In the 1980s, the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards were so notorious that they were banned from select schools (well, mine) and were traded and pored over like some back-alley dice game at lunch (well, mine again). I will never know what happened to my stack of GPK cards, but I no longer have to wistfully imagine what “Clogged Duane” and “Dinah Saur” looked like, thanks to the recently published Garbage Pail Kids by Abrams ComicArts.
Upon delivery, my nearest neighbor immediately asked to borrow the book. The 220-plus page hardcover instantly triggers a lost sense of dark nostalgia in those who were kids in the mid-1980s. This book collects every card from Series 1-5, and it includes a five-page introduction by Art Spiegelman and a two-page afterword by artist John Pound. The rest of the pages are all GPK. Note that the characters had “alternate” cards—same image, different name—and those names are listed at the bottom of every page. The back matter for the cards is not reproduced outside of the front end papers, but the dust jacket is the same material as the old card packaging—and underneath lies a recognizable image of the pink rectangular gum that came in every pack.
Punny highlights for me were “Babbling Brooke” and “Nervous Rex” (lowlight: “Hot Scott”). In retrospect, I do see some cause for concern (sorry, 1986 self!), notably the drug references, stereotyping, and overall bad taste (but never so bad as how that gum fared—once chewed, twice shy). This hindsight makes Garbage Pail Kids an even better read. How did The Topps Company get away with some of these—see “Half-Nelson” and “Stoned Sean,” for example? It’s a fascinating retrospective, and Spiegelman’s involvement in the original series somehow lends credibility to it all.
“Snot was a good idea (gross bodily fluids were a staple of Topp’s sophisticated brand of humor),” Spiegelman writes in the introduction. “We all worked anonymously, since Topps didn’t want the work publicly credited…I was annoyed at the time, but my book publisher, Pantheon, was very relieved. The first volume of Maus was being prepared for publication while the GPKs were near the height of popularity.”
Maus went on to earn a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author and illustrator worked on the Garbage Pail Kids cards. You can say this aloud every time your neighbor asks to borrow your copy.