Comics

Marvel’s Magnificent Holiday Comicbooks: Part 1

Stan Lee Still True Believin'

Previously, I wrote about the dearth of Thanksgiving-themed comicbooks from Marvel over the decades. This time I’ll talk about the wealth of holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) themed comics Marvel has produced in the past 50 years.

“[On the] Eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Eight comic books.”

Bob & Doug McKenzie, The Great White North album, 1981

The truth is that Marvel produced hardly any holiday-themed books and stories while Stan Lee was chief writer and editor of the line in the 1960s. Does this mean Stan Lee was a Scrooge regarding the holidays? Well, not exactly, although he disliked holidays for the simple reason that they took away productive workdays when books were due on a weekly basis. It made getting back to work a major exercise in playing catch-up with those relentless deadlines.

Moreover, however, Stan wanted the stories to remain timeless, and not too attached to a particular date or year, so that 1. they could stay on the comicbook racks longer and 2. they could be re-read and enjoyed any time of the year. The seemingly endless reprints of the original stories he wrote with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others attest to the wisdom of this policy.

However, by the late 1960s a few holiday-themed stories did appear in the regular titles. By the 1970s there were enough stories for Marvel to reprint them in a special Marvel Treasury Edition. A Treasury Edition was a large tabloid sized, perfect-bound comicbook. Some featured original stories, although most featured reprints, collected together for sale to the general public. The first treasury edition was a joint venture with DC Comics featuring MGM’s The Wizard of Oz film. Several successful treasury titles were released in the mid-1970s, including The Marvel Holiday Grab-Bag, which premiered in 1974.

This edition reprinted a handful of holiday-themed stories from the previous years and must have sold well because another edition appeared in 1975. The final one appeared one year later, in 1976, and also included an all-new connecting story that tied the reprinted stories together cleverly. This edition featured most of Marvel’s premiere heroes of the time, including the Avengers and the Fantastic Four.

Interestingly, these three Treasury editions also established a tradition, if you will, of clever cover art adorning Marvel holiday collections. For instance, the 1974 Grab-Bag featured a matching rear image of the front cover on the back cover, as the heroes burst through a green holiday wreath. The 1975 Grab-Bag echoed this with a different view of the heroes on the front cover who surround a Christmas tree.  On the back, the same heroes are on the rooftop at night alongside Santa Claus himself.

Finally, the 1976 edition featured a wraparound cover that featured even more of the most popular Marvel heroes on the back cover.

Alas! The Treasury Edition printings stopped selling well enough to continue and this three-year tradition of oversized collections of holiday story reprints ceased. This was echoed in the comics. Even as Marvel expanded into the 1980s with such huge successes as the X-Men, the new regime under Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter didn’t really produce many holiday stories or reprint them. Perhaps for similar reasons as Stan’s during his reign as Marvel’s chief writer and editor in the 1960s, it was an effort to keep the Marvel tales as timeless as possible.

That would all change again in the early 1990s with Marvel Holiday Special (and Spectacular)! To be continued…