Okay, okay, I know that late September is a little early to be talking about Christmas, but when the announcement of Image's three-issue "Santa Claus vs. The Martians" bycame across my desk this week along with an opportunity to interview Santa Claus himself, I had to jump at the chance. Seriously, once November rolls around, that guy is impossible to book.

That's why today, I was more than happy to sit down with Jolly Old St. Nicholas -- along with series writer Benito Cereno, of "Guarding the Globe," "The Tick" and "Hector Plasm" -- to find out all about the upcoming series, his long-standing conflict with the warriors of the Red Planet, and the likelihood of the "Krampus vs. Nackles" one-shot we've all been waiting for, along with exclusive preview pages and concept art from artists James Harren and Dylan McCrae!

ComcisAlliance: Santa, I want to thank you for joining us today, I know with the holidays just around the corner, this is probably a busy time of year for you.

Santa Claus: Well, it's always a busy time for me, Christopher, but I'll tell you: I didn't spend centuries traveling the earth taming monsters and placing them into my service not to have someone take care of things while I take a moment to talk to someone on the nice list.CA: So to start off, what was it that made you want to work with Benito on your new project?

Santa: Well, Christopher, there have been a lot of stories told about me over the years. A lot of different ideas and opinions about how I live and operate, some of those even told in comics, and as you know, I can tell if someone is sleeping or awake. Benito is the only one who, when I looked in on him, was staying up all night reading about Santa Claus, even in mid-July. His obsessive dedication was the missing element I was looking for in my new biographer.

CA: What can we expect to see in the new series, Benito?

Benito Cereno: It's a four-issue, full color mini-series with awesomely dynamic art by James Harren, who worked on the mini-series "Heralds" from Marvel this year, and colors unlike anything else in comics by Dylan McCrae, who has colored artists like Bryan Lee O'Malley and Brandon Graham.

We'll be looking at the way the world has viewed both Santa and Martians across three different time periods: the 1890s, the 1950s, and today. Both sides will be pretty significantly different each time. It's kind of my attempt to show the world the way I look at Santa Claus: a holistic approach that contains St Nicholas, Father Christmas, that guy in the Coke ads and everything else, all while trying to avoid incorporating anything that feels inauthentic or made up. I want to be true to the oldest stories, and I don't want anyone to feel their idea of Santa has gotten the short-shrift. That said, this story begins chronologically too late for us to see much of him in his pure St. Nicholas aspect. (More of that later, I promise.)

CA: Yeah, you definitely wouldn't want to include anything that sounds made up in your story about Santa Claus fighting the Martians. Authenticity is key.

Benito: It's like the way I look at ghost stories: Of course ghosts aren't real, but there are stories that develop organically and that have a real feel of authenticity, and then there's something made up to sell a kid's book or Happy Meal.

CA: You've written Christmas comics in the past, like last year's "TIck" #1, but most people know you as a more Halloween sort of guy thanks to "Hector Plasm." What does that mean for your working relationship with Santa?

Benito: I have always been at least equal parts Halloween and Christmas, if not a little more weighted on the Christmas side. It's just that until now I've had more opportunity to tell ghost stories than jolly old elf stories, but Santa has always been on my mind. The new mini-series is really just the first look at a much larger, more encompassing work Santa and I have been working at for years now. It's just now coming to fruition.

I will also note that "Tick" New Series #7 [out this November] is ALSO a Christmas story. One that blows issue 1 out of the water.

CA: Santa, you mentioned the varying depictions of you in the past, and Benito you talked about "Jolly Old Elf" stories. Is that what we can expect from your version?

Santa: I'm centuries old, Christopher. I've been a lot of things: a sailor, a healer, a stern saint, a protector of children, a prophet, a monster hunter, an exile, a lord of misrule, a master of the feast, jolly old elf, and wise all-father. Tell a story long enough, and you'll see a bit of all of these things. My encounters with the Martians span three centuries, so you'll see a few of my aspects, including ones you may never have imagined.

CA: Yeah, I've noticed that, if you'll forgive me for saying so, you seem to end up fighting the Martians a lot.

Santa: Sometimes it takes a while for the naughty to learn their lesson.

CA: How'd it all start?

