This December, the holidays will be a little less merry and bright when an old legend resurfaces to wreak havoc — Krampus, the Christmas demon. While Santa Claus brings presents to reward the good children, and might occasionally leave a lump of coal for the naughty ones, Krampus has different plans. He kidnaps the bad children and takes them to his lair, never to be heard from again. This deliciously evil bit of folklore inspired writer Brian Joines and artist Dean Kotz to create their new Image Comics series, “Krampus!”
Krampus has been imprisoned since 1950, when The Secret Society of Santa Clauses decided they no longer approved of his methods for dealing with children. Decades later, a mysterious force has stolen the power of the Santas, forcing them to turn to the demon they casted aside for help. Joines spoke with CBR News, revealing more about his devilish underdog and what to anticipate from the upcoming series.
CBR News: How did you discover the Krampus lore? Have you ever made it to the Krampus Parade in Austria?
Brian Joines: I first heard of him a few years ago when my friends and I were complaining about some element of the Christmas season. My friend mentioned the Krampus as a healthy alternative and saw my confused expression. He explained it to me and I immediately knew I had to use him someday, being someone who finds joy in the tarnishing of the “sacred cows” of childhood, like Christmas and Santa. The fact that Santa had a demonic contemporary who went around punishing wicked children? Phenomenal. Then it was just a matter of figuring out the story and getting everything lined up.
And, no, I’ve never been to the Krampus Parade! I kind of feel like I have to go, now. Maybe this book will put me on some exclusive guest-list or something.
Why do you think myths like Krampus haven’t been popularized in American culture?
I think the nature of how we view Christmas in this country, both as a big day for kids and as the birth of a big religious figurehead, is probably the biggest hurdle. I won’t get into the Christianity side of things, except to say that a lot of folks would be put off by bringing a “devil” in to share the day with the JC — some have a hard enough time with him splitting it with Santa. As far as children thing goes, though, I’ll say that parents really missed out not embracing the Krampus myth. If your kid is well behaved because he or she is hoping to score some presents, imagine how much more well-behaved they’d be if they had to worry about a monster showing up to drag them away.
That said, I think awareness is growing. He’s been on “The Venture Bros.” and, more recently, “The League” and “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated.” I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he steps onto the major pop culture stage. Hopefully the book can help to get him there.
What kind of character is Krampus? Are you pulling directly from the legends, or have you added your own details?
I’m definitely pulling certain traits from the legends and using them to create my own version of the character. He’s still the guy who went around punishing wicked children on Christmas Eve. It was a job he was good at, one he enjoyed and feels no regret over. He’s not a particularly nice person. When the book starts, though, he’s been locked up since the 1950s (which is when the Krampus started to go out of vogue, initially, in Europe) and has become jaded, bitter and sarcastic. Throw in that he’s put to work by this organization he hates, and he becomes a very burnt-out, put-upon protagonist.
Without giving away any spoilers, why is Krampus locked away?
No spoilers, as this is all background info leading into the first issue. As times and attitudes changed, the Society decided to reverse their stance on the punishment component of the holiday. This didn’t sit well with the Krampus, who continued his work independently. The Santas were ultimately forced to capture and imprison him.
OK, tell me about the Secret Society of Santa Clauses. What is their mission? How were they formed?
In this world, the traditional role and mission of Santa is a title, more than a name. The members of the Society, each of whom works their home turf and some additional territories around the world, have divided the production and delivery of gifts to children up. The first member was Sinterklaas, who was granted his abilities from St. Nicholas himself. As the job grew over the centuries, Sinterklaas brought others in, until the Society as it stands today was formed. Despite its magical status, I’m writing it like a political body, with a lot of backhanded deals and shady maneuvers.
You use each various cultural incarnation of Santa as it’s own character — how many are there? Are they all benevolent, jolly characters?
There are currently 19 members in the Society, with territories ranging from the Pacific Islands to Iraq to France to Romania. There could’ve been more, but I had to draw a line somewhere and give poor Dean a break. Still, there are a lot of good names going unused. I might have to introduce a junior league at some point. As far as their demeanor, as I mentioned above, I tried to write them as human as possible, with all the good and ill that comes with that. A few members who are genuinely good guys but the majority of them are either self-involved or schemers or flat out a-holes. It’s not a congress of the holly jolly.
Does Krampus have any cohorts? Perhaps a nice lady Krampus?
This first storyline opens with Belsnickel, who played a role similar to the Krampus’s in some legends and is a former contemporary here. Beyond that, the first storyline is primarily delving into the Krampus, his relationship with the Santas and the plot to overthrow them. No lady Krampus yet, but you never know. There are characters that could serve as a romantic interest for the guy. The way I’m writing this world, any figure from Christmas/winter stories and legends are fair game for making an appearance. Characters from Tchaikovsky play roles here; in the future, characters from Dickens aren’t off the table. It’s the League of Extraordinary Christmas Stories.
How did you and Dean come together on the series?
Dean was pointed out by Jay Faerber, who saw his work and suggested him to me when I told him about this project. I contacted Dean, pitched him the idea and he really took to it. I knew I liked his work, just from looking at the samples he had up, but the second I received his initial sketch of the Krampus, I knew I’d hit the artist jackpot. I couldn’t be happier.
What was important to you about the look of the book?
That it’s not some bright and shiny happy holiday celebration book. Never mind the fact the main character is a demonic monster with a penchant for punishing children, the way I’m writing the Santas and the world they inhabit — there has to be some darkness there, some dirt, some gravity. That’s not to say the series is this maudlin exercise in examining holiday legend. The people who have seen the finished product think it’s a very funny book, but I didn’t want some candy-coated, hyper-glossed affair. When discussing the book with Eric Stephenson, Hellboy was mentioned and, in some ways, this could be viewed as “Hellboy for the Holidays.”
In researching various Christmas myths/traditions, what was the weirdest one you uncovered?
I would say the oddest figure I’ve run across is Tio de Nadal of Spain, who appears to be a self-aware yule log that defecates dried fruits and nuts for children. On my best day, I don’t think I could’ve come up with that one.Â He doesn’t show up in the first storyline, but I have a very funny scene in mind for him in our next story.
“Krampus!” is unleashed December 11, just in time to get any wayward youngsters in line.
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