Holiday-themed comics seem to have made a comeback of sorts in recent years, with books like Franklin Richards: Happy Franksgiving, the DCU Infinite Holiday Special and the Marvel Holiday Special. But from the 1940s through the 1980s, and trickling into the early ’90s, the holiday comic — specifically, Christmas-themed — was a regular event.
Special issues of regular series, standalone one-shots, reprints and collected digests — they all celebrated that most wonderful time of the year.
My first Christmas comic was the one pictured at the right: a 1972 issue of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which the fine folks at Comics.org label as “Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-50.” It was a holiday fixture at my grandparents’ house, brought out each year along with the artificial tree, stockings, and the lump of coal that taunted me from atop the enormous floor-model TV.
The cover date leads me to think it was originally bought for my older brother; I couldn’t have done much more than spit up on the comic when it was new.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the stories themselves, beyond what’s shown on the cover: Something about Rudolph, the elves Winky and Blinky and a hot-air balloon. I recall a scene at the reindeer stables, which Little Kevin drew again and again in a spiral-bound notebook, and that the cover and many of the pages were so tattered and frail that flipping through the book was like handling the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I imagine Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played a healthy role in the development of my love for comics. It was certainly among the first I saw as a child, even if it was for only a short time each year.
In the tradition of the Halloween and Thanksgiving installments of “Comics, Covered,” I’ve put together a gallery of Christmas-themed covers. Some of them are great, some of them are just funny. But they all say, “Merry Christmas” (or “Happy Holidays”):
An easy choice for me, because of my unabashed love for James Jean‘s art — but also because this cover to Fables #56 is downright beautiful. I’d send this as a holiday card, but only to people I really like. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d keep them all and frame them.
I likely would’ve forgotten this one but for Justin Timberlake’s perfomance of Alvin and the Chipmunks’ The Christmas Song on last weekend’s Saturday Night Live. How’s that for random?
Another easy choice. I love that this could just as easily be an illustration from a Victorian novella. With, y’know, a red demon with a big stone hand. And a skeleton in a dress serving a pig’s head. And …
I almost forgot about this one, which undoubtedly would’ve led to spirited exchanges with all of those Kitty Pryde devotees. Or with that one guy who has a serious thing for the Brood. Either way, I didn’t want it.
Like so many Jeff Smith illustrations, this one just makes me smile. Really, what symbolizes the Christmas spirit more than Fone Bone offering a gift to those stupid, stupid Rat Creatures?
Eric Powell‘s cover for The Goon #10 is another that makes me grin. It’s funny and beautiful, perfectly capturing the look of a period drawing. You can almost smell the old, yellowing paper. Well, I can.
“Like a bowl full of jelly? I’ll gut you like a trout, you sonofa–!”
I don’t know what’s funnier: that Batman and Robin decorate their Christmas tree while wearing their costumes; or that Robin leap across Gotham rooftops and swing from Batlines, but he can’t manage to put the star on the tree. Batman, meanwhile, mocks him. Merry Christmas, chum!
Oh, how I love Captain Marvel — the classic, slightly goofy, Fred MacMurray-looking one, not the stern, serious version. I mean, would the latter give Santa a ride on his … uh, rump? No, I don’t think so. I like that Mary Marvel is depicted younger and confident. Hurry up, February. Hurry up!
This one doesn’t exactly say “Christmas,” but if I’m showing Captain Marvel and Mary, it’s only fair that I give Captain Marvel Jr. some face time. Plus, he’s leading some kind of ice-skating conga line! “Thrill-ventures,” indeed.
Either Disney or Western Printing and Lithographing Co. apparently loved this cover, because it was used for a 1958 Dell comic, then again in 1970 for a Gold Key edition. I’m fairly sure the image, or something like it, was used for a Little Golden Book, also published by Western. I’m curious why Huey, Dewey and Louie were bumped in favor of the less popular — and, judging from this cover, heavily medicated — Morty and Ferdie, though. They look like little hostages, gagged with candy canes and bound to the base of the tree.
If you’re wondering why the tree doesn’t ignite like a giant pine-scented candle, it’s because the tinsel is made of unstable molecules.
Now it’s time for a lightning round of Santa getting beat down by superheroes:
Okay, that last isn’t a literal beating. But I imagine Wildcat smells of sweat, old cigars and stale beer — sort of like my grandfather, come to think of it — so I can’t believe this is a pleasant experience for Santa. Of course, he likely smells of sweat, old cigars and stale beer, too, so he may not notice.
“Listen, kid, you’re getting a gun, all right? Next!”
He’s the anti-Punisher, really.
“The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol!” is, thankfully, reprinted in Showcase Presents: Teen Titans, Vol. 1, so I got to experience the weirdness myself. The core of the story is, obviously, a retelling of the Dickens classic (featuring Ebenezer Scrounge, owner of the Junkorama junk yard), but the opening sequence offers some interesting subtext: On Dec. 25, the Titans lounge around their headquarters, reading — because that’s what hip ’60s teen-agers do. Aqualad is reading an Aquaman comic, Wonder Girl is reading Wonder Woman, and Robin is reading A Christmas Carol before being shamed into abandoning that “ungroovy” story in favor of Batman. But what’s Kid Flash reading? No, not The Flash. Superman! I’m not saying who, but someone has some mentor issues.
Now, to wind things up, a medley of Santa covers:
Claus does his best Betty Page imitation.
Psst. Santa! The sleigh’s over there!
I can’t decide whether that’s a very large Santa, or a small Jeep.
Saint Nick: crazy as a loon. Bugs looks concerned, but afraid what will happen if he doesn’t play along.
And that’s the true meaning of Christmas.