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Halloween + ‘Parent Trap’: Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks talk YA graphic novel ‘Pumpkinheads’

A tale of friendship, maturity, and pumpkins.

Can you feel it? That faint chill in the air and the hint of pumpkin spice on the tip of your tongue? You’d say yes if you loved that pumpkin carving season! If you’re a true fiend for the season, your entertainment choices should accordingly turn away from summer action flicks or bubbly pop music to proper Halloween fare.

Luckily, there’s something new to consume in Pumpkinheads, the newest YA graphic novel from creators Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks. The latest offering from First Second, Pumpkinheads delivers a story of friendship between Deja and Josiah involving a pumpkin patch and a pre-high school farewell. Or, as Rowell explains it:

In my head, I was thinking Parent Trap or Freaky Friday, that kind of story. So a story that the whole family could watch but it’s about teenagers and it has got a little bit of everything.

In honor of the book’s release, Rowell and Hicks spoke with me at length about the new graphic novel, touching on creative inspiration, the writing process, and capturing the Halloween vibe, among other topics.

Pumpkinheads is out now wherever fine comic books are sold.

AiPT!: How long has this been gestating?

Faith Erin Hicks: Oh man — years!

Rainbow Rowell: I think we agreed to work together, maybe in 2014?

FEH: Yeah. That long ago. We both had other projects already on our plate. I was doing a trilogy called The Nameless City.

RR: I had a bunch of books going on. And then I wrote this in 2016. Then we waited for you [points to Faith] to have a window to draw it.

FEH: Yeah. I had to finish the third Nameless City book and pretty much immediately jumped onto this project after a few months off to rest my arm. Drawing is hard on the body.

AiPT!: Is it nerve-racking having a script sitting unfinished waiting?

RR: I’ll say yes it is a little, to be honest.

FEH: Really!?

RR: Oh yeah. Because I always feel very tied to the zeitgeist and, this is all in my head I’m sure, I always feel like ideas come and then they’re meant to be worked. And I had this feeling like maybe the moment for this has passed because I wrote it in a certain space. I wrote it before the election.

FEH: Oh right. Yeah.

RR: So I wrote it in a sort of headspace, so there was this feeling of having written it, but I wasn’t impatient like I knew what was going on. But there was this feeling of like, is that still going to feel right two years from now when it’s actually on the market.

FEH: Yeah.

RR: I begged them to publish Fangirl right away because there are going to be so many fan-fiction books, and this has to come out right now!

FEH: Yeah I understand, and it’s like comics take so long to make. And I remember when I was doing Nameless City, a fantasy about this multicultural city that has been conquered over and over again and it’s like this place that belongs to everyone but also belongs to no one. And I remember when it came out like it was right after the election. I would constantly get the question of, “Was this inspired by current events” And it’s like no, it wasn’t.

RR: [Rainbow laughs].

FEH: This book has been in development for years! It happened to come along when some horrific xenophobia and racism was coming out. Sometimes things just coincidentally ended up being topical even though they’ve been years and years in development.

AiPT!: Do you have a fondness for Halloween and fall? Was that part of the creation process?

RR: I definitely do. For me, this pumpkin patch setting was something I’d kind of had like, in my emergency box. I knew I wanted to write this pumpkin patch thing and I wasn’t sure if it might be a novel. My books always take place during fall because I really love fall. A couple of my books have really strong odes to fall in them so I felt like I’m just gonna go hard on autumn. That’s gonna be the whole book!

FEH: [Faith laughs].

RR: There is a whole page about October in Attachments, my first book. So this is definitely a theme I’ve been writing for a long time. I also felt like there are a couple of YA authors who are very fall and I had this feeling they were gonna do it first, but we’ve beaten them.

FEH: We’ve beaten them! We are victorious.

AiPT!: I assume the whole book takes place in October.

RR: It takes place on one night. It’s two high school kids. They’ve worked at this pumpkin patch all through high school for the fall season. It’s their last Halloween before they go to college. And so they’re having this one last blast at the pumpkin patch in one night.

AiPT!: Deja and Josiah.

RR: That’s right.

FEH: I was really into Halloween when I was a kid. I was born in September actually. For me, Halloween was like a huge deal. Almost as big as Christmas. That’s because I have a huge sweet tooth and my parents were health food nuts so we were never allowed candy or chocolate but they were actually really cool on Halloween and they’re like you just get all the candy you want and it’s all yours.

AiPT!: Is there anything you’re doing with the art for fall to make it feel seasonal?

FEH: The colors have really contributed. And that’s our colorist Sarah Stern and she was great to work with. She just really brings fall to life.

RR: She [Faith] got into it too, like extreme skies, changes in the leaves.

