This post is most explained by Paul Cornell below, but basically Bill decided to help out with Paul’s annual Twelve Blogs Of Christmas (specifically Nine) and we’re posting up the results of that here. You can check out the original post over on PaulCornell.com as well.
I should have mentioned The Newsroom in yesterday’s round up of television I liked this year. And as Adam Christopher pointed out, Person of Interest, with its predictive tech, is actually rather more telefantasy than Arrow is. In this spirit of correction, I should also add that Thomas’ soft toy scarecrow was actually made by Sarah Pink (@SarahPink1000 on Twitter). Thank you, Sarah.
Today’s guest blog is by the chap that suggested the theme in the first place. When I was rather desperately casting around on Twitter for a solution to my seasonal blog problem, Bill Willingham appeared, saying that he ‘wanted nine’. When I asked him what he meant, he told me I was going to get in twelve guest bloggers and have them write about ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, and he was going to do the ninth one. So I did, and it worked, and he has. I think perhaps he’s some kind of Fairy Godfather.
Fables, is, of course, the best comic in the world, and I’m privileged to have as friends both its creators. The following sums up, I think, why Bill continue’s to be one of comics’, and the genre in general’s great storytellers. He’s talking, in theory, about Nine Ladies Dancing! Take it away, Bill…
Nine Drabbles of Christmas
By Bill Willingham
‘See, here’s the thing. The ninth day of Christmas is the Nine Ladies Dancing one, except it isn’t, for a number of reasons.
Reason number one: I won’t dance. Don’t ask me. I have ever only danced a few times in my entire life, only when I have been so massively drunk that I’d lost my ability to refuse such carryings-on. On one such occasion I was escorted (very politely) from the dance floor, by DC Comics honcho, Paul Levitz, who carefully explained to me I was banned from the dance floor for being far too drunk and stepping all over the DC Comics President and Publisher at the time, Jeanette Khan. Other dancing times were undertaken with similar disastrous results.
Reason number two: tangentially related to reason number one, is that I’m not qualified to speak of nine ladies dancing, since in all of my dancing life, I haven’t reached that number of dancing partners. As near as I can reconstruct faulty memory, I can put the number no higher than five.
Reason number three (and this is the real one underpinning what we’re about to do here): Nine Ladies Dancing don’t have to be nine ladies dancing. The traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas” song has traditionally had many different items in each of the daily slots (with the exception of Five Golden Rings, which seems to always be five gold rings, no matter what the iteration), nine ladies dancing being only the current vogue in the number nine slot. In the past it has been nine lords a leaping, nine drummers drumming, nine ships a sailing, nine pipers playing, nine bears a beating, and so many others, including my favorite, nine badgers baiting.
Since the real tradition is that just about anything can be in any given slot, and since we’ve established I don’t actually know nine ladies dancing, and I won’t dance myself, I’m going to uphold the tradition by doing my own thing in the nine slot. The only thing I can possibly be trusted to do nine of these days is tell nine stories.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine drabbles a drabbling.
Here then is my gift to you, my true love: nine Christmas drabbles, for your reading pleasure. The rules are simple: to qualify as a true drabble, the story must be no more and no less than exactly one hundred words. Titles don’t count against the total, and hyphenated words count as single words.
Then let us begin.’
He was Spritzer, one of the original team, when they were nine, rather than the more famous eight, but few remember him, since considerable effort was made to erase any mention of him from official records and the larger legend beyond.
“Not everyone can handle the level of fame this job brings,” the fat man said.
“Nonsense, I’m fine.”
“Not even close. You’re high as a kite.”
“Flying is our thing.”
“And now this,” Santa said. He set a videotape in front of the deer. “Porn? Seriously?”
“My chance to break into movies.”
“Disgusting!” And with that, Spritzer was out.
This was Bindelbob’s first year working the black gang, the elite team of elves responsible for filling the coal hopper on Santa’s sleigh.
“What are all these deductions from my paycheck?” he asked Senior Elf Crumplehat. “Reform for Troubled Teens? Solutions Dot Net? The Rehab and Reentry Project?”
“Some of the charities we underwrite,” Crumplehat said.
“But how can deductions be mandatory here? Back in Toy Production I was free to pick my own causes.”
“In this case it’s a legitimate work expense,” Crumplehat said. “When we support what turns the naughty into nice, we have less coal to load.”
