The Christmas season a wonderful time of year that I enjoy more and more as I grow older. I like the hustle and bustle of shopping with my wife as we search for gifts for the family. We decorate the house right around Thanksgiving and reminiscence about when we found some of our favorite decorations. The house becomes a lovely refuge from the cold winter winds. I watch Christmas cartoons which tell wonderfully wholesome stories and I get to revel in the glory days of hand-drawn cell animation. I wax nostalgic about my childhood with my brother where we set aside time in the evening to watch those terrific specials. This year I was invited in the #ComicsCircleOfLife Christmas card group. It has been great fun sending and receiving cards to and from strangers whose voices I’ve only ever heard on a podcast or interacted with on Twitter. That leads me to one of the most fun things about the season, Christmas comics!
Growing up one of the things that my brother and I could count on for a Christmas gift, besides a Lifesavers Story book in our stockings, was a small pile of comics where our mother would clean out our pull lists from our comic shop. Occasionally we would receive a gift card from our grandparents or friends so that we could buy some post Christmas comics too. There were also some special Christmas comic gifts, like the year that Longmeadow Press released the Complete Frank Miller Batman with a faux leather cover. My brother and I each received a copy and it has been proudly displayed on a shelf where ever I have lived since. Comics have been a part of Christmas for me as long as I can remember, and that is why I desperately wanted to get something written this season.
I found this copy Archie’s Giant Size Series #181 in a comic shop in Vermont back in October and I thought it would be a perfect subject for this month’s post. It is filled with fun Archie shorts and silly gags that are great for a comic like this. I assume some of the material is new and some of it is reprints based on the different styles of the art. Like many Archie comics from the era I do not know who the creators are for the stories but I believe Dan DeCarlo was one of the main guys at this time.
According the Mike’s Amazing World of Comics this was released in Oct of 1970, and it bears a cover date of January 1971. The cover price is 25 cents and this is a double sized issue so in my humble opinion it is a great deal for a quarter. The cover has great gag where Archie appears to be quite generous with his Christmas gifts to his pals but is happy to receive a couple of kisses from the lovely Betty and Veronica. Let’s jump into the comic itself.
Archie in “If the Spirit Moves You”
The first story starts with Archie, Jughead, and Veronica shopping when they witness a familiar scene where a mother is scolding a young boy, who must have been misbehaving, telling him Santa doesn’t give toys to bad little boys. The child quickly tries to recover by telling mom that he’ll be good. Now Archie and his pals are too cool for school and cannot believe that this mother would try to get her son to behave by telling him about Santa. They don’t understand why parents even bother with the Santa myth when there are guys dressed as Santa in every department story and on every street corner, just messing with a child’s mind.
They carry on their cynical conversation as they go to Pop’s hamburger joint and start grilling him on what he thinks about the commercialism of Christmas and the notion of believing in Santa Claus. They argue with him saying that kids should learn early on you don’t get something for nothing and maybe they wouldn’t be so mixed up. Pop tries to convince them it is good for children to have vivid imaginations when they are young to no avail. Veronica invites the gang back to her house to sit around the fire.
Betty makes an off hand comment that it would be nice if Santa were real, that way she’d get a gift that she either needs or wants instead of the pajamas she gets every year. Archie declares that he hears bells and goes to investigate in the backyard. The gang finds a pile of gifts of things they both wanted and needed all addressed from Santa. They are all flabbergasted and Archie’s leaves us with a bit of wisdom that maybe they don’t really know if Santa is real or not.
That story is followed up with a couple of one page gags, one featuring Jinx and another featuring Jughead.
Archie in “Surprise Package”
The next story features Archie and Jughead making Christmas deliveries. The best part of this story is we get to see Archie’s hot-rod and Jughead decked out in a full leather jacket covered in hippy-dippy fringe.
Archie and Jughead are speeding along with a back seat filled with gifts that have to be delivered to customers right away. Jughead remarks that he can’t stand to see all these packages all wrapped up and wants to know what’s inside. He tells Archie that he is great at guessing what the contents of each box are. As they make their first delivery Jughead takes the package to the door where he tells the lady of the house that he’s delivering her electric can opener. Her husband angrily declares that the package was supposed to be a SURPRISE! Jughead learns he’s got to keep that information to himself going forward. They are making one of their last deliveries and Jughead simply cannot tell what is in the box. Jughead drops it off and remarks to Archie that the house they just visited was different from everywhere else. It was the poorest looking house and had the smallest box delivered. Jughead can’t let it go and runs back to the house, begging the mom to tell him what was in the box. Turns out it is a bible for her kids! This story closes with a religious message, a little heavy handed, but not offensive or anything.
