It’s beginning to look like Christmas over at BOOM! Studios as Grant Morrison and Dan Mora bring readers the next Klaus installment, but this one doesn’t focus on another Yuletide adventure, but rather concentrates on Joe Christmas in a most particular way.
Klaus And The Life and Times of Joe Christmas has no words throughout the entire issue. Essentially, Morrison and Mora created an advent-calendar format for all 25 days taking a brief look into Joe’s life in that year. And yeah, when you’re one of Santa’s “helpers”, it can get pretty weird.
Newsarama chatted with Morrison about the upcoming one-shot, out December 18th, about the challenge of doing a comic book in this style, on whether or not him and Mora would expand any of these images, and of course his own favorite Christmas traditions.
Newsarama: Grant, it's that time of year again and a new Klaus story from Boom! arrives, but this one is completely different from what you've done before with Dan Mora: it's a silent issue, showcasing an almost like an advent calendar-style comic book. What made you want to go this route?
Grant Morrison: It was a purely practical consideration: working on a bunch of TV and movie stuff this year meant I couldn’t organize my schedule to include the traditional 48-page script for the Klaus special. At the same time, I didn’t want to let a Christmas go by without a new Klaus, so the idea came up to do something a little different which led to the ‘advent calendar’ notion – 25 images, one for each day of December leading to Christmas! It started as 25 random scenes from unseen Klaus adventures, but I was drawn to the challenge of using the pictures to tell a story, which became a life story, which became the life of an orphaned kid known only as ‘Joe Christmas’.
Nrama: Your’re starting off near the end of Joe's life in 2001 where he's embraced being a mall Santa to the very beginning of him being a newborn, but you really don't touch on previous adventures like Crying Snowman, or Crisis in Xmasville, so there's a lot of free reign here. Did you and Dan have a checklist of sorts that you wanted to create for this one-shot?
Morrison: I started with 25 images which I described in detail before passing the script onto Dan who filtered my prose descriptions through his mighty imagination via his hand onto the page. The result is the best work I’ve seen from him so far.
The previous stories had established that Klaus was trapped inside the moon for a couple of decades, around the turn of the millennium, so we had to work around that by ensuring that Joe’s life could encompass a good 8 decades without bumping against previously-established continuity.
Nrama: There's so much going on including nods to pop culture and even other famous comic covers. I won't spoil it here, but it gets me thinking about how Santa as a pop culture icon. Why do you think we still tell our kids about Santa and keep the myth alive in our culture?
Morrison: I suppose we just like traditions – basically cultural rituals that allow us to participate with something bigger than our individual lives and which seem to persist over time in a way many people find comforting.
A tradition can be ‘ancient’ in human terms, like the observance of Christmas or Hanukkah, or a few hundred years old like Santa bringing gifts, or relatively recent, like going to see the new Star Wars or James Bond movie. We keep the myth of Santa alive because it appeals to small children and adds a dash of magic to their world - as well as a bracing dash of disillusion when they discover the truth that Santa isn’t ‘real’ in the way they'd been told!
Nrama: This issue is also one of the shorter Klaus stories. What were the priorities of what you and Dan wanted to convey with this visual yearbook?
Morrison: Once we had the advent calendar idea, we knew we’d be working with 25 individual images. 25 images are roughly equivalent to a five-or-six-page comic book story so yeah, where the previous specials have delivered 48-page stories, this was very short by comparison. To make up for that, we tried to compress all the triumphs and tragedies of a human life into those 25 pictures, with the intention of giving the story a sense of depth and span as well as including a wide range of emotions that hopefully make it feel much bigger and more expansive than its length might suggest..
That’s why there’s much richer detail and worldbuilding here, both in Dan’s incredible drawings and in the dense information content of each of the images which are packed like Tarot cards with clues and symbolism and odd little Easter eggs, rewarding careful immersion in each picture. Even the endpaper drawings tell a little bit more of the story.
Further to that, we liked the idea of our readers collaborating with us by extrapolating out from the all the visual clues to assemble their own personal narrative connections and fill those three-year gaps between images.
Nrama: One of the things that I found interesting about this is that you see how Klaus evolved too. He started out as this viking warrior almost like Thor but then sort of takes a lot of notes from Doctor Who. Is that sort of how you see Santa? Less superhero and more benevolent magician?
Morrison: I see this version of Santa that Dan and I have made as being very much the ‘superhero’ version of Santa Claus. That was the original intention – to give him a secret origin, immortality, super-strength, a “Batmobile’ in the form of his trusty super-sled, a super-animal companion, and his own HQ in the form of Santa’s Workshop, etc. Even this Joe Christmas story can be seen in that light as the previously untold tale of Klaus’ kid sidekick.
Having said that, although he’s an adventurer for most of the year, our hero is ultimately Santa Claus, friend of children and bringer of gifts, which implies a certain kindness, generosity and the ability to see who’s been naughty or nice; all of which tends to skew him more in the direction of a Superman or Dr. Who figure than Wolverine or Batman. As you point out, Klaus already went through his wild man outlaw vigilante phase in the origin story.
Nrama: Are there plans to go back and explore more of these stories in future Klaus issues beyond the hints and blinks of Joe's life seen here?
Morrison: I like to think it works better with hints and blinks, as you put it… I can see the possibilities for revisiting one or two of the stories we get glimpses of. I have an ‘all-animal’ Klaus story expanding on the joyous page with Klaus’ wolf Lilli, Joe’s pet cat Tiger and the animal musicians from the Grimm’s Fairy Tale ’The ‘Musician of Bremen’ on some unknown moonlit mission. Klaus has had so many wild adventures over hundreds of years that we can afford to see some of them as snapshots here without ever having to go back or 'develop' the ideas.
Nrama: Between 1975 and 1978, Joe’s story takes a more somber tone. Were there any other ways you discussed in how you wanted to show loss, or was this pretty much the less traumatic way to go about it?
Morrison: As life goes on, all of us experience losses, some expected, some less so - Joe Christmas is no different. while we certainly put the emphasis on light, love and adventure in the majority of scenes, it felt more honest and more poignant to acknowledge the presence of death and tragedy.
Nrama: Do you think fans will get a sense of who Joe Christmas is after going through these images?
Morrison: I hope so! We’re there for all the significant moments of his life – we meet his adopted parents, his beloved pet, his wife. We’re with him in bad times, and scary times and in times of sheer delight. For me, he came alive so strongly that I could easily imagine endless material for a Joe Christmas spin-off book!
Nrama: Lastly, Grant, do you have any unique or interesting Christmas (or Yule) traditions in your household?
Morrison: In Scotland, we like to hang dripping lumps of freshly slaughtered virgin haggis and boiled water-goat on the bony bows of a Christmas tree fashioned from the skeletons of our clan enemies and decorated with their tripes, lights and livers. We feel it's important to preserve these marvellous old cultural traditions into the 21st century and beyond.
Seriously? Nothing that interesting or unusual, I’m afraid! We always have a Christmas tree which the cats trash within days, and a lavish dinner, the remains of which the cats dine on for days. The cats love their Christmas traditions.