Friday, December 23, 2016

Klaus: A Christmas Comic Book Review [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Comic books featuring Santa Claus go back to the Golden Age. The Funnies, Disney Parade, Santa Claus Funnies; the four color Santa has been drawn by Irvin Tripp, Arthur E Jameson, Walt Kelly, and (much later) even John Byrne. Holiday comics are a guaranteed one-shot sales booster. They come and go like Bing Crosby tunes, Grinch cartoons, and fruit cake. So imagine my surprise when in November 2015 a comic appears called Klaus. It’s written by British comic book writer, Grant Morrison (who gave us Justice League revamps, Dark Knight adventures, and lately 18 Days) and ran until August of 2016. Christmas comics in the summer! Maybe that’s why he was worthy of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2010. That takes some writing chops.

The seven-issue mini-series is set in the town of Grimsvig, a Medieval settlement ruled over by a cruel baron. He has made virtual slaves of the men and forbidden toys, merriment, and the Yule holiday. Sound familiar? The baron’s name isn’t Burgermeister Meisterburger. It’s not Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, the 1970 children’s special written by Romeo Muller. Morrison begins in the same place then deviates into a power struggle between toymaker and baron that is closer to Game of Thrones than kiddie cartoons. We learn about the character of Klaus, who lives alone in the woods with his pet wolf Lilli and uses the magic of the forest, and how he was framed for murder by the baron who has also stolen his love, the beautiful Dagmar.

Klaus’s one-man war on the enemies of Christmas will appeal to comic fans who like their knights dark and their heroes bloody. Again, different than the Rankin-Bass cartoon, this comic has a nice, dark, almost Lovecraftian vein to it. The baron is not a madman, but in league with a demon trapped under the town’s vein of coal. The baron tells everyone the coal is for the king who will visit at Yule, but is in fact being cleared to free the monster. When this creature escapes we are in for a great sword-and-sorcery style fight. The terrible demon is the basis for the anti-Santa, Krampus, who wishes to devour the town’s children.

Morrison describes the comic thusly: “Klaus is the story of our hero’s greatest challenge and how he overcame it. This is the tale of one man and his wolf against a totalitarian state and the ancient evil that sustains it. Part action thriller, part sword-and-sorcery, part romance, part science fiction, Klaus has given us free rein to revamp, reinvent, and re-imagine a classic superhero for the 21st century. He’s making a list and he’s checking it twice. This Christmas it’s all about psychedelic shamanism, anti-authoritarian guerrilla gift-giving, and the jingle bells of freedom!”

The artwork in Klaus was done consistently throughout by Dan Mora, who also did the color. His work has a little Disney appeal, but can do all the realistic stuff it needs to do for a sword-and-sorcery tale, much as European artists like Crisse do. His designs for the evil Big Bad are creepy and believable at the same time that they are utterly fantastic. Mora worked on Hexed, also published by Boom, so he can draw magic stuff well.

Now the idea of writing Santa’s back story is not new with Morrison. L Frank Baum did it in 1902, and pulpster Seabury Quinn was much closer to Morrison’s version with “Roads” in Weird Tales in January 1938. What Morrison does do is write an adult story worthy of where Quinn leaves off. He gives us a hero to cheer for, an underdog with a righteous cause, a love story, and good villains who may at first seem cardboard, but become more interesting as we learn their objectives and struggles. Unlike Romeo Muller’s cartoon, Morrison hints at some origins of Christmas, but isn’t bound too tightly to it. This isn’t really a Christian tale so much as a Yuletide one. There is more of Robert E Howard than Saint Nicholas here: a celebration of love, family, hope, and light that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of religious belief; something comic book publishers are more sensitive to today.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for this review. You’ve sold me. I’m going to go dig in right now.


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