“... Having lived in San Francisco since 1990, Collins was deported from the United States in 2005, under the Patriot Act, for "crimes of moral turpitude".
In 1965, Collins began the University of British Columbia on a Creative Writing scholarship, but devoted almost all her time while at UBC to the campus daily paper, The Ubyssey, where she created her first comic strip, Moralman (1965-1968), and also wrote and illustrated articles.
Collins discontinued going to UBC after the 1967-68 year, opting instead to risk a career in the arts. In June 1968, with her creative partner Gordon Fidler, she spent a 6-month internship in Montreal, at the National Film Board of Canada. This award was given on the strength of Fidler and Collins's one-hour experimental comedy film, Dancing Nigel (1965-66) (starring Collins). While at the NFB, she directed and edited a short musical film, Euphoria, which frankly celebrated hippies and drug use. It was distributed by the NFB, but not for very long.
In 1969 and 1972, Collins and Fidler co-created two books, The Magenta Frog, and The Second Magenta Frog, billed as "children's books for adults". Collins made most of her income, 1969-73, peddling these books in coffee houses and on campuses, from Vancouver to San Francisco. In 1972-73, Katherine and Fidler were given a Canadian Film Development Corporation grant for a feature film, Birdland, which was filmed, but never completed when she and Fidler went their separate ways.
From 1974-77, Katherine Collins was Art Director for Pacific Yachting magazine (Vancouver), and other magazines from InterPress Publications, while at the same time developing her cartooning, and becoming a member of a stage troupe, Circus Minimus (founded by Ida Carnevali), which toured British Columbia doing avant-garde and experimental circus-like shows for all ages. On stage, she first played Clancy the Cop (later a cartoon character), and then Professor Smoothie, a know-nothing braggart whose forté was being booed off the stage amidst a hail of thrown garbage from the audience. She also wrote and performed songs for Circus Minimus.
In 1975, Collins began appearances on Vancouver's local CBC Radio programmes, as a commentator and comedian.
In 1977, she moved to Toronto, to try for success in a larger arena. She immediately began appearing on, and eventually producing, segments of the popular national CBC Radio programme, Morningside, where she usually paired with host Don Harron for free-wheeling discussions of favourite old comic strips and other pop culture; as well, she wrote, produced and acted in scores of comedy skits. She also made similar appearances on CBC Television, on the Don McLean show. In her appearances she demonstrated, with humor, her enthusiasm and knowledge of cartooning, comics history, theatre and music. Some of these radio and TV appearances can now be found online.
In 1978, she began writing articles on pop-culture topics (mostly comics) for national Canadian magazines, such as Weekend, The Canadian, Quest, and others.
In 1979, she wrote and produced a five-part radio documentary on CBC, The Continuous Art, exploring the cultural position of comics. It featured interviews with some of cartooning's greatest names, including Milton Caniff, Hal Foster (his last interview), Floyd Gottfredson, Hugo Pratt, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer and Russ Manning. Collins spent several years (late seventies - early eighties) travelling throughout North America, interviewing famous cartoonists, many of them old. (Many of these lengthy interviews were later printed uncut in The Comics Journal in the 1980s and 90s.)
In 1982, Collins moved (for the first of four times) to California, ceasing all other media activity in favour of cartooning.
Neil the Horse
Katherine's most famous creation is Neil the Horse. The series ran in Canadian newspapers from 1975-1982 (Great Lakes Publishing syndicate, Toronto); and in 15 comic book issues from 1983-1988, published by Aardvark-Vanaheim/Renegade Press.
With a drawing style based in Disney comics, as well as in early-20th-Century Sunday pages, Collins added something new to comics: music. The motto for the series was "Making the World Safe for Musical Comedy," and many issues of the comic book feature the characters singing and dancing. When the characters are shown hoofing it, it is to original choreography.
Katherine had a vaudevillian approach, changing the format of her comics several times within each issue. This variety act included the comic strip, comic book stories, illustrated stories, originally composed sheet music, crossword puzzles, joke pages and more. In the letters column, the characters themselves answered the mail. To top it off, there were paper dolls and fashion pages, in the Katy Keene tradition. It seems like a modern version of early twentieth-century hardbound children's annuals (especially in Britain) using an endless variety of formats, something rarely seen in comics.
Some of the material were reprints from Katherine's newspaper comic strip versions of the same characters. At its best, the material was inspiring. Her "Fred Astaire Tribute" (issues 11 and 13) showed the cartoonist at the top of her form.
The stars of Neil the Horse include Mam'Selle Poupée (French for doll), Soapy (an alley-cat) and of course Neil. Poupée's body is jointed like a Barbie figurine. With the red circles on her cheeks, curly hair, large bust and thin waistline, the French-accented Poupée appears to be a cross between Raggedy-Ann and Dolly Parton. The more developed comics stories involving the three characters show that Soapy and Neil's adventures primarily revolve around the trio's attempts to attain show-business success. Neil is a happy go-lucky (and not too bright) horse with a mania for bananas. Soapy is street-wise and cynical (with a heart of gold), a cigar-smoker and a drinker, who serves as their manager and the brains of the operation. All three of the characters sing, dance, and play music.
While existing as a fantasy with nostalgic style, the stories and style within Neil the Horse also pay tribute to the present (the 1980s). Poupee wears headbands and works out à la Olivia Newton-John. Neil gets down and breakdances in urban city streets to the accompaniment of a boom box. In "Video Wars" (issues 4-7), the gang comes in contact with characters that inhabit an arcade game.
Katherine Collins also completed a graphic-novel-length Neil the Horse adventure, and an illustrated Neil children's book, that have yet to be published. The final issue of the comic book series demonstrate her prolonged and elaborate efforts to pitch Neil as an animated series. From 1998-93, the "property" (Neil and characters) was optioned three times by Hollywood studios and networks, but was never produced. Her business partner for these attempts was John Gertz, president of Zorro Productions (Berkeley, CA).
There was also a 1982 Neil the Horse musical radio adventure (Neil the Horse and The Big Banana) that was twice broadcast in five episodes, in Canada on CBC Radio. Katherine wrote the book, music and lyrics, and played the part of Neil. The play was unanimously reviewed with raves across the country, but her subsequent efforts to mount her later musical-comedy projects were unsuccessful. In 1986, Katherine wrote and produced a twelve-song Neil the Horse music tape, with all new material, which was sold through the comic book. Both the play and the tape were produced with a full twelve-piece band, and live tap-dancers, in jazzy Broadway style.
After Neil the Horse
Neil the Horse comics were published from 1983 to 1988. In 1993 Katherine Collins changed gender to become a woman, in the process dropping the name Arn Saba and adopting that of Katherine Collins. She gave up cartooning in the mid-1990s after her Neil the Horse graphic novel could not be published, and her commercial cartooning work was not lucrative. She has shied from any publishing or public presence since then, except for two issues as Art Director of TNT (Transsexual News Telegraph) magazine, 1999-2000.
Having lived in San Francisco since 1990, Collins was deported from the United States in 2005, under the Patriot Act, for "crimes of moral turpitude". (She had an old conviction for possessing psilocybin mushrooms.) She now lives in Vancouver, Canada. In 2005, she was diagnosed with AML Leukemia, and entered treatment at St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver.
- Katherine Collins creator profile page
- The Comics in Canada: An Illustrated History: Introducing Arn Saba's Neil The Horse 1977 audio interview
- Alternative Visions, 1975-1988
- Arn Saba's Musical: A Retrospective Reading [dead link]
- Now You See Me
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia: Neil the Horse
Perhaps Canada's Socialized Medicine is the silver lining in this cloud.