Concerning Our New Rules of Conduct for This Year’s Christmas Party, After the Unfortunate Events That Occurred as a Result of Incidents (Alleged) Which May or May Not Have Taken Place at Last Year’s Office Christmas Party…
She had a fancy frock and dangerous shoes,
Strong enough to kill the Christmas blues,
At the office party up on floor thirteen.
She arrived in soft resplendence,
Displaying but a small hint of dependence,
On the pint or three she’d had in the canteen.
“You’re Betty from Receivables, isn’t that right?”
Said the exec named Mr. White.
“Right as rain,” said Betty with her fortified smile.
“And I know you. You’re the man,
“Who bedded my best friend Anne,
“Then denied it at the wrongful termination trial.”
That’s when Betty pulled the gun.
And now, alas, our story’s done.
A Small Part of the Legend
It was a humble thing, the last candle off the line, when the paraffin was running low, not worth restocking so late on Christmas Eve, since all would be shut down the next day. In a production of four-hour candles, it was good for ninety minutes at best.
“Can’t honestly sell it,” the candle-maker said. “We’ll keep it.”
They placed it in the window, where it spent its flame quickly, shedding small light, not accomplishing much.
Before it expired, its tiny flicker attracted one ragged, weary traveler to their door.
“A shelter against the night?” asked the king disguised.
Behind the Scenes
Santa was weary (hardly news there), but at least he was nearly done. Sixty thousand more deliveries and he could rewind The Watch, starting time again on its normal pace.
The Great Powers That Oversee didn’t mind him fiddling with the catholic timeflow, since his mission was benign. He brought free stuff. Everyone likes free stuff.
But those Powers didn’t realize Santa was just a front. A gaudy, colorful distraction. Elder things, dark, remote and resolute, took action whenever time halted. Soon they’d make their move into our bright and lovely world, pre-corrupted by all the free stuff, magically delivered.
Marching to the Beat
The son of God and Lord of Hosts seemed a restless sort, constantly traveling from town to town, never staying in one place for long.
“It’s his mission,” one of his followers explained. “The life of an itinerant preacher.”
And that much was true, but he was also a man searching. One day he’d find him, that shepherd boy, grown up now. The drummer who wouldn’t stop, beating, beating, beating, while he lay helpless in his cradle, already terribly aware, but unable to act.
“Now that I’m in my power, I can finally thank him properly for his Christmas gift.”
Under the Tree
And finally all the presents were opened, save one.
“I don’t remember wrapping that one,” Father said.
“It’s not addressed to any of us,” Mother said. “Wait, here’s a tag on the back.”
“What does it say?” Bobby said, hoping it would be another gift for him.
“It says, ‘The last gift for the last Christmas,’” Mother read.
“Don’t open it!” Father nearly screamed. “That’s some end of the world type language.”
“I’m not a moron,” Mother said. “We’ll put it away and never touch it.”
And that’s how the Andersons became the guardians of all mankind. Except Bobby, who really, really wanted to know.
A Man in Full
He received such delightful things. A Scotty Cameron golf putter. An Atomic Aquatic Cobalt nitrox-integrated dive computer with digital compass. Handmade Italian leather driving gloves. A case of Shafer Vineyards Relentless 2008.
Everything was perfect, exactly what He wanted, because it was on his list, which is how efficient Christmas giving should be done.
His gifts to others weren’t so carefully targeted. They were also on a list of what he wanted – what he knew they should want, if only they had the education and character to realize it.
“Master your life,” he oft opined.
Elsewhere flames were efficiently stoked.
She’d no money to buy a tree, so she drew one on her apartment wall with colored chalk. Over the next days she sketched packages underneath, bright and bedecked.
On Christmas morning no miracle had occurred. The tree and gifts were still lines and pigments on a wall. No one called, because her phone had been turned off months ago for non-payment. No one arrived. No spontaneous gathering of old friends and loves bringing good food and spirits, despite hopeful daydreams that they might.
The way the morning sunlight fell across the snow outside.
“Blessings enough,” she said.
Among a long list of comics stories and series, Bill Willingham is the creator and writer of the long running Vertigo comic book series Fables. His novels include Peter and Max, Down the Mysterly River, and Tom O’ Harrow (forthcoming). You can find him online here or via Twitter @billwillingham. He’s a proponent of the Mythic Fiction movement in comic books, which includes hosting a convention early next year celebrating those sorts of books. You can learn more about that here.
Thank you so much, Bill. We’ll continue tomorrow with comedian Joseph Scrimshaw talking about… Ten Lords a Leaping! (Hmm, is that right?) Until then, Cheerio!