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Reader, I Am Still Laughing

As I assume you know, the latest graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks released two days ago. Having knocked down three volumes of the Nameless City series in three years, it’s perhaps unsurprising that she left off writing duties this time; her editor at :01 Books (the inestimably excellent Callista Brill) paired her up with acclaimed YA author Rainbow Rowell and the result is Pumpkinheads (which features colors by Sarah Stern.

This is not a review; I’d almost say a review is not necessary, because the best possible review this book could ever have has already been rendered superfluous by a blurb on the back cover. Mariko Tamaki describes Pumpkinheads as the story of the night before the rest of your life and damn if that isn’t perfect. You know exactly the tone this story is going for, and what it’s going to accomplish. You either love this story in all its variations¹ or you already know that it’s not For You; personally, this story is very For Me and I loved it.

I’m here not-reviewing Pumpkinheads because I need to share one part of the story, a recurring gag that Rowell wrote and Hicks illustrated that absolutely killed me. It concerns one of the two main characters, Josiah, and the long-simmering crush he has on the girl who works in the fudge shoppe, whose name he doesn’t even know. Best friend Deja has determined that Josiah will be speaking to Fudge Girl, come hell or high water.

But every time — every time! — Deja mentions her, she drops a different nickname: Superfudge; Vanilla Fudge; Elmer Fudge; Cornelius Fudge. Each time the panel is drawn such that there’s no pause, Deja’s not fishing for a reaction, but there’s this sly I am so fucking with you vibe that she extends towards Josiah. Each nickname it ramps up a little.

I lost it, laughing out loud in public, when Deja called her Vanessa Fudgens.

There’s just no coming back from that, and I may be projecting, but I think from that point in the story Josiah was drawn just a little bit broken. The slight irritation he showed at the nicknames, the resistance he had to Deja’s command of the night before the rest of their lives became increasingly tokenized. Sometimes, you’re presented with an offhand, almost tossed-off gag so perfect, you know it’ll stay with you for life. Josiah turned that corner, the night continued, and there’s a rest of their lives story that we’ll have to imagine.

It’s a small part of the story, and it may hold significance for almost nobody else like it does for me, but I found it a perfect little grace note in a book full of grace notes, a story that could shift from heartfelt (or even heartbreak) to Road Runner cartoon with the flip of the page. Rowell, Hicks, and Stern knocked it out of the park, and Tamaki provided the ideal context so you know where to drop this particular tale in your own mental map of stories. Pick it up if the sort of thing you like, don’t if it’s not. But whether you read it or not, you won’t find anything this week funnier than Vanessa Fudgens.

Spam of the day:

I don’t want to ruin your day, but I have a few pictures of your employees, I don’t think they are doing a good job.

Oh no, the employees I don’t have are not doing a good job and it’s ruining my day! What are they supposed to be doing in these few pictures? Is it watching porn? I be they’re watching porn.

¹ And it is nearly infinitely variable, ranging from Before Sunrise to Superbad.

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