As some of you know, for the past nine Halloweens, I've chaired a block party that's turned into a really huge celebration, with upwards of 1,600 in attendance. This year will be my final year at the helm, and while I plan to stay on at least one more year as an advisor, I was really looking forward to spending Halloween at home with my family, handing out candy to neighborhood kids.
But... last year the town where I live (which is 45 minutes away from where I chair the block party) decided to throw a curveball and decided that Halloween was forcing kids to stay up too late on a school night (because no kids that I know are ever awake past the mandated trick-or-treat cutoff time of 8 p.m.... right?), so the town council decreed that there would be no trick-or-treating on Halloween proper, but instead it would be moved to the Saturday preceding October 31 and last for two hours, no more, no less.
I was pretty PO'd and sent a nasty letter, especially since the decision was announced just two weeks before Halloween, and my family and I had to rearrange our plans to be home to hand out candy that night. But once it was over, it occurred to me that this could really work to my advantage... now I can essentially have two Halloweens each year!
The way it works at my house is, my wife's family comes over, and everyone brings their own candy and lines up in lawn chairs around our driveway. When the kids come, the person at the end directs them around the semi-circle, and each family member hands out his or her own candy. I never really understood it myself (when I was a kid, you rang the doorbell, someone came out and dropped a fun-sized Snickers in your bag, and then you went onto the next house... one house = one person = one piece of candy (or maybe a couple if they were small). But it's a win for the kids, and once again I figured out that it could end up being a win for me, as well.
Because I hadn't planned to be there last year until the trick-or-treating date change, I didn't really have time to do anything fancy, so my contribution was a relatively boring combination of Tootsie Rolls and Dubble Bubble (I had already chipped in about $30 toward my wife's Halloween candy, so this seemed like a good, economical choice). But with a whole year to plan, I swore I would do better in 2017. Which brings me to the point of this post....
In 1963, the Phoenix Candy Co. issued this candy box:
While there were several more in the series, Phoenix chose to go with a completely different design for the rest:
(Image from the Monsterwax website)
I really liked the original design, and while I had a little downtime while recovering from some health issues late last year/earlier this year, I decided to try to hone my Photoshop skills and design some boxes for the other Universal monsters using the same template as the Frankenstein box. (I ultimately decided mine was more of an "homage," as I miscounted the number of black stripes on the original box in my painkiller-induced haze.) An example:
When I started the designs, it was really just to see if I could learn enough about Photoshop to do it... which I did. Then I started thinking, "Hmm... maybe I can somehow work this into a Halloween thing." So I went online and found some of those white "pillow boxes," like they put mints in at weddings, and noticed that the dimensions were fairly comparable to those of a standard Avery name badge. So I ordered a gross of ridiculously inexpensive boxes from China and a package of ridiculously expensive adhesive name badge sheets from Amazon and figured I could size my Photoshop creations to the label size, stick them on the pillow boxes, fill them with something cool and make them my Halloween giveaway for 2017.
This led me down the rabbit hole....
Once I decided to commit to the project, my first thought was, "Hmm... there are TWO sides to each pillow box...." The original Phoenix boxes had monster pin-up cards to be cut from the backs, but I'm not sure how much kids today would care about that kind of thing. So I turned to my non-sports collection and took inspiration from the "You'll Die Laughing" and "Spook Stories" cards and came up with jokes to stick on the back, customized to each individual monster:
Once that was done, it was time to consider the inside. I had already decided that the candy portion of the treat would consist of a couple Halloween "chews," which can be bought in bulk for about a penny each at the local dollar stores starting around August. (I use them as filler for my block party, as well -- don't worry; there's plenty of "good" candy to go around, too, and each kid gets a full-sized chocolate bar at the end.) The price is right, they fit perfectly, and, let's face it, these "fun packs" were never known for having the best candy anyway....
With it, I knew I wanted to include some sort of plastic figure, inspired by the L.M. Becker "Spooky Surprise" bags. I ordered an inexpensive bag of 144 one-inch army men (the regular-sized ones are too big for the box), but when I unveiled my idea at the Universal Monster Army fan site, the "universal" opinion was that I needed to find something more in keeping with the spirit of the season. I buy 50-count bags of Halloween rings from Dollar Tree to use as prize for the block party each year, and though the spider and skull rings in those packages are too large for the pillow boxes, I tried one of the bat rings I had left over from the block party, and it fit well, so I think I'm going to buy a bunch of bags of rings for the block party this year, take out all the bats for my own use and then replace them one-for-one with other prizes (probably more rings) out of my own pocket. Unless I can find bags of just bats (which I haven't seen before -- though they do have bags of just spiders and just skulls), in which case I'll just buy three of them and be done with it. I also bought a gross of "happy" monster-themed pencil toppers/erasers, one of which will go into each box.
