Title: Amelia Rules! #4 – Amelia McBride and the Other Side of Yuletide, a.k.a. “What the hell is Ninja Kwanzaa?”
Writer and Artist: Jimmy Gownley
Editor: Michael Cohen
Marketer: Karen Gownley
My first Christmas review for Nostalgic Bookshelf, and I swear to bring as much enthusiasm to this month’s reviews as I have for Point Horror. To that end, I wanted to start off with a special one-off comic review with a series I admittedly don’t have as much history with.
“Amelia Rules!” is a YA comic series written and drawn by Jimmy Gownley. It’s about Amelia McBride, a young girl adjusting to life after her mom and dad split up. Amelia has to move from NYC to Connerton, Pennsylvania, where she and her mom are now living with her cool Aunt Tanner. She gains new friends in the form of the bombastic Reggie, the stubborn Rhonda, and the amazing yet silent Pajamaman. Together, the four become G.A.S.P. (Gathering of Awesome Super Pals), and get into all sorts of hi-jinks as Amelia navigates life.
This particular comic is the fourth issue in the series, and as you can guess it’s a Christmas story. In it, Amelia and her friends find themselves wondering if there really is a Santa Claus, and the answer is different from what you’d expect. I had this in mind remembering Wing’s thoughts on Santa Claus from last year’s reviews on PH. Naturally I’m curious to see how she feels about this particular story.
How I acquired this comic is a rather bizarre, disturbing tale. In the spring of 2015, a woman came to my comic shop hoping to sell a massive collection she inherited from her dead uncle. He owned Disney and cartoon comics ranging from the Golden Age to the early 1990s. Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbera, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain. The books showcased the transition from Dell Comics to Gold Key to Whitman. He even had some picture books and old Disney Adventure digest magazines.
However, there was a LOT more.
To this day, no one has brought in the amount of furry comics and porn comics as that woman did. Omaha the Cat Dancer, Battle Vixens, Four-Footed Furries, Albedo, it was baffling. I don’t even want to remember the fairy porn issues. The man practically bought every badly done 90s manga rip off comic out there (Ninja High School, Gold Digger, etc.). And guess what? I had to go through everything. EVERYTHING. Because we needed to figure out what the conditions of the books were in so we could sell them online. I had to make sure to leaf through every single comic the man owned, checking to see if pages were falling out, if they were missing coupons, or if they had writing on them. A lot of the porn comics had pages torn out of them… and so did some of the kid comics.
I did NOT enjoy this task at all. I’m not trying to bash furries, but I am very much not fond of anything NSFW related and I don’t want to think about why so many pages were missing. Not to mention a lot of the comics were incredibly dirty and grimy. I’m just glad the pages weren’t sticky.
So anyway, that’s another chapter out of my twisted life story. Onto the recap.
Amelia McBride muses on how it is currently the saddest night for every kid out there. It’s the night AFTER Christmas. As Amelia puts it, they are no further away from next Christmas than this very night. She discusses how, up until this point, she could be “Queen of the After Christmas Blues.” You know the drill, like she didn’t get enough or what she wanted or whatever. And then the “MONSTER SULK” sets in, practically til her birthday (February 10th, BTW).
But not this year.
Looking back, Amelia starts to tell us how this happened. See, it all started when her friend Reggie decided to find out the truth about Santa Claus…
Rewind to a few weeks ago. Amelia had just returned from a three day trip to see her dad back in Manhattan.
Reggie: Amelia, you’re back!
Rhonda: You were away?
Amelia: For three days!
Rhonda: So that was why the world felt full of joy!
[Wing: Okay, I love these kids.]
Amelia asks if Rhonda will laugh it up when she sees all the pre-Christmas loot she got from her dad. See, Amelia worked off on her dad’s “Divorce guilt,” and BOY did she score. Video games, Barbies, even the legendary Easy Bake Oven! Rhonda’s amazed Amelia acquired the holiest of the holy, and didn’t realize Mr. McBride still lived in New York. She even asks Amelia if her dad is okay and all.
