Flying in with his red-nosed, rubber chicken, Sventa Claus dropped in on Fantasy Costumes last weekend to greet fans. I’d seen him there last October in his less festive, Svengoolie, persona and it was notable for attracting a large turnout despite inclement weather. In contrast, this December day was sunny and in the 60’s proving once again that, so far as the weather goes, Chicago’s always riding the Bi-Polar Express. This would mark the horror host’s final 2017 appearance and third as Sventa. Unable to attend the previous two, I made it a point to rearrange my schedule for this one. And so, with a camera strap around my neck and a poster tube under each arm, I made my way to Fantasy Costumes a.k.a. my 82nd Svengoolie appearance!
The poster tubes contained precious cargo courtesy of the great Nicholas Cara. Nick’s the author of “The Grey Ghost” books which we discussed early last year. The anticipated latest installment, “The Jeweled Kiss Mysteries,” was just released in time for the holidays and Svengoolie fans may want to take note: includes artwork by the national horror host, himself! Visit this site for ordering info!
In addition to proving himself an accomplished author, LEGO designer, and all around great guy, Nicholas would become my real-life “Saint Nick” by creating something we brainstormed about several months back. Last April, Svengoolie made a comic strip appearance in the legendary Dick Tracy serial; figuring into a case involving hi-jinks at a cosplay event. I was always a fan of Tracy and his creator, Chester Gould, is a graduate of Illinois’ Northwestern University. Interesting sidebar: Dick Tracy’s hometown is “Homewood” and there are only two towns named Homewood in the United States; one a south suburb of Chicago (and, coincidentally, my home town) and another in Alabama. It’s believed that Homewood, Illinois is the true home of Dick Tracy and that Chicago was the unnamed, Midwestern city he was sworn to protect. Considering our gangland history, it certainly makes sense.
Though our mob days are long gone, Dick Tracy is still going strong with Svengoolie fan, Mike Curtis, now at the reigns. When Curtis asked Sven if he’d like to be a part of the strip, the host was delighted and this led to one of the surreal team-ups becoming reality.
Christmas or not, I’m always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to Deck my Walls with Svengoolie and really wanted a poster of all his Dick Tracy appearances for framing. Not only did Nicholas make that a reality, he even featured a super imposed Dick Tracy and Sven to provide a suitable place to sign at. What a genius!
Sadly, Nick lives far from my Home Sweet Homewood (that’s seriously our slogan) leaving the signing portion of this mission to yours truly. Nick was so awesome, he sent over three copies; one as a gift for Sven and two for him to sign for he and I. Today was the day I’d hold up my end of the assignment.
I arrived early and checked out all the great masks and costumes. Living in the south suburbs, this place is a pain in the butt to get to but well worth it. In fact, I stopped over here in between the two Sven appearances to pick up some costume accessories for Days of the Dead. The company who made those items was Zagone Studios who’s not only friends with the owner of Fantasy Costumes but will be featured in an upcoming blog and Scary Monsters Magazine Interview conducted by the other Dave, David Albaugh.
Despite being an hour early, a line had already formed and I quickly found my place in it. It was weird being stared at by a bunch of mannequins but sure beat the near drowning from last time.
To pass the time, I made conversation with a couple people standing next to me. One was a retired Chicago policeman who now performs in Independent zombie films and the other a woman wearing a Freddy Kruger scarf. Nobody likes a know-it-all so usually when I hear people saying things that are inaccurate, I resist the urge to correct them. This time, however, I had no choice. The first was when the retired cop mentioned him moving furniture some years back for Svengoolie’s dad…Jerry G. Bishop. This is actually a common mistake since our current, and most prolific, Svengoolie was once identified as “Son of Svengoolie” and the original Sven, Jerry G. Bishop, his mentor. He was his dad alright…but in show business ONLY. Scarf-girl, on the other hand, was really off the mark. “I hope today goes better for him than last time,” she sighed. “It was raining so hard that day I heard nobody showed up.” With flashbacks of me wringing out my clothes that night from waiting outside so long in the pouring rain, I had no choice but to speak up.
“Really???” I said. “That’s interesting because I showed up an hour into it and got soaked waiting in a line that stretched around the building.”
She just gave me a blank stare. Like I said, nobody likes a know-it-all.
When it was my turn Sventa seemed to love the posters and signed them for us. Nick specified how he wanted that done in a letter he wrote which I gave to Sventa as a template. Mission accomplished! It’s now in the mail and hopefully finds its way to it’s creator soon.
As I was leaving I spotted my friends, Don and Bunny. After they communed with Sventa, we all got back in line so we could take a group photo with him.
Holidays are all about tradition and Svengoolie is one of this city’s greatest. Though his popularity now extends far beyond Chicago, his roots are still firmly planted here and I’m constantly reminded of how fortunate we are to have him. After a year featuring sold-out Svengoolie dolls, pins created by Alex Ross, podcasting with Gilbert Gotfried, and appearances in both comic strips and in person, his popularity shows no sign of waning.
How does the man keep his energy while consistently reaching new heights year after year? It’s a mystery even Dick Tracy couldn’t solve.