by Casey Burchby
One of the only fistfights I’ve ever been in was over Garbage Pail Kids – proof they were a dangerous influence, no? I was eight and a kid named Chad lived down the street. Chad was bad. His family was shady. Their house was overgrown; the lawn was a small parking lot. Chad was the kid I’d play with – maybe – if no one else was around. But Chad had had Garbage Pail Kids. So with some hesitation, I decided to do a little business with Chad. I had a card he was dying for. He promised me several cards in return for just that one. I jumped at the offer, which I knew was foolish. Little did I know Chad planned to welsh.
After using all of the diplomatic tools at my disposal, I brought out my eight-year-old guns and punched Chad in the neck. This caused a stir in the neighborhood for most of that afternoon, and gave unintended leverage to parents who wished to see Garbage Pail Kids burn in hell. My collection was decimated by the loss of Rappin’ Ron, and I was never the same.
But now everyone missing that one card can complete their collection (at least virtually) with a volume just out from Abrams. The book is a wonderfully designed tribute to these shit-disturbing cards in all their graphic, full-color glory.
Created by Art Spiegelman (who provides an introduction here) and sold by Topps, the cards built on the success of previous trading card series including Topps’ own Wacky Packages. The first run of GPK was entirely drawn by John Pound, whose original single-card design was executed (but never used) for Wacky Packages. (Wacky Packages trading cards satirized all manner of consumer products: Cheerios became Cheapios, Taster’s Choice became Taster’s Choke, etc.)
In his chatty introduction, Spiegelman also cites a briefly popular (but now largely forgotten) Topps series from the 1960s as an inspiration for GPK: Ugly Stickers, which were simply images of abstract, crazy-looking creatures with names like Jeff and Melvin. Yet they were drawn by comics legends Will Elder and Basil Wolverton; and that series was followed by the similar Slob Stickers by Jack Davis.
Spiegelman’s short four-page intro does possibly more to put these faddish cards in their proper creative context than anyone has ever attempted before. He provides a very welcome bit of history and reminiscence. The remainder of the book’s 224 pages consists of exquisite reproductions of each and every card in the first five series (1985-1986), plus a short afterword by artist John Pound.
Credit for the wonderful book design goes to Neil Egan. Although the size is larger, the book’s proportions mimic those of a card package. Continuing with this theme is the dustjacket, which feels like that waxy, thin paper used with trading cards. The boards feature an image of a single stick of too-hard gum on the front; the stick is shown shattered on the back. On the inside of the back cover is a small package of actual cards wrapped in clear cellophane.
Abrams has done a lovely job here, memorializing a brief but cherished piece of mid-1980s pop culture – despite the fact that it dredges up my own violent past.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.