The earliest Christmas comic I can recall reading was in the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book comics. It was the Carl Barks story “Letter to Santa” featuring Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. Over the years I’ve read plenty of good Christmas stories, the Bark’s classic “Christmas in Shacktown”, Denny O’Neil’s “Wanted: Santa Claus – Dead or Alive”, or even “Last Christmas” featuring Firestorm from this year’s DC Nuclear Winter Special. Almost all the Christmas stories I’ve read feature either Superheros or the Disney Ducks.
This Treasury of Christmas Comics is filled with comics with Santa Claus, funny animals, and little kids. It also has a version of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” drawn by Mike Sekowsky and the biblical story of Christ’s birth drawn by Alberto Giolitti. For this piece I want to focus on the story that was the reason I ordered the book, Walt Kelly’s “How Santa Got His Red Suit”.
Walt Kelly (1913 – 1973) was a world famous cartoonist who created Pogo and all his wonderful friends. He also worked for Disney and Dell Comics. Over the years I have really become enamored with his work and was eager to read this Christmas story. I just love his art with his wonderful characters and the amazing details. There is a softness to his work that is very comforting. I could gush on and on about his abilities but instead let’s get to the Christmas story.
This Treasury is a soft cover comic published by IDW Publishing and edited by Craig Yoe. It features twenty stories from the Gold and Silver ages. There is a introduction from Yoe where he says that one of the best things about Christmas was the new Christmas comics that he received as gifts when he was a kid because they featured some of the writers and artist’s best work. I appreciated the brief introduction as it lets the focus be on the comics themselves. Some historical info might have been good but I think the book was designed for the young and the old and I know when I was a kid I didn’t pay much attention to introductions or any of that kind of thing.
The story begins with an introduction informing the reader that Santa didn’t always wear red. In fact he wore everything from green trousers to yellow cloaks, and sometimes even blue. In this story Santa is wearing yellow pants, a green coat, and an orange cape. He does have his familiar black boots and red gloves. One interesting note is that when Santa is leaving the North Pole his little friends are called gnomes, not elves as they are commonly referred today.
Santa’s trip takes him to the forest of St. Nicholas, where there is nowhere to land his sleigh. He parks on a cloud and climbs down a rope. All this time he is being watched by Jack Frost, a mischievous looking elf if I ever saw one. Jack Frost leaps to Santa’s sleigh and takes off while Santa is on the ground. Santa shouts at Jack who replies that he always wanted to drive his team. Dejected Santa decides there is nothing to be done and starts to look for shelter.
Santa comes across a tiny house at the base of a tree and knocks on the door hoping that whomever is home can direct him to some shelter. A naked pink elf with two antenna answers the door, wishes Santa a Merry Christmas and invites him in. While Santa finds the prospect of someone his size entering the tiny house humorous the elves all start to help him in. Several push from the rear and the rest pull his beard. Eventually the elves get him in doors.
Once inside they ask him who he is. Santa, surprised they don’t know who he is, replies with the question, “Who am I?” The elves respond, “You mean you don’t know either?”. It really is a great gag for a kids comic.
At first the elves don’t believe him because he has no gifts, sleigh, or reindeer. Santa tries to prove his identity by telling them that he can tell them what they each got for Christmas the year before. One snappy elf replies that everyone knows elves get clothes for Christmas. An older grey haired elf with a pipe starts to give Santa the business saying sure, the real Santa always drops presents down the chimney, knocks over the tree and leaves feeling pretty proud of himself.
Santa starts to catch on and recognizes the old elf as someone who worked in his toy workshop. He identifies the old elf as Bundlecrunch and they have a happy old time. Eventually everyone settles down and they ask why Santa is there and not out delivering toys. Santa explains that Jack Frost stole his sleigh and now he has no toys for the children of St. Nicholas forest. Not wanting to hear all the crying children on Christmas morning the elves all decide to make new toys.
As the elves start churning out toys made from things around their house, Santa realizes he has no clothes to give the elves this year. He decides to make them new cloths from the clothes he’s wearing. Sitting in his boxers and t-shirt, he cuts up his pants, cape, and sweater to make new clothes. As he starts to make the clothes he feels tired and decides to take a brief nap. The elves find Santa asleep and see that he was making them clothes, but pretty awful ones. It turns out Santa is not a tailor. The elves decide to finish the clothes themselves and when Santa wakes up he’ll think he did it.
Santa eventually does wake up and Bundlecrunch tells him that he made all these wonderful clothes the elves are now wearing. Santa is surprised with them turning out so good because he’s never sewed a stitch before. He also realizes that he’s got no clothes to wear to deliver all the toys the elves made. The elves have got an answer for this problem as well. They know their friend Timbertop the giant will be coming by very soon and they chase him down when he does. The elves tell the giant they need to make clothes for Santa from his red coat tails.
The elves then make the familiar red coat and pants with white fur trim. Santa is worried he won’t look good in red, but the elves tell him that everyone looks good in red. I’m not sure that’s exactly true but we’ll go with it. The elves have saved the day and Timbertop helps Santa deliver the presents to all the children of St. Nicholas forest.
I thought this was a really great story because it was not typical Christmas fair. Right off the bat there are the gnomes and elves. The gnomes that appear in the first couple of panels are tiny people with cute hats and long noses. They are identified as Santa’s friends, while later on we meet the elves in St. Nicholas Forest who are then identified as toy makers that have worked for Santa. I find it odd and amusing to have the characters differentiated this way.
Also the elves are sort of naked little cherubs with antenna, like aliens, but if Santa gives them clothes every year why aren’t they wearing them now? Why are they naked? They can clearly make clothes and like the presents Santa gives them, so there is no reason for them to be naked now, and yet here we are. Finally the elves are sarcastic little buggers who really seem to enjoy teasing Santa. They are not the typical work horses that sing all day and make toys for kids.
It’s also not the typical story because the original problem of the stolen sleigh is never resolved. Santa gets the toys to the kids of the forest but we never see Jack Frost, the sleigh, or the reindeer again. Santa really does come off as a bit of a dope. Between not being able to park his sleigh, not recognizing one of his previous toy makers, and then believing that he made all the clothes after sleeping away the night, it seems rather improbable that this guy could get it together to give toys to all the children of the world.
All in all it is a wonderful story with some dynamite Walt Kelly writing and art work. It has good humor and that warmth I mentioned previously with its soft colors and detailed pencils. The story alone is worth the price admission in my opinion but there are plenty of other wonderful stories in this treasury. This is something I will definitely pull out next year to revisit. I’ll wrap the piece up with a one page gag from the inside front cover that I am pretty sure is also Walt Kelly. And to you, the reader, I wish a Merry Christmas and Happy and Safe New Year!