“Over the Garden Wall” and Vintage Postcards

[First, please, if you haven’t seen Over the Garden Wall and you like my site, make it a point to watch it before October 31. It’s my favorite Halloween special, even more than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! It’s also one of my favorite animations of any kind — simply wonderful in every way.]

444119.png

Over the Garden Wall earns its charm from a mix of nostalgia, mystery, and humor. Those are the same things I love about vintage postcards. I didn’t make that connection the first time I saw the miniseries.

But the next year when I was browsing through my old Halloween cards, it hit me how similar a lot of the images used in OTGW were to the things I share.

Then I finally watched “Tome of the Unknown,” the first pilot made by Patrick McHale (creator) and Nick Cross (art director). I saw old John Crops and his vegetable/fruit car, and I knew it couldn’t just be a coincidence.

 

CarComparison

The shape of the cut in the watermelon, the multiple layers for seats, the cucumber wheels, the gourds/headlight/mirror-things, even the way they turned the stem into a crank, I mean even the camera/viewpoint angle: it was a plain match. And that’s a pretty popular card, too — so much that people have even made actual models of it — so it’s no stretch that McHale had seen it.

Then The Art of Over the Garden Wall came out, and it confirmed what was pretty obvious by this point: McHale had used a lot of these old cards even back when he was pitching the show.

ArtBookQuotes

Christ Tsirgiotis called them weird! He knows my name!

Some episodes show a stronger influence than others. And that makes sense since each one is supposed to be a different mini-adventure in a different part of the Unknown. But now I had a project: I went through my collection to find examples of the kinds of things McHale might have had in mind for different parts of the show. And I was thrilled by how much I found.

Please know that I’m not at all suggesting they somehow “stole” these ideas. The show is intentionally borrowing from all kinds of old styles and moods and reproducing them in this new world. Plus, as Art of… makes plain, by the time anything actually made it onto the screen, it had been through a host of concept artists, storyboarders, animators, and freelancers, so to suggest than any one idea came specifically from one source is ludicrous.

But to it. I don’t have cards relating to every episode, but I’m still looking. And if anyone else has good finds, please let me know (weirdxmas@gmail.com).

 

“The Tome of the Unkown” (Pilot)

I already mentioned the car, but John Crops himself is a throwback to a really popular trope of vegetable people that you can find all over old postcards and turn of the century advertisements.

JohnCropsComparison-1

 

The folk in the “big city” and the band entertaining them also fit the bill.

VegBandComparison

There are hundreds if not thousands of these vegetable and fruit people out there.

And, of course, John Crops’ new love is a pretty dead ringer for these folk, too.

CabbageLady.jpg

Series Intro/Outro

The montages at the beginning and end of the series have a few nods to the old cards. The one that hits closest, though, is the turkey wagon:

TurkeyCart

I swear there’s a card out there showing two turkeys pulling a wagon of pumpkins, but for the life of me I can’t find it.

Now (spoiler, I guess), in the final outro, we find out that Enoch, the pumpkin leader guy from the second episode, is actually a black cat, probably the one driving the pumpkins up above. But he pops up out of the Enoch pumpkin.

Enoch

Whatever else we think that means in terms of fan theories, it’s an idea that’s all over the cards. And, granted, black cats and pumpkins are pretty standard Halloween images, so it’s no surprise they’re matched up. But just take a look at a few of these:

48f18173284928bf20510121cdd93eef--halloween-cat-halloween-vintage3353f9e5a0382796fbaf4978392f373e--halloween-cards-vintage-halloweeneb2187b33815a53fa8f4b7629041f88b

Something about cats being in charge of pumpkins or having some kind of dominance over them is definitely a trend. And, for some reason, this one just makes me think of Enoch:

2d445ff31e3abc92f031e2cfe80a9740--halloween-greetings-halloween-tags

Something about the sense of control is very Enoch.

 

“The Old Grist Mill” (Episode 1)

The first episode doesn’t have much to do with the old cards, but I think it’s odd how similar Wirt’s hat is to this card that’s always bugged me. Plus, with the whole anthropomorphized black cat thing with Enoch…who knows?

