Maggie's World 023: 'Tis the Season
November kicks off one of those chunks of time we call a season, as we lump together the celebrations of November, December, and January as “The Holiday Season.”
Which led me to think about the way comics intersect with time and the moments we sometimes relive, as we pull our treasures out of their shortboxes. Do some comics images capture a particular season for you, as they do for me?
While we consider that, let’s tip the Thompson topper for “skip months.” For many years, indicia obsessives noticed the tiny type that proclaimed that some supposedly monthly titles really weren’t. And series could change. In 1972, for example, DC’s Batman (edited by Julius Schwartz) was “Published monthly, (with the exception of Apr. and Oct.).” [And, no, I have no idea why there was a comma after “monthly.”] In any case, that’s what it said in the issues dated January, February, March, May, and June. But with the August issue, #243, the tiny type was changed to say, “Published monthly, (with the exception of Jan., March, July and Nov.).” What was up with that?
Years later, we have to figure that such schedules were involved with times at which comic-book customers were deemed less likely to be checking newsstands for the latest issues. Now that we have destination-driven customers, the skip-a-month syndrome is less apparent, though newsstand-driven series may be affected.
Returning to less-specific considerations: In olden times (when many, many comics were aimed at kids) some of the covers, if not the stories inside, were season-driven. And it hadn’t really occurred to me till now, but that seemed especially to be the case in comics produced by Western/Dell, which seemed to aim at a pre-teen audience. Was an editor looking for a freestanding, off-topic cover image? Why not tie it to the month?
Mind you, the cover date was not guaranteed to be the time it was to be on sale, so the winter issue might actually be on the stands well before the solstice. When we look at seasonal covers for Dell’s Raggedy Ann + Andy anthology title from late 1946 to late 1948, we can see occasional suggestions of such changes. In 1946: November had a Jack O’Lantern cover; December featured a pine branch with ornaments. In 1947: January displayed a penguin and igloo (and was, of personal interest, the earliest comic book that I bought from the newsstand of which I still have the original copy); February displayed valentines; April brought spring’s bunny and flowers; November featured a bird with a multi-colored ear of corn; December showed a puppy—with holly and a candy cane. In 1948: January snow offered sledding with a jolly bear; October featured Raggedy Ann and Andy carrying their schoolbooks riding on a sheep (a “Mary Had a Little Lamb” reference?); October returned to the theme of a Jack O’Lantern; December at last starred Santa Claus. Yes, it’s the comics for the younger readers that seemed especially tied to the time of year. Issue after issue of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, for example, carried seasonal covers—and many of us remember that Uncle Scrooge McDuck was (appropriately) introduced in a Christmas story.
In the 1940s and 1950s, a larger seasonal special could introduce readers to the characters in an anthology series, though the “giant” issues still tended to be aimed at younger readers. On the other hand, a super-hero anthology title that wasn’t published on a monthly basis might still feature a non-story-connected seasonal cover. Prime among such series was World’s Finest Comics, which featured in its early days such topics as baseball, snow sports, and even a harvest (Victory Garden) event. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for seasonal pin-ups, here are some of the sort of thing you might find. And, as we consider kids’ comics, I’ll note that P.S.: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly created by Will Eisner for the U.S. Army was known to feature a year-end issue with a festive theme.
Winter is here, and snow is everywhere. It started in December, but then the focuses, where they existed, were gifts and Santa and a decorated tree. In January, there’s snow. (Remember that, in 1972, it was one of the “skip months” for Batman.) It occurs to me in passing that such weather-related scenes might have tantalized kids in warmer parts of the country. Is this the place to note the Walt Kelly story “The Great Three-Flavored Blizzard” in Santa Claus Funnies #175 proposed that Santa might have problems, if there was no snow for his sleigh?
Valentine’s Day. Hey, wouldn’t that be a natural for covers?
There are wind and kites, maybe a hint that spring might be on the way, but Batman added it to the “skip month” list. Of course, the March issues would probably hit newsstands (or, later, comics shops) when the solstice seemed way in the future.
Would showers and more hints of spring attract readers? In its Four-Color series, Dell used to celebrate Easter with Easter with Mother Goose and even Oswald Rabbit. For Batman? Another skip month in 1972.
There are finally flowers! But hey! It’s the one month when today’s world of comics celebrates a seasonal event! It’s Free Comic Book Day! You want seasonal? I’ll give you seasonal! Comics shops see lines out the door, as people make the day a family event. (Let’s not forget that the comics are free to the customers, not to the shops. Remember to buy something to accompany that gift, eh?)
Ah, school’s out. And summer’s here! Time to read comics.
It’s fireworks time—but another 1972 skip month for Batman. Kids on vacation might not be visiting their usual newsstand?
Summer’s coming to an end. Maybe covers will feature swimming or baseball. Cling to vacations—especially since comics dated August would go on sale when summer was just getting under way.
Kids’ comics in the 1940s were there to soften the blow of a return to school with gags about teachers, classwork, and maybe even truancy.
Whereas this was another 1972 Batman skip month, Halloween covers were a natural—and even today there are comics with scary covers, right? In any case, this is the second seasonal event we celebrate in today’s world of comics, as the dedicated outreach crowd hands out comics, instead of candy, to the hordes of costumed kids at their doors. (When Marvel first produced packs of such treats, marketing guru Carol Kalish joked that others might suggest the slogan “Rot their minds, not their teeth.”) Recently, comics shops have begun to distribute comics to folks who drop by for Halloween ComicFest—and there are even comics packs available for people who want to provide comics as Halloween treats. Woo hoo!
It’s harvest time, Thanksgiving, and (some years) Election Day. And another Batman “skip month” in 1972.
You know. From stocking stuffers to the highest of high-end treats, kids and adults alike yearn for presents. How many of us spend the holidays reading—and rereading—picture stories?
Wrapping It Up
The eagle-eyed will note that the Archie gang, at least, continues to provide occasional seasonal covers, albeit adjusting for on-sale dates. A mall Santa looked at Archie’s Christmas list in #571, Archie’s February 2007 issue. And “The Elfth Day of Christmas” (Archie #615) was dated January 2011, and there was a snowball fight on Archie #640, Feb 2013. Archie’s Ultimate Guide to Summer Fun #645 (August 2013) featured a seasonal cover (duh!).
Which reminds me, the Archie folks have even paid tribute to one of my favorite traditional comics events. Archie Giant Series Magazine #601 was dated October 1989, when the series was published 13 times a year: “once in July and Nov, three times in Jan. and Sept., and five times in Oct.” And on the cover of one of those October issues? Yes, it was a tribute to another seasonal event in the world of comics: comics conventions!
Maggie’s World by Maggie Thompson appears the first Tuesday of each month here on Toucan!