Santa: Over a hundred years ago, near the end of the time when I spent less time giving gifts and more time blessing orchards, the earth was hit by a barrage of mysterious canisters from space. Out of these projectiles rose hideous beasts bent on doing us grievous harm. It fell to me to look out for the children of the Earth. But as I said, the naughty seldom learn after one scolding, and I found myself facing them again and again.

CA: So I take it you didn't just give them coal?

Santa: Unfortunately, what works on brats and tattletales is not quite stern enough for imperialistic space monsters. But those who know me know I have faced monsters in the past, and they required a bit more than a lump of coal. Sometimes you have to bring the bundle of switches.

CA: I assume we're going to be seeing the North Pole workshop, the sleigh and the reindeer, but what about the lesser-known elements of Santa? You've talked about monsters, Benito, I know you're a big fan of Krampus.

Benito: I am, but there are lots of facets to the mythos of our winter-time gift-giver. As Santa mentioned, he's battled lots of monsters and pressed them into his service. The Krampus is just one of those. So we'll actually see quite a few of Santa's other helpers, including Belsnickle and the Yule Goat, in addition to the better known figures such as the reindeer and elves.

CA: Any sign of Black Peter?

Benito: I think you mean Black Peters. In either case, yes, totally.

CA: Wow, I'm surprised you guys are going there. Santa's keeping it real.

Benito: Well, you know, Peter and his brothers are just kids who work for Santa. They're not slaves, and they're not white dudes in blackface. They're just kids, you know? I think Santa's willingness to integrate his work force so long ago shows some real social progressiveness.

CA: What are the chances of getting at least a Krampus one-shot? He's gotten pretty popular again in recent years.

Benito: Krampus is completely popular right now. And I have a really awesome story featuring him, including his origin. But this isn't that story. Sorry,everyone.

I'm trying to put the spotlight on some of the lesser known entities before Krampus steals the show. In the meantime, everyone should pester Nate Bellegarde to draw the "Twelve Days of Krampus" bit I wrote up a couple years ago.

CA: How about Nackles?

Benito: Hahah, not this go-round.

CA: Santa, I know you're working closely with Benito on this one, but do you have any other favorite versions of yourself from pop culture?

Santa: There are dozens of completely lovely, wholly fictionalized versions of my adventures, and I love them all, but my favorites are those by those two gentlemen scholars, Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass. I also enjoy the whimsical version of my life as told by L. Frank Baum, and the daring adventures as related by JRR Tolkien, though he would hardly have attributed them to me in my Santa Claus aspect.

CA: Any least favorites?

Santa: Any version where writers feel they have to make me dark and grim in order to have adventures. I'm already a monster hunter, riding around on a magical steed or flying reindeer! You don't have to give me a ridiculous axe to put me in battle! I'm already part Gandalf and part Odin! What more do you need?

CA: How about you, Benito? Got any favorites?

Benito: Obviously I have to side with the expert on this one. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is the winner.

CA: Has it been difficult to work with someone you idolize, especially when he has the power to keep you from getting presents this year if you miss a deadline?

Benito: It's actually not that bad. As Santa mentioned, I'm obsessed, so the work is easy, and I don't sweat the details, because every Christmas, Santa brings me more reference books.

CA: Anything else I need to know about "Santa Claus vs. the Martians?"

Benito: It is not an adaptation of the classically bad 1964 film "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," made so famous on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." That title is the superior title, and I wanted to use it, but I didn't, to do what little I could to keep people from thinking it was an adaptation or remake.

Roger Ebert has on several occasions said that the movies that deserve to be remade are those with good central concepts but horrible execution. And what better concept could exist than Santa fighting Martians? I couldn't resist. This is my whole-cloth new take only on the barest of bones of the concept. So Kimar is not in it. Sorry, MSTies.

CA: And no giant talking mouth either?

Benito: Sorry, Chris.

CA: Last question goes to you, Santa. Did you... get my letter?

Santa: I've gotten all of your letters, Christopher. And just like every year, I can only hope that Batman will have enough time to play Tonka trucks with you this year.


And now, as an early Christmas present to our readers, ComicsAlliance is happy to offer exclusive preview pages from "Santa Claus vs. the Martians," by Benito Cereno, James Harren and Dylan McCrae!

"Santa Claus vs. the Martians" #1 will be out on December 1 at a cover price of $3.50. For more information, check out October's "Previews," or give your retailer the Diamond Order Code OCT100462!

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