FEH: I like drawing nature. So that was really fun but I feel like the colors do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to bringing fall to life.

FEH: It takes place at a fall festival. So Faith really indulged every panel. Every little corner is like, the best pumpkin patch in the world.

AiPT!: Are there any ghosts, monsters…

FEH: Yes, there is definitely a lot of costumes. I had a lot of fun with that because it was like you know for legal reasons it’s like a couldn’t draw Star Wars or Batman.

RR: It’s not a ghost story.

AiPT!: Oh yes yes, I didn’t get a copy to read, but the Amazon listing made me wonder if it’s a romance?

FEH: You’ll have to see!

RR: I would say it’s more of a friendship story. There are romantic elements to it.

FEH: Their friendship is so great. That’s my favorite part of the story. I love male-female friendships in fiction anyway. Yeah, I just think that that’s really fun and really awesome and I feel like we need to see more of them.

RR: That’s true you don’t see that very often.

AiPT!: Did you take from any personal friends that you might know when creating these characters?

RR: Deja was inspired by my best friend. She kind of looks like my best friend. My best friend is the sort of person who makes friends everywhere she goes. You get in a cab and she’s like making plans with the cab driver. Everywhere she’s making friends and I’m the opposite. I’m very careful with strangers and I’m quiet.  I watch her do it and it’s like watching someone with a superpower. I don’t even understand what is happening and I could never pull it off.

So that definitely was the inspiration for this book. So Deja is this character who’s just the belle of the ball everywhere she goes. Josiah, the only person he has is Deja. And he kind of doesn’t even understand why she wants to spend so much time with him. Like, why did I get to be your best friend? Everybody likes you. And so I think I was exploring that dynamic and it worked out because Faith and I are both kind of Jesiah’s.

FEH: [Faith laughs] Yeah.

RR: Just quieter. I think we all kind of had a crush on Deja. We were all kind of like, “Look at Deja, she’s awesome!”

AiPT!: When did you finish the book?

FEH: November last year was when I finished drawing, and colors a month after that. And then there were little things like chapter break art. I feel like it was done by Christmas.

RR: Yeah.

AiPT!: It must be maddening to wait for the release?

RR: It’s a lot of waiting. Yeah. One thing I love about Runaways is I get a monthly hit. You do get that feeling like hey it’s out.

FEH: Yeah, for me, Pumpkinheads actually has come out the fastest of all of my books.

RR: You are kidding.

FEH: No I’m not. So the longest I actually had to wait was Friends With Boys. I finished it at the end of July 2010 and it didn’t come out till winter of 2012. So it was like a year and a half and there are reasons for them to do that.

AiPT!: Sure, for marketing reasons and position it with other books. Are you looking at reviews of your work as it comes out?

FEH: If we get a nice review First Second will send it to us.

RR: They don’t send the bad ones.

[Rainbow and Faith laugh]

RR: No I don’t seek out reviews.

FEH: When I was younger I used to, but it becomes a point where you want to respect the critic. You don’t want to hang over their shoulder while they’re doing their job.

RR: And there’s nothing you can do now that the book is out.

AiPT!: True, it’s too late.

FEH: I’ve done the best I can. I’m going to send it out into the world and hopefully, it will resonate with people and if not, well you know. I mean like there’s some amazing art out there that doesn’t resonate with me and that’s perfectly fine.

AiPT!: So Pumpkinheads the title. It feels very much like whoever came up with it hit the jackpot.

RR: We went through a lot of titles. Our editor and I have totally different perspectives on titles. When Pumpkinheads first came up at first I thought it was a joke. I kept going to my husband, “Pumpkinheads right?!” It’s kind of a totally absurd title. It has nothing to do with the plot other than that they are like pumpkin patch fans. They’re like the biggest pumpkin patch fans. When I first suggested it you liked it.

FEH: I liked it. I picked it out because you sent me a list and you asked which one do you like. I was like, “I think I like Pumpkinheads.”

RR: It was actually months of coming up with other titles but secretly wanting Pumpkinheads and slipping it back into the mix, “There’s always Pumpkinheads!” Do you like it?

AiPT!: I like it. It’s more succinct than a longer title with colons and what not. It’s a young adult book so for a younger audience, it has that Pop.

FEH: Yeah. Yeah it does.

AiPT!: Can you tell me any of the alternate titles?

RR: For a long time my original title was Last Night at the Patch. It has two meanings. It’s like their last night. Plus it’s what happened last night. Our editor wanted something much more YA title.

FEH: Yeah.

RR: Like, If I Fell, that kind of title. And I was like, “No it has to be funny!” It needs to be fun so it got more and more fun.

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