One of the most anticipated graphic novels of the fall season, Pumpkinheads is a sweet, fast-paced story of friendship, seasonal employment, and (mostly) unspoken crushes from celebrated American young-adult author Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl) and Eisner Award–winning Vancouver cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks (The Nameless City). The prospect of this collaboration sent YA and comic-book fans’ hearts aflutter and the result satisfies both camps.
When the book begins, Deja and Josiah are in the Succotash Hut at their local pumpkin patch, where they’ve worked together for three seasons. It’s their final shift before going off to college and both have a mission in mind. Josiah’s determined to maintain his MVPPP (Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person) status for another month, but Deja’s goals are loftier: with her help, Josiah’s finally going to talk to his long-time crush, Marcy.
Unfortunately, Marcy keeps being relocated to different parts of the patch. Josiah and Deja tail her all over the park, from the S’mores Pit to the Kettle Corn Kettle, through corn mazes and around go-kart tracks. Bound to trigger fond memories of county fairs and amusement-park visits, the frequent scenery changes build a sense of momentum and an exhilarating “what will happen next” energy.
Rowell and Hicks reveal Deja’s and Josiah’s personalities as the night unfolds. Deja is impulsive and adventurous, prone to confrontation and tomfoolery. Josiah exists in contrast – a reserved, responsible character defined by frequent blushes and bemused expressions. As they run through the park, Deja and Josiah encounter a number of Deja’s exes – from Jess, the excessively sighing girl who works at the Pony-Go-Round, to Tim, a comically dedicated manager they encounter on his way back to “Mission Control.” These secondary characters push the story into quiet, reflective moments. After one of these run-ins, Josiah and Deja engage in a lovely discussion of attraction that is pure Rowell: Deja tells Josiah that, for her, people start “shimmering” when they speak. But for Josiah, Marcy “shimmered” as soon as he saw her.
These slower scenes are cleverly interspersed, providing well-timed relief from the chaos and, through dialogue and gestures, offering insight into what makes Deja and Josiah tick. Hicks’s method of varying the shapes and sizes of panels keeps the story moving and results in a perfectly paced graphic novel.
Autumnal colours and a dark-blue sky permeates the artwork and lends the book a festive Halloween hue, while also creating a warm, intimate feeling that emphasizes the close relationship between Deja and Josiah. Hicks also does a wonderful job of rendering emotion, drawing attention to details like clasped hands and raised eyebrows.
Pumpkinheads is a beautiful, thoughtful look at relationships of all kinds, shining a sensitive, no-nonsense light on platonic, romantic, and collegial emotions. Rowell and Hicks pull it off without sacrificing any of the fun.