I don’t really know how it started.
It could’ve been when we made our younger daughter into the comic strip character Nancy as a nod to my friend and partner Jerry Scott. At the time, Jerry was drawing and writing the Nancy strip. Our daughter had a ball of Nancy hair complete with spikes made from pipe cleaners.
It could have been when we read The Stupids Have a Ball (by Harry Allard/illustrated by James Marshall) to the kids. It inspired us to recreate the Halloween costume, General George Washing Machine.
Either way, we started down a long road of elaborate Halloween costumes based on commercial products and entities. My wife was really into it. She’s extremely resourceful—a wizard with cardboard, felt and foam sheets—and she slings a wicked glue gun.
In the beginning it was a lot of fun. Each year, though, the costumes presented new challenges and the bar was set higher. It seemed such an insurmountable task to top yourself every year.
Sometimes being a cartoonist came in handy. Admitedly, there were times when I was reluctantly drafted into helping construct them. Reluctantly, because it usually meant a trading sleep for costumes.
An early one was the Hawaiian Punch juice box, painted in great detail to look just like the real thing, only super-sized. Early successes led to, among others:
An order of McDonald’s fries, with fries made out of foam rubber (painstakingly spray painted so realistically, you just wanted to squeeze some ketchup on them). We spent Halloween night picking up fries off the street because they kept coming unglued and falling out of the carton around our daughter’s feet. We’d approach a door and quickly stuff them back in so they’d stay in place long enough to complete the Trick-or-Treat transaction.
The Energizer Bunny, where our daughter wore a pink, furry bunny outfit with a bass drum strapped to her front, a giant Energizer battery on her back and big fuzzy bunny feet that she kept tripping over. She’d end up sprawled out on the sidewalk or pavement flailing like a roach on her back because she couldn’t get up. Eventually the drum fell apart and we gave up on the bunny feet.
The costumes were legendary in the neighborhood. Costume contests were won.
Sure, mistakes were made.
But when we look back on those Halloweens, we all forget the pain and late nights making the costumes, the struggles of wearing them and keeping them together. Our daughters loved that their costumes were different than everyone else’s, and they relished the reactions when people opened their door to see them—despite the occasional bruises, cramps and chafing. We tell the stories over and over again. And laugh.
And when our older daughter got to college, she asked my wife to make yet another costume. We shipped it off to her, four states away. It was a giant club sandwich—complete with a huge toothpick with curlycue cellophane—each layer worn by my daughter or one of her friends. When they went to a door, they all piled together to form the sandwich.
Costume contests were again won. And another story was added to the legend.
When our now-adult younger daughter recently made a cartoony dinosaur costume—constructed from a green hoodie and foam sheets with spikes made out of party hats—we knew the circle was complete. The tradition lives on.