The Disney Christmas Comic Strips

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

It gets harder and harder each year to come up with a column that offers a new or different perspective on Disney and Christmas.

In the past, I have written about Walt Disney’s perspective on Christmas, Disney films with Christmas themes, Disney comic books with Christmas stories, holiday traditions both past and current at Disney theme parks and more.

If you go back into the MousePlanet Archives for December, you’ll find several years worth of these columns. So, this year, I was stumped about a topic, until I remembered one of my childhood Christmas pleasures.

In the four weeks before Christmas, the Glendale News Press newspaper would run a special daily Disney Christmas comic strip that would end on December 24th, usually with a Disney character helping save Santa Claus just in time for him to deliver his presents.

I would diligently clip each of those strips and put them in a long envelope, which was the way that comic strip collectors used to do it in those early days. I recently uncovered some of those incomplete clippings and it inspired this column.

I wish Disney Editions would consider reprinting an entire collection of these charming gems that were very reminiscent of the stories being published in Christmas editions of Dell comic books. Often to attract the largest audience, the strips would mix Dumbo with Merlin with the fairies from Sleeping Beauty with the Seven Dwarfs, and more, in the adventure.

Newspaper Enterprise Association/United Media started producing a Christmas strip for newspapers in 1936 to run daily for about three weeks before Christmas. Originally, the strip was offered free, but today, the syndicate charges a fee and fewer newspapers take advantage of the offer.

Over the years, episodes were done by popular cartoonists, including Greg Evans, Bill Schorr, Kevin Fagan, Walt Scott and even Joe Kubert (although it was probably his school under his direction that produced adaptations of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker in the early 1980s).

Two of my favorites were Bucky’s Christmas Caper (1967), a children’s sci-fi Christmas adventure written and drawn by Wally Wood, and Why Christmas Almost Wasn’t (1968), which is written and illustrated by Jack Kent, who is perhaps best known for the newspaper strip King Aroo, but did a lot of great children’s books, as well.

A rival syndicate, King Features, which was handling all the Disney comic strips, saw this success and thought about releasing a similar holiday feature, but could never quite figure out how to do it differently rather than just be a pale imitation.

Frank A. Reilly managed Disney’s comic strip department for 29 years, from 1946 to his retirement in 1975. He wrote stories for the Sunday-only Disney comic strip Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales, as well as all of the stories for the Disney Christmas strips until his retirement. He died in 1977.

In a June 1968 interview with writer Richard Hubler, Reilly remembered: “One day I was back in New York having lunch with the comics editor of King Features [Sylvan Byck]. He said, ‘You know, one of these days, one of these years, we ought to get a special strip by Walt for the Christmas season’. I said, ‘What do you mean one of these years? How about right now?’ I sparked to it immediately. So we’ve been doing that now for nine years and it’s very successful.”

Basically, the Disney Christmas strip was designed to run daily six days a week from Monday through Saturday for four weeks or 24 installments total. It told a complete story with usually the final installment running on December 24, with Santa on his way to deliver his presents.

It did not appear on the regular comic strip page,but usually at the bottom of the page somewhere else in the newspaper. This was designed to not only temporarily increase the circulation of the newspaper over the holiday season by having a “Disney exclusive” without dislodging a comic strip favorite but to make the reader flip through the rest of the pages to find it and often encounter the holiday advertising from local merchants in the process.

That first story was Peter Pan’s Christmas Story written by Reilly with artwork by Manuel Gonzales. It began November 26 and ended December 24, 1960.

Another 27 stories would follow from 1961 to 1987. The final Christmas comic strip in the series was Snow White’s Sinister Christmas Gift, written by Carl Fallberg and drawn by Keith Moseley, which appeared in December 1987.

A second series of six holiday strips ran from 1992-1997 and focused on the recent Disney animated feature films. The first strip of the second series dealt with Beauty and the Beast at Christmas with Beast being upset that Belle has given him so much and he has nothing to give to her.

The Beauty and the Beast at Christmas series focused on the Beast feeling he had nothing to give to Belle.

“That’s not true!” exclaimed Belle. “Dear sweet Beast, you’ve given me the gift of your heart! Don’t you see? There is no greater gift in the entire world!” They both wish each other “Merry Christmas” as the strip concludes and they walk in together from out of the snow into the castle.

