Pumpkins as far as the eye can see… [Updated]

I’m pretty sure that’s how the description went in the gag for this strip. I can’t actually prove it, because in those days, Jerry sent gags to me via fax. Hard to believe we spent the years 4 through 15 with gags being sent as faxes. We’ve since moved into the modern world and use email.

Jerry sends gags to me as little scripts. A brief, not-usually-very-detailed description of the scene, and the dialogue. The panels are numbered. Most of the time, it leaves me some leeway as to the setting, the peripheral action, scene blocking. If it’s really critical for a bit of stage action or direction, he’ll indicate that for the panel. Then it’s just a matter of who says what.

It’s a great system. I’m not too roped into the details of how he sees it, which gives me room to play around with the characters. The nice thing is that he says most of the time, the finished strips look just like he imagined them.

I guess knowing someone for about forty years pays off.

This particular strip, though, was his Halloween “trick” to me. And an early one—we produce the strips several weeks ahead of publication. I wasn’t in the trick-or-treat mood yet.

It’s always fun to get a gag from Jerry that is a one panel affair. That means there’s lots of room to work, unfettered by multiple panels. They tend to be more visually attractive, especially as newspapers have shrunk the size they print comics.

So when I saw the tell-tale nearly blank page of a gag come through, with only two words of dialogue, I have to say I was excited.

Then I saw it.

The stage direction. The stage direction that can mean artistic freedom. Or stage direction that conceals evil hours of tedious drawing.

Yep. The second one. Eight words. Probably a word for every hour of extra work that had to go into that drawing. I’ve never counted the pumpkins—I’d appreciate it if someone would do it for me.

(Click to biggify)

Each pumpkin had to be drawn—not once, but twice because I draw a fairly detailed sketch to send to Jerry—and colored. Oh, let’s not forget the vines, because pumpkin patches aren’t just your everyday farm field. I have a wonderful assistant, who helps by doing most of the coloring of the Sunday strips. I felt so guilty when I sent this strip to her, I might have even offered to pay her more for it—or maybe not. Maybe I’d gotten into the trick-or-treat mood by then.

As it happened, just the year before, my wife and I had taken the kids up to a pumpkin farm in Dewey, Arizona. And the memory of it was seared into my brain and my back. Good thing I have an outlet for this.

Then there was the title panel. We always try to come up with something that fits the gag and is somehow a little gag in itself. I had saved an old, huge atlas from my youth, mainly because of a beautifully engraved drawing on the first page. It showed the mythical figure, Atlas, bearing the world on his shoulders. A drawing instantly came to mind:  Darryl as Atlas bearing a giant pumpkin on his shoulders. Badda-bing!

I don’t know what I was thinking. Here I had just drawn a bazillion (still waiting for the count) pumpkins and I just added more time to this strip by trying to emulate an old engraving, plus I decided to emulate old parchment paper for the background.

I was a glutton for punishment.

Thirteen years later, and the pain of this strip is still present. I’m still complaining.

When I saw the whole thing finished, I couldn’t have been happier. It still remains one of my favorite Baby Blues strips. But the happiness is transient. If I look at it too long, I get an urge to go ice my hand.

Jerry must have felt guilty. It was nearly five years before he pulled something like that again.

The next time it was a watermelon farm.

Do you have any idea how many stripes are on a bazillion watermelons?

Your reward for reading this far is that if you can count all the orange pumpkins in this strip, I’ll send a free BBXX hardback anthology—signed with a drawing— to the first person with the closest to correct answer. I realize this means I’ll have to count the %#@* pumpkins myself to confirm it. Maybe I can get one of my daughters to do it for me. After all, they got pumpkins out of that trip so long ago.

 UPDATE—The contest is officially over. We have a winner! Actually, two winners. So far, though, I have only heard back from one of them.

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37 thoughts on “Pumpkins as far as the eye can see… [Updated]

  1. On the first 9 stripes starting from the left, I counted to the absolute back as long as there is a orange patch in sight and my average of a few reading is 203 pumpkin.

    There is about 9 more stripes, which make the total number of 406.

