Some people are completely content with carving the same old triangle-eyed, toothless grinning face into their Halloween pumpkin year after year. Others, however, are up for something a little more challenging.
“By the time I entered my teens, I started to do more advanced carvings with the patterns you find in store-bought kits,” said Zombie Pumpkins owner and lifelong Halloween enthusiast Ryan Wickstrand. “It didn't take long for me to get the urge to design my own, and I never looked back.”
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, ZombiePumpkins.com is the most popular online destination for pumpkin carving patterns. The site has more than 300 different patterns available in the form of printable stencils, all of which are Wickstrand creations. “I've had other artists offer to contribute their designs to the site, but I take pride is saying that every design was crafted by yours cruelly,” he said.
The patterns, which depict everything from cartoonish faces and scary ghouls to characters from movies and television like Breaking Bad’s Walter White, have proven to be extremely popular: In the past six years, over 2.3 million pumpkin patterns have been printed from his site. “Iconic movie monsters are perennial favorites, but classic Halloween imagery never goes out of style,” says Wickstrand of the more popular stencils. “My unique creations like spooky trees and haunted houses are usually the top download.“
He’s been lucky to hear some complimentary words from some of the celebrities he’s immortalized in pumpkin form. Cult horror figures such as Bruce Campbell, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Tom Savini and Robert Englund have reached out to Wickstrand to applaud their pumpkin likenesses. “My pumpkins have been photographed with everyone from Elvira to President Barack Obama,” says Wickstrand.
Wickstrand’s road to full-time pumpkin carving design was somewhat accidental. After graduating from SU in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in computer graphics, Wickstrand started making some of the pumpkin stencils he created using Adobe Illustrator available on his personal website. He quickly discovered that there was an audience of pumpkin carvers out there like himself that was being underserved. As he made more designs available to satiate his emerging fanbase, the patterns found a home on an earlier version of his site called “Attack of the Zombie Pumpkins!”
The site quickly grew in popularity, with increased traffic necessitating some level of monetization for his site to pay for hosting and bandwidth. He implemented a paid membership system and started to sell T-shirts, pumpkin carving kits and other merchandise to cover his costs. Soon enough, the site began to overtake his other design work and became his central focus. “It's hard to say exactly when pumpkins became my full-time gig, but by this point, 10 years later, it certainly has consumed my life,” said Wickstrand. “That's not a bad thing. What boy doesn't dream of being a monster maker when he grows up?”
All Zombie Pumpkins memberships purchased at the $20 “Monster Harvest” level are partially donated to a different charity every year. This year, proceeds are going to the Hope Heart Institute, which helps treat and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Ninety-three percent of the site’s visitors check out ZombiePumpkins.com in the month of October, a month where the site accrues over one millions hits. He makes sure to refresh the look of the website every year a month before Halloween.
Wickstrand designs the site himself, but he gets assistance fellow SU alum and Zombie Pumpkins associate Taber Buhl, who helps with the coding and the backend of the site. “It’s a lot of fun. Every year I kinda look forward to seeing what he comes up with,” says Buhl of his collaboration with Wickstrand. “The site gets a lot of traffic, so it’s cool to see all of the activity every day.”
Aside from the occasional help of a few “minions,” Wickstrand has no official staff. As a result, he wears many hats while running Zombie Pumpkins out of his West Haven, Conn. home, often dealing with order fulfillment, customer service and other facets of his business concurrently. Although Wickstrand remains very busy during the Halloween season, he never forgets just how much impact his pumpkin designs have on the public.
“Knowing that families have begun to count on my designs as part of their yearly traditions is an honor. I probably realized I was onto something big when I drove around on Halloween night and saw my designs on the porches of total strangers. As I toil away in my office, I sometimes forget how far this reaches,” Wickstrand said.
Despite this year’s Halloween being just around the corner, Wickstrand is still looking towards the future. “Oh, I have plenty of ideas brewing in my top secret lab. All will be revealed in due time. You might see Zombie Pumpkins stretch their vines into other media, but I always plan to stay true to my roots. It's all about the pumpkin patterns,” says Wickstrand.
As secretive as he is about his upcoming plans, he does drop one subtle hint. “The theme for the site was inspired by horror movies. Maybe the Zombie Pumpkins will star in their own film one day,” he says.