Like the cartoons in The New Yorker where the captions often have scant relevance to their illustrations, these vintage Christmas cards seem perversely at odds with the intended holiday spirit. Krampus terrorizes a young boy. A frog robs and murders a fellow amphibian. A dead robin (apparently) signifies joyful wishes. A polar bear prepares to devour an unwitting explorer, while an emu inspects its prey. What are we to make of these cards—other than to surmise that humor does not age well?
With our incessant social media, email, Twitter and alike, we still like to send and receive cards. In 2014, the UK spent over two billion dollars on greetings cards, a nice little earner. Having spent the morning writing seasonal cards to various friends and family, I find my glittered pictures of snow scenes and Christmas lights pale beside this little mailbag of festive cheer.
I think the robin is saying, ‘Come sunrise, you’re fucked Frosty.’
Not quite sure why this would be a ‘Merry Christmas.’ More like death of the old year and on with the new, right?
Like villagers in a ‘Frankenstein’ movie, the birds are coming to get you…
Frogs symbolize prosperity and good luck. So what does a dead frog portend then?
More oddball vintage seasonal greetings, after the jump…
If you haven’t sent out your holiday cards yet, might I suggest these nifty metal hero Christmas cards instead? Confuse the Hell out of your relatives with ‘em. Each order contains all three cards with colored envelopes. The watermarks will not appear on cards.
Terry Gilliam’s Christmas card of 2011, as posted to his Facebook page.
Terry Gilliam moved to London in 1967 after having paid his dues on a cutting-edge satirical magazine in the United States called Help! that was run by former MAD honcho Harvey Kurtzman. Gilliam actually met John Cleese while at Help!, having created a fumetto (photographic cartoon) featuring the gangly Brit. While in London, Gilliam worked as an art director for London Life and eventually—famously—transitioned into doing cutout animations for TV shows.
As Gilliam described it to Paul Wardle in an interview included in the informative volume Terry Gilliam: Interviews, he was lucky to meet a TV producer with an acute eye for illustrating talent:
John [Cleese] had established himself in television, and he introduced me to a guy named Humphrey Barclay, who was a producer. What he was producing at the time was a show called Do Not Adjust Your Set, a children’s show that Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle were writing and performing. The great thing was that Humphrey was an amateur cartoonist. What he liked more than the written material that I was offering him were my cartoons. So he took pity on me and bought a couple of my written sketches, and forced them on Mike, Terry, and Eric, much to their chagrin, because it was their show. Then this loud-mouthed loud-dressing American turns up and starts invading their pitch.
In The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons Gilliam described his strategy for the assignment—important because this may have been the initial spark for his method, which would become much more widely known and admired when his animations turned up as the transitional bits in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV shows as well as essential elements of all of the Python movies:
I went down to the Tate and they’ve got a huge collection of Victorian Christmas cards so I went through the collection and photocopied things and started moving them around. So the style just developed out of that rather than any planning being involved. I never analysed the stuff, I just did it the quickest, easiest way. And I could use images I really loved.
It’s astonishing how mature the style seems—almost fully formed, one might say. It’s difficult to detect any real difference between this animation, executed in 1968, and the many he did for Monty Python’s Flying Circus from 1969 to 1974.
Salvador Dali designed a series of nineteen Christmas cards between 1958 and 1976. These greeting cards were specially produced for the Barcelona-based company Hoechst Ibérica, and presented Dali’s take on traditional Christmas celebrations.
While popular in Spain, Dali’s greeting cards were not as successful in America, particularly with card manufacturer Hallmark, who thought his “surrealist take on Christmas proved a bit too avant garde for the average greeting card buyer.”
Rebecca M. Bender, Assistant Professor of Spanish Language and Literature has written a fascinating blog with more pictures of Dali’s festive work, which you can view here.
This is apparently British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Christmas card, which looks more like a wedding invitation from the English Defense League. The image was shared by @VictoriaPeckham, who notes:
There are signs of British isolationism even in the PM’s official Xmas card pic.
Joe Strummer painted Christmas cards each year for his close family and friends. Who knew? His last hand painted Christmas card comes in a pack of 8 and sells for £10.00. You can purchase them here. The proceeds go to the Strummerville Charity.
Below is another Christmas card I found by Joe Strummer. I don’t believe this one is for sale.