The Greatest Story Ever Told

Kreigh Collins’ version of the Christmas Story, illustrated in comics form, was hailed upon its release. Locally, it was featured as part of a Christmas exhibit at the Ryerson Library in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the event made the December 13, 1949 edition of the Grand Rapids Press. Today, the bulk of Kreigh Collins’ papers and comics illustrations are found in a collection at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Local History Department, housed in the Ryerson building.

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The final instalment of the series is another beautiful reproduction of Collins’ work by the Chicago Tribune. After seeing the initial results of the Trib’s pressmen, the artist showed his appreciation in a letter to A. M. Kennedy, the comics editor for the esteemed paper. No doubt Collins was sincere, but perhaps he was hoping a little praise would help his chances of seeing his regular comic, “Mitzi McCoy,” also grace its pages.

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While “Mitzi” never did make it into the Trib, the Kreigh Collins was successful in crafting a comic (“Kevin the Bold”) that did appeal to A. M. Kennedy and would appear in the Chicago paper within a year.

Merry Christmas!

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

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Fan Mail

Kreigh Collins’ “Christmas Story” initially impressed newspaper editors during its sales phase, and once it was published it impressed the general public. The fourth instalment is another wonderful piece of storytelling, and this time, Stub and Dick Dixon appear more often than in the previous three episodes.

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As was the case during his career as a cartoonist, Kreigh Collins received plenty of mail from readers — positive, negative, and punctilious. One piece of feedback he received caught his attention. In this case, the letter was forwarded to Kreigh from the Chicago Tribune’s office. A reader from Minneapolis offered cautious praise for the first instalment, but took issue with a detail in Collins’ illustration — the saddle of the courier in the first comic’s panel (shown below).

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The reader noted that “according to reliable historians saddles had not been invented until six centuries later.” No doubt Collins bristled, given the countless hours he spent on research, and the fact that he was desperate to impress the executives at the Trib, as he pushed for them to pick up “Mitzi McCoy,” and continue running his work. Kreigh’s response was a classic. He praised the reader while not admitting a mistake, and in a cc to the Trib’s managing editor, tosses off a hillarious encapsulation of himself.

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It’s typical of his wit, and is an expression that I look forward to repeating one day.


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

In Advent

In the autumn of 1949, things were looking rosy for the Kreigh Collins and the NEA. Newspapers that already carried “MItzi McCoy” were praising the upcoming nativity sequence. Fred Ferguson, of the New York Sunday Mirror gushed,  “The MITZI McCOY Christmas Story presentation is certainly a magnificent job. Gosh, but that boy can draw. The stuff is beautiful all the way through and here’s hoping that the sales response justifies all of Collins’ painstaking efforts. The story is also darn well done.”

The NEA’s salesmen were busy knocking on the doors of prospective targets — newspapers that didn’t yet carry “MItzi McCoy” and who might pick up “The Christmas Story” or start running “Mitzi” itself. The first sale was made when the Memphis Commercial-Appeal broke the ice. Several other newspapers would follow, including the Chicago Tribune.

The NEA made a run at a couple of newspapers close to Collins’ homestead in Ada, Michigan — The Grand Rapids Press and the Detroit News. While both papers’ general managers expressed interest in the series, they passed. (The following year, the Press started running “Mitzi” and the News began featuring Collins’ “Kevin the Bold” in 1951).

These days, Christmas preparations seem to come too early, with stores getting decked out for the yuletide season before Thanksgiving has passed. Things were less commercialized in the late 1940s, and the appearance in Advent of a Christmas feature was surely welcome, especially for children, for whom Christmas was the highlight of their year.

Without further ado, here is the third insalment, from 68 years ago today.

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

The Christmas Story in Pictures

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Last week, I forgot to post an accompanying Tribune promotional ad (above) heralding the appearance of its new comic. Not easily overlooked, it is page-high and spans several columns. Somehow I managed. As far as the bit about “internationally famous artist celebrated for his interpretations of Bible stories and personalities,” examples can be found in previous posts on this blog. While “Internationally famous” may have been a bit of a stretch (by the end of 1949, “Mitzi McCoy” had at least appeared in several Canadian papers, in pre-Castro Havana, Cuba’s El Sol, and a Parisian Paper), there is no disputing the acclaim mentioned about Collins’ religious work — Nashville, Tennessee’s Methodist Publishing House published Collins’ “Bible Stories Comics” for five years in the mid-1940s.

Below, the second week’s promotional push: a spot ad and another 24″-tall multiple-column ad. A detail that I especially like is my grandmother’s handwritten dates on the clippings. While my grandfather died young, at  66, his wife Therese (who was Kreigh’s senior) lived to be nearly 102. Among other roles, “Teddy” served as Kreigh’s secretary, muse, model and collaborator, and she delighted everyone she met.

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And finally, here is “tomorrow’s” comic, originally in print 68 years ago today.

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

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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