“What Would Santa Do?” – Grant Morrison On Positivity & Redemption In Klaus And The Crying Snowman

by Hannah Means Shannon

For many readers, a new Klaus book each Holiday Season has become a ritualistic read, one that’s much looked forward to, an escape into a land of old yule traditions writ large and combined with high adventure from writer Grant Morrison and artist Dan Mora. The concept of Santa Claus as a kind of superhero shouldn’t totally work–it should be too saccharine for teen or adult audiences to enjoy alongside kids, but by paring down Father Christmas lore to key elements and infusing it all both with danger and with positivity, the Klaus stories have developed into a remarkable reading experience.
New installment Klaus and the Crying Snowman hits comic shops with 48 pages of self-contained story next week, on December 19th, and it should be high on your list, whether you’d be picking up a Klaus book for the first time or whether you’re awaiting your next fix of Dan Mora’s energetic and gorgeous artwork.
In it, you’ll find familiar character mainstays and cameos, but also a number of new characters and an even greater emphasis on kindness and redemption than in previous stories, delivered in an impressively challenging way in a story that’ll also take you on a breathless dash through marvelous locations and, of course, treat you to plenty of monster-fighting.
Grant Morrison joins us today on-site to talk about Klaus, kindness, redemption, and what could potentially be the greatest superpower of them all.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Even though it’s an adventure story with a lot of fun and humor, there seems to be a lot of stock put in this idea of kindness and understanding in the story. How seriously do you hope readers will take that message?
Grant Morrison: I hope it’s obvious enough that people will take it in. It’s part and parcel of doing a story with Santa Claus. I always have to remind myself when I’m in the middle of these things that it’s a big superhero story or a weird sci-fi story, but it’s about Santa Claus and how he deals with things. He deals with things in a very different way than most people. He’s very forgiving. He’s all for redemption and second chances, which is what this is about in a number of ways.

HMS: There’s a kind of elastic positivity in that character. In all-ages comics you sometimes find characters who reflect that a little bit, but it’s rarer in comics that also appeal to teen and adult audiences just as well.
GM: I think Santa Claus kind of gets away with it a little bit more! People are more kindly disposed toward him. Yes, he fights monsters, but ultimately he’s trying to bring gifts to everyone. It’s what he’s all about. People forgive him for his sentimentality and his refusal to be anything but positive because he’s Santa Claus.
HMS: Which makes him a great vehicle for storytelling…
GM: Yeah, ‘cause you’re kind of smuggling in some of these things, since you can appreciate the fact that he’s been fighting monsters for hundreds of years as well as all the other stuff he does.

HMS: A slightly more cynical question for you that has bearing on this story—Do you think we should distrust “heroic” sounding narratives, even tragic ones, if they only tell one side of the story or come only from one perspective?
GM: You can trust them if they prove to be useful in any way in your own life, but no, I’m all for multiple perspectives. I think the best way to understand anything, as I’ve said often, is to realize that there’s a complex mess of events, with things, and characters going on all around us all the time. To even grasp that, you’ve got to see from every possible perspective, I think. ‘Cause each one informs what we’re actually dealing with, which is very complicated.
So, trust narratives? No. Narratives are delivered by people who are trying to make you feel a certain way. So, only if you’re prepared to go along with them and they provide something positive are they useful at all. Narratives should be seen from every possible perspective—I want to see what everyone sees, through their eyes.

HMS: Something that surprised me about this story was not so much the question of whether we should trust heroic narratives, but the idea that even the tragic ones, that might even have an aspect of the underdog to them, might be suspect in some way. That’s rarer to hear.
GM: The lead character in that book is very suspect, and beyond ambiguous to me. He’s almost a villain. But there’s a kind of logic of: “What would Santa Claus do?”, in this story. Superman would probably lock him up. But Santa Claus has been around a long time, and he remembers this guy as a little boy, and also, he cares about the current little kid who needs his Scrooge of a dad shaken up a little bit.
But definitely, this character is very ambiguous, or even quite unpleasant. He does learn a little bit, I’d like to think.

