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

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

Garbage Pail KidsBy the Topps Company

Introduction by Art Spiegelman

Afterword by John Pound

Abrams, 224 pp., $19.95

As the cartoonist and former Topps culture worker ArtSpiegelman explains in the book’s introduction, the Kids came into the world asa consequence of Topps’s failure to secure a license for official Cabbage PatchKids trading cards. In an inspired maneuver, the Topps team resorted to thefamily recipe established in its Wacky Packages series (lushly painted stickersspoofing popular consumer products) and spun off a parade of parodic GarbagePail Kids, taking their title from a proposed one-off designed by MarkNewgarden and their style from the tradition of gruesome caricature exemplifiedby Basil Wolverton.

While overtly satirizing Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage PailKids also skewered preadolescent anxieties enforced by consensus culture. Inreal 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 againstencroaching adult and social values. Throughout the series, their creatorssmuggled in references to subcultural and high-art landmarks including R.Crumb, Salvador Dalí, Big Daddy Roth, Leonardo da Vinci, circus freaks, and TheRocky Horror Picture Show.

This volume reprints the original painted art for the firstfive Kids series. Amazingly, the principal series painter, John Pound, notes inhis afterword that production schedules often required him to complete eachimage, from rough to finished art, in a single day. At larger size, some of theartists’ schematic painted effects are more visible; run through an offsetpress at reduced size, the images appeared, to younger eyes, like mutant Dutchpaintings from a radioactive era. The book includes four unreleased stickers in their original format so that, once the art book has beentucked away, readers may revisit the sensation of clutching forbidden cards inhands—even if they no longer need lockers to hide them away from prying adulteyes.

All images courtesy of Abrams

Bill Kartalopoulos is a Printcontributing editor. He teaches comics and illustration at the NewSchool University and is the Programming Coordinator for SPX: The SmallPress Expo. Kartalopoulos is a frequent public speaker and is currentlyworking on a book about comics. You can read more of his pieces for Print here.