Messy Mario, aka Lewd Luigi

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

I guess now would be a good time to talk about the recently passed New York Comic Con 2012, right? Not quite yet. Instead, let’s take a look at something that went down a few days prior: I was invited by Topps to check out the official unveiling of Garbage Pail Kids’ Brand New Series?

The event was a roundtable conducted by GPK’s primary architects these days, with the standout representative being James Worhola, one of the original contributors from the original series. He was essentially the third person to be brought into the fold, to assist John Pound and Tom Bunk, who were the two artists that fleshed out Art Spiegelman’s vision for the cards.

A number of subjects were touched upon, starting with the creative process, which has evolved over the years. There’s now a team of writers and artists (one of whom I personally know) that contributes ideas and concepts. Which requires knowing the history of the franchise. In particular, what gags have been done already.

Which is a lot. Especially since there’s over 1,000 Garbage Pail Kids in existence. The proposed gags are then edited and approved by the creative director and his team, who then assigns artists to flesh them out. Worhola mentioned how these days, he spends less time coming up with his own ideas and mostly prefers illustrating those from others.

The inherent appeal and worth of the cards were next explained. Specifically, what makes them work. Which is their clever, witty, and most importantly, rebellious spirit. It’s just nice for kids to have something that speaks a certain language that can understand first. It’s also fairly important.

The “tension between cute and weird” as Worhola put it, is quite the delicate balancing act. Not touched upon directly at the event, but which I knew beforehand, was how the previous reboot went overboard with the grossness, which turned many people off. It would seem that this new series is an attempt at getting GPK back on track?

And the representatives made it clear that Topps listens very closely to their fans; they were quite boastful of how active their Facebook community is. Though it begs the question, which wasn’t addressed directly: what kinds of people are these, who are still buying their cards.

Again, since I’m somewhat knowledgeable of the subject, thanks to friends and all, I knew already that it’s not just kids who are into GPK these days, but fans of the original series with fond memories, and who are now serious collectors. And whom the social outreach appears to be aimed at.

Part of the Brand New Series is a sweepstake, in which the winner will be turned into a Garbage Pail Kid, something that everyone wants to be a part of. Indeed, when I was collecting the cards as a kid, I was especially jazzed whenever a Matt or Matthew came up. Until others used the gags as fodder against myself.

The winner of the contest will be part of the upcoming second Brand New Series base card set, which is already in the works. As Warhola noted, despite over 1,000 GPKs underneath their belt, there’s plenty of territory left to traverse. Often a gag will come up and they’d state: “We never did that? That’s so obvious!”

Back to the first Brand New Series; a special thing this time is a series of cards centered on Adam Bomb, who is essentially the Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny of the Garbage Pail Kids. It’s basically him depicting famous disasters throughout time?

You also have motion cards that animates other popular characters, plus the ability to make your own Kids by mixing and matching parts. Along with sketch cards, original pencil drawings by actual GPK artists, that are randomly distributed. Plus actual pieces of the printing plates used to make the cards. Again, this is the stuff collectors go gaga for, who comprise a fairly important part of their customer base. Virtually everything is done to appeal to them, for better or worse.

Eventually came time for questions. First I asked Worhola when he thought Garbage Pail Kids hit its creative stride, back in the day. He responded with the 4th and 5th series, which is what most GPK aficionados believe as well. As for if it’s harder back then or now to get away with content, everyone answered that it was much more difficult these days, without question.

Everyone is just so politically correct these days. On one hand, kids are exposed to much more that when we were growing up, so it’s slightly more difficult to shock them. But on the other, kids are also more sheltered, and parents are much more conservative. It’s also why GKP can only really work as cards, as physical objects.

The current craze is to make everything an app, and while Topps has their sights on that marketplace, they know actual cards will always be where it?s at. Because kids have total ownership of them, and can do with what they please, including the ability to hide them. Whereas, if it was something digital, on a device with parental controls? it just wouldn’t be the same.

Oh, and you also can’t trade digital, as pointed out several times. Plus there’s just that timeless quality of opening a pack you purchased at the store and being surprised. Which could be replicated on an iPhone screen, but not fully.

I also wondered what happened to the jokes that are too much for the final product. Topps had success earlier this year with a coffee table book that reproduced art from the first series, and asked if they would ever consider doing the same for the aforementioned reject concepts, especially since its mostly adults who buy such things. They’re taking the idea under advisement!

As noted, the first attempt at a GPK revival, known as the All New Series, was heavy on the gross out. Fun-fact: the initial All New Series (from 2003) was mostly rejected material from the 16th Original Series that never went into production (and which would have happened in 1988 or 1989). Some were cool, while others exhibited the main reason why the cards were cancelled originally: they were clearly from the time in which the formula had long run out of steam.

The All New Series lasted seven waves (which as followed by the Flashback, a three wave long offshoot that mostly contemporary takes on classic characters). I have a few from the entire ANS run, and again, some cards are better than others. One goal for the second attempt at a GPK revival, officially acknowledged as the Brand New Series, was to embody more of the sprit of the fifteen waves that comprised The Original Series (spanning 1985-1988). This includes more topical references?

There’s even a few nods to video games! Both the classics?

And more modern fare?

In the end, I was thrilled to have met someone who was a major part of my childhood; also got the chance to chat with Worhola afterward, and he was a super nice guy! I even got the chance to actually handle some original artwork for the new cards?

As a parting gift, I was given a few packs, and was delighted to discover that one of my favorites when checking out the uncut sheet was includes, this great reference to Occupy Wall Street?

Here’s a closer look at Atom Bomb, through history?

I even managed to snag a sketch card from Worhola!

So, what do I think of this latest revamp, overall? Hey, I’m a GPK fan at heart (and totally didn’t realize how strong my fondness still is, until that very morning) and am pleased overall that they’re back. Furthermore, I enjoy the BNS cards considerably more so than the ANS. Yet things are far from perfect. One major reason why the ANS bombed was because collectors were fed up with the dumb tricks that Topps tried to pull. Which are being employed once more.

While it’s nice to think that an all new generation is discovering Garbage Pail Kids for the very first time, the bottom-line is how collectors are the ones keeping things going primarily. Whom Topps are eager to capitalize the most, by creating all kinds of wacky conditions that are needed to ensure a complete set, which collectors obviously desire.

This includes multiple variants of the same card, but with slightly different borders. Which is still happening; I didn’t take any pictures of any such examples, mostly due to them being so dumb. They’re basically just regular cards, but instead of a white border, there’s a gray one. And a green one. And a brown one. Yay. It’s such an obvious cash grab that it teeters between flat out disgusting and just plain embarrassing.

Collectors eventually got sick of the shenanigans and eventually stopped supporting the ANS, and if Topps is not careful, the BNS might have the same fate. Which would definitely suck. Though on the positive side of things are the new GPK Reality TV gags on the back. Which is the handiwork of Joe, along with his wife June?

BTW, for those who want a more extensive look at the history of Garbage Pail Kids, I would heartily recommend Barren Aaron’s Garbage Pail Kids World. Not only is there literally a mountain of info, everything is presented in clear, accessible manner (which cannot be said for most other GPK fan sites).

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/FREPJ4ETUUQAJ5XCJBJUYZREZQ ADAM

    Great Article! Thank you so much for sharing what you saw at this event.

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