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Exclusive: Harvey Kurtzman's Marley's Ghost character designs. Plus: An exclusive holiday playlist

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Aaron Sagers
Dec 10, 2017

Imagine a world where Ebenezer Scrooge existed in the same universe. It almost happened in the 1950s, sort of, when MAD Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman set about adapting Charles Dickens’ holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, as Marley's Ghost, a long-form comic and predecessor of the graphic novel.

The story goes that Kurtzman delivered a partial manuscript of the book, wrapped in brown paper tied up with string, to comic creator (and founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) Denis Kitchen about 25 years ago while the two were in the former’s attic. But while he made notes, pages, and thumbnails, the project by the legendary MAD creator – hailed as a god by director Terry Gilliam -- never came to fruition.

Until now.

Available now exclusively on ComiXology and Kindle, Marley's Ghost has been brought to life with art by illustrator and animation designer Gideon Kendall, and Eisner Award-winning writers Shannon Wheeler, and Josh O’Neill. Under the supervision of the Kurtzman Estate, the posthumous collaboration is a 120-page graphic novel is a holiday treat.

And speaking of the holidays, Syfy Wire is offering up a few exclusive Christmas gifts tied to Marley’s Ghost, courtesy writer O’Neill, and artist Kendall.

First up are exclusive character design sketches by Kendall, along with the illustrator’s description of each, and their connections to Kurtzman’s ideas. Also included is the design for the Ghost of Christmas Future, which is not included in the book, and has never been shown before. Then, O’Neill has served up a spooky Christmas-themed playlist perfect to play whilst reading the early example of a graphic novel.

Check out both below, and if you want to read a comics legend’s take on an iconic holiday classic, head to ComiXology to download Marley’s Ghost.

Character designs by Gideon Kendall

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Scrooge

“From the pages that Kurtzman sketched, he seemed to be hewing towards traditional depictions of the characters, so we did the same. This was my first sketch of Scrooge and pretty much right away I realized that I was going to struggle with drawing his outfit. Luckily I have a good friend who is built somewhat like my idea of Scrooge (tall and bony, prominent nose and chin), so I coerced him into being my model and had a seamstress make a custom nightgown for him.” 

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Bob Cratchit & Tiny Tim

“Nothing really unique about my designs here. Other than the style of glasses, Bob stayed pretty much like this for the book, but Tim looks a little too healthy here.”

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Marley

“Gettin’ my Jack Davis on, as much as my skill level would allow. This is the only ghost that Kurtzman sketched, so I followed his lead. There’s an exaggeration and fluidity in this drawing that I think I lost in the final art, but that’s often the way it goes with preliminary sketches.”

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Ghost of Christmas Past

“In the various movie versions, Christmas Past is the ghost with the widest range of interpretations. My mom, a dancer who is tiny and thin, was my inspiration for this character. With a blank face and no lower limbs (the ghost, not my mom!), I relied on hand gestures for visual communication. I have lots of really cool pictures of my mom’s hands as a result.”

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Ghost of Christmas Present

“Definitely the most fun, and the least ‘ghostly’ of the ghosts. We conceived of him as a John Belushi type, and wanted him to be somewhat vulgar. In one of Kurtzman’s rough panels he seems to have shown him reclining and exposing his inner thigh to Scrooge, which to us meant that we were on the right track with our interpretation. Side note: One idea that we had early on was to have him eating constantly, and to have the things he’s eating become more and more outrageous, even absurd: whereas he starts out with mutton and roast pig, by the end he’d be chowing down on Funyuns, pizza and Lite Beer. In the end we felt that would be too distracting, but It would have been fun to draw!”