    Sorry, got lazy there.. :P Attempted to count several times but got messed up again and again.

    Hence I am going to give the total number of pumpkins a range of between 408 (including the one Darryl is carrying) to 421 since not all stripes carry the same number of pumpkins.

    PLEASE LET ME WIN IT!!!

    I am 20 yr old this year, but and been a supporter for about 8 years..

    Now that is about nearly half my life right? ;)

    Thanks for the wonderful comics it had brought me through really sad times.

    ^_^

  2. Ok, I’ll bite. In my insomnia of being pregnant with daughter number two, you challenge (I had hoped) would put me to sleep. Instead, I suddenly became extra awake and ready for the task.

    Including partial pumpkins, and anything semi-circular that was orange (including the one in Wanda’s hand) my count was 316. I might have missed one or two in the **way way** back, but it is 6 am, my time.

    Happy Halloween!!

  3. 438 is my guess

    My husband started ready theese at work and kept coming home ajd telling me someone was watchin us, we have two kids under two and the sleep ones really hit home. I read every morning online and am trying to decide which book to get him for christmas, do you have a favorite one I should start with?

    • Hi Cindy, Thanks for your guess. I’ll be posting the results in a couple days.

      For a gift, I’d suggest for someone coming in late to the strip and getting up to speed, the best would be BBXX: Baby Blues Decades 1 & 2. It’s a beautiful hardback volume. And if you like hearing about the stories behind strips, this is a great one because there are tons of extra commentary and background info. It’s a collection of what we think are the best strips since the beginning.

  4. I’m going to go with 1,000 pumpkins and wanted to let you know as the mother of 3 kids I get soooo much enjoyment out of “Baby Blues” :-)

  5. I counted 360 pumpkins.

    By the way, I love your strip and have been a fan for years. My wife and I are currently trying to start a family and I would like to think that your strips are helping prepare me for what lies ahead as a dad.

    Brian Billings

  6. My first guess was a bazillion, but upon closer inspection there are 433 pumpkins, 434 if you count the one Darryl is holding in the title panel. 444 if those things on the hill in the background are also pumpkins and 445 if you count the word pumpkin on the sign. :)

  7. I sure hope that I am not too late to enter this contest. I didn’t trust myself with the old eyes and fingers method, so I hooked up my Wacom and dotted each pumpkin as I counted it! The answer I got was 389!

  8. I was learning Python by working the pythonchallenge.com puzzles when I saw this and it seemed like a great opportunity to put into practice some of what I learned. I started processing the image trying to remove all but the orange and black of the pumpkins so I could ‘count’ using some python image processing. In the end I gave up and just zoomed way in and counted.

    I came up with 263 actual pumpkins.

    My wife and I started reading Baby Blues when we had our first child and feel like Daryl and Wanda are old friends. I think I even spotted Zoe on the freeway one day! (vanity lic plate?)

  9. I figured I’d give it a shot, if it isn’t too late. I counted 396 pumpkins. Thanks for all your hard work. I really enjoy the strip.

  10. Wow, that was a tough one.

    I wasn’t sure I could trust my own count, so I enlisted the help of one of my daughters (the other said, “Are you insane???”) and my former assistant. It will come as no surprise that none of us came up with the same answer, but we were within a range of 17 pumpkins*. So that’s the final judgement, and since there were two guessers within that range, I’m sending out two books!

    Congratulations to the eagle-eyed pumpkin counters, Rachel Thompson and Cindy Vickerman!

    You’ll both be receiving a copy of BBXX, signed with a drawing by me.

    Thanks to all who risked their eyesight counting all those orange dots.

    *Oh, and the official count(s) for the range: 427, 439 and 444. As the rules said, only the orange pumpkins, so that left out the pumpkin on Darryl’s back in the title panel, and no, the word “PUMPKIN” on the sign didn’t count, and there were no pumpkins in the trees or bushes on the hills.

  11. Just an update…I emailed the two winners. One winner, Rachel Thompson, has not responded. Rachel, wherever you are, please write back so I can send you a book!

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