Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals. This week is very special Christmas themed panel so enjoy! Just to let you know there will be no new panel for two weeks but we will be back in the new year!!

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from a group of people with various questions all combined to make this one… and is as follows:-

“How hard is it to write, draw or sell a Christmas themed comic that is part of an ongoing or a one off special? Do you think there is a need for Christmas specials?”

Bart Thompson:

I’m usually pretty longwinded (especially after the last column… yikes!), but this will probably be pretty short (pauses for all sighs of relief).

I’ve never done a Christmas special because I already see it as being too hard to plan and pull off. Comics are made about 6 months before the release date, so you have to be in the Christmas spirit to write it around June or July. I’m hardly in the Christmas spirit now and it’s at least Winter, let alone the middle of summer! It’d also be really tough to fit it into an ongoing series and you ‘date’ the project by having your characters having Christmas, especially if you do it again the year after (this means that a year has passed and your characters are a year older… which in comics you try to avoid characters aging).

As for Christmas specials, perhaps those are easier and there’s a need for them. *shrugs* I can’t remember seeing many or buying them. The only comic that was Christmas related I ever remember buying was Uncanny X-Men when Kitty Pryde was left home alone and had to fight some alien/demon thing. That was cool (insert Bevis & Butthead laughter). Oh, wait… I had some Generation X Christmas comic too where the gals sat around and traded holiday stories. It was a part of the regular series. Marvel has the time and money to pull something like that off.

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of “Vampires Unlimited”, “the Metamutoids”, “ChiSai”, and “Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies”. The “Myriad” 6-issue anthology will be released early 2005, so be sure and pick those up!

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle):

Interesting question. I can’t say much about the “sell” part since I’ve never had the opportunity to sell a Christmas special. As for Christmas themed work, I’ve only done that for commercial clients, and that has been primarily for tee-shirt designs, so I may be unqualified to answer that part of the question as well.

But as to how necessary a Christmas themed special is in the world of comics, I think that this part I am very qualified to answer: We in the comics industry have increasingly complained about sales problems, and the inability to attract much of an audience outside the usual comics fans, unlike the comics of the past (particularly the 40s through the 80s). Yet we never seem to give much effort to “reaching” that audience. When one considers that 45% of Americans (not to ignore the statistics for our British friends, but I simply don’t have the statistics for them handy at the moment) describe themselves as “Born Again Christians”, and statistics show that something like 90% of Americans will celebrate Christmas this year without any reservations, it seems odd to me that the question should even come up.

Considering that this time of year EVERY major retailer in the Western world (not to mention most other Countries as well) will turn their stores upside down to cater to Christmas shoppers, and almost every manufacturer in the world has since July been devoting most of their output to this very season, how is it that comics should ignore the phenomenon?

Now, as a Christian, I am often offended by the commercialization of Christmas. I realise, as well, that there are those who do not share my belief in Christ and don’t celebrate this season, but am I not insanely stupid as a business to completely ignore 90% of the populous which does celebrate it?

I think that some thought needs to go into what the content of Christmas “specials” should be. There have been some excellent ones in times past, but it seems to me that there is too much effort made lately not to “offend” some readers by having the content be “too Christmasy”, when the very audience that is to be reached has no problem with a pointedly Christmas message.

So with that in mind, a Merry Christmas to all!

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Vince Moore:

It would be really hard for me because I’m a Buddhist, not a Christian; for me, I’m all about writing about peace on earth every day, not just at one time of the year.

As for there being a need for Christmas specials, well, that depends upon the writer and company in question. As long as they know there will be some people who won’t get it or will feel like they’re being preached to.

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Alonzo Washington:

It is not hard at all just add the themes of Christmas to the comic book. Duh!

ZO! Out!

Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.

Devin Grayson:

I don’t think it’s particularly difficult if your characters celebrate Christmas — the hardest part for me is thinking ahead, since you’re probably writing your Christmas special in August. If your characters don’t celebrate Christmas though, and you want to try to be inclusive of a different set of practices or beliefs, that, sadly, is much trickier — you might have to get special permission. And to answer the last part of your question, I don’t think there’s nearly as much of a need for Christmas specials as there is for, say, Chanukah, Solstice, or Ramadan specials. But ultimately it has to be about the characters and being true to their experiences and the rhythms of their lives. Unless your artist, you know, just has this burning desire to draw Santa….

Devin Grayson writes exclusively for DC, the reinvigorated Nightwing being amongst her current crop of books.

