Krengel & the Krampusz was the best idea I’ve ever had. I think that all creators can probably relate to that struggle to conjure up some sort of a brand new, blockbuster idea with mainstream appeal. We’re always searching for that special story with massive legs that has somehow been overlooked in an entertainment world where almost every angle seems to have already been exploited. I’d venture to say that most writers probably never really get to experience that writer’s version of the “Eureka Moment” in a laboratory, where your eyes widen, your jaw hits the floor, and everything seems to stop and rush outward toward the horizon in every direction, as you’re struck with a monumental concept that has somehow never been touched.
Well, I guess I got lucky, because that’s exactly how I felt, sitting in my truck at a four-way stop in the small town of Greenwood, Missouri on a bleak February weekday when I realized that an epic origin of Santa Claus that embraced his original, dark Austrian roots, his dichotomous relationship to his evil counterpart, the Krampus, explaining all of his trademark effects, like the sleigh and flying reindeer, the polar citadel, the seemingly bottomless sack of toys … was a story that had never been touched by another creator. That was an awesome moment that I will never forget, and to be perfectly honest, I have the same fear now as I did the very moment that the idea struck me: will the quality of my writing support the biggest and best idea that I’ve ever had?
The thought process that delivered me to my idea was twofold.
The weekend prior to my Eureka moment, my wife and I had been out late with some friends on a Saturday night, and Sunday found me sprawled on the couch nursing a hangover with a marathon of nature documentaries, which I found to be soothing to my fried nerve endings. I happened to be watching a documentary about the Galapagos Islands. The narrator explained that when the uninhabited islands were accidentally discovered by Spaniards who’d been blown off course, the sailors gawped at the smoldering volcanic shoreline, and they believed that they’d literally sailed to the shores of Hell. They wasted little time departing because they feared that at any moment the devil himself might come down to the beach to meet them. Had they ventured further inland, they would have discovered a lush paradise just a couple of miles beyond the blasted hellscape, filled with strange and unique creatures that later inspired a little theory by a naturalist named Charles Darwin. But anyway, there I rested. Always keen to present myself with silly writing challenges, after watching the documentary I decided that the next story I would write was going to be set on the Galapagos Islands, in order to put the fantastic imagery I’d filed away to some good use.
The wheels were turning. The shores of Hell, the devil himself, and a bizarre menagerie of creatures spun through my hungover head in a weird promenade. Hold tight to that scene, stick it in your pocket, and stay with me.
Fast-forward a couple of days to that dreary day in Greenwood, Missouri. While I drove through that small town, I was thinking about how the best ideas in writing had already been done and redone, and my train of thought took me to the world of comic books, where, back in 1939, Bob Kane not only created one of the first iconic super heroes when he imagined Batman, but he also set what was to become an enduring trend to pit that hero against a perfectly juxtaposed arch villain. The dark and brooding detective of the shadows was matched against a flamboyant killer clown. I rolled to a four-way stop, watching windblown snow slither over the deserted roads, and I marveled at the fact that although this concept of juxtaposed heroes and arch villains has been redone ten-thousand times, any comic nerd worth his or her salt could make a pretty solid argument that Bob Kane was not only the first guy to do that, but his perfect pairing of Batman and the Joker has never been beaten. It was a hole-in-one, with the very first swing ever taken in that direction, and after nearly a century of imitation, it still stands as being arguably the best hero-villain match of all time.
So, there I sat at that four-way stop, awestruck by the brilliance of that creation, pondering its impact on literature, film, American culture, and I guess it was a combination of those thoughts in my head, and the blowing snow before my eyes, that brought to mind another hero-villain juxtaposition that had been around for much longer than the Dark Knight and the Killer Clown. Santa Claus and the Krampus. The original juxtaposition. You had a benevolent saint who rewarded good children, paired up with a slavering demon who dragged the naughty kids screaming into that black sack thrown over Santa’s shoulder. How positively odd. I found myself wondering how you go from a flesh and blood Saint Nicholas, a Third Century bishop, to this deranged caricature of the late 1400’s sporting a team of flying reindeer, a polar base of operations, elves, and a demon in a sack. After five-hundred years as a household word, why in the hell had no one thought to write an epic origin for Santa Claus that might explain all of that?
My pulse rate increased. All the blood drained from my face. I remember sitting there dumbstruck at that stop sign, realizing that I wasn’t moving. There were no other cars on the roads. Just me, gripping my steering wheel in the throes of what I recognized was the biggest idea that I’d ever had, doubting whether or not my writing could support it, and wondering how in the heck I was going to tie the Galapagos Islands into my Medieval European setting? And somehow, some way, it seemed like Batman deserved to get a solid plug.