“A Maccababy’s Gotta Do What a Maccababy’s Gotta Do!”
For the last quarter of a century, the Chanukah-themed episode of Rugrats has enjoyed a special place in the hearts and minds of those children who grew up watching the classic Nickelodeon cartoon. Produced in a time when Judaism wasn’t often depicted in kid-friendly programming, the holiday special — which first aired in early December of 1996 — represented a watershed moment in television history.
Not only does the episode provide a kid-friendly approach to the Jewish “Festival of Lights” and its wider cultural significance, it also features surprisingly mature elements (i.e. Grandpa Boris’s decades-long rivalry with Shlomo is poignantly reframed by the end).
So, it’s no wonder why Quirk Books decided to give the iconic episode new life in picture book form. The latest addition to the publisher’s Pop Classics line of books, A Rugrats Chanukah: The Classic Illustrated Storybook was drawn by New York Times best-selling illustrator, Kim Smith.
“As a kid who grew up in the ‘90s, I used to watch Rugrats a lot,” Smith tells Forbes Entertainment via email. “For one reason or another, that episode really stuck with me for the long haul, so it was wonderful to be able to revisit it. It was great to be a part of the team to bring it back in picture book form.”
Smith (who has helped introduce a generation of young readers to classic pieces of media like Back to the Future, E.T., Home Alone, and Elf) didn’t want to leave anything to chance. In addition to working off the adapted manuscript from writer and Quirk editor Rebecca Gyllenhaal, Smith went back to the visual source material.
“Often, I’ll go back to the episode again and again, just to make sure I’m getting it right,” the artist explains. “I take lots of screen shots, take notes on the colors, the important parts of the scenes, and try and find a way to combine it all into a limited number of illustrations. I always want to make sure the die-hard fans will notice the attention to detail in the illustrations.”
Check out a number of exclusive interior pages below:
“The Rugrats series is quite different my own art style,” Smith adds. “It relies on its fun and quirky line work and flat colors. It’s so different from my own art style, which has little line work, simpler shapes, and a more painterly approach. It was tricky to combine my aesthetic with theirs. I spent a lot of time sketching out the characters to figure out what should be simplified, what lines should be incorporated, and whether it still felt true to Rugrats. I hope fans agree that it worked!”
“The most fun was getting to use that wonderful ‘90s Rugrats color palette. All the bright purples, oranges, and blues,” Smith reveals. “It’s not very often I use vibrant colors in my work, and I wanted take advantage of it. The most challenging was figuring out how the characters would translate in my own art style. We wanted to make sure that they looked true to the original series, while also fitting in with the style I used for the Pop Classics series. It was tricky to find that balance. One more tricky thing was making sure the menorahs had the appropriate amount of candle holders. There was always a lot of counting and recounting to make sure they were correct.”
“Representation is so important. Our culture is flooded with media that focuses on Christian based holidays,” Smith continues. “It’s impactful when a show, especially a children’s show, focuses on holidays and important traditions from other cultures that make up our society. Especially through characters we already have strong connections with. I’m not Jewish, but I loved seeing those episodes and learning about the history of these traditions through the adventures of Tommy and his friends. Those episodes always stood out to me, like any great holiday special should.”
A Rugrats Chanukah: The Classic Illustrated Storybook goes on sale from Quirk Books tomorrow (Tuesday, Sep. 28). While the book is intended for readers aged 4-8, it’s definitely a nostalgic must-have for millennial parents who want to introduce their own children to the golden age of Nickelodeon.
In addition, the project marks Smith’s final involvement with the Pop Classic banner.
“I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the fans who loved and supported the series so far!” the artist concludes. “I had such an amazing time helping bring these classics to the picture book form. I can’t wait to see what the next one will be.”
The original nine seasons of Rugrats are currently available to stream on Paramount+ along with the recent CGI revival (a second season of the latter has been green-lit).