(Belated) #PrideMonth ProFile Friday
Katherine Shannon Collins (born Arnold Alexander Saba, Jr., July 6, 1947, in Vancouver, British Columbia), formerly Arn Saba, is a Canadian cartoonist, writer, media personality, stage performer, and composer.
Born of a Lebanese-Canadian father and a Scottish-Canadian mother (Miriam Allison McBain), Collins grew up in the affluent Kerrisdale district of Vancouver. Her maternal great-grandmother was Mary Adda “Dolly” Collins (née Rombaugh), a painter, writer and illustrator in the Winnipeg area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was in her honour that Katherine Collins took her surname. Saba’s (Collins’s) mother was also a writer and cartoonist, who gave her child her first lessons. Saba attended Kerrisdale Elementary School, Point Grey Secondary School, and Magee Secondary School, with slightly-better than average grades.
In 1965, Collins, then known as Arn Saba, began the University of British Columbia on a creative writing scholarship, but devoted almost all her time while at UBC to the campus twice-weekly paper, The Ubyssey, where she created her first comic strip, Moralman (1965–1968), and also wrote and illustrated articles.
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 program Morningside, where she usually paired with host Don Harron for free-wheeling discussions of favourite old comic strips and other pop culture. She also wrote, produced and acted in scores of comedy skits. Saba made similar appearances on CBC Television, on the Don McLean show. In her appearances Saba demonstrated, with humor, her enthusiasm and knowledge of cartooning, comics history, theatre and music.
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. Saba spent several years in late 1970s and early 1980s travelling throughout North America, interviewing famous cartoonists, many of them at that point quite old. (Many of these lengthy interviews were later published in The Comics Journal in the 1980s and 1990s.)
In 1982, Saba moved to California, ceasing all other media activity in favour of cartooning.
Saba/Collins’ most famous creation is Neil the Horse. The series ran in Canadian newspapers from 1975-1982 via the Great Lakes Publishing syndicate located in Toronto. It subsequently appeared in fifteen 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, Saba 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.
Saba had a vaudevillian approach, changing the format of the 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 columns, the characters themselves “answered” the mail. To top it off, there were paper dolls and fashion pages, in the tradition of Katy Keene. Neil the Horsewas 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.
Saba 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. Saba’s business partner for these attempts was John Gertz, president of Zorro Productions of Berkeley, California.
In 1982, Saba wrote a two-and-a-half hour radio musical called Neil and the Big Banana that was twice broadcast in five episodes, in Canada on CBC Radio. Saba wrote the book, music and lyrics, and played the part of Neil. The play was unanimously reviewed with raves across the country, but subsequent efforts to mount later musical-comedy projects were unsuccessful— Collins later learned that the most promising producer rejected the stage musical because he had been informed of her transition (which was in the early stages at that point).
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.
Since 1993, Collins has officially been living as a woman. In January 1995, a few months after her reassignment surgery, the Collins met Dr. Bobbie Bentley (Barbara Ellen Bentley), who quickly became her domestic partner and great love. Bentley, a physician who had been forced to retire by a brain injury in a car accident, was a “bulldyke” (her term) or butch lesbian, who dressed in snappy, well-pressed men’s clothes. Until Bentley’s death from cancer in July 1999, Collins happily termed herself Bentley’s wife, and they collaborated together on a number of projects within San Francisco’s transgender community, including Bobbie’s election in 1997 as “Mr. ETVC”. Collins and Bentley were planning to be married in Canada at the time of Bentley’s death, and Collins later began calling herself “the widow Bentley”.
In 2005, after fifteen years in San Francisco, Collins was deported under the USA PATRIOT Act for “crimes of moral turpitude,” an old conviction for possession of psilocybin mushrooms. Back in her hometown of Vancouver, Collins fell ill and was eventually diagnosed with leukemia. In 2008, she declared herself on the way to a full recovery.
A collection of Neil the Horse is forthcoming from Hermes Press.