Drugstore Halloween

Besides attending school, my primary extracurricular activity as a child was begging my mom for WWF magazine within our local Walgreens and Osco. Does any institution represent small town americana more accurately than the “corner” drugstore? A near necessity located in Anytown, USA providing simple goods with a helpful smile in every aisle. Perhaps it’s been romanticized over the decades via Andy Griffith or Norman Rockwell. Regardless, the drug store of yesteryear may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the idea is. These stores were a convenient necessity to our daily routine and was often the first place I’d get a taste of my favorite holiday: Halloween

Over the recent years, I’ve come to feel nostalgic for these “corner drug stores” of all things. It’s not surprising considering most of my childhood establishments have been reduced to empty lots and condominiums. This forces my mind to peel away the obvious nostalgic layers to unearth some truly pure unfiltered personal nostalgia long since buried. Memories that existed, yet laid to rest, but slowly creeping up and bursting out of my mind-soil. Once risen, I’m hit with a rich old-found Thriller-dance of nostalgic thoughts. The type of memories that breed silly pointless articles. No one can escape the evil of the Thriller after all! 

So this season, I decided to return to some of the drug stores that, unknowingly, made my Halloween a bit more magical. To haunt that seasonal aisle once again and document their spooky offerings in 2022. The appeal of the American drugstore is convenience. So throw on your coziest hoodie and let’s conveniently crunch along the leaf-covered block to the corner drugstore. I’ll buy you a pop.


JEWEL-OSCO

I visited two drug stores: the first being Jewel-Osco. A Chicagoland grocery store chain that has existed for as long as Halloween itself. I’ve spent countless hours of my childhood at “The Jewels”, much to my dismay, with the only other store competing being my local K-Mart. These days, I actually enjoy my Jewel trips as it evokes a sense of comforting nostalgia. Mainly because Jewel hasn’t changed. From the store layout to the logo, grocery bags, smells, and employee uniforms. Even the dated intercom voice announcing sales and grocery code garble. I truly believe Jewel peaked in 1981 and thought, as a collective company, “we’re good. Let’s stay here.” 

Entering through Osco drug, the “seasonal” aisle glowing a familiar orange greeted me with open skeleton arms. One side full of spooky assorted party favors and decor while the other a towering wall of limitless fun-size candy. You know how it is. “It Must’ve Been Love” by Roxette echoed throughout the aisle, confirming that Jewel indeed hasn’t changed in decades. Yet…neither have I. And I don’t want either of us to. 

As previously mentioned, the drugstore was often the first place I’d get a taste of Halloween. Grocery shopping with my mother come September, there was a certain expected brew bubbling inside me as our cart neared the seasonal aisle. Turning a corner and seeing bags of candy, rubber bats, and plastic jack o’lanterns was mere confirmation of what we all knew was coming…yet it was still exciting to see it was finally here. 

Understand that the Halloween aisle offered here isn’t anything spectacular. It never was. Yet the same Halloween aisles of my childhood seemed more thorough. Could be a case of rose tinted glasses, but these offerings always served as a mere kickoff to the season. I always enjoyed the simplicity of it: The often present generic icons of Halloween such as the witch, ghost, black cat, or vampire. Not to mention the ever-present cutesy window decals and plastic bags of fake spiderwebs. 

But nothing screams “Halloween” more than some cheap drugstore masks and makeup kits. The past 2 years these have been absent from the aisles entirely. I’m not surprised at this decision, but I’m still bummed to see this tradition dry up. Michael Myers always grabs his mask from a local drugstore after all! I guess he’ll have to settle for a paper bag this year. 


WALGREENS

I suppose Walgreens has become “America’s Drugstore” since Mom and Pop’s were effectively taken out back and put out of their misery decades ago. The Walgreens of my childhood was quite literally on the corner and although I’m not as fond of it today as The Jewels, I have positive memories nonetheless. Walgreens was a place where I obtained most of my then music library (including a couple spooky Halloween soundtracks) which was found on a spinning counter rack carrying cassette singles. I’ve also decided what to be for Halloween a few times during a trip to my local Walgreens as I recollect their decent amount of kids costumes and accessories back in the day. These days, the only time I find myself in a Walgreens drugstore is during the Halloween season. 

