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!

 

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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

Smooth Sailing

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Eager to get his friend involved in the movie business, Pedro’s idea is to have Kevin’s wife Jane talk him into it. Jane is leery of the possibility of losing her man to a famous Hollywood starlet, but seems to go along with the plan —  she and Kevin are eventually persuaded by the easy money.

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As the sequence gets off the ground, the action is very light, but there are some interesting details to be noticed. The “Water Lore” topper strips have some nice illustrations of various watercraft to accompany Collins’ observations, technical diagrams, and historical tid-bits. The March 7 topper references the artist’s home port of Holland, Michigan, which was located a short drive from the tiny village of Ada, where Kreigh lived with his family. Another notable from Ada was Amway founder Richard DeVos. DeVos went into business about the same time as Collins started cartooning, and one part of the Amway empire included an air charter service. Collins name-checked his friend in the March 14 comic.

It’s been smooth sailing through this sequence’s first few episodes, but how long can that last?

 

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.

An Amazing Lad

As the sequence with Tim continues, a sweet vignette is shown. The boy quickly learns aspects of sailing with which he wasn’t already familiar, and shows he’s an asset, not a liability. But before the comic transforms into a PSA on inclusiveness, a villain appears on the horizon, and tension is created.

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As a cruising family, any time spent at a port is an opportunity to restock the galley. Given Tim’s limitations, the logical decision is made to leave him in charge of Heather while the family walks into town.

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While the motivations of the man who cut the barge loose weren’t discussed, Tim’s quick thinking saved Heather and himself, and provides an example of the sort of drama to be found while sailing.

The Intracoastal

Generally, Kreigh Collins scripted all of his comics. “Up Anchor!” is narrated by wife Jane Marlin, and in fact, Kreigh’s wife Theresa (Teddy) collaborated on the writing and plot development of the strip.

Following the storm, the family is reunited, and repair work begins. Jane Marlin’s comment in the fifth panel (about never lacking things to tell her grandchildren) is something that resonates with me personally. Late in her life she shared an oral history about her life with my grandfather, and the document is a fascinating read about their history together.

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The hurricane sequence transitions into a new story, and a new character is introduced. Although disabled, Tim proves to be more than capable as he gets a taste of his passion, boating.

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Hurricane Hole

Much of the action in “Up Anchor!” was based on events experienced by Kreigh Collins and his family as they sailed aboard their 45-foot schooner, Heather. Artistic license was exercised — I doubt they encountered any hurricanes sailing north in late-spring of 1960. The following two sequences are based on this voyage.

These images come from Kreigh’s original illustrations, many of which are now in the collection of the Grand Rapids Public Library. The originals feature the topper strip “Water Lore,” which would periodically reflect the action in the main strip. When the comic appeared in broadsheet papers, it generally ran as a one-third page, and the topper was omitted. However, in tabloids, the topper would appear (although without its second panel, which served as a throwaway).

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As the storm hits, Kevin and Jane Marlin realize that part of their crew is missing — younger son Dave has disappeared. In real life, Kreigh’s sons Erik and David were only two years apart, but in the comic the age difference is greater. This change helps differentiate them in the strip, and as Kevin heads out in search of the young boy, Erik helps by having already water-proofed a walky-talky. (As Erik’s son, I especially appreciate seeing this character’s smart moves).

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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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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.