Reggie asks they cut the conversation short, because G.A.S.P. has a problem. That problem comes in the form of a certain yuletide cheer monger who is misleading the youth of the world.
A certain member of G.A.S.P. who wishes to remain anonymous (Rhonda looks at Pajamaman, Amelia is confused), has not received presents for three years and counting. And yet this person, whoever they may be, has been exceedingly good. Amelia can’t believe this person wouldn’t receive gifts. That’s when Reggie whips out photographic proof of what this person DID get.
Amelia can’t restrain her horror; how could Santa DO that to a child?! Rhonda bluntly admits she doesn’t believe in Santa at all.
[Wing: If he’s a shill for Sears, he really let the ball drop this past decade plus. *pours one out for Kmart and Sears*]
Reggie announces G.A.S.P.’s current strategy is to figure out what Santa’s beef is. And for that matter who is behind Santa’s funding? Does he exist? Can they sue him? Rhonda and Pajamaman are in, and eventually Amelia caves in to peer pressure. Reggie declares they’re gonna bring that fat sucker down!
However, Amelia had apprehensions on this plan. She expected a big haul from Santa this year and didn’t want to risk getting onto the naughty list. Or worse yet, the OBNOXIOUS, NOSY, DOOFI LIST. Out of fear of losing her Santa gifts, Amelia set to work on her mom. You know, the usual “Why aren’t we a family anymore, don’t you guys love me” shtick. Amelia had her dad’s bribes-I MEAN gifts in her corner. Figuring her mom wouldn’t want to be shown up by her dad, Amelia broke out the Toys R Us catalog.
[Wing:… oh man. *pours one out for Toys R Us* I’m going to read this to Ostrich, who is mourning the loss of his childhood with the loss of Toys R Us and the slide into failure that has been Kmart and Sears. Because I am cruel. Did you know that Geoffrey the Giraffe is now a pro wrestler? You do now! He made the mistake of taking on Gangrel, though, one of my favourite vampire wrestlers.]
That evening, Amelia read off a list of all the “Ninja Fight Squadron” shit she wanted while her mom and Aunt Tanner browsed through the TV channels for something good to watch. Amelia’s mom was annoyed by all the depressing news while Tanner perused the TV guide for Christmas programming. It was either “Softee Chicken: It’s a Softee Christmas,” or “Ninja Fight Squadron’s Butt-Kickin’ Kwanzaa.” Amelia’s all for Ninja Kwanzaa, but her mom’s sick of the Ninja Fight Thingee whatever and decided on Softee Chicken. Amelia’s mom turned to her sister for support.
Softee Chicken won out.
Amelia turned back to her “Light reading,” but her mom saw through her little plan. Tanner decided to check on her imaginary cake while the former Mrs. McBride had a chat with her daughter. Amelia’s mom doesn’t mind all those gifts she got from her dad, but SHE can’t afford to do that too. She explains they have to save for a house of their own so they don’t keep imposing on Tanner. Her mom says she recognizes how good Amelia’s been, especially with how she kept it together despite all this upheaval. The divorce, the move, but Amelia will need to be happy with whatever Santa brings her.
[Wing: UGH SANTA WTF. I can’t remember what I was reading the other day, but it talked about how if you’re going to do (read: lie to your kids about) the whole Santa thing, Santa really should bring little, inexpensive gifts, because otherwise, kids whose families are poorer are left feeling like nothing they do is good enough to be rewarded by Santa. Also, the whole Santa lie is bullshit. At the same time as parents are teaching their children not to lie, they lie and lie and lie about Santa and the Tooth Fairy and whatever else. I am deeply, deeply annoyed by Santa in particular, because so much of the lie turns on the idea that if you’re good, Santa will bring you great things, so if “Santa” can’t afford to bring you great things, something must be wrong with you.]
