'The Mysterious Family Next Door' (The Merced Sun-Star, 24 September 1922).

Monte Crews was an early to mid-20th century U.S. illustrator. He was also briefly active as a newspaper comic artist, creating the series 'The Mysterious Family Next Door' (1921-1922). This humorous mystery comic ran in The Merced Sun-Star, until Crews' involvement in a car accident caused its early cancellation.

Early life
Monte Kendrick Crews was born in 1888 in Fayette, Missouri. His father was a grocery merchant. His mother was a cousin of the famous German genre painter Ludwig Knaus. Between 1905 and 1906, Crews studied at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where future illustrator Joy Clinton Shepherd was one of his fellow pupils. But he soon dropped out in favor of an art course at the Art Institute of Chicago. Through a scholarship, he could study at the Art Students League in New York City. In May 1909, he won another scholarship for "Best Illustrations". To finetune his skills, Crews collected second-hand magazines, cut out the illustrations and kept them for further study. His former NYC roommate, Homer Croy, described Crews' room in the following colorful fashion: "His room looks like the shipping department of the Ladies Home Journal. When you first go in you don't see anybody, but pretty soon you hear somebody stir, and you find Crews drawing over by the window behind a pile of magazines. You are no sooner seated before he jumps up and shakes a dusty magazine in your face. 'Oh, look here,' he exclaims, 'I've found the peach of an old magazine.' Then you have to sit down and admire it and try to keep from coughing. I've often wondered how many millions of germs he brings into our flat with his second-hand magazines in the course of a week." Later in life, Crews was also a philatelist.

Magazine covers by Monte Crews.

In 1910, Crews returned to his birth town, Fayette, Missouri, where he worked at his parents' grocery store. He opened the town's first movie theater in 1915. On the side, he sold his first freelance illustrations to The American Magazine, Baseball Magazine, Leslie's Weekly and Red Book. When in 1917 the United States got involved in the First World War, Crews went to the draft board, but didn't serve in the military in the end. In 1926, he moved to Kansas City, where his illustrations were picked up by magazines like Boys' Life, Collier's, Liberty and The Saturday Evening Post. He also livened up the pages of many pulp magazines, like Argosy and Blue Book Magazine. Among the books Crews illustrated were B.M. Bower's 'The Heritage of the Sioux' (Little, Brown and Company, 1916) and 'Starr, of the Desert' (Little, Brown and Company, 1917), as well as Paschal N. Strong's 'Typhoon Gold' (Little Brown and Company, 1937) and Jeannette Covert Nolan's 'The Little Giant: The Story of Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln' (Julian Messner, Inc., 1942).

Crews found a steady vocation as teacher in illustration at The Kansas City Art Institute (1927-1933), The Phoenix Art Institute in New York (1933-1938), the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (1938-1944) and the Moore Institute of Philadelphia (1944-1946). He was also active as committee man of the Boy Scout movement in Titusville. From 1933 on, he spent the rest of his life in Titusville, New Jersey. In 1946, he passed away at age 88.

'The Mysterious Family Next Door'. 

The Mysterious Family Door
Crews' self-syndicated newspaper comic, 'The Mysterious Family Next Door' (1921-1922), was published in newspapers like The Merced Sun-Star and the Brooklyn Eagle Star. It stars a married couple, who one day notice an odd-looking family moving into their neighborhood. All members - even the dog - wear white hoods and robes with a question mark on them. The couple is naturally intrigued, even somewhat scared. In a continuous storyline they try to find out more about their next door-neighbors' identities and especially their mysterious activities.

The concept of Crews' comic is quite similar to an earlier newspaper comic by George Herriman, 'The Dingbat Family' (1910-1916). In this series a married couple is irritated with their obnoxious neighbors of whom they know nothing about. They try to find out more, but in vain. However, there are notable differences. 'The Dingbat Family' is a gag-a-day comic, while 'The Mysterious Family Next Door' is more of a mystery comic with some comical undertones. In Herriman's comic the Dingbats lived in an apartment, with the mysterious family living upstairs. In Crews' comic, the strange neighbors live next door. And while The Dingbats (and the readers) never actually saw the family who tingled their curiosity, the peculiar next-door neighbors in Crews' series at least appear in view, albeit in Ku Klux Klan-esque costumes that cover their entire bodies.

The editors invited readers to think along who "the mysterious family next door" might be and even promised 500,000 dollar in cash for the "cleverest solution". It is unclear whether Crews really had a "clever solution" of his own or just hoped that a reader might come up with something better. It's also not certain whether the storyline ever had a satisfying conclusion. On 15 October 1922, Crews had car accident, which had him hospitalized. A cut to his left eye threatened his eyesight. Although he eventually recovered, the comic strip was discontinued. It seems that 'The Mysterious Family Next Door' was his only contribution to comic history.

Artwork by Monte Crews. 

Monte Crews on pulpartists.com

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