Fiona Avery:

It depends on what kind of mood I’m in if I’m asked to write one, or if I feel like writing one and it comes out naturally. If I’m asked to write something for the Holidays earlier than the spirit takes hold, it can be really difficult to get into that quiet, somber, restful place that the dead of winter provides for holiday cheer to emerge. Sometimes stories just suggest themselves to you and are perfect for the holidays and lately I’ve had a strange urge to write a holiday story — just because — I’ve been bit by the holiday spirit bug. Most holiday themes are about friendship, family, strength of character in adversity, and the simplicity of happiness. It’s strange that we decide to overtly honor those themes, dressed in green and red, only once a year, but there you have it. Holiday stories are as diverse in tone as the christmas carols you hear each year. From Carol of the Bells (Ukrainian carol) to Jingle Bells, you get a wide variety of feeling based around the concept of community and togetherness.

I can only speak for myself, but I go through phases of disinterest or total immersion in the holiday process. As a result, some years I have no interest in reading holiday stories and some years I can’t wait to get my hands on something like that. I imagine it’s the same for most people. Do you or don’t you bake the cookies, put up the lights, even get a tree, worry about the damn cards? … But overall, this means as long as I feel like celebrating, or especially if I feel like reading holiday stories some years, it’s a good thing they’re out there for my consumption.

Fiona Avery created No Honor at Top Cow, and currently writes Amazing Fantasy for Marvel, issue #1 available this week.

Stephen Holland:

There’s no need for Christmas specials that I can see.

There’s a need for vastly increased foreign aid, the departure of Robert Mugabe, a more rigid environmental policy, Childline, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Grand Theft Auto and Belgian chocolate, but I don’t think Christmas specials ever tend to be that special, do you? They’re overwhelmingly mawkish, and whilst I don’t think it’s impossible to create a comic that lives up to “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol”, I can’t recall one so far. Plus they sell for precisely two weeks, after which they become dead stock.

“The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs is an exception to prove the rule, but then that’s Raymond Briggs, who’s ever so slightly famous over here (I don’t know about the US).

Don’t get me wrong, sales double for four-to-six weeks at Page 45 on the run-up to Christmas, but that’s the general public buying each other “McSweeneys”, “Persepolis”, “Fluffy”, “Mr. O”, “Jimmy Corrigan” and all things Jeffrey Brown, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. None of them have Christmas themes – and when you think about it, how many of the CDs, DVDs, novels and games do you buy as Christmas that are seasonal in nature?

No, away with the Christmas specials! And Christmas singles! Brrr-rr.

Stephen L. Holland runs Page 45, a comic shop in Nottingham UK, with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He’s just spent an entire day on the other side of the counter – and quite frankly prefers being behind it.

Donna Barr:

Why not have a Christmas special? What, the characters don’t want to open presents, too? How about a Ramadan special? A Hannukah special? A Solstice one-off?

Why would it be hard to write or draw it? And as for selling it –Instant holiday present.

Ya can’t lose.

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Jesse Leon McCann:

It’s not hard at all, if you get the jingle-ball rolling at the right time–which, in the case of most publishers is the middle of summer, when no one is actually thinking about Christmas. I’ve managed to do it twice with ongoing series (“Pinky & the Brain” and “Smiley, the Psychotic Button) and the results were quite gratifying. And, yes, I think there’s a need. Having a Christmas-themed issue helps readers get in the holiday spirit! Ho ho ho! (By the way, Happy Holidays, everyone!)

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.

Roberta Gregory:

I have done a couple Christmas themed Bitchy stories though my Naughty Bits career, Issue #4 and #33, but the Christmas material was part of a larger theme, child abuse and fear of death, respectively. I think they work, as part of the storyline as a whole, and were not just throwaway holiday theme stories. I did get some complaints from Fantagraphics about the cover for #4 being too obviously Christmassy: Santa Claus and Baby Jesus and the New Years Old Man (Father Time? The character with the scythe.) all trying to kill each other. (The title was “Unhappy Holidays.”) The cover for #33 was more subtle, Little Bitchy’s throwing tantrums (red dress on a Christmas Green background, like gift wrap, which it actually can be used for!) Fantagraphics even printed up extras of the cover so I can use it as very unique gift wrap. If I can find where I PUT the darn things, I can sell them as Bitchy giftwrap next year on my web site!

I don’t know what I think about Christmas specials. I have not read many of them, and the ones I have seen, seem to have rather weak stories in them. With the exception of a really powerful Donna Barr story that appeared in A Very MU Christmas.

Roberta Gregory is the creator of “Bitchy Bitch”, who not only stars in Roberta’s Naughty Bits comic book (ex from Fantagraphics), but also appears on television worldwide in animated adventures, the latest being the “Life’s a Bitch” series on the Oxygen Network.

Remember there is no panel next week as we will all be hopefully suffering with some form of the holiday spirit, or spirits. I am hoping I get lots of Superman presents, and would to wish a very happy holiday! – James Redington


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