It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, It’s…Santa Claus?

This past Thanksgiving weekend, while in front of the television, I caught myself getting a little giddy watching Santa arrive in both the Macy’s Parade and the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s always a special moment that, somehow, officially ushers in the Christmas season.

Santa Claus was the first hero that I ever idolized. This is probably true of almost any kid brought up in a culture that endorses his mythology. Santa has a lot in common with superheroes, a simple origin story, unique abilities, a specific costume, and an honorable mission. The only difference is that Santa is real…sorta.

Most kids know that their favorite superhero is just a character created for their enjoyment, but it takes a while to convince a kid that Santa might not be real. In fact, most of us adult types put a lot of effort into insuring that our children buy into the reality of the jolly old elf, in part, because it rekindles the joys we remember having in our own childhood and we want to make sure our children have the same, if not better, experience.

Santa gives us  insight to the subject of accessibility which has been a recent topic for discussion about comic books and the characters found within. The overriding position being that most comic characters that are now decades old, some with seventy years of adventures offer no simple jumping-in point for new readers who may be intimidated by the tremendous burden of trivia laden continuity.

Comic characters over the years have bounced around  alternate universes, infinite realities, and been subjected to aberrations instigated by time travel. Some story arcs are just a fresh approach by a new creative team with a different perspective of the character.  Do all these alterations make the characters any less accessible?

Ask Santa!

Santa Claus or some variation of the character has been around for hundreds of years and has been the subject of many a cultural makeover effecting everything  including his name, his costume and his adventures.  Country to country the concept of Santa is similar even though the details may differ, he is a benevolent being who brings toys to all the boys and girls of the world on Christmas. Santa Claus is almost universally accessible.

Here in America the concept of Santa is most clearly defined by Clement C. Moore’s 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas better known today as T’was the Night Before Christmas. Santa is a jolly old elf dressed in a fur trimmed suit that drives a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer and he comes down the chimney to deliver toys while we sleep.

Many stories have added to the lure of Santa, establishing his home at the North Pole, his most famous reindeer, Rudolf, and adventures from battles with Martians to tussles with Mother Nature and her boys Heat Miser and Snow Miser.

Children even learn to accept that Santa has “helpers” that dress like him to find out what kids want for Christmas and those helpers come in all shapes sizes and colors.

The iconic superheroes, like Santa, all share the ability to be simply defined. For most of them their name says it all, combined with a simple colorful costume, there is no doubt what the character is about. The creators of the major comic heroes gave us classic origin stories that define the characters into perpetuity just as Moore did for Santa.

Those origin stories are the root that every other story featuring that hero derives from. Readers will always have accessibility provided the characters uphold the most basic canon established in the origin.

What makes good comics about superheroes work is the creator’s ability to generate a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. All heroes give us something that we want to believe in like truth, justice and the American way. We want to believe that good will always triumph over evil just as we want to know that, if we are good, Santa will always deliver. Our desire to believe in these qualities allows us to believe that a man can fly and so can those eight, tiny reindeer!

Making Comics Because I Want To

Gerry Giovinco

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One Response to “It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, It’s…Santa Claus?”

  1. […] week I wrote about accessibility, primarily focusing on characters remaining accessible to their audience after decades of […]

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