Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Stephen DeStefano
Letterer: Sean Konot
Collecting JINGLE BELLE: NAUGHTY AND NICE #1-2
Publisher: Oni Press
So, this is Christmas, and what have we done to our pop culture?
To anyone with a bit of a cynical side, Christmas is that time when usual standards of taste go out of the window. The TV schedules clog up with the likes of JINGLE ALL THE WAY and THE SANTA CLAUSE. It becomes impossible to turn on a radio or enter a shop without being assaulted by I WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY, A SPACEMAN CAME TRAVELLING or the latest granny-friendly abomination from Cliff Richard.
When even the occasional sixpence in this unpalatable Christmas pudding - such as FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - is overexposed to saturation level by December, where is the discerning reader to turn for fresh proof that the spirit of Christmas is alive and kicking after all?
Well, how about JINGLE BELLE from Santa's Little Helpers at Oni Press?
On the surface, JINGLE BELLE has a fairly basic premise. In the first few pages we see the story of how Santa Claus, the fabled defender of the North, rescued the elves from the clutches of the evil Blizzard Wizard. The elves joined Santa in his mission to bring joy to the world, and Santa married their Queen Mirabelle. Coming forward several hundred years, they are now the proud parents of Jingle Belle. As the story unfolds, it becomes quite clear why Mr & Mrs Claus decided that one child was quite enough!
Jingle inherits immortality from being part-elf, and becomes stuck in a permanent state of bratty teenager-hood and rebellion against her parents. After initially spoiling the young Jingle - as first time parents often do - Santa gets tougher. As he has to decide which kids have been naughty or nice that year, he strictly applies these rules to his own daughter, and poor Jingle's mischievous nature means that she invariably ends up with a lump of coal for a present each year.
Deep down, though, her heart's in the right place, and all she really wants is to earn back her father's love and respect. But somehow, the harder she tries, the more things go wrong and the further apart they grow.
After her latest mishap, involving her design for some toy guns that just happen to shoot live ammunition, Jing finds herself on the Naughty list once again as Santa prepares to deliver presents to the those he deems Nice. In a last attempt at getting into her father's good books for a change, Jingle sets off to carry on some of Santa's duties on Earth that year. But her luck runs true to form and she inadvertently releases the Blizzard Wizard from captivity. As the Wizard kidnaps Santa and sets about wrecking Christmas, Jingle has one last chance to set things right!
Of course, along the way to the final showdown, Jingle has a series of comical adventures, such as the section where she fills in for Santa at a department store. Chaos ensues as she takes bribes from kids and has to deal with flirtatious fathers who quite fancy sitting on Jing's knee themselves.
A lot of the humour in NAUGHTY AND NICE flows from the supporting cast. In addition to her parents, Jing's companions include Eddie, with his implausibly cool Christmas mix CDs, and cousin Rusty, a slow-witted little chap thus often ends up as the innocent victim of Jing's schemes.
Jingle also needs transport and, denied access to the family flying sleigh, improvises by feeding the necessary magic reindeer food to her pet Musk Oxen, Thrasher. Thrasher's a heavy beast though, so to give him that little extra thrust, Jing' mixes in some refried beans for that Flying Farting Ox effect. It's probably fair to assume Paul Dini had been hitting the eggnog quite hard when he dreamt up all this.
JINGLE BELLE is Paul Dini's first creator-owned work, after his successful spell working alongside Bruce Timm on the BATMAN/SUPERMAN ADVENTURES animated series for television. One of his best loved creations there was the slightly deranged Harley Quinn, who shares some of her more irreverent character traits with Jingle.
Dini's writing is lively and full of energy. Jingle comes across on the page as feisty and fun-loving, but is still believable when she has one of her infrequent moments of clarity and does the right thing for a change. It's quite a testament to Dini's skills that he doesn't lose the reader when switching between the comical but action-packed plot, and scenes of genuine emotional impact, such as those with a department store clerk whom she decides to help get reunited with his family.
JINGLE BELLE also marks a return to the medium for Stephen DeStefano. After critical acclaim for 'MAZING MAN and INSTANT PIANO, he had become better known as storyboard artist for TV's REN AND STIMPY, until being lured back to bring Santa's little hellion to life.
DeStefano's art is simple and almost sketchy, but tells the story in a clear and intelligible manner. His ice demons manage to look appropriately amusing or menacing in accordance with the scenario, and the almost featureless lemmings are somehow imbued with personality.
In addition to the main story, the trade paperback has a selection of further festive treats. Chief among these is Jing's debut appearance ('Sanity Clauses') from the ONI DOUBLE FEATURE anthology. This establishes Santa and Jing's relationship with a story of the two of them in therapy.
The collection also features a one-page strip illustrated by Barry Caldwell, who's been responsible for the online JINGLE BELLE strips at wickedcoolstuff.com in the run up to Christmas 2001) and the very smart JINGLE BELLE VS THE MARTIANS, an exclusive all-colour all-splash page strip painted by Lawrence Marvit (SPARKS).
Rounding off the package is a selection of pinups and chapter illustrations by the likes of Evan Dorkin (MILK & CHEESE) and Alex Ross. Ross' contribution is a little incongruous, though, as his realistic painted approach grates slightly against the generally cartoony feel of the book. It probably doesn't help, either, that his pinup looks like a slightly deranged version of Icelandic singer Bjork.
Since their work in this collection, there have also been three JINGLE BELLE one-shots. The ALL-STAR HOLIDAY HULLABALOO is a bit of a mixed bag, with the highlight being a cleverly scripted meeting between Jing and the cast of Chynna Clugston-Major's BLUE MONDAY. The more recent MIGHTY ELVES and JUBILEE are just as funny as NAUGHTY AND NICE, and feature art from J Bone (ALISON DARE) that's at least the equal of DeStefano's. There's also a nice framing sequence in JUBILEE from Steve Rolston (QUEEN AND COUNTRY). None of these have been collected yet, but maybe if we all ask Santa really nicely...
JINGLE BELLE: NAUGHTY AND NICE is very kid-friendly, with its minimal back-story and rebellious 'teenage' protagonist. But there's also enough sophistication in the story of Jingle's attempts to win over her father to reward older readers too. It's also very funny and builds a nice platform on which to set a variety of stories in the various follow up issues. Jingle is an endearing and amusing central character. All she really wants is her father's love and respect, but somehow she just can't quite seem to stay out of trouble long enough to get it.
NAUGHTY AND NICE? Couldn't have put it better myself.
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