But that’s not an insult, as the drugstore has some pretty cool stuff. It has a lot of classic standbys (like Ghostface masks, candy corn, and pumpkin carving kits) as well as a lot of licensed stuff from Disney and various horror films. They seemed like they weren’t fully stocked just yet, but there was enough to oogle and make some impulse buys. I especially loved the plush horror “waddlers” as they literally harass you while playing music at the touch of a button. Oddly enough, there was no Chucky…who seems to be perfect for this line. 

Walgreens also had a great variety of Halloween novelty candy. I’m not talking about the 8 lbs sacks you buy for the trick or treaters, but the ones you grab for yourself as a sugary impulse. Little plastic monsters that “poop” candy pellets, Skeleton flashlight tubes holding sweets, gummy vampire fangs, and spooky pez dispensers just to name a few. Speaking of, I had to get a little something during my journey:

Remember Nestle Wonderball? It was a plastic “egg” holding a prize, covered in chocolate, and wrapped in foil. Well, these are called “YOWIE”s and they’re basically the same thing but cooler. They look like monsters from Sesame Street (I chose “Rumble” and “Crag”) and they hold little plastic figures of animals with cool “super powers”, along with a scroll explaining how freaky these guys are.

I was honestly expecting a figure of the monster I chose, but this turned out to be better in every way. I loved that it turned into a learning experience and focused on creepy critters. It took me back to the days of Zoobooks and Animal Planet (back when it was thoughtful and educational and not just shows about Bigfoot becoming a Lawyer or something) . These candies originate from Australia, as I assumed they were foreign because they were educational, and I’ll definitely be picking some of these up during those monotonous grocery trips.


These drug stores were mere pit stops along the way to something more interesting, yet I now look back at them with a collective fondness. The joy the Halloween season brought me became more apparent within these simple stores. As my mother picked up some quick essentials, I recall persuading her for a pair of plastic vampire fangs or a rubber glow-in-the-dark skeleton. Involuntarily taking in that rubbery smell when thumbing through a short rack of cheap plastic “smock” costumes. Wondering what I would go as during my school’s halloween party as I’d haunt the small collection of bargain masks and makeup kits. As the kids say, It was a vibe…little did I know at the time. 

The Halloween season, in itself, celebrates monsters, mystery, and macabre. In our modern society, it’s become a tradition of gratuitous amounts of fun-size candy, overpriced superhero costumes, and obnoxiously long lines for haunted houses. And, like Abraham Lincoln lighting a deep fried bottle rocket, it’s undeniably American…for better or worse. 

Tradition is inseparable from nostalgia. Take Dracula and his casket or Dr. Frankenstein and the monster, you can’t have one without the other. As each new Halloween season approaches, I harken back to those of yesteryear. There was never any extravagance among my favorite Halloween memories. It was something as simple as taking in neighborhood decorations with my mother, attending my school’s fall fest with some friends, or strolling the Halloween aisle of our local drugstore like we just did. 

And I believe that’s a big reason why Halloween has always remained special to me: it’s what you make of it. And Halloween doesn’t have the overwhelming pressure of, say, a Birthday, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. It’s the only holiday where you can watch Ghoulies Go To College alone while downing an entire bag of fun-size snickers and it’s considered time well spent. 

Writing this article dredged up another fond Halloween memory: I was about 15 years old. An age where you’re considered “too old” for the usual Halloween traditions…yet “too young” to partake in any new ones. It was a growing realization that Halloween was just becoming another day. That “childhood” aspect of it losing its spark. Sensing my depression, my mom and cousin went to the local drug store and purchased some cheap plastic halloween masks and we all went trick or treating that evening. 

I remember walking down the block in my Spider-man costume and seeing a bunch of children with smiles and jack o’lanterns of candy in hand. My natural reaction was almost feeling embarrassed for myself. I’m too old. I look so stupid. I thought to myself. But I turned back and saw my mom and cousin dressed in their spooky slap-dashed costumes, newly acquired masks adorned, giddy and excited gripping old treat bags. It was somewhat of an epiphany.       

There’s no age limit to Halloween. You can outgrow Halloween, but it doesn’t outgrow you.

So this season, make sure to celebrate with a childish mindset. Harken back to those magical Halloweens of yesteryear. And if you never had one, there’s no better time to make one. We’re not here for long after all. So take those you cherish to celebrate with the spooks before we all become some. 

