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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Archie's Christmas Stocking - And Other Holiday Favourites!

It's time for Day #2 in A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR.  So far, I think we've gotten off to a fine start, and as I try to find the momentum to do at least twenty-three more of these holiday themed blog posts, I find myself not feeling stressed in any way.

Well, at least when it comes to writing, anyway.  I have holiday stress in general, but I'm doing fine handling it.

And you know...when life gets too stressful, I find a temporary escape route...a route that I've been taking for...oh, let's say almost thirty years.

Yes, when life gets to be too much, I pull out an Archie comic book and transport myself into the fictional community of Riverdale.  It's the idyllic place, you know.  Everyone not only gets along with each other, but every single person in the community has a place, and is welcomed by anyone who happens to be near.

Believe me, sometimes I wish I lived in a place like that in the real world.

Some of my favourite Archie comic stories happen to be the Christmas themed ones.  In fact, I just picked up a copy of Archie's Funhouse Jumbo Comics Digest #17 which is chock filled with holiday stories featuring Archie and the gang.  Certainly well worth the $7.99 that I paid for the book.

(Sigh...remember when double digests were only $2.25?  That was how much they were when I first started reading Archie comics.  I wish we could go back to those days.)

Anyway, the Jumbo Comics seem to be the only way that we can enjoy Christmas stories now.  Whether the economy is to blame, or whether digital comics are becoming more in vogue, the print comic industry - at least in the case of classic Archie - seems to be slowing down. 

You certainly don't get a chance to see any Christmas tales in the standard 32-page comic books because most of the classic titles are no longer published.  Instead, the rebooted version of Archie seems to be the way of the world.  And granted, I don't mind the new Archie the same time though, I do think that there is room for both the old Archie and the new Archie.

But anyway, getting back to the old Archie holiday stories, there was only one place where you could find them easily.  It was an annual tradition that lasted nearly four decades.  From 1954 to 1992, the Archie Giant Series released an annual holiday special that featured anywhere from one to four Christmas tales.  And I have to admit, I've made it a mission to try and get every single Christmas issue of the Archie Giant Series ever made.

Of course, the whole thing kicked off with "Archie's Christmas Stocking".  Initially, the reason why the title was called the Giant Series was because each book was almost the size of a digest!  Imagine grabbing a 32-page comic only to find that it's actually an 80 page giant!  That's quite a lot of stories!

Now as time passed, the Giant Series shrank to the size of a standard comic book, but that didn't mean that the stories decreased in quality.  Quite the opposite happened.  And as time passed, "Archie's Christmas Stocking" wasn't the only holiday title to make an appearance in the Giant Series.

Naturally, Betty and Veronica had to have their own title as well, and the "Betty & Veronica Christmas Spectacular" lasted almost as long as "Archie's Christmas Stocking".  It was essentially the same concept, only with mostly Betty and Veronica stories.

There was "Archie's Christmas Love-In", which began in the 1960s and lasted until around 1981.  These were a collection of stories that were more serious than the humourous ones that featured Archie and his friends.  They often had a Christmas moral, focused on the religious aspects of the holiday, and were generally feel good stories.  I liked Archie's Christmas Love-In, but can see why it didn't last that long.

"Sabrina's Christmas Magic" was Archie Comics way of bringing a little bit of magic to the holiday.  All stories in this title featured Sabrina trying to spread holiday cheer to everyone in her life, even though her Aunt Hilda and Della the head witch did everything to remind Sabrina that she's supposed to use her powers for good instead of evil.  But even the Christmas magic can have its effects on the coldest of hearts.  I really liked this title a lot, and I think it should have lasted longer than 1982.

Even the Joe Edwards' creation of Li'l Jinx had her own holiday title.  I can't say that I have too many issues of "Li'l Jinx's Christmas Bag" (mainly because I wasn't a huge fan of Li'l Jinx to begin with), but I will say that it's really hard to screw up a Christmas story.

(I'm kind of disappointed that they never had a Jughead Christmas title.)