Amelia did not handle these revelations well.
- She’s poor.
- She’s one Tanner tantrum away from being homeless.
- Her mom is not getting her anything for Christmas.
- She will have to rely on Santa, so long as she’s still on the nice list.
- Which wasn’t a sure bet after the mall incident.
At the following G.A.S.P. meeting, Rhonda and Amelia were shown the HQ’s “War Room.” Reggie unveiled the “Operation Elfwatch” plans he and Pajamaman worked on all day. Rhonda’s not impressed.
[Wing: No, really, I love these kids.]
G.A.S.P. were all in position at the Consumaway Shopping Center to expose Santa. Amelia (as Princess Powerful) was at Checkpoint Alpha. Rhonda (Ms. Magnificent) was at Checkpoint Beta. Reggie and Pajamaman (as Jolly Papa and The Mole, respectively) waited on line to see Santa. [Wing: THESE KIDS ARE THE MOST ADORABLE.]
Sucks to be Amelia, because she just HAD to run into *ugh* Owen. At the same time, Reggie and Pajamaman dealt with Mary Violet. Mary Violet, the resident goth girl in training, is next to see Santa, but she only needs to ask him a question.
When Mary Violet gets hauled away, Reggie and Pajamaman make their move. While that’s going on, Amelia bluntly informs Owen that G.A.S.P. is trying to find out if Santa’s real. Owen states Santa’s definitely real, and according to his dad the fat man’s backed by the Feds. They’re also very interested in knowing who’s been naughty. Amelia cuts the conversation short by asking Owen why he always smells like cheese. He declines further comment.
Just then, Amelia’s and Rhonda’s walky-talkies are squawking like crazy! Reggie and Pajamaman are all over Santa, Reggie screaming they need back up while the poor guy in the Santa suit is begging for security. Until finally, Reggie rips off Santa’s beard!
To the shock and horror of every other kid standing in line, Reggie announces Santa is a… FRAUD! But this is a good thing! Reggie goes on a speech that this is Day One of their liberation! No longer do they cower under the oppressive gaze of Santa’s judgmental spying! Rejoice, brothers!
He then calms down enough to assure a crying boy this is wonderful. Now it doesn’t matter if the boy’s been good or bad. They no longer have anyone to answer to…
At which point mall security finally showed up.
[Wing: I will say that, despite my deep hatred of the Santa thing, I do not go around spoiling it for kids. I didn’t when I was a kid who didn’t celebrate Christmas and I won’t now, because that is a dick move. (I think the whole Santa thing is a dick move, personally, but it’s not my call whether people tell it to their children.)]
The next day G.A.S.P. reconvenes. Reggie and Pajamaman had to wait until their parents picked them up from the mall, while Amelia and Rhonda avoided getting snagged since they missed the whole “Liberation” thing. Rhonda demands to know what Reggie’s parents said about the truth on Santa. Reggie regretfully informs the girls that, according to his parents, that mall Santa was one of the REAL Santa’s helpers. And the real Santa saw everything through the security cameras.
Amelia’s pissed because she knew this was a bad idea, and wants to know what else Reggie’s parents told him. Apparently Reggie’s now on the naughty list for good and that goes for his friends as well. Rhonda declares she doesn’t give a shit, while thinking about how she’s screwed. [Wing: SEE? SEE THE BULLSHIT THAT COMES FROM THE SANTA MYTH? ONE BAD DEED PUTS YOU ON THE NAUGHTY LIST FOREVER SO WHAT’S THE POINT OF EVER BEING GOOD? …actually, there are similar arguments to be made by the various ways that religions have you earn redemption.]
