March 16, Topps Susan Wurthman of Massapequa Park said her daughter Tracy, who is 7 years old, collected Garbage Pail Kids until ''I put a stop to it'' because ''they're not at all healthy. Wurthman referred to a character named Dead Fred, depicted as a cigar-smoking juvenile gangster with a bullet penetrating his forehead.
My dolly would look nice with its head blown off, too. Occasionally, pus. No oozing orifice went unexplored in how to make money in the GPK stickers produced by Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. With characters like Luke Puke and Messy Tessie dripping bodily fluids in portraits created by talented—even Pulitzer Prize-winning—artists, the series delighted an audience obsessed with the gross.
While children bought well over million of the mucus-covered cards, adults were mortified. Schools banned them outright. Protest groups managed to get a CBS cartoon canceled before a single episode even aired.
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But no one was more offended than the Cabbage Patch Kids, whose lawyers argued that the vile, dimpled drawings were copyright infringement and devastating to their squeaky-clean reputation. No company since Kleenex has profited better from boogers. This is how they did it. While those eventually gave way to sports cards, the company continued to pursue non-sports properties like Hopalong Cassidy and, later, Star Wars.
Topps had previously pursued a license with the Cabbage Patch folks. We were going to play golf but got rained out. In retrospect, it was probably symbolism. Newgarden: All I ever heard was that [Cabbage Patch owners] Original Appalachian Artworks felt it was too low-end a product category for their high-profile brand. You have to remember that these dolls were originally luxury items and sold for fairly outrageous prices. Schlaifer: I was interested and they seemed interested.
I asked Topps to make a proposal on what they thought the cards would do, royalties, all of that. All of a sudden, they stopped taking my calls. Newgarden: I recall hearing they [Appalachian] had a problem with bubble gum cards. Maybe the severe terms were a reflection of that.
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It was part of an irreverent sense of humor that had been around nearly as long as the company itself. There was an extra space for a card on one of the proof sheets, and so for fun, he painted a secret Batman card with Batman taking a dump in the Bat-toilet.
Nobody ever told upper management. Brown: Topps had always done real well with baseball. Non-sports cards, I called them novelty cards, those came and went. It was just added business. He did the rough, wrote the joke, and John Pound did the painting. The original Garbage Pail Kid. Copyright Mark Newgarden. John Pound Primary Artist, Garbage Pail Kids : The gag they had me do for Wacky Packages, they gave me a rough sketch and it looked like a little baby bum in a trash can.
Newgarden: I vividly recall that Cabbage Patch parody being rushed into that meeting to show Arthur that we were already thinking along such lines. And an hour later the word came down that we needed to figure out how to make a series out of this thing.
That responsibility fell to Topps art director How to make money in the GPK Spiegelman, who was finishing what would become his Pulitzer-winning account of the Holocaust, Maus; supervisor Stan Hart; and Newgarden. Pound: The idea was to be rude, crude, gross, rebellious, snotty, disgusting, all of these things.
I sent them 30 or 50 pages of ideas, including a nice one of a little kid barfing on a baby blanket. Lynch: Art Spiegelman at first just did a rough drawing of a doll with a big nose named Olga.
They how to make money in the GPK just strange and weird dolls. Playfully grim. Newgarden: Right off the bat, John gave us about four times as much input as the others, including pages of gags, color studies and logo treatments. His creative energy literally dripped off the page.
Pound: The idea of making them disgusting was not sitting real well with me. For selfish reasons, I wanted to have them feel good to look at.
I was vaguely aware if you had the gross mixed with the cute, it was more interesting. Newgarden: He worked in acrylics and airbrush and his paintings were bright and clean and vividly colored.
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His sense of composition and staging was impeccable. He brought a very strong, direct, poster-like approach to GPK that made almost any concept feel positively monumental. Can you do 44 paintings in two months? It was basically a painting a day. I had to break it down—background is one hour, flesh is one hour, clothing one hour. They were all about five inches by seven, or twice the size of the card. Newgarden: I do vividly recall opening John's FedEx package with that Adam Bomb painting in it pretty early on in the process.
I felt then and there we had something special cooking. Strangely enough, I think I was the only one at Topps who felt it at the time. Pound: Adam Bomb was about 85 percent my idea.
I had the sketch of the kid sitting there pressing the button, and in background, a bomb blast going off. Phone meetings, faxes, FedExed tracing paper overlays with voluminous notes. John's pencils or paintings would come in on a Monday and I'd make notes.
Then on Tuesday, Art would make notes on my notes and we'd call John in the afternoon and hash it all out. Lynch: My overall reaction was that this was nuts.
GPK totally came out of that. Newgarden, Spiegelman, and other freelancers and Topps employees would often find themselves in brainstorming sessions, conceiving of characters plagued by indigestion or runny noses. Crucially, the pieces had names—Acne Amy, Slain Wayne—that allowed kids to feel as though they were personalized for their amusement. Lynch: Art [Spiegelman] developed the system of a negative adjective before a kid's first name.
He figured out the method.
Newgarden: We'd sit around the table, turn the paintings over one at time and play at being the Algonquin wits of snot and vomit. Brown: Pound would send in rough sketches.
Vomit, yes. Whatever makes you laugh. Our objective was to satirize. Newgarden: Len was always very concerned about making absolutely sure we were including the most popular kid names of the moment.
Since nobody ever thought these would go beyond the next series, the idea was to always feature the most common names so kids could actually use them. Brown: We did names way back on the Ugly Stickers series in the s.
Kids looked for their name and loved to find a friend or classmate to use as a nasty put-down, like Vomit Vic. Newgarden: At a certain point I tracked down a slightly outdated baby-naming book, which we worked from. Newgarden: Arthur Shorin was the final word at Topps, period. So the line was probably drawn depending on whatever Arthur had for breakfast that morning. Steve Kroninger Freelance Artist : There was one of a kid in an oven.
It was a sketch from Mark or Art. Pound: There was an idea I had done of a kid in a pickle jar. It went all the way through to a completed painting. Brown: I remember that image. Pound: Lincoln, that one was an idea assigned to me, to do Lincoln with a bullet hole in his hat. I did that. Someone suggested adding a Playbill to it.
Brown: More often than not, I had a sense of what Arthur would go for. He liked underwear gags. Kroninger: Len was the grown-up in the room. Brown: We knew we could push envelope just so far. Pound: There was change I saw happening later. We had a wino Garbage Pail Kid in series one, a little drunk bum character staggering around and leaning on a post. Later on, we shied away from jokes about alcohol.
It was a little girl and a dog and a turd. The little girl is pointing at the turd accusingly, looking at the dog, but the dog is pointing equally accusingly.
Then we would resubmit those rejected images next time around, again and again, and eventually wear poor Arthur down. Someone at the company had a child who was mentally challenged, and Arthur just cringed at those words. Later, we probably did Moronic Morton or something. Kroninger: There was one of a kid playing a trumpet and blowing a cloud of smoke out of his butt. That was the Garbage Pail Kids.
Testing the cent packs in local northeast markets, distributors were quick to let them know something bigger was happening. Kids loved it. Pound: Topps had an amazing distribution system. The cards were always right by the candy counter or by the register. Newgarden: Art used to drive back into Manhattan and I'd often go along for the ride or to hang out afterward at his place in SoHo.