Monday, December 25, 2017

Guest Post | The Four Color Adventures of Frosty the Snowman

By GW Thomas

From just about the very beginning of comic books, publishers have realized that with the extra leisure and more generous spending habits of December, it’s a great time to sell more comics. Thus the Christmas Special. From Bugs Bunny to Superman, the Christmas comic became a seasonal surety on wire store racks.

1950 was the year Gene Autry tried for Christmas gold a second time. His first hit had been “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which had been Number 1 the year previous. His rendition of Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson’s song “Frosty the Snowman” proved almost as impressive (getting to Number 7), adding yet another entry to the pantheon of non-religious Christmas characters. The song would have to wait nineteen years to get a cartoon based on it, but in the meantime, the comic specials filled that void.

Dell had the popular anthology comic, Four Color, which alternated between familiar newspaper comic characters, Disney and Warner Brothers, to movie and TV adaptations. The year after Autry’s hit, readers saw the first Frosty the Snowman comic with Four Color #359 (November 1951). Written and drawn by Jon Stanley and Dan Gormley, it set the pattern for the next ten years. Gormley would draw seven of the eleven issues, each showing up in November or December.

Many of the stories are suggested by the original song. “Before I melt away” inspires several stories where Frosty needs to keep himself from melting, such as “The Heat Wave” (December 1961). “There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found” gives us several stories about the hat, whether stolen by evil snowmen or lost in a mix-up after being cleaned. Later, when the cartoons were done in the 1960s, they too latched onto these ideas.

The first full-length story, “The Evil Snowman,” features a villainous snowman with a black Russian beard. The story would get a second version (called “The Snowman Contest”) in the final issue where the evil snowman wears a checked vest instead. (After eleven years of stories, even Gormley had run dry.) This first issue also introduces some of Frosty’s sidekicks: a rabbit named Skeeter, Santa Claus (with his elves and reindeer), Jack Frost, the Straw Man, and a gang of kids who come to the rescue whenever Frosty needs them.

Most of the Frosty plots follow similar themes. There are a good number of stories in which Frosty loses his hat like, “Frosty the Snowman and the Old Top Hat” (November 1952) and “Magic Hat” (December 1958). He doesn’t turn into an immobile snowman, but he can’t walk around (or skip and dance, as he often points out) either, and it is up to kids or animals or mere chance to bring his hat back.


Other stories focus on Frosty as helper or hero, usually for a small child or animals, like the ducks and other forest creatures in “Saving Frozen Ducks” (November 1952), “Frosty the Snowman Makes the Forest Safe”(November 1953), and “Frosty the Snowman and Peter Polar Bear” (November 1954). In these tales, Frosty may go on a long journey, giving the story a grander scope than the neighborhood tales. Sometimes he is helping Santa Claus, like when the elves all come down with the flu or the toys are missing. Frosty encounters a number of witches in these stories, as they require a villain, like the one who has taken all the hobby horses in “Frosty the Snowman and the Crystal Castle” (November 1953). Wolves and foxes also show up as bad guys.

Frosty also acts as teacher sometimes to boys who have lost their way. “Bad Bobbie” (November 1953) has Bobbie tricking Frosty into shoveling the walk for him, but when Bobbie tries to get Frosty onto skis, the tables are turned. Frosty is an expert skier and causes a pile of snow to recover Bobby’s walkway. These bad boys usually see the error of their ways and become good with Frosty’s help.

And lastly, my favorite of the Frosty stories are mysteries, where Frosty acts as detective. The November 1954 issue had “Down on the Farm” where a “ghost” is playing practical jokes on the farm animals. Frosty, of course, uses his little white cells and figures out who is the culprit. “The Missing Page” (December 1960-February 1961) has Frosty help a girl find part of a missing book.

In 1964, Rankin-Bass' animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would premiere. A perennial favorite, it featured a snowman named Sam, not Frosty (and modeled on the actor who played him, Burl Ives). In 1969, Rankin-Bass acquired the Frosty property and put out an animated cartoon of him that has also become a seasonal fixture, with Jackie Vernon as the loveable snowman. R-B did a crossover cartoon in 1979 called Rudolph the Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys. All of these animated shows remind me of material in the Dell comics, especially the idea of Frosty's becoming associated with Santa and the North Pole, though it is hard to say if they had any influence as many of the ideas can be found in the original song.

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 gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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