To promote Peter Pan’s Christmas Story, King Features put together a color illustrated fold-out brochure that opened up to 27.5 inches by 21 inches that included the entire 24 episode story. It also featured some advertising slugs to be used to promote the strip’s appearance with a space for the newspaper to put in its own name, a reply postcard and a separate sheet advertising a Spanish language version of the comic strip.

The cover pictures Peter Pan and Tinker Bell flying in the sky with “King Announces…The Most Appealing Christmas Story in Newspaper Feature History…Peter Pan’s Christmas Story by Walt Disney”. Down below was an illustration of Santa reading the tag on a Christmas present saying “From King Features and Walt Disney…the BIGGEST Christmas Feature News of the Year!”

More than 400 newspapers ran the strip, including the New York Journal American, Washington D.C. Post & Times Herald, San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Express, Salt Lake City Tribune and many others.

The strip also appeared in several Canadian newspapers and ones in the U.K., Australia, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium, and Tokyo, to mention just a few.

The following year, Pinocchio’s Christmas Story by “America’s Master Entertainer Walt Disney” did even better.

Disney Legend and good friend Floyd Norman allowed me to recently interview him about his time writing the Disney holiday comic strips. Norman is a true treasure with an energy and sharpness of mind that belies his chronological age.

I have removed my questions and tangential discussions. Here are Floyd’s insights into working on the Disney Christmas comic strips:

“I was given all sorts of assignments while working as a writer in Disney's publishing department. One of my many assignments was to write what had become known as the Disney Holiday Story. These were comic strip continuities utilizing the Disney characters.

"Each of these stories would have a holiday theme and would run in newspapers from November to December 25, when the story would conveniently conclude on Christmas Day. I had checked out earlier stories and one thing bothered me.

“I didn’t like the mixing of the Disney characters from various films. I felt the story choices should feature characters from one Disney film or story and not a mix and match. Seeing Dumbo with the Seven Dwarfs just felt weird to me.

“Actually, I found all my assignments in Disney’s publishing department exciting. I didn’t find my Christmas assignments all that different from my other projects. I had read other Disney Christmas stories, including the syndicated strips. The Christmas holiday provided a scripting opportunity and I was excited about that.

“My editors allowed me to do anything I wanted within certain guidelines. That’s what I loved about the job. Unlike my work in animation, no one was telling me what to do. I decided to do a Dalmatian story, simply because I found Cruella to be an excellent Christmas bad person. Kind of like Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story was an original idea and I was delighted to have that kind of freedom in my scripting.

“Carl Fallberg had been writing all the holiday strips when I came aboard and he was an old friend. Carl had worked at Disney since the 1930s and often spoke about sharing a drink with Walt on the premiere afternoon of Snow White. Carl’s wife, Becky headed up Disney’s Ink & Paint Department in the 1980s until her retirement. Their daughter, Carla, remains a good friend to this day.

“I liked Carl Fallberg’s storytelling for the most part. He was a great storyteller and never ran out of ideas. I confess I spent most of my time with Carl in and out of the studio because I loved to listen to him tell stories about the early days at Disney. Fallberg was a great storyteller.

“Oddly enough, I never found the format a challenge and eagerly accepted a story of any length. Naturally, I would block out my story to fit the format. Not really a problem having worked on stories in animation that ranged from an eight minute short to a feature film. Maintaining continuity was a challenge but hardly brain surgery. I found the storytelling process exciting.

“Luckily, I had few specific guidelines. Keep the story “Disney.” Use the Disney characters and such. However, there were few other limitations. I had incredible freedom in telling my stories. The only exception might have been my “Uncle Remus” Christmas story, but I won the fight for that one. The fact that the writer was black might have had something to do with it.

“I still had a good number of stories bouncing around in my head when they cancelled the annual strip in 1988. Oddly enough, I found writing Disney stories almost second nature. I grew up on this stuff and it was in my DNA. I could have continued writing for the next 40 years but comics were dying in newsprint.

“I hated writing the Mickey Mouse comic strip, and the job never became enjoyable until King Features Syndicate let me begin writing continuities again. I loved telling Mickey stories - but I hated “Gag a Day.” Mickey just wasn’t a gag character. Worse, he had become a corporate icon.

“In spite of everything, I loved doing comic work. Unlike feature animation, where everyone looked over your shoulder, the comics group was left alone. Apparently, we were so unimportant nobody in management wanted to be bothered. This is the ideal environment for the creative person.

