Review: Garbage Pail Kids, From Grade-School Samizdat to Art


 Sometimes, trash and treasure are one and the same. Garbage
Pail Kids—those gleefully hideous stickers that delighted children of the 1980s
and caused some uproar among guardians of civility—pulled this alchemical trick
once before, in their initial appearance as bubble-gum trading cards available
everywhere for 25 cents a pack. The real trash, they argued, was the insipidly
saccharine Cabbage Patch Kids, those cuddly, stuffed, baby-doll phenomena of
the era. The treasure is the anti-everything satire Garbage Pail Kids advanced
in their wildly popular series, which featured such unforgettable tykes as Adam
Bomb (happily blowing up his own head with a mushroom cloud), Leaky Lindsay
(weaving her own voluminous mucus), and Corroded Carl (a jovial Job, squeezing
the zits that cover his entire body). A new art-book treasury collecting these
icons of self-proclaimed garbage is sure to be cherished by former kids of a
certain age.

Garbage Pail Kids
By the Topps Company

Introduction by Art Spiegelman
Afterword by John Pound

Abrams, 224 pp., $19.95




As the cartoonist and former Topps culture worker Art
Spiegelman explains in the book’s introduction, the Kids came into the world as
a consequence of Topps’s failure to secure a license for official Cabbage Patch
Kids trading cards. In an inspired maneuver, the Topps team resorted to the
family recipe established in its Wacky Packages series (lushly painted stickers
spoofing popular consumer products) and spun off a parade of parodic Garbage
Pail Kids, taking their title from a proposed one-off designed by Mark
Newgarden and their style from the tradition of gruesome caricature exemplified
by Basil Wolverton.
While overtly satirizing Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage Pail
Kids also skewered preadolescent anxieties enforced by consensus culture. In
real life, braces, pimples, and Band-Aids were gross; on a Garbage Pail Kid,
they were gloriously grotesque. Passed around like samizdat in grade schools,
Garbage Pail Kids were happy martyrs in the cause of rebellion against
encroaching adult and social values. Throughout the series, their creators
smuggled in references to subcultural and high-art landmarks including R.
Crumb, Salvador Dalí, Big Daddy Roth, Leonardo da Vinci, circus freaks, and The
Rocky Horror Picture Show



This volume reprints the original painted art for the first
five Kids series. Amazingly, the principal series painter, John Pound, notes in
his afterword that production schedules often required him to complete each
image, from rough to finished art, in a single day. At larger size, some of the
artists’ schematic painted effects are more visible; run through an offset
press at reduced size, the images appeared, to younger eyes, like mutant Dutch
paintings from a radioactive era. The book includes four unreleased stickers in their original format so that, once the art book has been
tucked away, readers may revisit the sensation of clutching forbidden cards in
hands—even if they no longer need lockers to hide them away from prying adult


All images courtesy of Abrams
Bill Kartalopoulos is a Print
contributing editor. He teaches comics and illustration at the New
School University and is the Programming Coordinator for SPX: The Small
Press Expo. Kartalopoulos is a frequent public speaker and is currently
working on a book about comics. You can read more of his pieces for Print here.