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Wednesdays with Wade: Christmas at Disneyland

Wednesdays with Wade: Christmas at Disneyland

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I don't know if the Christmas season seemed to have come too quickly this year or if having Christmas on Sunday seems a little out of the ordinary but I am not quite ready to let the Christmas season pass before the New Year without at least one more column devoted to Disneyland and Christmas.

Back when I had more patience and more energy, I would actually spend Christmas Day in Disneyland.   As I got older, I was content to merely visit Disneyland several times during the Christmas season to appreciate the decorations and the shows.

Another Christmas tradition I had was to pull out my DELL comic books that had a Christmas theme and curl up on the couch in the den during the holiday season and read some Christmas themed stories.   In the days before videotape recorders, those of us who were Disney fans could only enjoy the adventures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and relive the films like "Cinderella" by getting DELL comic books which featured these stories and anxiously awaiting the Disney television program to showcase some Disney cartoons.  (At Christmas, it was always a joy to see "From All of Us to All of You" on Walt's show.)

In 1937, Western Publishing took over publishing "Mickey Mouse Magazine."  Western started increasing the number of pages reprinting the classic Floyd Gottfredson "Mickey Mouse" comic strips.   In 1939, Western decided to more actively compete in the new comic book industry and introduced the DELL "Four Color" series  which was a series of one-shot comic books featuring a variety of newspaper strip material. 

In 1940, the first all Disney comic book appeared in the "Four Color" series featuring reprints of  "Donald Duck" comic strips.  By October 1940, Western launched "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories" and by 1942, Western Publisher Eleanor Packer decided that the resource of reprints was quickly running out and it was necessary to create new Disney comic book material.

This decision resulted in the production of the first all new Donald Duck comic book, "Donald Duck Finds Pirate's Gold" by Carl Barks and Jack Hannah in "Four Color #9" and a slew of Disney comic books from continuing series to one-shots created by some outstanding craftsmen, including moonlighting animators like Barks and Hannah trying to get a few extra bucks to help pay bills.

I know this statement always irritates Animation Historian Michael Barrier (who I respect and will always appreciate for his groundbreaking magazine "Funnyworld" and make sure you visit his website at www.michaelbarrier.com) but for many of us kids we enjoyed the work of Tony Strobl, Al Hubbard, Paul Murry, Jack Bradbury as much as we enjoyed the work of Carl Barks.  Barks was without question a genius when it came to recounting the adventures of the duck family (although his storytelling skill and artistic abilities could never make non-duck stories like those with Barney Bear and Benny the Burro memorable) but the concentration on his work has overshadowed the fine craftsmanship of others.

What does all of this have to do with Christmas?  Well, starting in 1949, DELL started publishing a once a year annual of over one hundred pages for a quarter entitled "Christmas Parade."  Nine issues were published (or actually ten issues if you also count the DELL GIANT COMIC one shot in 1959 that was also titled "Christmas Parade") and all of them featured Christmas themed stories showcasing a variety of popular Disney characters.

There was only one year when an issue was not published, 1957, when instead of publishing "Christmas Parade", DELL decided to publish a one-shot entitled "Walt Disney's Christmas in Disneyland."  The cover was pencilled by Tony Strobl and painted by Norm McGary had portraits of  Mickey, Donald and the nephews, Scrooge and Chip'n'Dale surrounding a color photo of Disneyland featuring a bright red tree just to the left of the entrance to Sleeping Beauty's Castle.  The photo also clearly shows a small red fire hydrant there as well so I wonder if anyone has information about that oddity on the photo.

Anyway, the framing story pencilled by Tony Strobl and inked by Steve Steere has Santa appearing on Christmas night at the home of a sister and brother, Taffy and Timmie, who have left him a note reading "Dear Santa, Please no toys!  What we want for Christmas is a trip to Disneyland!  Pretty please!  Love, Taffy and Timmie".

Since Santa is going to drop off some gifts at Disneyland anyway that night, he decides to take Taffy and Timmie with him.   If only it were that easy in real life.  My brothers and I had to be especially good to get a trip to Disneyland, especially during the holiday season when the family finances were strapped.   When Santa's sleigh flies over  Disneyland, the reader can clearly see the Christmas tree in the hub (not Main Street) and the Spaceship in Tomorrowland labelled "TWA".

