Comics review: Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks

(cover image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

The last of anything is a bittersweet thing.

As life goes on, you come across more and more last-ofs but though they increase in number, the experiencing of them never really gets any easier.

That’s something Deja and Josiah will learn in time but for now the protagonists of Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Powell and Faith Erin Hicks are simply concerned with getting through the first big last-of of their young lives as high school draws to a close and they face working their last ever shift at DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree.

It’s a very special place for the two besties.

They met there four years when bright, spirited, adventurous Deja sat down next to good-looking, reticent, nerdy and a little bit anal Josiah and they bonded over the intimidating newness of their first big responsibility in life.

Happily ensconced ever since at the Succotash Hut, these seasonal besties – weirdly enough they don’t interact through winter, spring or summer for reasons neither one is clear about – have doled up food to the thronging masses and enjoyed their autumnal bubble of happiness.

While Josiah has gone all out to capture the Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person Award over and over again – his arch rival, Meredith, has only managed to capture it from him once – Deja has, social beast that she is, got to know and become friends with everyone.

(image courtesy Pan Macmillan US)

Josiah assumes that he and Deja share the same memories of their time there but on their final night, when they end up on a quest that takes them around the entire park and its many food-oriented attractions, he discovers that he has missed out a good number of experiences in which Deja, queen of the carpe diem approach to life, has immersed herself.

The reason for their epic quest?

After watching Josiah spend four years pining after The Fudge Girl aka Marcy, Deja is determined that one way or another, and she is fiercely and hilariously determined to make it happen, Josiah will meet the girl of his dreams.

He’s panic-stricken of course at the very idea of it but as Deja correctly points out, it’s their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch so why not going out with a starry-eyed, pie-filled, fudge-accented romantic bang?

Alas best laid plans and all that kick in and what starts out as a quick swapping of gigs with two other people so they’re working closer to Marcy becomes a complicated, messy, snack-filled (or almost snack-filled romp through a park that Josiah is the resigning MVPPP of but which, he comes to find out, he doesn’t know at all well.

Quite how this fun-filled romp ends up is best left to the reading but suffice to say it is a night to remember, just like Josiah wanted but nothing he actually expected.

Powell’s sparkling, emotionally-resonant and funny writing – Deja is a gem, spouting oneliners and witty observations with firecracker vivacity such you can help but fall in love with her drive and zest – marries perfectly with Hicks’ picture-perfect artwork which not only summons up a cosy sense of time and place (you get why Deja and Josiah love it so much) but also brings alive the chemistry between the two friends in such a way that you begin to wonder if it’s Marcy that Josiah really wants, after all.

(image courtesy Pan Macmillan US)

Pumpkin Heads is an unmitigated delight, a graphic novel that is brimming over with romantic-comedy joyfulness and wit, with two lead characters who are exactly the two kinds of people you want in the roles.

It would naturally make a delightful rom-com on the big screen but until/when/if/maybe/of course its inevitable that happens, we have this brilliantly well-realised graphic novel to tide us over.

The remarkable thing about this captivatingly fun and lovely story is that it manages to balance the fun and heady romantic possibility of a rom-com, the poignancy of life moving on and people growing up (replete with the weirdly customary mix of excitement and trepidation) and sitcom level banter without once missing a step.

It’s basically one of the most perfect rom-coms I’ve read in ages, with When Harry Met Sally levels of perfect writing, on-point, compelling characterisation and artwork that feels more alive than many actual movies of the genre.

It captures that sense we all have when we stand on the cusp on something great and transformative in our lives, where we are excited to be moving forward and moving on but sad to leave behind everything we’ve loved about our lives to that point and determined to make the most of the time we have left, even if we’re not entirely sure what that means.

Well, Josiah isn’t sure what it means, beyond some vague mutterings of nascent nostalgia and regret, but thank goodness Deja does – well, mostly; suffice to say, there’s one part of the night that she doesn’t see coming and which adds a delightful twist to proceedings – and with her in last-night-make-it-count driver’s seat, it’s a buoyantly fun race to the end of this part of their life.

Frothy and effervescent but meaningful and thoughtful too, Pumpkin Heads is a joy, a graphic novel which celebrates love, life changes, friendships and the idea that there is a never a bad time to take a leap into the unknown, scary though it is, because who knows where it’ll end up?

Suffice to say, it will likely be nothing like you imagined and that is a very good thing, especially in the hands of creators as talented, thoughtful and narratively adventurous and full of warmth and fun as Rainbow Powell and Faith Erin Hicks.

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