Friday, December 21, 2012

Krampus: The Yule Lord (story and art) by Brom

Judging by the cover, you can tell this holiday tale is not about sugar plums dancing, nor is it for children.

Christmas stories tend to fall into picture books for children, and, for adults, they manifest as romances or movies that take place during the magic of Christmas (or are about Santa’s elf or family), but Krampus shakes things up and leaves you not looking at Christmas or Santa Claus the same again.

What you’re getting (and it’s not a list from “My Favorite Things”): A devil, violence, blood, vengeance, dark secrets, terrible deeds, broken lives and families, and a new meaning of holiday spirit.

First, Santa Claus has a sword (and he knows how to use it). Not exactly the image of the jolly man in red there. He is not the nice guy everyone thinks he is. Many centuries ago, Santa imprisoned his arch rival and mortal enemy, Krampus, the Yule Lord, and stole his magic to create the myth of Santa Claus, but Krampus is finally able to get revenge and reclaim the holiday season as his. Krampus is a pagan deity, complete with the devil image of horns, tail, claws, sharp teeth, and scary eyes, who celebrates the Yule season, distinguished from Christmas with its focus on the rebirth of the seasons. This epic showdown takes place in the present day in a small West Virginia town, complete with a cast of crooks and a down-on-his-luck musician.

Brom goes beyond a gimmicky-sounding premise to tell a compelling tale, incorporating Norse mythology. The story is well-written, the characters and plot are solidly developed, and Brom’s artwork is gorgeously fitting. The framework for this story is carefully developed, explaining the existence, purpose, and rise and fall of deities, like Krampus and Santa. Krampus' character, both his terribleness and charm, is more akin to the older mythologies and folktales when the stories were gorier, and the deities were forces of nature and more savage, imperfect, and fickle.

The story is wonderfully, even disturbingly, twisted. It is not a simple matter of good versus evil, nor a simple role reversal of Santa as the villain and the devil as the saint nor a misunderstanding. It is a fight between two symbols and their differing ideologies, a disagreement about who is right and what is right. Both Santa and Krampus offer convincing arguments and can prove the power and meaning of their work. It is a good indication of Brom’s writing when it is not easy to take sides, while still managing to plausibly wrap up this messy situation, find meaning beyond the dark tale, and redefine holiday spirit.

Look for Krampus: the Yule Lord in the VBPL Catalog. For more twisted and imaginative stories, read Brom’s The Child Thief and Plucker. Try Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Mirrormask for more art and weird story pairings.

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