One thing I did last Halloween for my stepdaughter was to create some Harry Potter stickers (which are impossible to find in stores) for her to hand out to trick-or-treaters at her Harry Potter-inspired table in our driveway. I had fun learning to do that in Photoshop... so much so that I created some monster stickers just for my own amusement. There are still plenty of Harry Potter ones left over, and I thought about just throwing them in the boxes... but since everything else will be monster-themed and I already have monster stickers designed, it really doesn't take much effort or cost that much more to print them:
I also knew I wanted to include a monster-themed non-sports card. My first thought was to just buy a few "You'll Slay Me" sets and put a card in each box, but the boxes are JUST small enough that a regular-sized card won't fit without bending. We can't have that! So I looked at online trading card printing sites and found one that would print 150 half-sized cards, with UV coating, for about $25. I had planned to just stick a reprint of a 1959 "You'll Die Laughing" card on each side, but when I scanned them, the moire patterns were just too glaring. So I went back to "Spook Stories" and "Monster Laffs" issues and created a couple similar of my own, updated for the 21st century. But, of course, I couldn't stop there, and I ended up with six altogether, four of which made the final cut. I actually got a sample from a local printer yesterday, and they look really good! (No UV coating though... which I'm fine with.)
For the backs, I didn't want to do jokes since I had already gone that route for the box backs, so instead I wrote some limericks, which a fellow non-sports collector (who has my thanks and can identify himself if he would like -- I won't "out" him as an intellectual otherwise!) helped me transform into "real" limericks, not just something that seemed
Another idea I had -- and this is something I wanted to do for my stepdaughter's Harry Potter table last year, but she wasn't too keen on my "helping" (i.e. interfering) -- is to get a free online phone number with voice mail and set it up not to take messages, then record a "We're not in right now" message (full of puns like, "Please leave your name, and we'll try to dig up some... body to return your call") from Igor. My plan is to print up business cards for "Frankenstein's Laboratory" with that phone number to include in each box.
I really thought that would be it as far as the contents of the boxes... until I saw a closeup of some Eppy dollar-bill charms from the '50s or '60s one day and thought, "Hey... wouldn't it be neat to design some monster play money?" So I did... and now it's going into the boxes, too! I'll have between six and ten designs by the time it's all over. When I started, I was thinking about the "Civil War News" currency inserts, but these bills will be smaller so as to fit in the boxes with just one fold. Instead of a full border, I decided to go with the simple top- and bottom-bar design used by Bob Ting for his "Uranus Strikes" premium coupons, and I also cribbed the idea of using real dollar-bill symbols for the "ones" in the corners from his design. (Mine came from a high-resolution online scan of an old silver certificate; the backs will resemble silver certificate backs, with the phrase "non-negotiable" prominently featured.) It's a simple design, but I packed in some neat "hidden" details (or at least I think they're neat):
Over the weekend, I made one more discovery that will eat up my time and probably be a little pricier if I can pull it off... but I think it will be worth it. I have stumbled upon the existence of at-home die and embossing presses that actually will stamp out pillow boxes in a size similar to the ones I've already ordered. I want to try a few of the labels first to see how I like them... but I'm also going back to the shop where I'm having the cards printed to get a quote for having the boxes printed on 100-pound paper (just slightly thinner than chipboard) that I can then stamp out so they would be "real" boxes and not just stickers on a box.
I've already had several people offer to buy sets of boxes for their collections. If I go the stamping route (and maybe even if I don't), I may set up a Kickstarter or Go Fund Me to fund the purchase of the machine, die and printing, with extra boxes, cards, stickers, play money, etc., used as the rewards. But I'm a ways from that yet.
Anyway, I thought some people on this board would get a kick out of reading about my adventure and seeing some samples since just about everything in this whole scheme is inspired in some way by non-sports cards. I keep telling my wife that with my luck, it'll probably rain on Halloween (or the Saturday before, as it were), anyway!