Christmas in July, Part 3

My guess is that the tales featured in the three-week “Legends of Christmas” comic strip were stories Kreigh Collins had come across during his extensive historical research. The first week’s comic were unusual, and did not really hang together, but they certainly presented a view of Christmas that is completely absent today.

The longer story of Peter that ran over the strip’s final two weeks has better continuity, but is still quite unusual. While it may be a story Collins came across in his research, I wonder how much of it was his own. Like Peter, Kreigh was an only child; both were extremely devoted to their mother. Kreigh’s father worked as a construction engineer, and while he often moved his family with him as his work took to various parts of the United States, at other times he was away from home an extended period (like Peter’s father).

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I have never seen printed examples of this comic. While the quality of these comics is not so great, at least they all have been preserved digitally. Season’s greetings — only 113 shopping days ’til Christmas!

Christmas in July, part 2

The second week of Kreigh Collins’ daily “Legends of Christmas” comic featured an easier-to-follow legend. It starred Peter, a young boy trying to care for his ailing mother while his father was away.

Speaking of legends, joining the bastions of journalism that appeared last week (The Manhattan Mercury, Hazleton Standard-Speaker and Terre Haute Star) is the one and only Kingston Daily Freeman.

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The medicine Peter brought his mother worked wonders — she looks radiant!

Christmas in July

Kreigh Collins’ comics were familiar to readers of Sunday funnies, and periodically there were discussions with his bosses at the Newspaper Enterprise Association about changing “Mitzi McCoy” or “Kevin the Bold” into a daily. Although these plans never came to fruition, in 1965 Collins illustrated a short-lived seasonal daily for the NEA called “Legends of Christmas.”

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Running in various small-market papers that were typical for the NEA, the “Legends of Christmas” comics are rather curious, and despite their yuletide theme, there was room to squeeze in a little anti-Soviet Cold War-era commentary (December 8). Take thatBrezhnev!

A tip of the cap to Alec Stevens of Calvary Comics for sending these comics my way!

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A Harsh Mistress

With a sudden storm having wrecked their sailboat, Kevin and Bunny desperately cling to its swamped hull.

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With word of her husband’s rescue coming via radio and newspaper, Jane betrays a bit of jealousy toward her husband’s co-star. However, her fears are assauged with the arrival of a telegram, which reveals Bunny’s true colors.

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On reflection, it’s interesting to note the “modern” touches of these late-period comics of Collins (e.g., the pasted up photostat of the Western Union Telegram); I guess everything is relative, even the groovy dialog.

The sequence immediately following this one ran previously on this blog, and can be viewed here.

The Line Squall

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As he’s escorted around Hollywood by his co-star and director, Kevin learns how the movie game is played. As the action in the comic intensifies, the mood of the topper strip “Water Lore” darkens.

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Jane trusts her husband Kevin enough to ignore the rumors propagated by the Hollywood hype machine — or is she just putting on a brave face? Meanwhile, Kevin and Bunny are lost at sea without ship-to-shore communication. Rescue efforts get under way, and Pedro manages to press the spineless movie star Cecil Dunn into service.

Of note: movie director Rex Fox bears a certain resemblance to one of Collins’ old “Mitzi McCoy” characters, publisher Stub Goodman. Stub was based on the character Frank from the 1947 novel by Thomas W. Duncan, “Gus the Great.” Like Stub, Frank was a newspaperman, and a very richly developed character. Midway through the book, he retires to California (and to my disappointment, isn’t heard from again). It’s nice to see one possible outcome was Frank’s reinvention as a Hollywood director.

Stub on the phone

Balance

If one was to include the pre-Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) weekly “Bible Stories Comics,” Kreigh Collins’ comics career lasted nearly three decades.  “Up Anchor” was his final comic, and it ran for nearly three and a half years.

As summer ended in 1959, Collins and his family packed up his sailboat and headed south. They ended up spending a year on the boat, traveling down the Mississippi, and wintering in Florida. He continued with his work while aboard Heather, producing artwork for the comic as his family’s journey progressed.

