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|Neil the Horse|
|First appearance||newspaper strip: 1975|
comics: Charlton Bullseye #2 (July 1981)
|Created by||Arn Saba|
|Neil the Horse Comics and Stories|
|Series publication information|
|Publication date||(Aardvark-Vanaheim series)|
Feb. 1983 – Dec. 1984
(Renegade Press series)
Apr. 1985 – Aug. 1988
(Conundrum Press collection)
|Number of issues||15|
|Main character(s)||Neil the Horse|
Neil the Horse is a comic book character created by Canadian cartoonist Arn Saba (now Katherine Collins) in 1975. Neil is a happy, singing and dancing horse who likes bananas and milkshakes. Neil's adventures were syndicated in Canadian newspapers, published in a comic book series, and adapted for a radio musical.
The comic book series featured Neil and his friends Soapy the Cat and Mam'selle Poupée. All three of the characters sing, dance, and play music. The more developed comics stories primarily revolve around the trio's attempts to attain show-business success. While existing as a fantasy with nostalgic style, Neil the Horse also pays tribute to the era it was made (the 1980s). A typical issue included a story in prose with illustrations, a few short comic strips, and a longer comic-strip adventure.
Mam'selle Poupée is a hopeless romantic living doll from France. 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. She wears headbands and works out à la Olivia Newton-John. In "Video Wars" (issues 4-7), the gang comes in contact with characters that inhabit an arcade game.
Soapy is a street-wise and cynical (with a heart of gold) orange cat, a cigar-smoker and a drinker, who serves as their manager and the brains of the operation.
Neil the Horse started life in 1975 as a weekly newspaper comic strip, self-syndicated by Vancouver cartoonist Saba to Canadian regional newspapers. In 1977, Saba and Toronto cartoonist Jeff Wakefield (Bubblegummers) joined forces to found 'Great Lakes Publishing" (GLP), a cartoon syndicate dedicated to promoting Canadian newspaper comics. At its height, GLP sold weekly comic strips, including Neil the Horse, to about 30 newspapers. GLP quietly faded out of existence in 1982. The early Neil strips were reprinted in The Menomonee Falls Guardian.
For the first two years, Neil was a double-tier comedy-adventure continuity strip, afterward switching to a single-tier gag format. The purported gags were highly surreal, and in fact at times deliberately nonsensical and without a real punchline. Saba has referred to these strips as having "symbolized a comic strip", rather than actually being one.
Neil the Horse Comics and Stories
In 1980 and 1981, Neil the Horse appeared as a comics feature in the Canadian Children's Annual, and The 1980 Comics Annual, published by Potlatch Publications of Hamilton, Ontario. Neil the Horse's first comic book appearance was in Charlton Comics's Charlton Bullseye #2 (July 1981). Much of this work was seen by Dave Sim and Deni Loubert of the Kitchener, Ontario-based publisher Aardvark-Vanaheim, which led to their offering to publish a Neil as a periodical comic book.
Neil the Horse Comics and Stories was published between 1983 and 1988 - first by Aardvark-Vanaheim and then by Renegade Press, also under Deni Loubert. Issues #11 and 13 of Neil the Horse involved a tribute to Fred Astaire with song-and-dance routines that flowed from page to page. Letters to Neil the Horse were always (ostensibly) "answered" by Neil and his friends, instead of the comics' creator. Some of the material were reprints from the 1970s newspaper comic strip.
Creator Saba always worked with other cartoonists as assistants/collaborators. His primary pairings were with David Roman of Toronto and Barb Rausch of Los Angeles, both of whom assisted with plotting and penciling. It was common for the original art pages to be sent by courier back and forth between the two cities to be worked on; throughout the 1980s Saba frequently moved back and forth from one city to the other, and as well often worked while in transit, setting up a temporary studio in guest rooms and even once in a gazebo in Oakland, California.
The last published appearance of Neil the Horse was in 1991, in the last issue of Fantagraphics' Critters. In 2017 Conundrum Press announced plans to collect the full 15-issue series as The Collected Neil the Horse.
Animation adaptation attempts
Saba's ambition was to adapt Neil for animation — preferably a full-length feature, but failing that, a television series. To that end, starting in 1985, he began a major adaptation effort, employing David Roman and a fluctuating number (3-12) of experienced animation artists and writers. As a business partner, John Gertz of Berkeley, California-based Zorro Productions was the salesman, advisor, and liaison with Hollywood studios. Between 1988 and 1993, Neil was "optioned" several times by major animation studios and television networks, but no program was ever produced.
In 1982 Arn 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.
In 1986, Saba 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.
- Tobias, Conan. "Katherine Collins, creator of the comic Neil the Horse, gets back in the saddle", Quill and Quire (May 2017).
- Andy. "The Collected Neil the Horse," Conundrum Press official website (April 5, 2017).
- Neil the Horse (Aardvark-Vanaheim) at the Grand Comics Database
- Neil the Horse at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
- Bell, John. "Alternative Visions, 1975-1988," Beyond the Funnies (June 24, 2002)
- Katherine Collins at Prism Comics
- "Introducing Arn Saba's Neil The Horse," CBC Digital Archives (Broadcast date: April 26, 1977). Accessed July 19, 2011.
- Neil the Horse at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on August 17, 2015.
- "Now You See Me,"The Comics Journal #255 (Sept. 2003).