As Total Geek Live recently did a video feature on Gross Toys of the 1980’s, a lot of the research involved left me with more questions about some of those delightfully disgusting ’80’s properties. In this particular instance, I became more curious about the origin of Garbage Pail Kids past the obvious parody aspects of Cabbage Patch Kids. I picked the right year for discovery, it seems, as there is a new documentary about those charming little weirdos called 30 Years of Garbage.
If you were in elementary school in the 1980’s, you knew that Garbage Pail Kids were the talk of the playground, and the bane of teachers everywhere. We all knew they were made by bubble gum card company Topps, they changed appearance somewhat after a few years, and there was that awful movie based on Valerie Vomit, Windy Winston, and a handful of others. But was there more to the story?
Yes, and surprisingly so. For instance, Garbage Pail Kids were the co-creation of Art Spiegelman and Mark Newgarden. I managed an actual double take upon realizing that this was the same Art Spiegelman who drew the award-winning Maus comic, having read that story some years ago. John Pound did the art for the initial and most iconic early characters of the series, and I really enjoyed hearing his want to transition from fantasy art to creating silly and funny pieces. Other prominent artists during those early days were Tom Bunk, Jay Lynch and James Warhola, the latter being the nephew of Andy Warhol. I also hadn’t realized that all of the Garbage Pail Kids illustrations were hand painted art, many of which go for thousands upon thousands of dollars.
I found the documentary to be as lively and entertaining as the cards it focused on. It went deep into the history of concepts, the phenomenon aspects, the expansion past its bubble gum card roots, and of course the Xavier Roberts related lawsuit for being just a little too close to Cabbage Patch Kids.
The documentary also focused on the oddball Garbage Pail Kids movie, going behind the scenes with both Mackenzie Astin, as well as many of the actors who played the kids. Everything about the film made it seem ever more surreal than it already is. I also learned that there had been plans for a Saturday morning cartoon planned for Garbage Pail Kids, but safety groups, such as Action for Children’s Television, Christian Leaders for Responsible Television, and the National Coalition on Television Violence protested until it was taken off air… with options to make a financial donation to their cause, because of course they would. While the documentary was unable to show any of the animation, a DVD set of the series did come out in 2006.
30 Years of Garbage is a great look into the counterculture movement that Garbage Pail Kids proudly took part in. It’s a loving tribute to not only the hundreds of cards that the series spawned, but also the talented artists that brought them to life. One of the highlights of the documentary were some of the kids in the interviews, and how those little cards still manage to retain an endearing pull despite the endless apps of this digital age. Seeing boys and girls crinkle their faces up in gleeful disgust over some of their favorite cards, brought me back to a moment in time where Dead Ted and Tee-Vee Stevie adorned my own Trapper Keeper, while masterfully trying to keep them out of prying teacher’s hands (I never lost a Kid to that desk).
As a documentary, 30 Years of Garbage is a surprisingly in-depth film that surprised me with a lot of new facts about a subject I thought I knew, allowed me to hear the origin stories firsthand, and view their worth in today’s world. As it turns out, Garbage Pail Kids have never really left us. They’ve been under our noses this whole time.
And they still smell faintly of bubble gum….