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With help from the NEA, Collins was happy to do promotion for his work, and given his unique situation as a sailing snowbird, this was sometimes front-page news. In an interview with the Panama City News-Herald that appeared in the daily’s November 1, 1959 edition, Collins explained how he was able to do it: “Maintaining a comic strip is a high-pressure sort of thing. You’re dealing with it every day, meeting deadlines, writing scripts, doing the artwork, and so on. To stay normal, you just about have to have your mental balance.” The article continued, Collins maintains his balance by writing children’s books, adventure stories, and travel articles. He also considers his 45-foot yacht a mental life saver. 

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A syndicate proof of the comic that appeared in Panama City News-Herald, above 

 

 

After “Kevin the Bold” had run its course, Collins launched his next comic, “Up Anchor!,” in 1968. He used many of his family’s experiences aboard Heather as fodder for his scripts, but much of the material came from his imagination. While there was talk in 1966 of spinning off “Kevin” into a television show, movies weren’t really in the conversation. Nonetheless, Hollywood did come into focus in one of the final sequences of “Up Anchor!”

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The original illustrations for the comics that will follow in the next several weeks are all in the collection of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Targeting a younger demographic

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The light-hearted sequence with young Will Shakespeare continues, and so do the cribbed lines. Looking them up is a nice way to be introduced to some of Shakespeare’s body of work, and I imagine Kreigh Collins and his editor had fun working them into the dialog. Who knew? (not me), there’s some good stuff in there. O tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide, and prepare to die… this stuff would keep me coming back for more if I was a reader of mid-’60s Sunday comics… which I guess I was, sort of (well, big brother Brett anyway).

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Standing in front of our ’64 Ford Fairlane 500, from left to right, Edward Bear, Brian, and Brett (holding the Detroit News’ comics section).

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The sequence is nearing its curtain, but there is still time for more fun with Shakespeare’s lines (Kill me tomorrow…).

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Overall, the sequence is more whimsical than any other I can think of, as far as “Kevin the Bold” is concerned. Its mood is more reminiscent of “Mitzi McCoy,” and it serves as a nice change of pace from Kevin’s usual antics dealing with despots, pirates and thugs. It is followed by another sequence in which Brett plays a prominent role, likely these were an attempt to engage younger readers.

Stealing from the Best

Kevin comes to Will and Brett’s aid by dispersing the unruly crowd from the Unicorn.

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As the sequence unfolds, and the references to Shakespeare’s work appear, let me count the ways (oops, that’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Begins with a street brawl, check. Teenagers in love, rival houses, corny dialog (sorry), check, check, check. Oh wait, here comes a balcony scene. (I’m going to need that ladder to keep cherry picking like this).

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Liberties were clearly taken with a couple of Shakespeare’s lines in the January 17 comic, and if the final double-decked panel isn’t a visual representation of a tempest, than I’ll be a monkey’s grandson.

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Did I miss any? If so, I’d love to see any references a better-trained eye can spot.

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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Kevin

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This photo shows two characters named Kevin.

A good chunk of my comics collection was given to me by my Uncle Kevin, and it has long been our hope to see Kreigh Collins’ comics published in book form.

Just released and available on Amazon.com, Kevin the Bold: Sunday Adventures, is a 154-page collection including all the comics published from September 5, 1954 to June 2, 1957. In their entirety are 14 different sequences with over 140 comics.

Kevin the Bold: Sunday Adventures features Kevin’s exploits on land and sea, from England to Italy to Eastern Europe. Villains include the evil Russian ruler Sarrov, whose plan to “Create disturbances in all Europe… thus we will grow stronger as others grow weak” resonates today. Also featured are Collins’ gorgeous landscapes, seascapes, beautiful damsels in distress, and dramatic action sequences.

Plans are afoot for other books featuring Kreigh Collins’ comics, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.