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Ghost of Christmas Future

“Christmas Past and Christmas Present basically lead Scrooge around from place to place. We wanted to break the repetition, and to make the penultimate chapter as frightening and disorienting as possible. We thought, what if this ghost swallows him whole, so that Scrooge would be truly immersed in the nightmare of his possible future? We removed any indication of an actual form beneath the cloak, turning him into a sinister dark red void. To make him seem even more ethereal, and less humanoid, we removed his limbs. This meant that we lost the ‘acting’ of hands and arms, but I think that the resulting inscrutability made the ghost even more creepy and enigmatic, and also less like a typical ‘grim reaper’ figure. It has been pointed out to me that there’s more than a little of Bill Sienkiewicz’s Moon Knight in this design, and I can only say ‘guilty as charged.’ The early MK stories in The Hulk Magazine were among my most favorite comics as a kid, and I still look at them often for inspiration."

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Marley’s Ghost playlist by Josh O’Neill

For the past year, Gideon Kendall, Shannon Wheeler and I have been communing with the dead.

We've been hard at work resurrecting Marley's Ghost -- a comic adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, envisioned and outlined but never completed by Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine. In a project commissioned and published by ComiXology, we've worked off Kurtzman's original layouts and Dickens' story to create a lush and gorgeous digital graphic novel, telling a beloved old tale in a bold new tone and format. 

In order to do so, we dusted off our Ouija boards and entered a sort of creative seance, negotiating new comics out of the visions of two of the greatest dearly departed storytellers in the English language.

The spooky posthumous nature of our collaboration was appropriate to the material. Kurtzman's bold vision restored the darkness and supernatural horror that most film and stage adaptations have tended to scrub away. A Christmas Carol is, after all, a ghost story centered on an amoral creep. The ghosts in the story are more than plot devices.

They're manifestations of the sadness, anger and fear of a life lived in hatred and darkness.

To create the right atmosphere for this kind of summoning, we needed music. So we curated a playlist of weird, creepy, ghostly Christmas songs. These tunes invoked the holliest and jolliest of undead spectres, who joined us in our necromantic festivities. Listen to these tracks while you read Marley's Ghost on ComiXology -- or simply to help ease the strange transition from Halloween to the holidays.

1. Sufjan Stevens - I'll be Home for Christmas

A woozy, unsteady version of the melancholy Bing Crosby classic promises promises a return home that's equal parts nostalgic and ominous. Are those chestnuts roasting on the open fire, or the souls of the unforgiven?

2. Bob Dylan - Must Be Santa

In this hectic, barked-out Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass version of the b-list Christmas classic Must Be Santa, Dylan is as deranged as the libertine ghost of Christmas Present, glorying madly in the reasons for the season. 

3. The Melvins - Carol of the Bells

Christmas is overstuffed. Roast beasts, mountains of gifts and bellies full of eggnog don't leave a caroller so light on their feet. But Kurtzman is lightning fast, nimble, irreverent and sharp. The doomy post-punk/metal onslaught of the Melvins' take on Carol of the Bells cuts right through the tinsel and treacle.

4. Vi Hart - 12

This 12-tone rearrangement of the 12 Days of Christmas by the "recreational mathemusician" Vi Hart is, I think, supposed to be some kind of neat intellectual exercise. The fact that it opens a howling portal to a bottomless hell-realm of unknowable terror is apparently a coincidence. 

5. Nightmare Before Christmas - Making Christmas

An easy choice, perhaps -- but in assembling our Yuletide full of ghouls, we are trodding in the footsteps of Tim Burton, Danny Elfman & co., and we must doff our caps.

6. Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)

As Dickens, Kurtzman and Scrooge all knew, Christmas is not entirely fellowship and good will towards men. It's also a time of terrible nog-fueled fight between couples, friends and family! Also, the music video begins with a guy actually reading A Christmas Carol.

7. Batzz in the Belfry - O Holy Night

Don't forget -- Christmas is not just another day. It can also be a slow dive into an infinite abyss of sorrow and suffering. "Fall on your knees and hear the angels voices!" has never sounded quite so punitive.

8. The Pogues - Fairytale of New York

The Pogues epic Christmas ballad captures the deep sadness of Dickens' fable of missed opportunities. The ghosts in this songs -- of deflated myths and ruined love and disappointed dreams -- may not be supernatural in origin. But that doesn't mean they won't haunt to you to your grave.