Christmas is fast-approaching, but a new OGN is finally answering the question of what Santa Claus does for the other 364 days of the year.
He's a private investigator.
Writer Jeremy Bernstein and artist Mike Dorman have done it in Santa Claus: Private Eye, a new OGN out this week from Darby Pop Publishing. In this new persona, his name's not Santa or Kris Kringle... it's Nick Santana, and he's mixing classic crime noir tropes with the equally classic Christmas lore.
Ho ho... oh no.
Newsarama talked with Bernstein and Dorman about this OGN, it's origins with Mark Waid and John Rogers' Thrillbent, and how they took Santa in this unique direction.
Newsarama: Jeremy, Michael... what's your fascination with Santa Claus?
Mike Dorman: I wouldn’t say either of us had a previous “fascination” with Santa, but I’ve always loved myths and legends.
Jeremy Bernstein: Me, too. And that was probably what first drew me to this idea - the chance to dive into and play around with the Santa Claus mythos.
When I began, I just wanted to write a supernatural detective story. The problem I encountered was that all the best creatures had been “taken.” Vampires, werewolves, wizards, ghosts, succubi, zombies… you name it, someone had already written ‘em as the lead of a detective story.
And that’s when a little voice in the back of my head piped-up and said: “No one’s done Santa Claus.”
Of course, I immediately dismissed that as being crazy. But, just as a thought experiment, I started wondering what a detective story starring Santa might look like. Which is what really got me thinking about the Santa myth and who Santa could be as a character. And I soon realized - here’s this guy, this immortal avatar of joy who has brought cheer and goodwill to everyone for hundreds and hundreds of years... but what brings him joy? Anything? And once that clicked, that’s where my “fascination” really began.
Nrama: With Santa Claus: Private, you're putting out there that Santa Claus moonlights as a noir-ish detective. What's going on?
Bernstein: Well, once I started actually thinking about Santa as a private investigator, it made perfect sense. I mean, Santa has a great sense of who’s Naughty and who’s Nice - which could be very useful for a detective. He can slip down chimneys and snoop around - also useful. If Santa Claus needed to moonlight… he could do worse than moonlighting as a P.I.
Dorman:The real question is why is Santa moonlighting at all, and that is definitely the focus of this volume.
Nrama: What led you to transpose Saint Nick into true crime kind of stories?
Dorman: I don’t think we’d say “true crime” so much as “noir.” This is classic noir…with some well-placed comedy.
Bernstein: Which always seemed to me like it was the only way to go. I mean, once you’re making Santa Claus a detective, there’s no point in doing it half-assed, is there? I’ve always been a fan of the detective genre, and I figured juxtaposing Christmas cheer and bright decorations with gritty streets and dark shadows would make for a lot of fun - both in the writing and in the artwork.
Nrama: What is he investigating in this case?
Bernstein: Murder, of course. If you’re gonna do a Santa noir, it has to start with a dame walking into Santa’s office, asking to hire him to investigate her husband’s murder, right?
Dorman: Oh, and whatta dame…
Nrama: What does Mrs. Claus think of all of this?
Bernstein: That is an excellent question. We don’t get into Mrs. Claus too deeply in this volume…
Dorman: She makes a telephone cameo, but you’ll have to wait for Volume Two to really learn about her thoughts on the matter.
Bernstein: Let’s just say she’s not a fan.
Nrama: In some crime novels, it's a trope that the hero can't leave his past behind him... so do any of Nick Santana's Christmas ties come into play here?
Dorman: Well, we open “eight years ago” in a flashback to a Christmas Past, so yeah, Nick’s past is ever-present.
Bernstein: As a writer, I wanted to leave no trope behind. Though not all of Santa’s “past” is precisely what you think of when you say “Christmas-y”.
Nrama: How'd you two connect - and connect with Darby Pop - for this OGN?
Dorman: This is one of those, “kids, don’t try this at home” stories.
Bernstein: We first connected with each other through John Rogers and Mark Waid’s digital comics portal, Thrillbent. John was one of the first people I asked for advice when I decided to write this, and John expressed an interest in publishing it digitally on Thrillbent. But, I didn’t have an artist yet…
Dorman: Meanwhile, I was a reading Thrillbent’s library as a fan. I loved what they were doing and how they were doing it - the “controlled” guided view; it fit right in with my cinematic sensibilities.
So, one day, I just randomly launched a tweet complimenting John and Mark on their platform and the stuff they were producing and asking how I could be a part of it. Within the hour, to my shock, I received a follow and DM from John asking for my portfolio.
I had just finished a story for Moonstone with the Black Bat and Domino Lady - very noir-ish. So, that was at the top of my portfolio. I’ve always been told that my art has a cinematic quality. And noir is one of my favorite film genres. Of course, I had no idea at the time… but “noir” was exactly what Thrillbent was looking for.
Bernstein: So, I get a message from John with a link to a portfolio saying: “I found this guy on Twitter. He’s perfect.” And I looked at Mike’s work and, yeah, it was exactly the vibe we had been looking for. I guess the moral is to never look a gift Tweet in the mouth?
The Darby Pop connection came a little later. We’d always wanted to do a paper release, so my manager, Mikhail Nayfeld, suggested I send the digital materials to this upstart publishing company - Darby Pop - and talk to them about it. I met with Jeff Kline, we hit it off, he loved the material, and there you go. We had to tweak the art a little for publication. And we made some other minor alterations here and there. But, the really crazy part is that Jeff was already friends with John Rogers from when they worked together in early 2000s on an animated series (Jackie Chan Adventures). Very small world…
Nrama: Mike, do you change how you draw the book in terms of style when Santa Claus isn't in his red-and-white suit but is in this trenchcoat and fedora?
Dorman: No. I tried to keep true to the singular noir vision Jeremy had. Only the length of Santa’s beard changes. And even that was a direct request from Jeremy to clearly differentiate between past-Nick from current-Nick.
Nrama: There is a contingent of people who have a deep interest in all things Christmas - would Santa Claus: Private Eye fit that for them?
Bernstein: Well, Santa’s first line of dialogue is “Jesus, I hate the holidays…” so I’d have to say that this is not a typical Christmas story…
Dorman: But if you read the OGN and don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end, you’re probably a Grinch. Make no mistake… Nick Santana may be grizzled, but he’s still Santa.
Bernstein: True. But we do poke at a few sacred cows along the way.