“Disney’s Comic Strip Department was the best. Consisting of old-timers and young kids, we were a creative powerhouse that was left alone to do great work. It was probably the last of vestige of the old studio Walt created. Once under new management, the creative spirit in the comics department would be changed forever.

“The Disney Holiday Strip was revived in 1992 to capitalize on the recent box office successes of the Disney animated features such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion KIng. I was suddenly asked to create holiday stories based on these successful films.

“This included the unlikely choice of a Christmas story for the character, Aladdin. It was a challenge…but I eventually found a way to make it work. Luckily, I was given the usual amount of freedom to write whatever I chose and the new assignment was not all that different from the others.

“I usually watched the films for reference whenever I had the opportunity. Of course, being at Disney made this possible. I was able to ask for a screening of Song of the South when writing the Uncle Remus story and producer Don Hahn set up a screening of The Lion King for me. I was always given generous assistance from the film division of Disney.

“I would always rough out the story in a series of sketches for the artist who would later pencil and ink the script. Of course, the artist had complete creative freedom should he or she want to change my layouts. I never considered my work precious or carved in stone. They were simply guidelines to be used or discarded by the artist.

“There was not a lot of interaction between the artist and the writers in Disney comics. Once I handed in a script it belonged to the artist. I would usually not see anything until the job was completed.

“I loved the Disney Holiday Strips. Regretfully, I don’t see them working today. After all, it’s a different world and I doubt there would be sufficient interest. Still, one never knows. Perhaps a collection of the work might find an audience.

“After all, these were great Disney stories, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been a participant in this wonderful storytelling adventure. Like everything Disney, these holiday stories had warmth, humor and charm. At least I tried to live up to that expectation. After all, Walt would have wanted it that way.

“I have no favorites. I enjoyed every assignment that came my way. After all, I was writing for Disney. What could be better than that?

“I never met Frank Reilly who started the holiday strip and continued to write it until his retirement but I’ve often heard many stories about him. Most were not good. Some artists and writers railed against Reilly because he gave the order to trash a good deal of the original Disney art to make room for storage.”

In 1986, Norman wrote a Disney Christmas strip and found himself in a kettle of trouble. Here’s an excerpt that he wrote as a foreword to my book Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South?

Floyd Norman fought to be able to run the Uncle Remus-themed Disney Christmas comic.

“I had already written stories based on the standard Disney characters including the wonderful Dalmatians from the film of the same name (Cruella’s Very Furry Christmas). But, I was getting bored with the typical holiday stuff, and wanted to try something new, different, and perhaps even a little dangerous.

“Could I possibly convince the powers that be at Disney to let me craft a story using the funny, clever and outrageous characters from Song of the South?

“As you might have imagined, Disney was skittish about raising any awareness of a movie they had been trying to bury for years. And, while Disney's view of the South, on which Joel Chandler Harris based his delightful stories, might be considered naive, they were never malicious or offensive.

“Decades after its first release, I assumed we all lived in a more enlightened society. The Civil Rights battles of the 1960s had been won, and people of color had taken their rightful place in society. Black people in motion pictures were no longer porters and maids. Funny, confident, and edgy characters like Eddie Murphy had replaced bug eyed comedic actors like Mantan Moreland.

“It was now the 1980s, and I hoped that Disney was willing to uncover the wonderful legacy kept hidden for so many years. Could delightful characters like Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear be enjoyed by a new generation? This was the question I would take to my bosses at Disney.

“Disney was under a new forward-thinking management. Perhaps my timing was right, or maybe I just got lucky. In any case, I was given the go ahead with my story titled A Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Christmas (December 1986).

“The story opens with the kids, Johnny and Jenny coming to Uncle Remus with a problem. The chances of a snowfall in the South are pretty slim, they say. How can they truly enjoy Christmas without snow? This gives Uncle Remus the perfect opportunity to spin another of his Brer Rabbit tales. It seems the clever rabbit had a similar complaint, and his quest for a white Christmas led him into a world of trouble.

“Not surprisingly, that trouble involved another run in with Brer Fox and Brer Bear. The story wraps up with Brer Rabbit escaping the clutches of his captors, and learning his lesson about the real meaning of Christmas.