If interested in some other related spooky offerings, here’s an episode of my podcast where my best friend and I peruse Jewel for Halloween goodies! 

And here’s an Ad Nauseam where I crack open a 90’s Fangoria Magazine littered with some great memories of Halloween past!  

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Ad Nauseam: Toxic Avenger #3

You can read the last installment of “Ad Nauseam” here. 

The Toxic Avenger No. 3-June 1991

The 80’s and 90’s were an interesting time in American pop culture. It seemed like nearly every license (no matter how grossly inappropriate) was marketed to children in some form. R rated films like Robocop and Rambo had popular action figure lines, video games, and cartoons. Freddy Krueger had his own bubble gum. And I swear The Terminator was a step away from his own breakfast cereal (Cinnamon Furlongs).

Take our current subject: The Toxic Avenger. A janitorial nerd turned toxic superhero, the film was a crude, violent, and campy trip released in 1984 by (now infamous) shlock movie producer Troma Entertainment. It led to a franchise of movies, video games, toys, even a musical! Not too shabby being based off a B-movie that climaxed in a taco joint.

Toxie also starred in his own comic book series published under Marvel. Which brings us to The Toxic Avenger No. 3: Night of the Hardbodies! Published in 1991, Toxic Avenger was standing on his last radioactive leg of relevance. His prior success of meta-camp had run its course and while Toxie was “kiddfied” for his Toxic Crusaders animated series and comic, kids didn’t care for teenage mutant non-ninja people. Especially when they looked like Hulk Hogan fused with a stale green pepper.

But it’s whats on the inside that counts, right? And in our case it’s A D V E R T I S M E N T S.

So join me and this June 1991 issue of The Toxic Avenger (supplied by The Graveyard Machine ) as we crack open yet another “captivating” comic to casually stroll through a cacophony of capitalism captured in time! Thank Christ for Thesauruses.

Battletoads for the NES

Battletoads was great. Battletoads was hard. I love Battletoads. I hate Battletoads. Released for the NES in 1991, Battletoads was a game that positively reeked of ‘tude and being rad, man. As evidenced in this single paged ad, they knock the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and went on to declare that their game “TOADALLY KICKS BUTT!”. A bold move, yet Battletoads backed it up. This was a regular rent for me at Lion Video and when they had to make room for the Super Nintendo games, I was able to purchase the used copy of Battletoads I had rented so many times before.

Even though it had a stellar and popular game series (even a crossover with Double Dragon!) a pilot for an animated series was made in 1992 but never picked up by a network. The backstory for the game is oddly complex (lab techs made a Battletoads game, got sucked in by evil game developer, became the Battletoads to fight an evil queen) but the animated show took a much simpler approach in a way roided out frogs punching in outerspace only could. Perhaps a network didn’t want to bank on something that seemed so similar to TMNT, perhaps Street Sharks and Extreme Dinosaurs were simply better (how?), perhaps their names being RASH, PIMPLE, and ZITZ wasn’t endearing enough to executives.

I do not have these answers. But when it comes to the journey of the Battletoads I think we can all agree on one thing: They had the best pause music ever put in a game.

Disney’s The Rocketeer

In the summer of ’91 Disney released The Rocketeer based on Dan Steven’s nostalgic comic series. Since then its become a bit of a cult classic, and if you were outside at all in the Spring-Summer of 1991 you seen this beautiful art deco poster. The visual marketing for The Rocketeer was nothing short of artful. Posters like the one pictured were paraded on bus shelters, movie theaters, and billboards. It harkened back to suggest a “classier” time of marketing as the poster is not only alluring but could be displayed even if you didn’t care for the film its representing.

As for the film itself? It was okay. I wanted to love it. But I only liked it. Personally speaking, making a film with the flavor of Indiana Jones meets Iron Man sounds like a match made in heaven. Throw in Jennifer Connelly at her peak major babe-ness and a restaurant shaped like a giant Bulldog and what’s there not to like? Well, a decent amount unfortunately. The pacing was bad if I remember.

Disney fully embraced The Rocketeer for that summer. His helmet and jetpack adorned candy, comics, posters, and toys. He even flew into the sky for Disney’s MGM Studios fireworks show! But the film brought in a $6 million profit leading to future plans for The Rocketeer being cut short. Fans could still find little nods to the film in the current Disney Studios theme park but it’s simply not the same. If there’s a property to be rebooted, I’d go all in on The Rocketeer.

