Sunday, December 17, 2006

Number 69

COVERING UP: Great Covers Of Golden Age Comics: Santa Covers

One week until Christmas, gang! This is your reminder from Pappy that if you don't have that Christmas shopping done by now you'd better watch out, you'd better not pout, you'd better just get out! Spend the mon' and get it done, son.

That said, get back to the reason we're here. We want to show some of my favorite covers featuring Santa Claus. Since these comics were produced exclusively for younger children it's difficult to find any of them in really great shape, but all of these covers seem to have survived (mostly) the ravages of little fingers.

Walt Kelly was not only one of the greatest cartoonists of the Golden Age--or any age--he did some of the best covers. This is a cover that is somewhat atypical because Santa is drawn in a more realistic manner. It evokes Thomas Nast to me. But the rest of the cover, the toys and such, are purely Kelly. A really great cover from 1946.

In a similar vein is 1947's cover of Tiny Tot Comics by an artist named Burton Geller. I'm not familiar with this artist at all, and despite the subject similarities, compared to Kelly his art is crude. As all true EC Comics fans know, Tiny Tot Comics was produced by legendary comics publisher M. C. Gaines, who died and passed the company on to his son, Bill. He turned it into one of the best remembered and most loved comic book companies of all time. Also most notorious. Just a few years later, any pictures of Santa Claus produced by EC Comics would be of jolly ol' St. Nick carrying an axe.

Everybody knows the song, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," which is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. Lots of merchandising was done, including his own comic book series from DC Comics. It ran for 13 annual issues from 1950 to 1962. The series was revived for a time in the 1970s using some reprints and new stories. I loved this comic book when I was a kid and it was because of the great artwork by a very underrated artist, Rube Grossman. This is Rudolph #1, from 1950, which features a book-length story of 48 pages.

L. B. Cole was a great, and very collectable, cover artist of the 1940s and '50s, but his funny animal stuff is lacking something. Cole was much better at his more dramatic artwork, but he could really produce covers that sold comic books. I like this particular 1952 cover of Holiday Comics, not so much for his Santa Claus, but for its poster-like qualities, including the snow. It gives it, as my old college art teacher would've said, "thump."

By the late 1950s the Santa Claus we know best today was done by Haddon Sundblom, an illustrator who did yearly paintings of Santa holding Coca-Cola bottles. Those ads were so influential that they defined the costume and vision of Santa Claus. This cover from 1960, Dell's Four-Color #1154, is by Mel Crawford, who captured the Sundblom look. It's a great whimsical cover and I probably bought it off the stands because of the cover. When I look at the interior art I know I didn't buy it for that.

Next week, break out the Kleenex for a sentimental Walt Kelly Christmas tale.

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