“The story was submitted, and all appeared to be going well. I even removed the southern dialect from Uncle Remus, and only allowed the critters to retain their colorful dialogue. I was willing to give the illiterate former slave some ‘polish’ as long as I could keep the rabbit, fox and bear in character.

“As you could imagine, the editors at the newspaper syndicate were aghast when they received the story. How could Disney submit such a racially insensitive story for publication? I wish I could have seen their faces when they were informed that the writer was black.

“The story did end up running in newspapers in 1986 with no complaints. Keith Moseley penciled it and Larry Mayer inked it. Yet, four decades after it first premiered, Disney’s Song of the South was apparently still a very controversial topic. It remains so today nearly 65 years after audiences first enjoyed it.”

For those who might like to try to track down samples from newspaper archives, here is a listing of every Disney holiday comic strip.

Complete Listing of Disney Christmas Comic Strips

This information is only available thanks to the decades long scholarship of Disney historian Alberto Beccatini who has always been so generous in sharing his work with everyone.

Special Introductory Strip - Nov. 26, 1960

Frank Reilly (writer) Floyd Gottfredson (artist)

Featuring: Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, The Seven Dwarfs

1. Peter Pan’s Christmas Story - Nov. 28-Dec. 24, 1960

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Manuel Gonzales (artist)
  • Featuring Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Tinker Bell, The Seven Dwarfs

2. Pinocchio’s Christmas Story - Nov. 27-Dec. 23, 1961

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Chuck Fuson (pencil) Manuel Gonzales (inker)
  • Featuring Geppetto, Jiminy Cricket, Stromboli, J. Worthington Foulfellow (Honest John the fox), Gideon the cat, The Blue Fairy

3. Sleeping Beauty’s Christmas Story - Nov. 26-Dec. 24, 1962

  • Frank Reilly (writer) John Ushler (artist)
  • Featuring Prince Phillip, The Fairy Godmothers, Maleficent and her raven, Ludwig Von Drake

4. Three Little Pigs Christmas Story - Nov. 25-Dec. 24, 1963

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Floyd Gottfredson (artist)
  • Featuring The Big Bad Wolf, The Li’l Bad Wolf

5. Cinderella’s Christmas Party - Nov. 23-Dec. 24, 1964

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Floyd Gottfredson (pencil) Manuel Gonzales (inker)
  • Featuring Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s Stepmother), Anastasia and Drizella (Cinderella’s Stepsisters), Jaq, Gas, The other Cinderella Mice, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother

6. Bambi’s Christmas Adventure - Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 1965

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Guillermo Cardoso (artist) Floyd Gottfredson (touch-ups)
  • Featuring Bambi, Flower, Mr. Stork

7. Snow White’s Christmas Surprise - Nov. 28 –Dec. 24, 1966

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Mike Arens (artist)
  • Featuring The Seven Dwarfs, The Wicked Witch

8. Dumbo and the Christmas Mystery - Nov. 27-Dec. 23, 1967

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Mike Arens (artist)
  • Featuring Timothy Mouse, Mad Madam Mim, Maleficent, The Seven Dwarfs

9. Santa Claus in Neverland - Nov. 25-Dec. 24, 1968

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Cliff Nordberg (pencil) Manuel Gonzales (inker)
  • Featuring Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, The Lost Boys, The Indian Girls, The Mermaids, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, The Pirates

10. The Quest for Christmas - Dec.1-24, 1969

  • Frank Reilly (writer) James Swain (pencil) Manuel Gonzales (inker)
  • Featuring The Seven Dwarfs, Who from Planet Galaxia, Sleeping Beauty’s Fairy Godmothers

11. Santa’s Christmas Crisis - Nov. 30-Dec. 24, 1970

  • Frank Reilly (writer) John Ushler (artist)
  • Featuring Maleficent and her raven, The Goon

12. The Christmas Conspiracy - Dec.6-Dec.24, 1971

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Mike Arens (artist)
  • Featuring The Beagle Boys, Gus, Jaq and the Cinderella Mice, Mr. Stork

13. The Magic Christmas Tree - Dec. 4-Dec. 23, 1972

  • Frank Reilly (writer) John Ushler
  • Featuring Merlin and Mad Madam Mim, Tommy, Stormy

14. A Castle for Christmas - Dec. 3-24, 1973

  • Frank Reilly (writer) John Ushler (artist)
  • Featuring Mr. Stork, Bambi, Thumper

