If anyone in this world can appreciate the classless, tasteless, and downright disgusting humor of this world, it’s children. While gas may strain a marriage, it brings mirth to a classroom. While boogers are a taboo subject among adult circles, they can be found under desks and on the back of school bus seats everywhere. If it’s grosser than gross, chances are, kids wanna hear about it.
Enter the Topps Company. Already the trading card standard bearer, Topps had been making baseball and other sports cards for decades before entertaining the brain child of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, the creator of Garbage Candy and the already famously absurd Wacky Packages trading cards. His idea was a series of trading cards parodying (and persecuting) Xavier Roberts’s immensely popular Cabbage Patch Kids that would tie-in with Garbage Pail Candy, tart candies shaped like pieces of trash (fish heads, soup cans, etc.) and sold in miniature garbage cans. The idea was called Garbage Pail Kids, and almost overnight they became so popular that they ended up being sold separate from the candy.
Garbage Pail Kids were initially drawn by artist John Pound and featured some chubby child twisted into some grotesquery and labeled with one of two – or sometimes three – clever word-play names. Up Chuck (or Heavin’ Steven) was a baby puking his body weight in toys and spittle onto a baby blanket. Legions of zits covered Crater Chris from head to toe. Bony Tony unzipped his skin to reveal his skeleton. A plane flew away in the background of Dyin’ Dinah and Losing Faith, a card featuring a gagged little girl strapped to a falling bomb. Dana Druff groomed herself in a waist high pile of dandruff. Spencer Dispencer’s head was made of toilet paper. Gory Rory roasted a human hand at the Cub Scout campfire. Of course, the most famous GPK whose face graced packs from the first five series and still symbolizes the maturity level of the idea is Adam Bomb, a suited child with his finger pressing a detonator and a mushroom cloud bursting brains and bones from the top of his head. Within four years, Topps released fifteen series of Garbage Pail kids. Here’s a look at Series #1:
But just as teachers and parents disdain gross behavior in children, they predictably abhorred it in a toy company. Principals and administrators outlawed Garbage Pail Kids on many school grounds, making them an even more coveted black market item. And of course, Xavier Roberts filed a lawsuit against Topps for besmirching his beloved Cabbage Patch Kids franchise. Topps settled with Roberts and altered the design of the GPKs.
But despite protests, GPK popularity soared, extending beyond the United States and into other countries like Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Names changed to suit the country adopting the disgusting kids. Even the trademarked name underwent language changes, becoming Trash Can Trolls, Bathroom Buddies, La Pandilla Basura, and Die Total Kaputten Kids.
Before long, Garbage Pail Kids showed their demented faces on all manner of merchandise, puking on lunchbox covers, picking their noses on jewelry, farting on school folders, exposing their entrails on t-shirts, and of course, trashing themselves on wastebaskets. Noteworthy among these items were the Cheap Toys, miniature plastic replicas of ten of the most notorious GPKs. 1987 even saw the release of a Garbage Pail Kids Movie, which not altogether unexpectedly, bombed.
After a fifteen year hiatus, Garbage Pail Kids reemerged from the ashes, trashes, and other disturbing hideaways in 2003. The movie was released on DVD in 2005 and in 2006, the originally unaired animated series came out as well. Topps celebrated twenty years of Garbage Pail Kids in 2005 with Sketch Card original inserts designed by many of the original artists, including John Pound. Although among the least savory things one can put into the hands of a kid, there’s no question that Garbage Pail Kids have earned a place in history, even if that place is somewhere locked in the bathroom.
Were you an avid collector of Garbage Pail Kids? Still have your collection stored away in protective plastic sleeves? Share all your memories of these crude, let lovable, misfits with all of us at Retroland as we pay tribute to one of the most popular trading card series of all time.