These annuals provided a framing story that allowed for various stories done by different artists that were themed to areas in Disneyland.  As a kid and having actually gone to Disneyland, I found these stories to be a "cheat" since the adventures never really took place in Disneyland but Adventureland might be the cue for a story taking place in a jungle or Fantasyland might inspire a story of the Disney animated characters from the Seven Dwarfs to Peter Pan to Dumbo. 

In this issue, Adventureland is the springboard for a story by Carl Barks of Scrooge, Donald and the nephews going to a Volcano Island to get Black Pearls but Scrooge has a special Christmas surprise even in this tropical location.  In Frontierland, while Santa delivers presents to "friendly-type Indians" living in teepees, a DELL comic book falls out of his sack of Mickey  Mouse and Goofy in "The Iron House of Lonsesome Gulch" illustrated by Paul Murry and recounting Mickey and Goofy trying to get a payroll to some miners before Christmas so they can celebrate and buy some presents for their children.   Naturally, Black Pete robs the payroll but Mickey is falsely accused of staging the robbery. 

A ride on the AstroJets in Tomorrowland oddly inspires a Paul Murry illustrated Chip'n'Dale story of Br'er Bear kidnapping Jiminy Cricket to teach him how to be Santa Claus so he can eat all the goodies left out for the jolly fellow. (The "Song of the South" characters must have been very popular with readers since they appear in many of the "Christmas Parade" annuals.)   A trip on the Alpine skyway gives Santa the chance to share with Taffy and Timmie an Al Hubbard illustrated tale of Scamp trying to make Lady and the Tramp proud of him  by becoming a "Scamp-Bernard" and in the process rescuing some Saint Bernards in the snowy mountains. 

A ride on Casey Junior takes Santa and the children by the house of the Big Bad Wolf and sparks a story of a good deed the Wolf inadvertantly did for Santa.  Br'er Bear is also in this Paul Murry illustrated story where he runs a second-hand story and it is revealed he has a son and daughter (Billie and Tillie....I am sure Uncle Remus is spinning in his grave....) lost in the snow.

Riding on the pirate ship in the "Peter Pan" atrraction causes Santa to remember in an Al Hubbard illustrated story the time Captain Hook kidnapped Santa to force Peter Pan to catch the crocodile and then leave Neverland forever.  Of course, Peter and Tinker Bell outwit the pirate but are too exhausted Christmas morning when the other Lost Boys open the rescued toys.  "They must be getting old or something" claims one of the Lost Boys.

Riding on a mine car through the "Snow White" attraction is the introduction to a Paul Murry illustrated story of the Seven Dwarfs trying to help Dopey do a good deed to write about to Santa.  All the other dwarfs' good deeds revolved around them helping Dopey throughout the year. 

Finally Santa returns Taffy and Timmie to their home and leaves them lots of presents including some puzzles and games that we can play as well including decoding Morty and Ferdie's letter to Santa, a game board of Santa's journey to Li'l Wolf's house, figuring out how Uncle Scrooge's Christmas wish came true but not in the way he expected, identifying the animals in Goofy Claus's Hodgepodge Team (composed of caribou, elk, gazelle, moose and more), how to make some gift tags as taught by Chip'n'Dale and.....well, lots more.

So on Christmas Day since I was celebrating the holiday this year without my family, I pulled out this classic comic book to re-read and remember happier holidays when I didn't have to worry about mortgages and insurance payments and utility payments and how my body now creaks and squeaks when I try to get up off the couch and all I had to worry about was how to save money out of my lunch money to buy some new comic books each week and the Christmas holiday wasn't just one or two days but two weeks away from the work of school.

As we enter a new year which I hope will be happier year for us all, I think it does us all good to look back on earlier, simpler times and treasure those things that warmed our hearts.   Those memories are the true gifts of Christmas.

I hope one of the things that will warm my heart next Christmas is some publisher deciding to reprint those Disney Christmas comic strips that appeared in local newspapers for a few weeks before  Christmas.  (Actually, I'd also love to see some of those NEA limited Christmas strips like Wally Wood's "Bucky Rufus" or a Jack Kent one I vaguely remember also reprinted.)

Jim Hill must love the "Christmas Parade" annuals because when I pulled them out this year, I noticed one of the back covers had Donald Duck on Santa's lap.  Donald had a huge list of "good boys and girls" to receive special presents and Donald is clearly pointing to the name "Jim" so I wonder what gift Jim got that year.

Happy New Year to You All and many thanks for the kind and generous words some of you have shared about my weekly contributions.
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