'Christmas Classics' graphic novel lives up to its name

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Dec. 21, 2010 -- What’s Christmas without comics? Well, it’s still Christmas, because there’s nothing especially Christmas-y about comics. Still, there’s lots of red and green in comics, which is enough for me to recommend Christmas Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Nineteen ($17.95).


This volume is like the first 18, an anthology of classic stories interpreted by various artists with as much of the original material intact as possible, for ages 12 and up. And, despite it being Christmas-themed, it’s about as far from schmaltzy as you can get.


Of course, "A Christmas Carol" and "A Visit from St. Nicholas" are virtually required, and do indeed lead the book with competent art by Micah Farritor and Florence Cestac, respectively. But then the real fun begins. I laughed aloud at "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," an actual, Christmas-themed Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Cynthia Martin illustrates O. Henry’s "A Chaparral Christmas Gift" in a clear, crisp style (and a story I’d never read before that kinda made me choke up). Evert Geradts’ art on "The Strategy of the Werewolf Dog” wasn’t to my taste, but you have to love a Christmas story (by Willa Cather) that dares to use “werewolf” in the title. Next up is a nice take by artist Simon Gane on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "A Luckless Santa Claus," a tale that I could swear was swiped for “The Midas of Metropolis,” a 1968 Jimmy Olsen story. And then comes the show-stopper, a 29-page tour de force by the always wonderful Rick Geary, adapting Fitz-James O’Brien’s "The Wondersmith," involving those traditional, classic holiday elements: kidnapping, poisoned toys, murderous mannequins and heroic monkeys.


I won’t lie; I’m a sucker for Christmas comics, from the classic Disney “Christmas on Bear Mountain” (which introduced Uncle Scrooge in 1947) to today’s annual holiday-themed superhero anthologies. But Christmas Classics is great fun beyond that, with some stories barely involving the holiday at all.


I also must confess that I am a contributing editor at Comics Buyer’s Guide magazine, whose parent organization just published Comics Shop ($24.99), which I’m about to recommend.


Comics Shop is comic book price guide, and it is unquestionably the finest of its kind – far superior to its chief competitor, the more familiar Overstreet book. The most obvious improvement is color, which is pretty useful for the hundreds of cover reproductions. But the true element that distinguishes Shop is content, in that the CBG editors have written introductions to, and descriptions of, hundreds of comics, and the guide contains an eye-popping 130,000 books. The latter is due to the contributions of Peter Bickford, creator of the popular ComicBase collecting software, and the former leads to the book’s tagline “the only price guide you’ll read.” As further reason to read (and not just flip through) are features on comics history, grading, market trends and more, by the people who have covered comics longer than any other comics publication.


Yeah, OK, I’m a little biased. But it’s a darn good price guide.


Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve been remiss in not recommending Victorian Undead as soon as I should have. It was a DC/WildStorm miniseries pitting the Wizard of Baker Street against (of course!) zombies, which was collected in trade paperback just before Halloween.


It’s a different holiday now, but Victorian Undead ($17.99) is still a great story, with zombies working better in a period setting than you’d think. Holmes and Dr. Watson are well characterized by writer Ian Edginton, with sleek, modern artwork by Davide Fabbri. It sold well enough that a second miniseries began in November, pitting Holmes against (of course!) vampires.


Speaking of horror, Dark Horse’s archives series reprinting Warren Publishing’s Creepy and Eerie magazines have turned a corner. Eerie Vol. 5 ($49.99) is still mired in the publisher’s weakest period (late 1960s), but Creepy Vol. 8 ($49.99) reprints five issues from 1971, where budding artistic stars Ernie Colon and Tom Sutton were buttressed by a wave of terrific newcomers, including Dave Cockrum, Richard Corben, Bruce Jones, Pablo Marcos and Mike Royer. Old pros Wally Wood and Syd Shores contribute as well, along with some fresh new writers, like Nick Cuti (E-Man) and Doug Moench (Master of Kung Fu). This talent influx is marred a bit by 1970s-style experimentation – guys, there’s a reason for editors! – but overall Creepy Vol. 8 is a much better package than its immediate predecessors.


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

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Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on December 22, 2010 at 3:50pm

Speaking of Christmas comics, I've just begun my semi-annual re-reading of Will Eisner's "The Christmas Spirit". Have you ever read the Comico Chjristmas special? That's another perennial favorite of mine. If you like Christmas comics and have never read this one-shot from the late '80s, it's worth seeking out.


I’ve got a confession to make: I let my subscription to CBG lapse a while ago. Partly the reason was due to the loss of my twice-daily train ride, but after the format switch, I didn’t like being “forced” to buy a price guide every month. I saw a recent issue on the shelves, though, and it looks like a slimmer, more economical package so it may be time for me to re0up. This new actual GUIDE guide looks interesting though. I’ll keep my eye out for it and give it a look.


Glad to hear Creepy has turned a corner. (I’ll get caught up one of these days.) Tracy still reads both Creepy and Eerie faithfully, though, and points out items of interest. She always reads and shares the letter columns, and I was beginning to wonder whether the EVER got any positive mail after Goodwin left. The letters are kinda funny, though, if you’re not reading them. They’re obviously written by young kids, indignant but trying to be funny.


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