Tuesday, December 06, 2016

“More of Gravy than of Grave” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar cut from a long shot of Scrooge at his door to a close up of Marley's face on the knocker. It's not as shocking as it could be, but Marley's face is remarkable for looking wickedly impish with enormous spectacles on his forehead. Scrooge is stunned as he calls out Marley's name, but he's composed again in the next panel, where he's already doubting what he saw.

As he lights a candle in the foyer, a caption lets us know that "Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes." And as he climbs the stairs (wide ones, but no mention of a hearse), more text shares Dickens' assertion that Scrooge liked darkness, because it's cheap. I kind of like this fearless Scrooge. He fits with the malevolent being that he's been portrayed as so far.

The next panel has Scrooge in his rooms and more text talks about his checking all over and double-locking his door. Those aren't the actions of a fearless man, but Scrooge's expression is serious and determined. It's hard to reconcile him with someone who's looking to make sure that no one's hiding in his dressing gown. Obviously, Scrooge is freaked out, but putting on a brave face.

As he sits to eat his gruel (his only meal of the evening as far as this version is concerned), we're told that he's "now feeling secure." And he looks it; gazing peacefully into his bowl as he loudly slurps. The text calls out the Dutch tiles and we see the Biblical images on them (PhotoShopped from Renaissance paintings) before then seeing them again with Marley's face, this time horrifyingly bug-eyed.

As the bells ring, Scrooge looks alert, but not especially frightened. He continues his attentive listening as the chains come up from the cellar, then he goes wild-eyed and insane at the sound on the stairs. "It's still humbug!" he cries, but he's clearly trying to convince himself.

Marley walks through the closed door and I like how he's depicted in that panel. He's just an outline of a form, with one arm coming into shape, but the rest of his body and face just a featureless mass. In the panel above, Marley has fully materialized (looking more or less solid) and Scrooge is now cowering, eyes shut and helpless. Marley looks positively menacing.

The ghost softens as the conversation progresses though. He's still very frightening as he takes off his bandage and his jaw drops open. It doesn't open to a supernatural degree, but it does look seriously dislocated. His eyes go from terrifying to tortured and finally to just sad. The transition seems to follow Scrooge's arguing. The more Scrooge resists Marley's warnings, the less powerful Marley seems to be.

For Scrooge's part, he never seems to fully accept the reality of Marley's ghost. After talking with Marley for a while, Scrooge actually goes back to eating. Even when Marley is wailing his loudest, Scrooge's "Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?" sounds more like Scrooge is questioning his own sanity than a phantom that he believes in. And when he says that he does, he must believe in Marley, Scrooge looks positively conniving. As if he's shrewdly trying to return to sanity in a battle of wits against his own damaged mind. It's at this point that Marley turns from scary to suffering.

Scrooge continues to look cold and calculating as they talk, with Marley calming down more and more. It comes off as if Scrooge is merely telling Marley (or the voices in his head, if that's what's going on) what he thinks they want to hear. He looks tired - rubbing his eyes - towards the end of the conversation and is only frightened again when Marley brings up that there will be three more spirits. He's not ready to battle whatever other demons his sick psyche is bringing up.

The ghosts' schedule follows the book and Marley does lead Scrooge to the window where they see a sky full of phantoms. One of them is even trying in vain to help a woman who's sitting in the snow with her baby.

Like the Marvel version, I think we're dealing with a mentally ill Scrooge here. (Also like with Marvel, I don't think that's the intention of the creators, but it's the way the character comes across.) The difference is that Marvel's version feels like a victim of his own mind, where Campfire's is more malevolent; possibly sociopathic. So while I want supernatural forces to intervene and heal Marvel's Scrooge, I'm more comfortable imagining that Campfire's ghosts are all in Scrooge's head.

Which makes it interesting that their purpose is still clearly to redeem him. If he's imagining all of this, he's also imagining ghosts trying to help homeless mothers. Meaning that there's a part of Scrooge that knows what he should be doing. Which makes this version of the story about the struggle for Scrooge's good conscience to defeat the evil that's dominated his mind for so long.
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