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.

A Close Shave

“Mitzi McCoy” was designed to have plot lines that could be carried by any of its main characters — Mitzi, Stub Goodman or Tim Graham. In this case, Tim grabs the spotlight, as he is the only regular character appearing in a string of four episodes. “Mitzi” also promised lively adventure, romance and human interest, and with Tim leading the way, the action veers into violence for the first time since Stub Goodman bounced Phil Rathbone from the offices of the Freedom Clarion.

Another strategy “Mitzi”used was to create new characters that would reflect various demographics it was trying to reach as it tried to grow its audience. A previous sequence had brought aboard young Dick Dixon, and Lynn and Collins had discussed the possibility of adding a girl to the Bow and Arrow Bear Hunt chapter. It was decided that a later sequence would feature a schoolgirl, and last week’s comic introduced Mugs, a native boy defended by Tim.

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Fortunately for Tim, his unlikely ally Mugs returns the favor… in spades. Mugs saves Tim once and after being warned away, the boy lingers long enough to save Tim yet again. Later, while setting up camp, stereotypes are shattered and his bond with Mugs is sealed.

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Perhaps reminding readers of the reason he had come to the north woods in the first place, Tim puts on an exhibition of his archery skills for his young friend. The October 2, 1949 comic also features some clever survival skills employed by Mugs. This comic proved to be very popular with Kreigh’s test audience (sons Erik and David, ages eleven and nine). In the final panel, an attractive young native woman heralds the return of the comic’s usual eye appeal, as Mitzi and her father have been summoned to Roaring Fork.

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The Bow and Arrow Bear Hunt

Working with his usual three-month lead time, Kreigh Collins sent his initial story outline to NEA features director Ernest Lynn in mid-May. By this time, after having worked so closely over the past year, the two men had become good friends. Having heard that Ernest’s wife was sick, Kreigh’s wife Teddy had sent her a pair of gloves. By now, Ernest used his nickname, “East,” to sign his letters to Collins.

“Mitzi McCoy”’s sixth sequence was timed to conclude during hunting season, in a bid for more traction with readers. It followed a very successful chapter on the history of the Irish Wolfhound, and wanting to keep his momentum, Kreigh led off with his most alluring illustration of Mitzi to date. Smiling broadly and showing more leg than would fit in the double-decker panel, Mitzi was ready for her close-up.

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The August 28, 1949 offering is a pretty typical transitional comic, in that it’s light-hearted, humorous fare. True to his name, Stub Goodman stubbornly insists he knows all about archery — and of course he finds trouble.

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In the following comic, Tim gets a chance to show off his skills; no doubt these will come in handy soon enough. Mr. McCoy proposes a bet and the stage is set for a change of scenery, including some new, rough-looking characters.

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There are also some other, more attractive characters shown, such as the “squaw” suggested by Lynn who is seen in the third panel. But where there is beauty, there is often ugliness, and Tim’s good intentions have placed him in danger.