For those of us who love all things spooky and supernatural, who cry inside a little when all the Halloween festivities end, and are instantly replaced with holly jolly holiday offerings, then the arrival of Krampus in pop culture is the best thing to happen to Christmas since Jack Skellington. For those of you reading this who are unaware, the mythic figure of Krampus has been around in German-speaking, Alpine countries as a popular figure of folklore since the 17th century. Traditionally represented as a horned demon, he takes care of the “naughty” children while Saint Nicholas rewards the “nice” ones. He’s the shadowy side to the Christmas holiday… and most of us in North America had no idea he existed until very recently.
Krampus can probably thank his newfound popularity in the U.S. to the internet. Or YouTube, specifically. It was only a handful of years ago that videos of the Krampuslauf, or “Krampus-run,” started to show up online, elaborate monster-themed parades celebrating the holiday icon in places like Austria and Germany. These parade videos started showing up on social media feeds around the holidays, and suddenly everyone wanted Krampus to make his American debut. Since then, we’ve seen Krampus references on episodes of Grimm and The League, and even Scooby-Doo recently did a Krampus episode.
Now Krampus is going to make his movie debut, thanks to writer/director Michael Doughtery, who directed the cult Halloween horror-comedy Trick r’ Treat a few years back. But before Krampus comes to theaters, Dougherty has produced an excellent prequel graphic novel from Legendary Comics, which tells four separate Krampus-related stories, all centered on one Christmas Eve in a small American town, with Krampus and his minions coming for those who have been more on the naughty side of the equation this year.
The chapters are all conceived of by Dougherty, who gets a story credit, and executed by co-writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields, although each chapter is illustrated by a different artist. The structure is the same as in Trick r’ Treat, where the the three main stories are only mildly related on the surface, before coming together in a denouement at the end.
The first chapter is essentially what happens when a drunk, surly “Bad Santa” type is stuck in a department store during a blizzard, with not only his fellow employees, but a group of children he basically despises. As one can imagine, a Santa who mistreats kids does not sit well with Krampus. This chapter is drawn by Christian Dibari, and is probably my favorite chapter in terms of the art. This chapter is probably the most fun overall, and the most comedic, even if it all ends in a grisly way. For some reason, this chapter had a very Sam Raimi/Evil Dead 2 vibe, and I’m kind of bummed it’s not an official part of the movie for this reason. But it makes for a great opening chapter to this graphic novel.
The second chapter, with art by Maan House and Guy Major, is possibly the most emotional, as it deals with a woman who can’t get past a tragic mistake that cost the life of her sister twelve years prior (on, of course, Christmas Eve). Now a police officer, she catches a man robbing a family’s presents, a man with a shady past Krampus is looking to exploit, and she has to learn to forgive herself and allow herself to feel the holiday spirit again. Mixed in with all of this are some killer snowmen, because why not? All of the chapters have a mix of horror, comedy, and genuine pathos to them, but this one is probably the most heartfelt of them all, and is maybe my favorite of the bunch for that reason.
The third chapter really leans heavy into the Ebeneezer Scrooge angle, and focuses on a homeless family who take shelter in the mansion of the local town big-wig, who they think is on vacation. Things get ugly for everyone when he arrives home early, and Krampus and his minions officially put him on their “naughty” list. This chapter is the most like the traditional A Christmas Carol story, with a rich old man who lords over others with an iron fist has to learn some good old fashioned holiday compassion. After Krampus puts him through the wringer that is. The art by Stuart Sayger and Guy Major on this chapter is top shelf, and just the right amount of trippy.
The fourth and final chapter is where all the various storylines come together, and although this was my least favorite chapter in terms of the art, it managed to tie everything together nicely. Yes, Krampus: Shadow of Saint Nicholas is a horror story, but it’s still a Christmas horror story, and therefore deserves a different kind of ending than your usual tale of this sort would likely get.
I have no idea if the forthcoming movie will have the same storytelling structure as the graphic novel, but if it’s anything like it, then I think fans of the genre are in for a serious treat. This OGN was a blast to read, and even if it wasn’t a sort of primer for the movie, I would heartily recommend it to fans of horror/comedy everywhere.
Krampus: Shadow of Saint Nicholas is available at your local comic shop now.
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
IMAGES: Legendary Comics
Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a part of Legendary Digital.