Topps Chewing Gum Inc. had seen the benefits of counter culture merchandise. Earlier successes such as the insanely popular Wacky Packages in the late 1960's had alerted the sport/collectible card company to the profitability of subversive popular culture criticism. Using the abilities of Mad magazines talent to create such twisted mockeries as Kook-Aid, Band-Ache and Screech Tape; Topps created a cult following that laughed and revelled in the disdain for famous American products of consumerism. These images became stickers that could be stuck anywhere. Desks, dressers and even mail boxes became the galleries for displaying these irreverent low brow art pieces. Teenagers bought them up as fast as Topps could produce them and, like boys tend to do, the competitive act of collecting followed. Treasuries were printed by Topps to house entire collections and joining the backs of whole sets together presented some silly product jab in the form of a mosaic-like poster. The company had hit pay dirt and continued the series throughout the 70's. While containing some truly disturbing imagery, the Wackies always had a certain subtle presentation about them that caused the viewer to do the ole' double take. As the 80's trudged along, interest in the wackiness of these sticker packages had waned. Children were hanging out at the arcade smoking cigarettes and learning how to gamble. Youngsters were playing with chickaboo's and a new doll called the Cabbage Patch Kid. These bright eyed tykes were composed of plush bodies with hard rubber heads. Adorning their heads were locks of yarn hair that curled and draped lovingly. They arrived with "birth certificates" that introduced the new adoptive parent-child to the kids' name; which were always way too sweetsie, like Gilbert or Suzie. It was at this point that some social commentator had the light bulb explode over his head. The brilliant artist, writer and pre- Pulitzer winner Art Spiegelman and fellow artist Mark Newgarden conceived of the Garbage Pail Kids. Employing the help of numerous talents such as John Pound and Tom Bunk, they developed the set of 82 (+ 6 variations) cards that were to become the first series. Out the window was subtly, and in was sickly creatures of horrid appearance and temperate. A rebellion occurred against everything Strawberry, pretty or smurfy. Topps had found the new Wackies and children around the world were to soon be tainted with gross-outs and sick drawings that would tear a strip out of the sweetness that was the Cabbage Patch.
The cards were stickers like their grandparents the Wacky Packages. At 2 ½ inches by 3 ½, these cards were perfect for fitting in the back pocket. This incognito size promoted them being brought to school and surreptiously hidden when snoopy teachers thought trouble was amiss. Four to a pack (at least in Canada), they were always included with a stale piece of crummy gum. The gum always ended up in the garbage and the true prize was obsessed over as sounds of gagging and the inevitable, " That's sick!" came from one of the more timid of the group of children. Some of the iller ones included Crater Chris, who treats the viewer to a zit popping presentation; Dead Ted, crawling from the grave with maggot friends and challenging Peter Cushing ala Amicus's Tales from the Crypt, as the great undead rot feast and Scary Carrie who innocently wonders why mirrors shatter when her Franken freak image glares into them. To mock the whole birth certificate idea, the GPK's had two names. The mutant kid who chows on flies is Lizard Liz on card A and referred to as Buggy Betty on card B. Every Kid had an A and a B name. Above mentioned Dead Ted becomes Jay Decay on his B card. This not only kept the sick little punks who bought these cards laughing, but increased their collectibility ten-fold. No matter how large or small each individual kids collection got too, they were filled with sickly delights of twisted grotesqueries that introduced many a child to the concept of splatter. As these stickers made their way into every child's sticker album and junk drawer, I am sure the sales of the Cabbage Patch Kids plummeted. It was not long after the cards had become fairly mainstream that the Cabbage brats disappeared. Coincidence…probably not.
The Garbage Pail Kids continued in numerous sets as time went on, with varying degrees of success and merit. With over 16 series and sets introduced all over the world, the Garbage Pail Kids continued puking and exploding for years. The Brits in particular really enjoyed the mockery of it all. The nail that drove the lid on this rotting, stanky franchise had to have been the abysmal 1987 film The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Don't even bother with this one folks. Truly bad stuff, by anyones standards. The cartoon is a write-off as well. With new sets of Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids on the shelves as you read this, the originality and beauty of these sets has diminished in an age of high tech and bling. Regardless of the decline of the cards, their influence planted the seed in many minds. Such films as the Toxic budget films, Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive carried on the gross-out silliness that pervaded these card sets. Although they have passed into memory and collectibility purgatory; such weirdos as Up Chuck and Leaky Lou remain in the early memories of gore mongers everywhere. An introduction to young minds of the horrors that were to come, and don't be surprised if you inherent some crappy dresser from Aunt Edna only to find Bad Brad's satanical glare stuck to the back of it; a reject from the eighties that still desires to taint some young soul.
Joystick 'n' Hand