Untitled-2.jpg

Otherwise, I feel the first episode pretty much has its own vibe.

 

“Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” (Episode 2)

McHale says that this is one of the first episodes that they produced, despite airing second, so it makes sense that it probably owes most to the postcards for its mood.

First, many of the older Halloween cards (and often the Thanksgiving ones) try to create a nostalgic sense of early rural American autumn. The cornfield, the barn, and even the empty field where Wirt has to dig at the end all have a generally similar feel to the mood that many of the cards are going for.

AutumnBackground

Background from “Hard Times…” (Art of OTGW)

Autumn Mood

Granted, it’s a bit generic. But, still, the general pastoral feel of the whole thing fits.

But the strongest connection is of course the pumpkin people of Pottsfield. And Nick Cross says that many of them were straight from the cards:

PumpCard

Enoch’s pumpkin is definitely a “painted-on” pumpkin instead of a carved jack-o-lantern, and the citizens are a mix of paint and carved. But the one guy that just smacks me in the face as so close to one of the cards is this one:

PumpkinCarver

Lots of pictures of people carving pumpkins, but the pose and placement of this is too perfect.

For the others, “pumpkin people” were all over the Halloween cards. The thing that makes the connection to the Pottsfield people closer than just a pumpkin head, though, are the arms and legs that seem sometimes like wrapped limbs of hay.

Pottsfield

The faces in these are more painted on than carved.

There’s also this fun similarity with the pumpkin/cat dance:

DancePumpkinCat.jpg

There’s also a moment that goes by so fast, it easy to miss: two pumpkins are peeling apples, and then they throw the peels over their shoulders. But they’re not just throwing the peels on the ground. There was an old Halloween party game where you could find out the identity of your future lover by peeling apples and throwing them on the ground. It was a big theme of many of the old cards, and I wrote about it here. But these two pumpkin-lovers are obviously playing this game with each other:

PumpkinApple

“Listen, Little One! On Hallowe’en, throw an Apple Peeling over your shoulder and if it spells ‘kiss’ go to it. Its bound to work, girls. Any old thing looks like kiss to the right fellow if the time, place, and the girl are there.”

Enoch in his full costume also looks a bit like a few cards that put a pumpkin head on top of big stalk of, I assume, corn:

EnochComparison.jpg

On top of that, there are just a bunch of old, weird cards out there that seem Pottsfield-esque.

a34d4f82b691554589c44611795b1d30--vintage-halloween-cards-halloween-art

f81684d85ab028972e498ce4776669ec--vintage-halloween-images-vintage-halloween-costumes

tumblr_ox25asOdGn1u5yqcfo1_1280

“Heaven and How to Get There.” This one I can’t help but find connections with…

 

“Schooltown Follies” (Episode 3)

According to Art of…, “Schooltown Follies” draws inspiration from a lot of different sources: “There was a lot of talk about Our Gang, Anne of Green Gables, and Shirley Temple while making this episode” (101). McHale also mentions Dogville Comedies, old shorts made with real dogs in human clothes. And Richard Scarry’s childrens’ books are also pretty clear analogues.

That said, there are still a few old cards that show similar things:

Victorian-Xmas-Card-Pussy-teaching-Rabbit-pupils

The compliments of the Season. Victorian Christmas card

I would love to find a card with potatoes and molasses on it, tho…

“Songs of the Dark Lantern” (Episode 4)

This episode is another that’s doing something quite different from the vibe of most of the old cards. But I did come across one thing that I couldn’t help but compare the Highwayman.

Highwayman

Probably not. But, still, the weird angles and dancing oddness of the card…

 

“Mad Love” (Episode 5)

On this one, I have to admit that I’ve come up blank. McHale says that it began as a dream he’d had, and I’ll leave it at that.

 

“Lullaby in Frogland” (Episode 6)

McHale mentions an odd stop-motion video called Frogland as one of the main inspirations for this episode. But anthropomorphic frogs were a huge part of the old postcards, something I’ve talked about before. I also know that he posted an image from the McLoughlin Brothers company on his twitter awhile back, saying that their style was a big influence on this episode.