15. Santa’s Crucial Christmas - Dec. 2-Dec. 24, 1974

  • Frank Reilly (writer) Tom McKimson (artist)
  • Featuring Timothy Mouse, The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Robin Hood, Little John, The Three Little Pigs, Gus, Jaq and the Cinderella Mice, The Big Bad Wolf, Merlin

16. Santa and the Pirates - Dec.1-Dec. 24, 1975

  • Frank Reilly (writer) John Ushler (artist)
  • Featuring The Seven Dwarfs, Gus, Jaq

17. Captain Hook’s Christmas Caper - Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 1976

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Lorna Smith (pencil) Larry Mayer (inker)
  • Featuring The Three Little Pigs, Brer Bear, Missus Bear, J. Worthington Foulfellow (Honest John the fox), The Big Bad Wolf, The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Archimedes

18. No Puppets for Christmas - Dec. 5-24, 1977

  1. Carl Fallberg (writer) Willie Ito (pencil) Larry Mayer (inker)
  2. Featuring Peter Pan, Geppetto, Stromboli, J. Worthington Foulfellow (Honest John), Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother

19. The Day Christmas Was Banned - Dec. 4-23, 1978

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Tony Strobl (pencil) Larry Mayer (inker)
  • Featuring Prince John, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Mr. Stork, Dumbo, Skippy and the Robin Hood Kids

20. Madam Mim’s Christmas Grudge - Dec. 3-Dec. 24, 1979

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Tony Strobl (pencil) Mike Royer (inker)
  • Featuring Merlin, Wart

21. Santa’s Magical Christmas Helpers - Dec. 1-Dec. 24, 1980

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Tony Strobl (pencil) Mike Royer (inker)
  • Featuring Pinocchio, The Big Bad Wolf, Brer Bear, Sleeping Beauty’s Fairy Godmothers

22. Cinderella’s Christmas Crisis - Nov. 30-Dec. 24, 1981

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Tony Strobl (pencil) Steve Steere (inker)
  • Featuring Lucifer, Anastasia and Drizella (Cinderella’s stepsisters), Gus, Jaq and the Cinderella Mice, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother

23. The Mysterious Christmas Spell - Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 1982

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Tony Strobl (pencil) Steve Steere (inker)
  • Featuring Merlin, Wart, The Seven Dwarfs, The Wicked Witch

24. Christmas Comes to Neverland - Nov. 28-Dec. 24, 1983

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Willie Ito (pencil) Bill Langley (inker)
  • Featuring Peter Pan, Wendy, The Lost Boys, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, The Pirates, The Crocodile

25. A Christmas Present for Mister Toad - Dec. 3-Dec. 22, 1984

  • Carl Fallberg (writer) Willie Ito (pencil) Larry Mayer (inker)
  • Featuring Ratty, Mole, J. Worthington Foulfellow (Honest John the fox), Gideon, The Coachman

26. Cruella’s Very Furry Christmas - Dec. 2-Dec. 24, 1985

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Willie Ito (pencil) Mike Royer (inker)
  • Featuring Pongo, Perdita, Jasper and Horace Badun

27. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Christmas - Dec. 1-Dec. 24, 1986

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Keith Moseley (pencil) Larry Mayer (inker)
  • Featuring Johnny, Jenny, Uncle Remus, Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, Brer Fox

28. Snow White’s Sinister Christmas Gift - Nov. 30-Dec. 24, 1987

  • Carl Fallberg (writer)  Keith Moseley (pencil)  Bill Langley (inker)
  • Featuring The Seven Dwarfs, The Wicked Witch and her Raven

DISNEY HOLIDAY STORY Second Series 1992-1997

1. Beauty and the Beast - Nov. 30-Dec. 25, 1992

  • Floyd Norman and Karen Kreider (writers) Richard Moore (artist)

2. Aladdin - Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 1993

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Richard Moore (artist)

3. The Lion King - Nov. 28-Dec. 24, 1994

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Richard Moore (artist)

4. Pocahontas - Nov. 27-Dec. 23, 1995

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Richard Moore (artist)

5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Dec. 2-Dec. 28, 1996

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Richard Moore (artist)

6. The Little Mermaid - Dec. 1-27, 1997

  • Floyd Norman (writer) Richard Moore (artist)