The outline continues. Here is the beginning of the sentence from page 1: The story is high blown prose describing the utter fatigue of the artiste and the mountain…
The first paragraph is a pretty accurate description of the July 10 episode, taken from a photograph of the original artwork, which is found in a collection at the Grand Rapids Public Library..
It is a delight, both in its overall appearance and in some of the details hidden within. In the first panel showing Yo Delle and his manager, Notty Pine is shown to be bald—something fans of the “cowboy ventriloquist” wouldn’t notice, since the dummy’s costume included a cowboy hat. In the following panel, the crew stops at a roadside diner called Tomain Tommy’s, a play on a (now obsolete) term describing food poisoning, “ptomaine”). The final panel has an eerie quality, with manager Billy Buildup looking over his shoulder—he apparently has the car in reverse—and taken out of context, Notty Pine’s crack seems strangely contemporary.
From the outline, “Page 2 — June” (i.e., the July 17 episode) turned out not to be a “half and half” with more Irish wolfhound backstory, but a simplified version showing the new characters getting established on shore, identified as Manitou Island. In reality, Manitou is actually two islands, North and Sound Manitou, and they are located to the west of Michigan’s “pinkie,” about a dozen miles away from the town of Leland. Leland is the town in which Collins situated the prototype episode he created for NEA, “Tom Match and Stub;” here is evidence that MITZI McCOY was also set in Leland (an area that Collins spent a couple summers early in his career, when his focus was landscape painting).
The outline is quite specific in its description of the island—I would posit that Collins had read about such geographical features somewhere along the way.
About ten years ago, when I started collecting my grandfather’s comics in earnest, I received a large package from my Uncle Kevin. It contained hundreds of KEVIN THE BOLD and MITZI McCOY episodes (including the entire run of MITZI). Because I had talked with (Uncle) Kevin about putting together a book featuring his namesake, I was less interested in the MITZIs. Later, when the idea of publishing a compilation of a comic feature that ran for nearly two decades became too daunting, I recalculated and set my sites on Kreigh Collins’ first NEA feature. Around this time, my uncle sent me another massive shipment—many more Sunday strips, but also some odds and ends.
Among the miscellanea was the envelope shown above, postmarked February 1987, from Wadsworth, Illinois. Tempel Farms was the home of Aunt Esther, my grandmother’s sister. Because the husbands of both Theresa and Esther had passed, the two women spent much time together, including at Aunt Esther’s winter home in Naples (where the letter was delivered). My grandmother’s handwriting indicates the envelope was for Eleanor Burgess, with whom I am not familiar. The contents all related to my grandfather’s comics career, but by the time I opened it, it seems the envelope had become a sort of catchall, a little time capsule, circa 1949. There was a letter typed by Kreigh (the numerous typos were a dead giveaway)—it mentioned the possibility of starting a second comic strip. Also included was a plot outline for one of the chapters of MITZI McCOY, and about a half dozen MITZI episodes, half-tabloids likely from the New York Sunday Mirror—but not the episodes covered in the plot outline. Unable to make sense of the package, I put it aside and got busy scanning and cataloguing all my new comics.
Later, after having done research for my MITZI collection, the contents of the envelope started to make more sense, and as this blog celebrates its sixth anniversary, now seems like a good time to delve further into this enigma. The second strip referred to brief discussions Collins had about creating one with a religious theme (like his earlier BiblePictureStories), and whether he would be bound to his current employer (NEA), or if he could negotiate with another syndicate, such as King Features.
Revisiting the plot outline, and now more familiar with MITZI McCOY, I was surprised to see how closely the finished episodes hewed to Collins’ original plan. His boss, Ernest “East” Lynn, was a heavy-handed editor inclined to nitpick and tinker, and prior to the publication of my MITZI collection (ahem, The Lost Art of Kreigh Collins, The Complete Mitzi McCoy), much of the information I read online gave others credit for the storylines my grandfather illustrated (such as this well-written blog post by my future collaborator, Frank M. Young).
Because of the long advance time needed to create a weekly Sunday comics feature, the outline for these episodes would have been written 3–4 months before the corresponding strips were published. In this instance, that would mean roughly March, 1949. In the late 1940s, Kreigh Collins and his family wintered on Anna Maria Island, a barrier island located at the southern tip of the mouth of Tampa Bay. For two or three months, the family would escape the snowy West Michigan winters and stay in a rented cottage, with sons Eric and David temporarily enrolled in a local elementary school. Later in his career, Collins and his family would spend even longer periods away from home, plying the Great Lakes and beyond in a sailboat.
The story outline is for what became MITZI’s fifth chapter. In my MITZI McCOY collection, I titled it “The History of the Irish Wolfhound,” but it’s really more about Stub Goodman, the editor of a smalltown newspaper, and Dick Dixon, an erstwhile runaway who ends up working for Stub at the Freedom Clarion. Tiny, Stub’s Irish Wolfhound, also plays a major role. By design, any of MITZI’s primary characters could take the lead in a given sequence—this time, Mitzi herself doesn’t show up until the third episode, and then only in a supporting role.
I can’t guarantee Collins banged this out while basking in the Florida sun, but I’d like to imagine that’s exactly how it happened.
The first paragraph mentions some new characters, and although Collins was open to having them return at some point in the future, they never did. One minor change is that the action occurred over eight episodes, not seven, but beyond that, it’s an accurate prediction of the final product. Six months into the strip’s run, Tiny had already become a reader’s favorite, and to capitalize on this, Collins suggested a splash panel with an eye-catching closeup of the dog. Lynn and the suits at the NEA were pleased with the results, and printed promotional slicks to woo potential clients.
In the outline, June 26 was the target date for the first episode of the story; this episode was actually split across two weeks. This sort of recalibration was not unusual—apparently an episode from an earlier sequence was also spread out over two weeks, as the chapter debuted a week later, on July 3, 1949.
Notably, this chapter was one of the most influential of MITZI’s short run—the device of having Stub narrate a story to a youngster would recur in Collins’ future work, and the throwback visuals shown here foretell what was to come 15 months later when MITZI morphed into KEVIN THE BOLD.
“The History of the Irish Wolfhound,” and its outline, continues next week.
“The Lost Art of Kreigh Collins, the Complete Mitzi McCoy,” is available for a limited time at a reduced price; it features the entire run of Kreigh Collins’ first NEA feature.
MITZI McCOY ran from 1948 to 1950 and showcased Kreigh Collins’ skill as an illustrator and storyteller. His picturesque landscapes, lovely character designs, and thrilling action sequences brimmed with detail and charm, and the strip’s ensemble cast rotated in and out of the spotlight taking turns as protagonists in the dozen story arcs collected in this volume. The last story collected in “The Complete Mitzi McCoy” is the narrative bridge that set Collins and his characters off on a new journey, beautifully told for the next couple of decades in the much-lauded adventure strip Kevin the Bold.
The collection includes an introduction by Eisner Award-winning author Frank M. Young, an Afterward by Ithaca College’s Ed Catto, and previously unpublished artwork and photos. Longtime comics artist Butch Guice also provides a new pin-up of the character Mitzi McCoy.
The book costs $30ONLY $20! For domestic shipping, add $4; for international orders, add $25 for first class shipping. To place an order, leave a comment below or email me at BrianEdwardCollins1[at]gmail.com, and I will give you PayPal information.