The day took a more sober turn when the group visited Pajamaman’s house. It was the first time Amelia’s been to his place, and she was surprised to see how tiny and messy it was. It’s kind of obvious Pajamaman’s folks don’t have a lot of money. Honestly, it was an eye-opener for Amelia. After feeling crappy thinking her and her mom were poor, Amelia realized she’s actually pretty lucky. Amelia noticed something taped to Pajamaman’s fridge. It was a clipping for a “Red Captain Ninja” figure, which she recognized because it was the top of her Christmas list. But they’re pretty rare it seems; her dad couldn’t find one either.
Outside, Amelia sadly confides in Rhonda and Reggie she had no idea Pajamaman was, as Rhonda quietly puts it, “Poor as dirt.” Reggie mentions Pajamaman is a “Latchky Kid,” and gives Amelia a rather… unique history lesson.
(a) Okay, that is delightful. (b) I was a latchkey kid for a long time growing up. Nothing wrong with it.
Life went on and Christmas got closer, but Amelia had a lot on her mind. All she could think about was the clipping at Pajamaman’s house. Reggie explained he was probably hinting about what he wanted for Christmas, but most likely wouldn’t get it. Amelia explains how, up until now, these guys were simply her friends. Who was rich and who was poor isn’t something that occurred to her before. She also expresses how ashamed she felt because, even though she felt bad for Pajamaman, she was still hoping for her big haul from Santa. At this point Amelia thinks she’ll be lucky if she’s not put on the top of the WHINY, SELF-CENTERED JERK LIST. Right above Celine Dion and P. Diddy.
What bothered Amelia most was why Santa would ignore somebody as good and sweet as Pajamaman. So, come Christmas Eve, she had one thing to do. Amelia asked Tanner if there really is a Santa Claus. Tanner joked these’re questions best asked BEFORE downing three eggnogs…
But, as she thinks about it, Tanner does seem to believe there IS a Santa Claus. She doesn’t go “Of course there’s a Santa” in that phony, patronizing way adults can be when they lie about something. She means it. Of course, Amelia wants to know if she’s sure for real-real. Tanner playfully snarks if this is about Amelia’s big haul, but Amelia gets serious. She explains how she’s got a friend who hasn’t received gifts in three years, and Amelia legitimately can’t understand why. [Wing: SEE THE HARM THE FUCKING SANTA MYTH CAN DO.] Tanner is silently taken aback, and remains quiet for a minute.
Tanner starts to talk about how, when she was a kid, her favorite song was “Still Rock N Roll To Me” by Billy Joel. The main reason why she liked it was because of one line: “You shouldn’t try to be a straight ‘A’ student if you already think too much.” Tanner explains it was her motto for years, but then came the day of her rude awakening. When Tanner actually read the lyrics, she discovered the line really said “Should I try to be a straight ‘A’ student? If you are then you think too much.” Naturally she was devastated. However, Tanners adds even though she knew the real lyrics, it never replaced the one she made up.
Amelia doesn’t get it.
Tanner admits all she can tell Amelia is what she believes, that there IS real magic at Christmas (even though it’s totally corny). When you find real magic in the world, you have to fight hard to keep it. She believes in Santa now more than she ever did as a kid, and understands what Amelia is REALLY asking. This isn’t about whether Santa Claus is real. This is a question of “Why isn’t life fair?” And sadly, Tanner doesn’t have an answer.
But hey, it’s still Christmas Eve. As Amelia gets ready to spend the night on the couch, Tanner softly suggests that Amelia rest, and dream about the gifts she’ll receive and those she already has.
Come Christmas morning, Amelia wakens to a voice calling her name. The sound of “Ho ho ho” jolts her right up, and she’s ecstatic to see all the gifts under the tree. Santa didn’t let her down after all! Okay she’s letting that first gift, a hat, slide as an attempt at elfin humor. She’s more excited as she opens the next gift to find…
A Red Captain Ninja action figure.
Thinking about the clipping in Pajamaman’s house, Amelia does the only thing she can think of.