But there are so many cards showing frogs in fancy dress and/or playing instruments that it can’t hurt to share a few here.

4c9c77049fab298b45b9e82c169277fd--frog-illustration-frog-art

695b954b1d98ac97456af986f7b911c6--frog-pics-frog-art

91775c915db6afad1848090afd3f5881--vintage-images-quilting-ideas

ba166e2fb07b3f9e444071661d70176f

c02cf0958e268a744fd8235193b58c66

d52144663367bbabd9af98832eb908d8--frog-art-vintage-ephemera

vintage_the_entertainer_frog_card-rceafba02c2ba48e59cc481d58193e38e_xvuat_8byvr_324

 

“The Ringing of the Bell” (Episode 7)

Auntie Whispers is my favorite character of the series. I actually think she’s a nod to Studio Ghibli and Spirited Away in particular (Yubaba), something that this video brings up as well.

But there are a couple of cards that just seem like Auntie to me, whether or not they had anything to do with her.

Whispers.jpg

There are also a few “hearth” cards that seem a bit like Whispers’ house.

Auntie Whispers.jpg

Hall102

Hall251redletter

If only I could find old cards with small, black turtles…

“Babes in the Wood” (Episode 8)

Most of this episode was a nod to an old sentimental opera about children lost in the woods. It came back in animation as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy and the Silly Symphony short Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

But one small detail is straight from the old postcards: the disembodied angel heads.

Vdaycrds.jpg

And there are indeed a ton of cherubs that are depicted on these cards as completely disembodied heads with wings.

maxresdefault.jpg

00ed89fececbfc33fe9ef3e730c5f93f--victorian-angels-victorian-christmas

7031808dac80c23f2affdda784545dda--victorian-christmas-vintage-christmas

29244243be5e79411186a4a1362dc44d

xmas (3)

 

“Into the Unknown” (Episode 9)

Since this episode is a flashback to the “real” world, there’s not much nostalgia for early Americana going on (or at least pre-70s/80s). However, on the DVD commentary, McHale says that they modeled a bunch of the kids’ Halloween costumes on images of old costumes they found online (and I’ve posted my share here). He mentions the egg girl’s costume in particular, and I’m pretty sure this is the one he means:

EggCostume

 

“The Unknown” (Episode 10)

Dare I say it? I don’t have anything for this one. This episode is its own beast…

 

Wrap Up

Were the postcards’ influence necessary to the mood of the show? As much as I’d love to say yes, I don’t think so. The throwback nods are even more about old cartoons and animation styles, but the mood and oddities in the cards were certainly part of the atmosphere that McHale was trying to create from the beginning. Personally, I was thrilled to find two things that grab me match up so well. And, one day, if McHale or Cross ever read this, I’d love to know if they still have those cards and which ones they actually looked at during production.

Until then, though, if anyone else finds something simliar, please let me know. Comment or email me at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

 

 

Advertisements

Man-Turkey!

th1

I’ll be honest: the Thanksgiving cards aren’t the most entertaining of the lot. Halloween cards can be ridiculous, but they’re already supposed to be creepy. The Christmas cards are so anachronistic that almost anything seems out of place. And some of the old Easter and Valentine’s Day cards are just surreal.

But Thanksgiving? A lot of turkey and a lot of women cooking stuff.

Occasionally, though, you get some winners, and these things are some of the most god-awfully frightening images I’ve ever seen.

th28

Nothing about that is redeeming. Not the chubby face. Not the obvious fact that it’s not at all supposed to be a costume but a mutant. Not even the weird way the captions are all out of whack like “Greeting Thanksgiving” or “Thanksgiving Remembrances” or some other random phrase that no one ever said.

th45

The lesson here is that Thanksgiving can actually be hell for reasons other than having to eat with your extended family, who will probably bring up politics in some aggressively insensitive way. But at least you can imagine them turned into some kind of horrible creature like these that can only wish for a swift death. Happy Thanksgiving!

th118