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How to Be a Holiday Hero

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the December 4-10, 1997, Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

'NUFF SAID:

"Here he is: Claus, also known as Santa Claus, Chris Kringle, St. Nicolaus, Father Christmas … the list goes on. He has many names. Is he a criminal?"

—The Angel of Death in L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

I know what you’re thinking: "I can’t get a present for Aunt Martha in a comic book store." Well, maybe you can. In the coming weeks, I'm going to make gift suggestions that, hopefully, will fit some people on your list, regardless of whether they currently read comic books or not.

This week, I’m focusing on gifts for the kids on your list, though they’re equally good for anyone with a childlike spirit, as Danny Kaye used to say.

Kids, thankfully, don’t have the built-in bias against comics that many older folks do. The only trick is finding something they consider cool. If they’re into trading cards, collectible card games or action figures, shopping is a snap. Trading cards today range from Disney characters to movie tie-ins to almost anything in pop culture, so there has to be one set they’d be interested in.

One of my favorite gift suggestions for younger kids is the Michael Ploog adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Baum is better known as the creator of The Wizard of Oz but his writing didn’t stop there. He authored 12 books featuring Oz, all of which are great for kids, as well as a collection of American folk tales and children’s books featuring fantastic creatures in the magical countries surrounding Oz. I’d actually recommend his books for intermediate readers because while they are illustrated, they are not skimpy on text.

Anyway, Baum’s Christmas book attempts to explain where Santa Claus came from, why he gives toys to children, why he doesn’t age, etc. It’s a wonderful story, but I’m never quite sure what age group to recommend it for. Ideally, kids should read it while they still believe in Santa, but with today’s cynicism, that age group gets younger every year, so you might have to read it to little tykes. While you can find various paperback versions of the story, the hardcover edition by Tundra (Kitchen Sink) is lovely and well worth the $25 cost, particularly since one of the paperback editions contains an afterward about Santa Claus being fiction — not something to put into the hands of young believers.

Another great present for children are the Eric Shanower’s graphic novels featuring original stories based on the Oz characters. Since Baum died, numerous writers, some of them Baum’s descendants, have continued series, but I usually found them to be pale imitations. Shanower’s are not. The story goes that Shanower taught himself to draw by mimicking John R. Neill’s illustrations for many of the original Oz books, so these are the truest drawn to Baum’s instructions. Even better, Shanower captures the spirit of the characters and weaves stories that enchant me as if I was a child all over again. The titles are The Forgotten Forest of Oz, The Enchanted Apples of Oz, The Secret Island of Oz, The Ice King of Oz and The Blue Witch of Oz. Originally released by First Comics, Dark Horse bought the rights when First went under.

Also available in December is Sirius’ first trade paperback compilation for Reality Check. The zany stories about a virtual reality world is a huge hit with kids and features distinctive art that melds a variety of styles and forms

 

Column 1997 Long Island Voice. Life and Adventures of Santa Claus artwork 1997 Kitchen Sink Press.  Oz graphic novel artwork 1997 First Comics.