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 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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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!

 

The Tournament

Tournament preparations are completed; it is time for the show. The few rules are explained. The dramatic sequence of the Chicago Sunday Tribune’s new comic feature begins.

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With a lot less color and not as much fanfare, the action also unfolded in another recent subscriber to the NEA’s new comic. Kreigh Collins had a longstanding business relationship with a local paper, the Grand Rapids Press, for whom he had previously done illustrations. Like many cities of the era, Grand Rapids had several daily newspapers, but It took a while before any of them started running his comic. (A few months ahead of the strip’s transition to “Kevin,” the Press started running “Mitzi McCoy” in July of 1950).

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Now, with the Trib’s vivid reproduction.

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Kevin followed Stub’s plan to slide off his mount in order to try to lure De Falcon into combat on foot. The only problem — De Falcon is still astride his warhorse, Satan. However, playing possum proves effective, and Kevin avoids the Baron’s coup de grâce.

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Kevin’s own quick thinking leads to his desired outcome of mano a mano, where Stub declared, “On foot, ye’re his better.”

Stub is absolutely correct, as Kevin makes quick work of De Falcon. Claiming the Count’s horse, but sparing his life, Kevin realizes he has done well to allow him to live. He discovers the fallen man’s humanity, and is about to set out on another quest.


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

Training

From its onset, “Kevin the Bold” had much going for it. Kreigh Collins was bursting with enthusiasm for its subject matter, he had the experience and artistic chops to pull of such a period comic, and he had the backing of the Chicago Sunday Tribune to give his work a wider audience. Collins also had a compelling collection of original storylines to illustrate.

The result was some exceptional work. These next three comics neatly distill the essence of the comic strip and its protagonists. Kevin is honorable and humble, yet invincible; MacTavish Campbell MacGregor (“Stub”) is steadfast and loyal; and Moya is cheerful, smart, and beautiful. It’s important to note that as Mitzi McCoy’s ancestor, Moya more closely resembles the heroine of Collins’ earlier comic feature than Kevin and his squire resemble their forebearers, Tim and Stub (despite the older man’s familiar sobriquet). Sadly, Moya does not last long as a prominent character in “Kevin”.

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With the date of his fight against De Falcon looming, Kevin starts training, and he also begins to upgrade his gear. In addition to his Claymore, he now has chain mail. With Stub as his tactician, Kevin gets to work.

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Acknowledging his past heroism, one of Moya’s father’s subject presents Kevin with a horse more suitable for his tournament date. Appropriately, she is mare, leading to a false sense of confidence in Kevin’s opponent. Like Kevin, she is not to be underestimated, an error made by many of Kevin’s adversaries.

The comics also contrast the two sides in the upcoming battle. Despite the obvious differences, maybe Kevin and the Baron have more in common than they realize.

First Impressions

Following the abrupt transformation of the comic strip “Mitzi McCoy” into “Kevin the Bold,” Kreigh Collins was ready with several dynamic storylines for his new hero, and his artwork was equally up to the task.

At the end of the new comic strip’s first chapter, Kevin defeated the Moorish pirates and saved the locals from enslavement. As a reward, Moya McCoy’s father presented Kevin with a historically significant claymore, as well as his distinguished title.

The second chapter of “Kevin the Bold” begins with a marvelous comic. Its splash panel shows a beautifully garbed Moya, as MacTavish Campbell MacGregor is introduced. Upon meeting Moya, “Stub” announces Kevin’s simple credo. Moya instantly takes to the prickly Scotsman and fires a snappy line at her new friend.

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As is often the case, the transitional comics between the main sequences are lighthearted, but action comes to the fore in the next comic, with another exciting splash panel. Stub has resumed Kevin’s training, with our protagonist getting acquainted with his fearsome new weapon. No doubt this training will come in handy at a later time.

The comic also shows the amazing reproductive abilities of Collins’ newest champion, the Chicago Tribune. The Trib typically ran its new feature near the front of its comic section, and the newspaper was able to showcase the Kreigh’s skills with its own superb coloring, including a very nice example of aerial perspective in the ninth panel.

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Significantly, this panel shows a distant bell tower, which calls Kevin to action.

 

 

Serie magasinet 13

[Update: in my haste to figure out anything about the following comic, I originally misidentified it as Danish. It is, in fact, Swedish. My apologies! If you have any information on this comic book series, please feel free to leave a comment; the comments link is rather buried at the bottom of the post. Thank you].

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I do not speak Swedish, but I wish I did. This comic book caught my eye with the mention of “MItzi McCoy” among its coverlines. Knowledge of Swedish would come in handy in comparing the dialog of the Mitzi comics it contained to the original English, as it originally appeared in late 1940s.

I had been aware of Kreigh Collins’ comics being reprinted for Australian markets, and also for Argentina. I’d even come across some Norwegian and Swedish comics. Usually these reprints all featured “Kevin the Bold.” But this one was a surprise, bringing Mitzi back nearly 30 years after the original Sunday comics ran.

Serie magasinet 13 runs 68 pages, with plenty of preliminary action before what is for me, the main event. Inside there are a couple sequences of “Dredger,” and one each of “Harry Chase,” “Kerry Drake,” and something called “Larm I Distrikt 94.” Forgive me, I no nothing about these comics. I suspect at least one is of Scandinavian origin, as a female character is shown without the clothing typical of mainstream American comics.

Starting on page 31 is the second sequence from “Mitzi McCoy”’. Its six comics were originally published from January to March in 1949. They show all of the strip’s main characters, and feature Stub Goodman’s Irish Wolfhound, Tiny, in his fist heroic role.

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The comics are reproduced pretty much as they originally appeared as tabloids in the Sunday papers, with their throwaway panels omitted. The only real alteration I could spot is the artificial creation of the opening sequence’s splash panel (only the bottom half appeared in the original). Curious as to what “Valpen” meant, I learned it meant “the puppy.”

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I was disappointed to see there was no translation evident of “Plutten,” Tiny’s name in the Swedish version of the comic (written on his doghouse).

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The comics were reproduced from original proofs supplied by the NEA — it’s great to see Collins’ crisp black and white line work. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of these proofs at this time is unknown. Meanwhile, I’m trying to track down information on other Serie comic books.

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 they 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.