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.

Brett’s Friends

A new sequence deserves a knock-out opener, and Kreigh Collins delivers.  KTB 122064 BWT 150 qcc

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.

MFG Rarities

Most of the comic strips in my collection were given to me by Kreigh Collins’ son Kevin. My windfall covered about half of my grandfather’s NEA work, printed in one form or another. I received my first large batch from Uncle Kevin in 2008, with other packages arriving later. Between these deliveries, I purchased other comics to fill holes in my collection.

Initially, I bought anything I could afford that I didn’t already have. I soon learned to ignore one-third page comics and focus on half-pagers. Among the printed samples I received from Uncle Kevin were different types of black-and-white proofs, as well as other BW versions. I paid little attention to these; I was focused on the color halves from the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit News.

As I began working my way through my grandfather’s old tearsheets, I learned more about what I had, and a couple things I’d overlooked became more interesting. Included were a few late copies of the Menomonee Falls Gazette. Since I had half-page versions from the Trib of basically all of the comics that ran in the Gazette, I saw little value in these black-and-white tabloid versions. Only lately did I realize that a couple of the Gazettes I had must be extremely rare. Furthermore, they help complete the sequence featuring Benjamin Defoe, Clarissa and Shark Donnelly.

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Following its customary two-month hiatus, issue #233 was dated June 4, 1978. The Gazette still had two sections, but they were now only 12 pages long. Kevin again appeared on the front page of the second section. The strip’s action picked up with Kevin and Clarissa in danger of being jumped by the bad guys while Ben DeFoe makes a desperate lunge aboard Heather. Hit by Shark Donnelly’s shot, Ben fails to get belowdecks but still manages to sew chaos.

Arriving another two months later, the comic in issue #234 was spectacular. Featuring a suspense-building device first proposed (but not used) by Collins for an old Mitzi McCoy comic, Donnelly and DeFoe are shown desperately swimming away from the tinderbox that is the Heather.

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Now THAT’S more like it, a fitting end to this tabloid’s run. The crisp black lines of the Gazette highlight the drama of this final scene. Needless to say, this comic also looks spectacular as a color half-page.

Left at the Altar

From March 1978 issues of the Menomonee Falls Gazette, this Kevin the Bold sequence was originally published sixty years ago (1957). Printed from the original films, the reproductions were excellent, and Kreigh Collins’ strength as an illustrator was evident.

Despite the absence of romance in Kevin’s life, storylines involving lovers periodically ran, as did their drama. As with Mitzi McCoy, Collins enjoyed the freedom of having any character take the lead. Here, a new set of characters is introduced. Kevin doesn’t appear — he isn’t even mentioned.

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Benjamin DeFoe has been pressed into service, leaving his bride jilted at the altar — an interesting twist on the action seen in Mitzi McCoy’s debut comic.

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After a week’s absence, Kevin is briefly introduced. (Originally, it wasn’t clear to me where this action took place — I must have been distracted by the fantastic illustrations.) Meanwhile, Ben finds himself in an ugly situation aboard a beautiful ship — whose namesake Collins himself skippered.

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Heather, circa 1957

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Things are bleak. Ben plans a desperate escape, Clarissa’s heart is broken, and her father, the Lord Mayor, has taken ill. The lone sign of hope is the appearance of Kevin in the comic’s final panel.

Family Characters

Like most artists, Kreigh Collins looked to his family and surroundings for inspiration. Kreigh’s young twins were named Kevin and Glen. Kevin obviously had a major part in his eponymous cartoon strip, whereas Glen didn’t show up until eight years later.

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If you knew my Uncle Glen, you’d appreciate the irony of Pedro’s comment.

The sequence with “little Glenn” lasted nine weeks. Perhaps seeing the inequality of his twins’ like-named characters, Kreigh introduced another Glen six years later. This time, he was an orphan, stranded in the West Indies.

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Even Inky appeared. He was the neighbors’ dog.

Kreigh’s oldest sons, Erik and David, had namesake characters in Collins’ final comic strip, “Up Anchor!” Like Kreigh’s, the Marlin family sailed aboard a schooner named Heather. (In reality, Erik and David were no longer living at home, and neither were redheads).

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Fifteen months into its nearly two-decade run, “Kevin the Bold” introduced a new character, Brett. My brother Brett was Kreigh’s first grandchild, and as with Kevin, the character appeared in the funnies before the actual person was born (in Brett’s case, nearly ten years earlier).

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In “Mitzi McCoy” Stub Goodman drove a loaner car that looked a lot like Kreigh’s.

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Another character with a name from the artist’s real-life experiences appeared in a mid-1955 sequence, “The Castle of the Sleeping Beauty.” A little girl had gotten lost in the woods, and her father, the “great steel maker Temple Roemer” was distraught. Tempel Smith, Kreigh’s brother-in-law, had started a steel-stamping business ten years earlier, and by this time it had grown into a massive steel company.

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Paper Anniversary

In recognition of one year of posting the comics of Kreigh Collins, we will celebrate traditionally. 

Among other papers, “Mitzi McCoy” initially appeared in its beautiful half-page format in the Pittsburgh Press and the Indianapolis Times. Tabloid newspapers, such as the New York Mirror, ran the comic as tabs or half-tabs. In some dailies, such as the Grand Rapids Press, it appeared in black and white.

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Famously appearing from its onset in the prestigious Chicago Sunday Tribune,  “Kevin the Bold” also ran in the Detroit News and other papers. As the Pittsburgh Press had done with “Mitzi,” the Florida Times-Union used “Kevin” to lead off its comic section.

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My collection of comics largely consists of my grandfather’s original samples. They are mostly from the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit News. There are sometimes multiple versions of a particular Sunday, from different papers, in different formats. Entire comic sections are occasionally found, often from newspapers of places Kreigh visited during journeys aboard his schooner Heather.

The inclusion of one of these comic sections always piqued my curiosity. It’s a Tribune section dated December 27, 1959. “Kevin the Bold” is nowhere to be found.  Only recently did I realize the significance — in what must have been a devastating blow to the artist, it marked the point when the Tribune dropped the strip after carrying it for a decade. Notably, “Kevin” does appear in another intact section from the same day’s Detroit News. 

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.