Merry Christmas, my foolish friends! Pull up a chair, grab a mince pie and take a seat! Did you try the mulled wine? You really should – go on, pour yourself a glass, it’s Christmas! Yes, I know – I go on every year about how Christmas isn’t really my thing, I think I may even have uttered the word “humbug!” on more than one occasion, but you know what? However over-commercialised and hypocritical this festival has become – however far removed from the religious festival it once was*, Christmas is still special. Nothing underlines this more than the number of kids I teach from non-Christian backgrounds who never the less send me cards, wish me a Merry Christmas and generally join in.
The mid-winter feast, whatever the hell you choose to call it is a time for joy, friendship, shameless sentimentality and generally thanking whatever or whoever you believe in, be that God, Allah, the Goddess of the Earth, the scientific certainty that the Sun will rise tomorrow, or any of the other spiritual (or non-spiritual) masts we nail our colours to, that the days will lengthen and we won’t all die a dark, gloomy, starving death. It matters, and we love it.
Which of course is why – in countries where Christian festivals are practiced at least**, the whole of popular culture joins in. In Britain, where there is a long and honoured tradition of men dressing in women’s clothing and telling children jokes that drip with sexual innuendo most of the local theatres have pantomimes.*** The TV is full of special Christmas Episodes. Here in the UK we’ve had the now traditional festive Doctor Who, a seasonal edition of Downton Abbey*****, to be honest, you can’t move anywhere in the culture without falling over a Holly Wreath or a festive light show.
Except in comics.
Am I just missing out on a massive amount of festive tomfoolery that everyone has neglected to make me aware of, or have Anglophone comics suddenly embraced the spirit of Ebeneezer? Back in the day even monthly books made a bit of a tip of the hat to the festive season. I have fond memories of one of the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man I bought – must have been around 1989, although I can’t actually find it at the moment – where Peter and M-J get evicted from their apartment on Christmas Eve and have to move in with Aunt May.
Admittedly the way books are often bizzarely cover dated months in advance meant that although I definitely bought the issue in December it was actually dated April or May (again, can’t actually find it so can’t check, but I bet somebody reading this can tell me for sure) which was a bit strange, but there you go. That cover dating problem, coupled with the fact that story arcs tend to run over several issues these days, which makes fitting a festive edition into continuity every twelve issues a little difficult, is probably the reason we don’t see those festive stories so much any more – and I can understand that. But what happened to the one shots and specials we used to get?
I have in my collection several comics, most notably , but not exclusively from Marvel and DC, which are crammed full of the sort of cheesy, sentimental, Christmassy stories we might want to read over the festive period. Whether that’s the Batman joining in with the police choir on the roof of Police HQ while the problems of Gotham just miraculously sort themselves out one Christmas Eve******* in The Silent Night of the Batman or Enemy Ace flying in to an Allied airfield to salute his foes in the spirit of peace and goodwill, or any of the other hundreds of Christmas tales comics used to regail us with at this time of year.
I know, I know, for about three hundred and sixty days a year such fare is kitsch to the point of cringewothiness, but be honest – for four or five days at the end of December it’s nice to put all the cynicism and bile on hold, isn’t it?
But yet, as I say, unless I’ve been deliberately excluded from all the fun, I can’t see that it’s happening anywhere in comics beyond the mercifully traditional pages of 2000AD (where, for what it’s worth, the Christmas Judge Dredd story is some of the best comics writing I’ve seen all year). What happened?
Sadly, there can only be one conclusion.
Given that there is no conspiracy to destroy the Christmas Festival, whatever some newspapers or politicians might try to tell you, there can only be one reason why the Christmas Special seems to have faded from view.
We didn’t buy them.
As I’ve often remarked, comics companies don’t actually exist to make comics. That’s what writers and artists are for. No, comics companies exist to make money********, publishing comics is just the way they happen to do it. That means that if they publish something and people don’t buy it, then they lose money and don’t bother publishing anything like it again. On the other hand, if people do buy it they do make money and will definitely publish more like it. *********
If we’d bought them, they’d still be there. We didn’t, so they aren’t.
Maybe the spirit of Christmas is dying a little. I hope not though. Those silly, sentimental stories have seen me through many long, dark winter’s nights in years when I was far from friends and family. Perhaps I’m being silly and sentimental too, but I’d like to think that they might do the same for other comics fans in future.
I’ll see you in seven, but for now, I’m off to read Christmas with the Superheroes with a glass of single malt.
A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
*Something I think to be regretted even by people like me who don’t believe in the religion…
**Note to all. That most definitely includes the whole of North America, Europe, and South America. And Oz. And New Zealand. Please stop telling me that “they” (whoever the hell “they” might be) want to ban it, or stop you celebrating it. They don’t. And even if “they” wanted to, I doubt “they” could. Read the first paragraph again.
***“Oh no they don’t!”****
****You either get that joke or you don’t. If you’re not British, I doubt you do (unless we exported the pantomime to Oz or New Zealand? I can’t imagine they would have ever taken off in America…) but trust me, it’s too obvious to be funny. Pantomime is great though – the only truly British contribution to world theatre. Given that the French can only claim farce and the Italians only have Opera, I’ll take that, with some pride. If you’ve never seen a pantomime, well <a href=http://www.its-behind-you.com>go here</a> or <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZJzGQsmy_c>here</a> to get some idea of what it’s all about…
*****I have a sneaking suspicion that if I look back at this article in ten years’ time – and I’m vain enough to do that sort of thing – Doctor Who will need no explanation, but Downton Abbey will be long forgotten. Genre shows always win in the end.******
******Even if they’re Firefly. But that’s a subject for another time…
*******Originally featured in Batman #219 I think. It’s my all time favourite Christmas story, hokey as it is – <a href=http://bullyscomics.blogspot.com/2007/12/friday-not-fights-merry-christmas.html>you can read more about it here…</a>
********Like all companies, in fact. That’s in n
o way a criticism…
*********That, incidentally, is why we, as readers are to blame for the shocking lack of quality in the Anglophone comics market. If you’re shopping around for a New Year’s resolution, please consider vowing never to buy rubbish comics again. Seriously, I’d take it as a kindness…