She rewraps the toy, gets her coat on, and heads to her friend’s house. Remembering the spare key hidden under Pajamaman’s welcome mat, Amelia heads inside. Seeing the small Christmas tree in the living room, Amelia places the gift on the floor and hurries before Pajamaman enters the room. Ugh my heart breaks as this kid walks by the tree, genuinely startled and confused as to how there’s a gift under it. And for HIM.
Later that day, Amelia heads to the clubhouse for some surprising news. Reggie ecstatically declares Pajamaman has proved Santa IS real after all! Pajamaman, wearing “Santa’s” hat and holding the Red Captain Ninja, saw Santa leaving his house. He was shorter than you’d expect, but it was him. Rhonda, meanwhile, is having a… unique time registering this information.
Hearing “There’s a Santa Claus” made Amelia happier than she’s felt in a very long time. Because she used to live with her parents in New York City. Now she lives with her mom and aunt in a nowhere town in Pennsylvania. And you know what? She’s fine with that. But sometimes it’s hard for her not to wish that things were back to how they were before.
Even though Amelia knows, even if she could go back, they wouldn’t be the same.
But that isn’t how she’s ending this story.
Amelia Louise McBride believes in Santa Claus, because she has been through shit and she refuses to live in a world without Santa. She knows everyone’s got problems and she’s lucky compared to most people. But she STILL has been through her share of shit.
And hey, sometimes even Santa Claus needs help.
So, what is it we should be taking from this story?
Thankfully, the story avoids going into “Miracle on 34th Street” territory by giving the implication that Santa Claus is a real, flesh and blood person. This isn’t so much about Santa the person as it is about Santa the idea. The comic tries to analyze the Santa myth’s fallacy over how good children supposedly get everything they want, which we know is not true.
So what is it that Tanner is referring to? The notion that, even knowing there’s no such person as Santa, that doesn’t change the idea of him? That it’s a role we can assume for ourselves during the holidays and that it is up to us to carry it out? That instead of waiting for the magic to happen, we make it happen for us? Which is why Amelia decides to take up Santa and make Pajamaman’s wish come true.
[Wing: This is a version of Santa that I can (sort of) get behind. (I still think the myth does damage, but it’s hard to reconcile this story with how it goes down in the real world.]
I appreciate that, even knowing all this, Amelia doesn’t give in to cynicism. She sees how happy Pajamaman is, and she doesn’t bitterly think “Oh if only he knew the truth.” She doesn’t view this as tricking him. She knows Santa is real because SHE was Santa to this kid, and she’s happy with that.
Tanner’s honesty on the subject was such a delightful change of pace. Rather than going “He’s not real” or “Yeah he’s real I’ve seen him myself,” she takes an option most stories don’t and recognizes where this question really comes from. She doesn’t offer any illusions about why life is or isn’t fair and tries to be as gently honest as possible with Amelia.
Onto other matters, I’m touched by Amelia’s maturity. She doesn’t require getting called out on being greedy or selfish and retains enough empathy to acknowledge her greed, feel bad about how she’s acting, and then try to change her behavior on her own. But Amelia’s still a kid and she’s allowed to be a little greedy at Christmas. She’s only human, after all. This is a similar problem I’ve dealt with a lot. Since my birthday is on Christmas, part of me (yes a big part) gets excited hoping to receive stuff from my friends. I’m spoiled, I know, and I get disappointed when I don’t receive anything from certain people.
Yet I understand my friends aren’t obligated to give me anything, so this is my hang-up and I have to deal with it.
One last thing I did enjoy about the ending was how Amelia could take a step back and recognize other people have gone through shit too, and maybe even worse than she did. But she’s still had problems of her own and they’re worth acknowledging. Usually when that tactic’s deployed, it’s for the sake of making someone shut up about their problems. It can lead to someone developing an inferiority complex.
[Wing: I do like the flat out acknowledgement that everyone has problems and even if your problem is less (in whatever way) that someone else’s, it doesn’t invalidate your problem.]