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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Carve-O-Lantern 3: The Return of the Kits

When I was walking down the street today, I saw this:


Now this could mean one of two things: either someone is preparing to burn Tobey Maguire in effigy for that dance scene in Spider-Man 3 (which I liked, suck it, haters), or it's Halloween season again! This is perfect, because it gives me an excuse to drone on at length about one of my favorite things: pumpkin carving! Avid readers of my blog may recall my earlier installment about pumpkin carving pioneers Carve-O-Lantern, as well as the sequel post about their product line expansion. Well, there's still plenty of meat on this bone, so I'm diving into a pumpkin PIE-le of patterny goodness to bring you this retrospective!
Carve-O-Lantern (and later, Pumpkin Masters) have released so much material over the decades that I could-and possibly might-write about this stuff forever. So let's go waaaaay back to the early days of the brand to take a look at how their pumpkin carving kits have evolved through time. I've procured a veritable bushel of new stuff since the last article, so this is a great opportunity to share some of them.
To review: the protozoan state of this august October line was the original Carve-O-Lantern book, she of the spiral binding and self-assembled tools:


I covered this book and its assemblage of cool, festive and at time downright bizarre patterns before. So let's move on to the next product in the Carve-O-Lantern line; their streamlined, non-spiral bound pumpkin carving kit:


I reviewed this one before as well, but what I haven't covered yet are the many, many, MANY pumpkin carving kits to follow. We're talking bunnies on some crazy NIMH fertility meds numbers. OK, NIMH didn't really deal with fertility drugs, but maybe they branched out and formed NIRH or something. Just let me have this semi-esoteric reference.
Anyway, Carve-O-Lantern was not releasing products at a breakneck pace at first. They were, after all, pioneers in the field of jack-o'-lantern crafting, and if pioneers try to venture too quickly and recklessly into the unexplored, they might pay dearly. Just ask Lansford Hastings. So the second carving kit came out in 1989, three years after the initial publication of Carve-O-Lantern, and the third would not arrive until 1992. Here it is:


Carve-O-Lantern's designated graphic designer clearly had quite a cushy job, as a product designed to come out once a year would look almost identical for many editions to come. As for the included patterns:


This is a nice assortment, albeit largely the same as the designs in the Pumpkin Carving Patterns supplemental book released the same year. It appears that the intent at this point was to give consumers who already had a set of carving tools an option to buy most of the patterns in a cheaper, tool-less package. This was the first and last time this would be an option, because why sell one product to completionists when you can sell two? Probably because nobody knew such completionists existed back then, a quaint notion in 2017 when some people (cough, cough) feverishly monitor eBay auctions for rare pattern books like the Busch Gardens/SeaWorld assortment.
Somewhat confusingly, the fourth pumpkin carving kit also came out in 1992, though I suspect there may have just been an error in the copyright date on the packaging, since the fifth set came out in 1994. So either we got two of these in one year and then none the following year, or we didn't. GREAT JOURNALISM, JOEY.


Again, we see some staggering creativity in terms of graphic design, as this one looks nearly indistinguishable from set #3 at a glance. Unlike that set, however, these patterns were unique to this release, aside from Mr. Lips, who was continuing his journey to become the drunk guy at the party who can't take a hint when it's time to go home.


Possibly the best kit yet in terms of patterns, this one truly offered a variety of options for carvers at all skill levels, from a sassy fanged variation of the traditional jack-o-lantern for babies, to the moaning souls of the damned ironically spelling out the word "happy," which challenged veteran carvers to keep the profanity in check while nervously attempting to not slip and sever one of the thin strands of pumpkin holding the delicate image together.
By 1994, the Carve-O-Lantern name had perished, and from its ashes arisen the mighty moniker "Pumpkin Masters," which endures to this day. With the name change came a shockingly minor facelift to the carving kits, with the primary innovation being the convenient display of patterns on the front rather than the back. No longer would consumers waste precious seconds flipping cardboard in search of these coveted candlelit images.


This is a solid assortment, with all-time classic Screamin', another cute kitty and more, though it escapes me why Trick or Treat '95 needed the premature, 2K games-style yearly branding. Not to ruin the suspense, but it's still just as effective in '17.
BUUUUUT hold on just a minute, buckaroo! We're skipping something here. Even though this was the next traditional carving kit to hit the shelves, the year prior had actually marked the official debut of the Pumpkin Masters name, with this unique product:


Yep, a Deluxe Pumpkin Carving Kit. Totally different than a non-deluxe one, and I'm only being half sarcastic here. A bit of a hybrid between the saw-yielding carving kits of yore and the independent pattern books sold alongside them, this softcover marvel boasted not only a full set of carving tools, but by far the most designs of any release since the original, with a whopping seventeen patterns (including the bonus Night Owl, not pictured on the back).


Admittedly, many of the patterns were reprints from prior years, but come on! For one thing, once any given year's Halloween season was over, the corresponding carving kits were gone. They tended to stay gone, meaning that if you missed a release you were pretty much out of luck. Now you had a second chance to own some of these ephemeral classics. And even considering the volume of reprints, such a wide variety of patterns sold alongside the tools with which to carve them made for quite the package. Oddly enough, only one more Deluxe Pumpkin Carving Kit was released before the line died off. Perhaps the train to Valuetown only runs one way.
1995's big release was marked by the presence of Garfield, whose cool, well-designed pattern was only slightly undermined by his rather lame joke on the cover. What's supposed to be scary about Garfield being on a pumpkin? His licensing fees?


But the real story of 1995 was a product so innovative that Leonardo Da Vinci's ghost secondkilled itself in shame: Melon Lights. Have you ever wanted to carve a pumpkin in July? Well now you can, with Melon Lights! I hope to carve one of these someday and bring it as a wedding gift for someone I desperately want to just stop contacting me.


OK, we're running a bit long here, and I'm sure you have some last-minute costume prep/massive holiday drinking to do, so I'll end with one more tidbit. This last product I'm about to show you may be been the nadir of the original Carve-O-Lantern lineup, and possibly forced them to change their name for fear of ever being identified with it again. I speak, of course, of Pumpkin Pals.


These inane things make Melon Lights look like the internal combustion engine. Too lazy or crippled by carpal tunnel syndrome to carve a pumpkin? Here are some stupid pieces of cardboard and tissue paper to make your pumpkin look like a low-rent Teen Wolf! Choose from other classic characters like Vulcan Vampire and Lady with Her Hair on Fire! And as far as the collection as a whole, there were four of these abominations, including fairy tale variations that would make Mother Goose asphyxiate herself with a potato chip bag. I only have one of them, because to hell with paying ten bucks or more online for this crap. If the art of pumpkin decorating is an ass, Pumpkin Pals is half of it.
I hope you've enjoyed this festive look at the evolution of a Halloween institution. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of these oldies if you happen to see them at Goodwill or something. You won't regret it! Or maybe you will. Life is funny like that. Happy Halloween!


Don't let him fool you. Joey Marsilio is still attempting to sell enough copies of his debut novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, to buy the full line of Pumpkin Pals. You can help him achieve this wretched dream today!