Now, when the Giant Series was put to bed in the summer of 1992, the Christmas stories were incorporated into regular Archie titles.  The Christmas Stocking title lasted seven more years with annual specials right up until 2000.  After that, selected issues of "Archie", "Betty & Veronica", and "Jughead" were designated as special holiday issues.

Also beginning in 1996, Archie comics released a digest of selected holiday classics known as "Archie's Holiday Fun Digest".  I do wish that series were still going on though.  It ended in 2007 after twelve issues. 

So, what are some of my favourite Archie holiday stories?  Well, I created a list of them selected from my own personal collection!  I must note though that some of these stories come from my digest collection, so I will be posting the digest title that they appear in.

1.  THE LAST CHRISTMAS (Archie Digest #34)

This is a tear jerker of a story, so be warned in advance.  Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica are coming back home after doing Christmas shopping and they make a pit stop at an abandoned home which has not been lived in for at least a hundred years.  Little did they know that the spirits of a woman and her son live there too.  The little boy died just before Christmas without seeing his toys and tree, and when the gang decide to decorate the inside of the house, it puts an end to a hundred years of misery.  Again, this one's a tearjerker.

2.  THE SACRIFICE (Archie Digest #47)

What happens when you find an abandoned baby on the doorstep in the middle of winter?  Well, Betty and Veronica decide to adopt it, of course.  But when a young woman down on her luck keeps spying on them, it leads both girls to come to the conclusion that the woman is the baby's mother, who had to abandon him so he could have a better life.  Can Betty and Veronica do anything to reunite mother and son for good?  Again, this one's a tearjerker!

3.  POP GOES THE WEASEL (Betty & Veronica Double Digest #17)

When the balloons that Santa Claus gives out to the children keep getting popped, Sabrina decides to investigate.  When she discovers that "Santa" is actually a male warlock set on destroying Christmas for everybody, Sabrina decides to fight fire with fire.  Does the balloon bandit get what's coming to him?  You better believe it!

4. SHOPPING DAZE TIL CHRISTMAS (Betty & Veronica Double Digest #17)

Even the most rational of us tend to get a little bit gift happy over the holidays, and Veronica is no exception.  She ends up buying more things for herself than those on her list.  But when they meet a young woman who is crying in the mall because she doesn't have any money to buy a gift or a father who will help her out, does it melt even the snobbiest of hearts?  This is another good story!

5. A JOB FOR JINGLES (Archie's Christmas Stocking #10)

He's been a mainstay in Archie holiday comics since 1961, and this was Jingles the Elf's first appearance.  Now, Jingles is an elf that only Archie and his friends can see, and whenever he comes on the scene, you know it's because he needs the gang's help to take down a cheap toy developer, or to help Santa deliver gifts, or to plan a Christmas party for orphans.  He's really a great guy to have on your side. 

6. VISIONS OF A SUGAR PLUM (Betty & Veronica #108)

While Jingles usually keeps to visiting Archie or Jughead, Betty and Veronica have a friend of their own...the Sugar Plum Fairy - who sort of looks like Mariah Carey.  Hey, that rhymed!  And usually, Sugar Plum is as filled with Christmas spirit as Jingles...but when she has her heart set on falling in love with another elf, but can't get him to notice her, she disguises herself as a human with help from Betty and Veronica.  Suffice to say, it ends up becoming a mistake as everything goes haywire!

7. THE NAUGHTY CLAUSE (Archie #639)

Finally, we'll take a look at a recent comic.  It's one that features both Jingles and Sugar Plum, as well as the big bearded man in red himself!  When the rest of the gang discover that Reggie is on the naughty list, they all head up to the North Pole to try and talk some sense into Santa Claus.  While up there, a disaster occurs that almost threatens to cancel Christmas...but it's Reggie who comes up with an idea to save Christmas for everyone.  In the process, Reggie discovers the true meaning of Christmas.  It may be a couple of years old, but it just goes to show that Archie has still got it when coming up with holiday favourites. last thing.  If you're looking for a gift to give this Christmas, I recommend this special edition book entitled "Archie's Favorite Christmas Comics".  It's over 400 pages of classic holiday stories...a couple of which are some of the stories I've featured in this blog!  Definitely worth it!

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