by May he had finished the first nine comics. The editors were very pleased and felt the work far surpassed the perceived competition from New York. By July, the series had begun to generate fan mail.

The opening sequence was called “The Adventures of Paul the Apostle,” and the first comic told the story of the stoning of Stephen.

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An early “sketch” clearly shows that it was a work in progress, despite the startling level of finish. The series title was tentative, as were the dimensions the comic would have. This illustration was dated February 10–12, 1943.

 

 

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“Adventures of Paul the Apostle, Number 1” Final version

Next week, a seasonally-appropriate sequence will begin, “The Story of Mary.”

Recycling

I started my professional career as a graphic designer in 1987. Like a lot of young people in the publishing industry, I was a big fan of Spy magazine. Spy was a satirical monthly that ran from 1986 to the mid-90s and was based in New York City, like me. There were plenty of interesting components of the magazine, among them “Separated at Birth.” It wasn’t a high-brow feature, and no doubt it’s been parodied to death.

Kreigh Collins often had characters that were inspired by ones from his previous comics. Occasionally ideas were recycled too, but these are examples of the former.

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These examples might not be as elegant as those found in Spy, but they are still pretty interesting. Sometimes it wasn’t so much a recurring character as it was an object.

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“Up Anchor!,” Kreigh’s final comic, was set aboard a representation of his own boat, the 45-foot long Heather. The Bowdoin didn’t feature in any of Kreigh’s comics, but the historic 88-foot long schooner was the design upon which the half-size Heather was based.

Uniquely designed for Arctic exploration, the Bowdoin was launched in 1921.Under the direction of skipper Donald B. MacMillan, it made dozens of trips above the Arctic Circle. Earlier, MacMillan had accompanied Robert Peary on his historic expedition to the North Pole in 1909.

Kreigh’s wife Theresa described how Heather came to be in the article she wrote, and which Kreigh illustrated, “The Wake of the Heather.”

When [Arctic] explorations were in the forefront of the news, a Chicago doctor wrote to the ship’s designer and asked him to design a half-sized schooner, built as she was and able to go anywhere and do anything. The doctor died two years after his boat was launched in 1927, and the superbly built schooner passed on to a succession of owners until we bought her twelve years ago. This is our Heather, little sister of the Bowdoin.

Kreigh and Teddy met MacMillan at Mystic Seaport in the summer of 1966. They had known of Heather’s parentage, and had sought out the Bowdoin. The 92-year-old MacMillan, a rear admiral in the Naval Reserve, invited the couple to dine with him and his wife aboard their boat.

Kreigh and his family sailed Heather for nearly 15 years, and she lived up to her go-anywhere, do-anything billing. Among the places they took her were all of the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, the Hudson River, New York harbor, Long Island Sound, the Cape Cod Canal, Maine, the Bay of Fundy; and the Inter-coastal Waterway, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. I’m not sure if they ever made it to the Bahamas, as a late-1950s newspaper article mentioned, but they certainly covered a lot of water.

Winning the Bet

Having come to the north woods to win a bet, Tim has found no time for bear hunting. It’s a good thing that he has been keeping his archery skills sharp, as he does finally get a chance to use his bow.

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With the accuracy he had displayed twice before, Tim takes a 100-yard shot and pins Waboosh to a tree with an arrow seemingly straight through his heart. It’s grim stuff for the comic strip, but it turns out that Waboosh’s wound is not fatal. And just as the tension eases, Mr. McCoy is startled by another gun-toting local.

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The “Bow and Arrow Bear Hunt” sequence ends neatly, with a chance encounter with an old friend, loose ends being tied up, and the final payment on a debt. “Mitzi McCoy” was hitting its stride nicely as it was about to transition into its most significant chapter to date, “The Christmas Story.”

The Hunt Begins

Features director “East” Lynn was no doubt glad to see Mitzi reappear in Kreigh’s illustrations. In correspondence with his artist, he reminds Collins to portray the heroine in flattering poses, and raved about her “equipment… facial, pectoral and callipygian.” However, Waboosh has also taken notice of her arrival in Roaring Fork, and the stage is set for further conflict.

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Coming to the north woods to hunt bears with a bow has left Tim and the McCoys at a disadvantage when confronted by Waboosh and Toadie. In the October 23 comic, things look especially dire as Waboosh kidnaps Mitzi at gunpoint.

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October 23, 1949: click comic to enlarge.