Let's Talk Comics


Santa Claus in the comics way back when

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
There's a guy you don't see much of in the comics this time of year.
Well, at least the Santa that’s kind of portly, with red cheeks and rides a sleigh. Superman or Batman, or even Captain Marvel, had helped the jolly Santa along in his quest of dropping of toys and good cheer everywhere.
In the modern age, well, poor ole Santa is either a victim of crime or is doing the crime. Or he's something a little different, like the current release Klaus by Grant Morrison, who devised a rough-and-tumble, Conan the Barbarian type of Santa for Boom Studios. He stalks the wilds with barely tame canines dispensing justice in a Nordic way. But those versions are not of our concern.
A few decades ago, St. Nick popped up in the four-colour world quite regularly come December. More often than not, the jolly, roly-poly with red cheeks was a staple in give-away comics in the mid-20th Century.
Santa’s biggest boosters in the comic publishing world were Dell and Western Publishing Company. Christmas as an over-arching theme was also big with other publishing houses and companies such as Disney.
A number of Christmas and Santa books were published in the March of Comics series, by K.K. Publications and Western Publishing Company, and were given away as promotional items through sponsors.
The first of the Christmas-themed titles was #2 with How Santa Got His Red Suit, by Walt Kelly of Pogo fame, which was a reprint of Four Color #61.
March of Comics #10 was Out of Santa’s Bag; #11 Fun With Santa Claus; #12 Santa’s Toys; #13 Santa’s Surprise and #14 Santa’s Candy Kitchen.
The line continued with #30 Here Comes Santa; #31 Santa’s Busy Corner and then #33 with the grandest Christmas story of all, A Christmas Carol.
There are a number of later issues of March of Comics with tales of Santa, his reindeer and his workshop.
Dell, a company that never printed a book that could be considered offensive or controversial, plunked Santa into Santa Claus Funnies, which were part of the Four Color series.
The Dell Four Color Santa books - #1 (1942), #2 (1943), #61 (1944), #91, #128, #175, #205, #254, #302, #361, #525, #607, (oh, no) #666, #756, #867, #958, #1063, #1154 and #1274 (1961) - contained art by Kelly.
Kelly also inked wonderful covers and stories with a seasonal motif in Christmas with Mother Goose (Four Color numbers #90, #126, #172, #201 and #253), issued between November 1945 and November 1949.
I say no matter whether Christmas is important to you or not, the Kelly books - indeed any Kelly art - are a find in any condition.
Santa Claus Funnies can cost a few hundred dollars each in top condition. A # 61 graded 9.6 out of 10 by a third-party sold at auction for $956 U.S. in 2013. A #91 graded 9.6 out of 10 sold for $717 at auction, also in 2013.
Another heart-warming Christmas title is Walt Scott’s Christmas Stories, Four Color #959 (December 1958) and #1062 (December 1959), starring the Little People.
The Cleveland-born Scott (what is it with Cleveland and comic book artists?) earned his chops at the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate and at Disney, working on animation including Bambi, Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio. A chunk of his original Sunday comics of The Little People strip is archived at Syracuse University.
A #1062 graded at Near Mint Plus sold in auction for $251 in 2013, but prices for this book range widely as another in the same grade sold for $155 in the same year.
Ziff-Davis published two issues of Santa Claus Parade in 1951 and 1952, with a reprint of the 1951 edition published by St. John Publishing Company in 1955. In top shape, they can each retail for a few hundred dollars each.
While Charles Dickens wrote the grandest story, what is arguably the most popular Christmas tale was a department store promotional gimmick.
Robert L. May was assigned to write a Christmas story that was published by Montgomery Ward in 1939. That red nose glowed its way into the hearts of millions through May’s poem, colouring books, a song written by May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks for western crooner Gene Autry, a television show and a film.
DC Comics published Rudolph annual comics beginning in 1950 until 1962. A decade later, DC released a treasury-sized edition of the story, the first of a total of seven oversized comics.
Expect to pay in the hundreds for Mint condition annuals, while in the teens for Good.
Probably the goofiest Christmas comic is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, based on that 1964 film “classic” starring Pia Zadora, with prices ranging between about $15 in Good to $250 in Near Mint.
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Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
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