Exclusive Marvel Comics T-shirts

I can get myself a Groot shirt in 15 minutes. Yoda? Even less time. I’m not talking about clicking some buttons either. I can get in my car and drive 10 minutes to a Walmart, Target, Kohl’s etc and have a variable selection of nerd shirts for my purchasing needs. In Adult sizes mind you.

It wasn’t always like that.

If you wanted a Darth Vader shirt you had to order one through a Star Wars catalogue. If you wanted The Hulk you had to thumb through new issues, hope they had a design you liked, and fill out the order form. Then in 6-8 weeks you’d get your shirt in the mail. Maybe you had a local comic book store that carried some apparel. That was always a plus. You want a character like The Vision or Black Panther on a shirt? Good luck with that, buddy boy.

There was no insanely profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe or marginally profitable DC Red Headed Step Child Universe. Comics and superheroes were for kids. And besides a Batman or Superman logo on a shirt, nerdy apparel like that was limited especially for adults. Sometimes I have to step back and be grateful. I own a friggen Monster Squad shirt. How would you even begin to go about that in 1991?

So which one of the designs in this ad would you go for? Personally I’d be all over Silver Surfer. He was always a favorite of mine.

So when Spidey tells me to order a t-shirt, I order one. Spidey knows.

3 Musketeers Candy Bar

I always enjoyed when ads in comic books were also short comic books. It’s like a Big Mac interrupting your Whopper for a couple bites. Whatever, you know? I remember M&Ms, Crest Toothpaste, and various cereal mascots stepping into the titular adventure to direct my attention to whatever little BS they were doing. Werewolf By Night was just impaled with an ancient sword by Morbius The Living Vampire but, hold up, Toucan Sam’s gotta open this treasure chest on a pirate ship. Oh, it’s Fruit Loops? Because of course it is.

In the ad pictured we have NOT Indiana Jones discovering a lost Mayan tomb which houses a (historically accurate) giant 3 Musketeers candy bar. I’m not sure if you noticed but it says, “No. 5 in a series” and it really makes me wonder if there’s people out there who collect these ads. Or if there was a kid that was all, “Damn, I missed No. 4!”.

SleepWalker Comic Series

This one really caught my eye. Mostly because I assumed this was a spinoff in which Newt Gunray cosplayed as Skeletor. I have never heard of Sleepwalker but I was intrigued none the less. 27 years later and this ad still works. This character debuted in his own series which ran from June 1991 to February 1994.

So Sleepwalker is actually his race. He exists in The Mindscape. And essentially they’re the dream police. Please listen to the Cheap Trick song when finishing the rest of this article. Sleepwalker was tricked by a foe and mind-bonded with a New York college student and it created an excellent premise for a situational comedy on NBC. So the student goes to sleep and Sleepwalker takes over and fights crime.

That sounds pretty awesome. Cooler than when I sleepwalk but instead of fighting crime I put bananas in the dishwasher. Unfortunately, Sleepwalker doesn’t make many appearances outside of his 33 issues from 1991-1994. So if you’re reading this, that means this can be the character that you could latch onto and form a really underground hipster opinion of. I’m telling you, jump on that Sleepwalker train to coolsville. I did it with Dreadstar and I’m pretty cool (?). I’m spending way too much time typing about old comic ads that nobody will read. Ice cold cool. 

I’ll also throw out some names of 90’s superheroes because there’s space on my website: DARKHAWK, TERROR INC., QUASAR, NIGHT THRASHER, NAMORITA.

So many foil covers.


So that about covers the tantalizing toxic tidbits of what you’d find being advertised in The Toxic Avenger No. 3: Night of the Hardbodies! Thanks for reading my dumpster thoughts about garbage ads found in a 27 year old comic book. I’ll be back with another installment of Ad Nauseam in the future about things in the past. I’m sorry you wasted your time.

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2 Dead 2 Care

2dead2care
I hate when demon vampire succbuses sexually eat lollipops. Don’t you?

Goodbye 2016. Here’s to a positive and prosperous 2017…filled with much improved art (hopefully).

Regards,

Stamp of Greatness