The manger scene, eight tiny reindeer and an inflatable Santa Clause may be on your Christmas light viewing list, but the superhero Christmas spectacle located at 206 N. Spruce Drive in Mahomet brought hundreds of visitors last year.
The Dodge family, who have been Mahomet residents for a little over four years, decided to up their Christmas decoration game in 2016 by decorating their front lawn with 22 life-sized Marvel and DC comic book characters.
“I was telling my wife I have an idea for this Christmas,” Joe said. “You see manger scenes, Santa Claus, my neighbor made reindeer, but I wanted to change it up. I’m a big superhero fan, and I have a lot of friends who are comic books fans, so I wanted to incorporate the two.”
Joe’s original idea was to make superhero symbols, such as Captain America’s shield or Thor’s hammer for the display. But with hundreds of superhero characters to choose from, Joe realized that not all superheroes have a symbol, and often the symbols are made-up for the movies.
Instead, Joe decided to find superhero poses he liked, trace them onto half-inch plywood, cut the out by hand, sand them and then paint them.
“Then I decided to go big and make the characters,” Joe said. “I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but I’ve never done anything like this. I showed people pictures and they didn’t realize they are life-sized. I think that threw everyone off. “
He started with the simple lines of Superman as the trial character. After painting Superman’s cape red, Joe’s sister-in-law pointed out that the cape was not as dimensional as it is in other drawings, and suggested that Joe use a darker red to show shadows.
“People would see (the characters) from a different view and help me with the little details here and there,” Joe said.
Joe also said he learned some lessons when designing the characters along the way.
“When I painted Spiderman, I did all the black lines first, and then I had to go back and paint in all the red between the webbing. That was horrible. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, so with Aquaman, I painted his top orange, and then went back in and did all of the scales.”
Between work and spending time with his family, including two sons, ages 5 and 3, at the time, Joe spent at least a week making each superhero character. The 10-foot Hulk replica took a little bit longer than the other characters because it is so big and in four separate pieces.
When Joe decided to make the life-size characters, he thought about putting the Hulk on the roof of the house, but couldn’t figure out how to do it without damaging his home. One vision Joe saw come to fruition, though, is Spiderman swinging from the roof line.
“That’s everyone’s favorite,” he said. “It’s not necessarily their favorite superhero, but it’s their favorite effect.”
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Joe also wanted to make sure both DC and Marvel characters were equally represented.
“I am way more of a Marvel fan than I am DC, but I have friends who are DC fans, so I wanted to give them props,” he said. “I grew up a superhero fan, but I never read the comics. I’ve been reading about them as I’ve gotten older. I’ve always been a huge fan of them, and to see them come to life, it’s like being a kid again.”
While making the characters, Joe said he began to like each of them more and more through the process, but Captain America always has a special place in his heart. When Joe made the first Captain America, he used the original comic book model, but ultimately didn’t like how he turned out.
Family members encouraged Joe to make the superheroes to sell, but Joe wasn’t sure what to charge for them. When he finished Captain America, Joe decided to put it on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in purchasing him.
The cut-out got a great response, but Joe had a special someone to give Captain America to. When Joe’s friend’s son was born prematurely at 27-weeks, he gained the nickname “Captain America.”
“He’s a true superhero and inspiration to everybody,” Joe said. “He’s incredible strong, and he’s proven doctors wrong left and right with the surgeries he’s overcome.”
Joe then made the boy’s sister a replica of Wonder Woman. He also made other friends two Ninja Turtles, a cartoon version of Lawrence Taylor and he made his mom a manger for her birthday.
Joe’s vision for the display changed again when Civil War came out and he was drawn to Black Panther. His son wanted to see Hawkeye and Beast Boy on the lawn, and his wife wanted Groot. Then she made Rocket to go along with Groot, and to contribute to the project.
“With all the movies coming out, people should recognize everybody,” Joe said.
“I love decorating for Christmas,” he said. “I was nervous because I was hoping everyone would like it. Only told a few family members knew what I was doing all year long. ”
Dodge spent some time in 2017 developing Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange for the display.
“I’ve been so busy this year I haven’t had the time to make all the new ones that I wanted to,” Dodge said. “Most of my time working on them this year has been going back and touching up paint and putting a sealer on them to help with weatherproofing, which I didn’t get around to last year before I put them out.”