Archie in “Trail’s End!”
This story is one of the ones that I believe is a reprint. The art style is a bit older and than the rest of the issue. The characters are a little stiffer and simpler looking, for lack of a better word. The story begins with Archie and Jughead coming across footprints in the snow. Archie believes they were made by Veronica and takes off with Jughead giving chase.
Eventually the foot prints are joined by another set and they are facing toe to toe. Archie surmises that Reggie meet up with Veronica and was kissing her. This sets him off in a rage and he sprints off again. Betty comes across Jughead and he explains what’s got Archie so crazy. Betty examines the tracks and says the person who made them is in heels and Veronica wears flats. They are trying to figure out whose tracks they are when Moose comes running along thinking that someone is walking with his girl Midge!
Betty and Jughead eventually catch up with Archie at the bowling alley where it turns out Reggie is with Midge. Archie realizes his mistake but Jughead tells him that he’s covered Reggie’s footprints up with is own and that once Moose catches them he’s a goner. Since this is a bowling alley Jughead switches Archie’s boots with Reggie’s without him seeing. Moose finally gets there and when he checks Jughead and Archie’s prints they don’t match. Reggie, who knows that being out with Midge could be problematic decides they should leave separately. He also wants to find whomever has his boots. He runs right into Moose who sees the foot prints are an exact match for the ones he has been following and slugs Reggie.
Archie in “Party Smarty”
This story hits home for me, which I’ll discuss in a bit. This story features Mr. Weatherbee and the staff of Riverdale High. Mr. Weatherbee is fuming about why the staff always ask him to play Santa Clause at the Christmas party. After he rants for a bit Miss Beazley, the lunch lady, says flat out they want him to be Santa because he’s got a big belly.
Mr. Weatherbee storms off and the rest of the teachers come across Coach Kleats, another portly teacher, and declare he’ll be the perfect replacement. They dress him and up and he’s perfect. As they rush off to the party, so pleased with themselves, Mr. Weatherbee asks the coach if he can see him for a moment. In the end Mr Weatherbee pulls the old switch-a-roo and decides he likes the roll too much to actually give up.
There are a couple of more stories in the magazine but these were really the best ones. Overall the comic was a good read and featured some classic Archie gags and goofs. I’ve got one more story to share though, one that the Mr Weatherbee story made me think of.
Over the years I’ve dressed up as Santa Claus on many different occasions. I’ve got a good figure for the job and I guess a pleasant enough personality for it (but I think it is mainly my figure that makes it work). It started in high school and I would dress up as Santa for the annual Christmas fair at our church. I inherited the job from one of the members as I was getting to be a good size for the costume. Years later I dressed up as Santa for a Christmas party at work where everyone got to bring their children in for games, crafts, and a picture with Santa. It was always a lot of fun, especially when I knew the kids but they could not figure out it was me in the coat and beard.
The most special time though was when I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college. Those were the years where Christmas started becoming less about the gifts and more about the season and what it meant to myself, my family and friends. I dressed up as Santa on Christmas day and with my mother, we visited some of the church parishioners who were in the hospital. I would go into their rooms being as jolly as I could and ask them if they had been good for Christmas. In these cases these were older people who had to be hospitalized and were not able to be home with their families on Christmas day.
In one case the gentlemen I visited happened to be on a lot of medication and was pretty out of it. Several weeks later in church he approached me and asked if I had visited him in the hospital. I told him I had and he said that he was on such strong medicine he really though Santa had visited him and had told his wife about it. He thanked me for that and I’ve never forgotten it. He was a sweet man and I was glad that my mother and I visited him that Christmas. Just like Mr. Weatherbee, dressing up as Santa, was a lot of fun and I cherish those memories.
I’ll wrap this up with a pin up and very Merry Christmas and Holiday wishes to you! Thanks for stopping by!