Every family typically has "one" Christmas-themed book that they prize above all others and haul out of mothballs to re-delight young and old once December rolls around. In my family, it was THE TALL BOOK OF CHRISTMAS. For its first release in a promised line of special hardback collections, Boom! Kids has given us a volume that, while falling short of "stone-cold lock classic" status, would be a fine investment for parents who want to get their young children interested in reading Disney comics. What better way to do that than to read this book to/with them on a yearly basis as they grow up?
Forming the core of the book are a juicy wad of DONALD DUCK and MICKEY MOUSE stories from the 1940s FIRESTONE GIVEAWAY comic-book series. These books were distributed at Firestone stores at holiday time. The three Carl Barks DONALD tales -- "Donald Duck's Best Christmas" (1945), "Santa's Stormy Visit" (1946), and "Three Good Little Ducks" (1947) have all been reprinted within the past 20 years, but the first and third haven't been seen since the 1990s. All three are good, though thickly larded with seasonal sentiment in an obvious manner that Barks usually managed to avoid in his Christmas "ten-pagers" in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES. Paradoxically, "Best Christmas" tops the charts in both mawkishness (the noble-hearted poor kids who shame HD&L into handing over the Ducks' Christmas goodies are sweet enough to induce dental caries by osmosis) and overall quality (Donald's battle with a slow-moving farmer and his very large hay wagon is pretty funny for what it is, and the artwork is excellent). It also holds some historical cachet in that it includes Barks' first use of Grandma Duck, who looks more like an elderly female version of Donald than the bun-haired matron with whom we're now familiar. "Stormy Visit" is a bit contrived in its placing of Donald and HD&L in a lighthouse for Christmas, but the albatross that helps... wait for it... save Christmas for them is very much in the spirit of the annoying pets that tormented Donald in a number of 40s and early 50s Barks stories. "Good Little Ducks" is a Donald-vs.-kids "battle tale" with a twist: HD&L are so eager to "make up for [past] crimes" and give Don a Christmas Eve buttering-up that they nearly kill him with kindness... literally. The three MICKEY FIRESTONE stories, all drawn by Don Gunn, are enjoyable, albeit rather forgettable, fluff, with "Mickey's Christmas Mix-Up" (1945) -- in which Mickey buys a new chair for Minnie and discards the old one, unaware that it supposedly contains a fortune in money -- probably being the best.
While reprinting all of the DONALD and MICKEY FIRESTONE material here would have been perfectly acceptable, Boom! doesn't go that route, including three unrelated stories (plus a scattered gag or two and a couple of FIRESTONE covers) to fill out the collection. "Santa Claus' Visit", a 1943 DONALD story drawn by Jack Hannah for a Sears giveaway, leads off the book. Hannah was coming off his tag-team art job with Barks on DONALD DUCK FINDS PIRATE GOLD, and his artwork here looks very much the same as it did there. The plot, though, is lifted straight from the contemporary cartoons, with Donald (in a most unconvincing Santa disguise -- at least Don TRIED to look a little bit like Santa in Barks' later "Letter to Santa") and HD&L going at one another hammer-and-tongs. Next to the trio of Barks FIRESTONEs, this brief tale looks pretty simplistic, but it does achieve its modest goals. Romano Scarpa's "It's a Wonderful Christmas Story" (1998), previously printed in the U.S. in Gemstone CHRISTMAS PARADE #3 (2005) with English dialogue by David Gerstein, walks The Mouse through the George Bailey drill, complete with snowy bridge scene. No, Mickey doesn't attempt what you're thinking. Walt and Gottfredson may have been able to get away with that in the early 30s (and they did!), but here, Mickey -- having been tricked by a scam-Santa Pete into loading his Christmas tree with "ornaments" that splatter his friends with goop, and owing mucho dough on his home to boot -- merely intends to leave Mouseton. In the Pete-run "alternative Mouseton," Minnie's fate is by far the funniest. It's a good, solid story with nice Scarpa art, but Scarpa fails to put a unique "Continental" twist on the familiar plot. The book concludes with "Christmas on Bear Mountain" (1947), which I reviewed here upon its last appearance in UNCLE $CROOGE #372 (December 2007/February 2008). I have little to add to what I said previously, other than to note that, if Scrooge McDuck hadn't made his debut in this story, then it would probably have slipped quietly into oblivion (or as close to it as a Barks feature story can get) in a comfy niche right next to "The Golden Christmas Tree." As an introduction to a personage who'd become one of comics' greatest characters, however, it's still worth revisiting yearly as December dwindles down -- as are all of the tales in this fine compendium.