HMS: Yes. When you used the word “Scrooge” just now, it reminded me that I noticed some little references to A Christmas Carol in this book, including the idea of wondering if everything has been a dream, as well as the idea of second chances and transformation.  
GM: Yes, exactly. It could almost be a dream. It’s something that melts away. Also, the brevity of a life being expressed and compressed down into the image of a snowman. He’s given that second life, and a second chance.
HMS: I was thinking about the symbol of the snowman, and it took me a minute to realize that he’s a key symbol of the Christmas Season both in America, with Frosty the Snowman, and in the UK, where the animation of The Snowman is on TV a lot.
GM: That thing’s on every Christmas. It’ like It’s a Wonderful Life and other Christmas movies. When I realized I had three specials down the line, I thought, “I’ve got to do a snowman story.” This one is slightly more bitter and adult, with the truth hiding behind the gift wrap.

HMS: Is there a core mythology, or older material about snowmen who come to life in Norse or Germanic stories or in other cultures? I’m not sure.
GM: Honestly, in this instance, I didn’t research it. I’m sure that people have been making snowmen up in the North, as far back as people can remember. And anything that looks a bit human, you can imagine it coming to life. So, no, I don’t know what the first snowman story is. I didn’t research in the way that I usually do since I already knew what the story was, kind of like The Snowman, but nastier.

HMS: This is more about the human story than mythology, anyway. It’s a little bit like a kind of Golem story, just more ephemeral.
GM: There’s something almost more lovely, I think, in the notion of a melting body. The sun is this beautiful giver of life, but for the snowman, it’s radiance and illumination, but also dissolution. It’s a really nice central image for the whole story. Understanding dissolves what he once was. The frozen armor of the man he once was.

HMS: Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of cold and heat-related themes that run all the way through this story and also the other Klaus stories. It reminds me of the creative role of cold and heat, going back into Norse mythology, and I love how that’s consistent in all these stories.
GM: Oh, absolutely! One of the runes that Klaus uses relates to this. Of the three runes that he had embedded into him by alien beings gave him the power of each of those runes, and fire is one of the most important ones.
HMS: Dan Mora’s artwork on this is so fun, beautiful, and upbeat. He can move between the heroic to the humorous from one panel to the next. Why is it important that a story like this has humor and lighter elements?
GM: The thing is, Dan is so great. He’s done each of these Klaus stories in a different style, and as the pages were coming in on this, they were just so exciting and inspirational. You have to emphasize the light in things, as well. Even though Klaus is up against some dark thoughts and ideas. But Dan’s stuff is just to exuberant and beautiful, that it’s kind of like Liam Sharp’s work on Green Lantern in that way.
What would bagpipes look like with mosquito wings? I know the man to draw that: Dan Mora. It’s one of the most beautiful, bizarre images. Part of me just loves coming up with mad stuff for Dan to draw and it’s been a revelation for me. He’s one of the people who I really like working with. He’s just able to “get” everything I’m looking for and do it. Part of doing Klaus is just to do more stories with him.

HMS: There are so many locations in The Crying Snowman, and we jump between them so quickly in this breathless way, but Dan’s artwork carries it with amazing style.
GM: Also, the color palette, and some of the most beautiful renderings of snowy landscapes. And Dan’s never seen snow!
HMS: What??
GM: Yes! He lives in Costa Rica. He’s never actually seen snow. When we met, it seemed so ridiculous because those beautiful painted scenes are so evocative.

HMS: Last question–Towards the end of the comic, I was reminded just how ridiculously powerful a person would be if they really could tell who was “naughty” and who was “nice” as their superpower. It is a superpower, right?
GM: I thought like I ought to finally say that at some point. Because as an actual superpower it seems so preposterous, but it is one and so appropriate for Klaus.

HMS: Do you think if someone suddenly had this ability that they would be surprised by what they discovered about other people?
GM: No, I think what we’d find in the real world is that people are a monstrous mix of naughty and nice. We try our best to fall on the “nice” side, but what “nice” means in different situations can turn on a dime. I think what you’d find is that what’s going on in other peoples’ heads is much more complex than you thought. Klaus has a way of looking at things that we could never have, I think. Looking into other peoples’ heads would be like being swept into a maelstrom. You’d be both shocked and delighted.
HMS: So, we probably couldn’t handle it, basically!
GM: I think we could handle it, given time, but I think it would be quite difficult.

Big thanks to Grant Morrison for sharing his thoughts on Klaus and the Crying Snowman with us!
The 48 page one-shot will be arriving in shops next week on December 19th, 2018.

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