Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I have a deep love for animated holiday specials, and there are several Christmas specials that I hold in high regard, but as far as I'm concerned, there's only one true Halloween classic; It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. To this day, all I have to do is hear Vince Guaraldi's Great Pumpkin Waltz and a nostalgic lump forms in my throat.

Here, give it a listen...

With that in mind, and in the spirit of the Halloween season, I thought it was a perfect time to talk about a recent find, my vintage copy of the It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown picture novel.

This is a first printing from 1968, so imagine this on bookstore shelves when the animated special was still new and had only been aired twice. Remember, there were no VCRs, DVDs or repetitive airings back then. You got to see these specials once a year, and that was it. If you missed it, you were outta luck until next year. Sort of like Halloween itself.

So these books were quite popular back in the day, as a sort of lo-fi way of reliving the televised holiday specials.

But this book, to me at least, also acts as a veritable treasure trove of beautifully rendered Bill Milendez art, who was the director for countless animated Peanuts specials.

I think another reason why I identify so deeply with this story is that I see a lot of my younger self in Linus, and even as a kid I was acutely familiar with that feeling of wanting to believe something so bad it almost drove you crazy.

Back to Milendez's art, just look at those melancholy clouds in the background, and those cinnamon colored leaves on the ground below.

I swear that one of these Halloweens, I'm going to cut a bunch of holes in a sheet and walk around with a bag of rocks. This scene was always gut-bustingly hilarious to me as a kid. I also always thought it was funny when Lucy says, "I got a package of gum!" Package of gum? Who says that?

These scenes with Snoopy as a WWI flying ace down behind enemy lines were always very sad to me, again with Milendez's smoky backgrounds, but also made even sadder by Guaraldi's haunting flute music over the sound effects of trains in the distance.

I mean, come on, just look at all of the mood practically pouring out of this two page spread...

Of course, we all know how it ends, which as a kid is a harsh lesson in disappointment when your dreams don't come true and then the gut-punching feeling when the cute girl you've convinced to follow you on your idiotic path comes to her senses and unleashes her rage on you. There was a moment, years ago, when I had been turned down by the umpteenth comic book company after sending in samples and my first wife was leaving me for another guy, that I sat on a curb outside of my work on a chilly October night, taking a smoke break, with what felt like a gaping hole in my chest, that I suddenly found myself thinking, This is what Linus must have felt like in the pumpkin patch. And oddly enough, it was nice to know I wasn't alone, I wasn't the only person that this has happened to.

Anyway, didn't mean to get maudlin. Suffice it to say that this animated special has meant a lot to me, and this book is another reminder of the power of belief, imagination, festivity, loss, disappointment and sisters who may be crabby on the outside, but will come get you from the pumpkin patch and tuck you back into bed.

I'm so happy that Halloween is coming.