1. First, what was it that
brought you into cartooning, who influenced you the most?
Harvey Kurtzman and MAD magazine is the reason I'm a cartoonist. Only wanted to be a cartoonist all my life, although maybe a fireman or something for a little while as a kid, the normal stuff, but I've always wanted to be a cartoonist as far back as I can remember. And then I found MAD, which was actually in the paperback editions of the earlier comic book version of MAD ... just luck.
2. Skipping forward a couple of decades; let's talk specifically about GPK. When that series launched, we've all read the stories about how it was a Wacky Packages that got commissioned as a GPK, then all of a sudden it was rushed off as its own series... can you talk about exactly when you ...?
That's not exactly the way I remember it. Did you ever see the book that Abrams did of the Garbage Pail Kids?
I did, I have read it ... it was a little while ago.
Okay. It was almost parallel and coincidental that Garbage Pail Kids was being made as a Wacky Packs or a very late series of those; when you're backed into doing Garbage Pail Kids as the series in that ... As I think that I outlined in that short piece that was at the front of the Garbage Pail Kids book, Topps had actually tried to get a license to do Cabbage Patch Kid dolls as a sticker series. As I remember it, the price being asked was very high for what Topps considered manageable. Then, everybody shrugged and said, "Well, I guess we're not going to do that."
Then, one of the people who worked at Topps named Stan Hart, who actually was a writer for the later version of MAD Magazine and worked on ... what was it ... I think the Carol Burnett Show, a TV show at the time; and was son-in-law of the head of Topps. He said, "Well, let's do a knock-off. Let's do a parody."
Nobody knew what he meant. Just, nobody knew what he was talking about, "Like a parody, that would be just one picture?"
"No. No. Just do a series."
"What would that be?"
"You figure it out." Left us flummoxed.
Stan [Hart] just came in once a week. That was... I don't know what year that was. I just went backwards from how long it takes to produce a gum card series, I guess. Whatever year that was happening in, it left us slumped. It wasn't obvious that it had to be a series. It wasn't obvious what it should look like. We were in charge of it ... Stan Hart wandered off on his white cloud. Len Brown, me, an assistant, Mark Newgarden, a couple of other people tried to figure out what that could possibly be.
For a few weeks there, what I remember
was assigning different artists to do some of this parody of the Cabbage Patch
Kid dolls. One thing I figured could work was naming these things. That was
... Cabbage Patch Kids came with their own certificate of authenticity like
a birth certificate and had specific names. A much younger Topps had had several
series that just were weird monster sticker-like things that looked like they
were done by Dallas and Woodward. They just had a first name on them. That
had been very popular. We did a few follow-ups there. That seemed like a natural
approach to move in that direction and say, "We'll have the dolls and
have names on them."
Okay. Are you referring to the Ugly Stickers?
Yeah. Among others. There was a number of others that weren't as successful or popular like Wanted Stickers and you'd put a name down. Things like that. It was built on that notion that kids would want a sticker with a name on it.
It wasn't even any more elaborate than just whatever Jason Sam did on art, written on a goofy looking picture. We tried several artists, one I remember was Bob Grossman. Nothing was looking right at all. Then, there was ... Ultimately, John Pound did one. That wasn't looking quite right either. Art called him to talk about this thing; and frankly just asked him to make it look more like a Cabbage Patch face. The parody would make more sense to go out and get one of these dolls and look at it carefully. While he was doing that, what Mark is stuck thinking of was what he had done for Wacky Packs. It was called Garbage Pail Kids. I don't even know if that's the way the name came to pass. I don't quite remember. There's a certain kind of math in doing Wacky Packs. If you can tie it to terms. You have to parody it. You can call it "Fit to be Tied," T-I-E-D or "TOAD Detergent for Cleaning Your Pet." There are only a few kind of words that match up and have a few words that have something amusing about them in relation to the original. Ajax, I think, became "Ajerks", and so on and so on.
Once we got a little closer to what actually would work, I remember I came up with a head that was exploding, with an a-bomb mushroom cloud coming out from the top of his head. I think, after looking back, t hat was first in my mind, what I had said in the book; I think the second one was ... became Leaky Lindsay or Bony Joanie, one of those two. If you can come up with a couple, at least the series was at least somewhat manageable. You can make it as a series. At that point, we were off to the races. I had no idea it would be that well-received. Like I said, we'd done many sticker series that didn't go very far.
'FRANKIE' CHARACTER BY GARY GERANI (FINAL IMAGE BY MAE JEON; BOTH IN-HOUSE) & 'NED' CHARACTER SKETCH BY ART SPIEGELMAN
3. Exactly. We hear and obviously
we know about yourself. I've read about the gentleman you've talked about,
Stan Hart. Obviously, Mark Newgarden, I've spoken with him numerous times.
John Pound, Tom Bunk, Jay Lynch, all of those folks. Who were the folks that
we don't know about. Who were the influential people behind the scenes? For
example, your wife, hugely influential in the comic world. Somebody like that.
She had nothing to do with this. Len Brown was an important part of Topps at that point. He was nominally the creative head of our department. We are going back to when I first joined up in the 1960's, probably. He would be a sounding board. We'd work together and talk about how to make it happen. Then ongoing ... certainly in the first series, the gags, the visual gags and the naming became these punks had names attached to them. That was just me and Mark Newgarden sitting in a rather homely office room together and just making lists, seeing what would happen; sometimes making rough sketches. It wasn't clear what we were talking about. In the first series, at least John did, as I recall, all of the fronts of these things. The other [artist] that you didn't mention that I'm remembering is James Warhola. I don't know if you've spoken with him ever?
Yeah. I've spoken with him.
Yeah. I think you've probably got the major suspects that were involved in this. In terms of influence, that goes back to Wolverton, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman and people who had done earlier series of stickers. Certainly, the artists making me want these cartoons at a tender age.
4. Yeah, Harvey Kurtzman, what a legend -- well, like yourself though. What was the earliest moment, the moment you realized, this GPK thing, it's for real. It's going. Do you really recall that seminal moment? What was it?
Well, in the creation process it was ... okay, if we have three gags, we can have fifty. In the way it got perceived, it wasn't anything specific except it was going fast enough. Just when I went, "Whew. Glad that's over.", it was like, "We need a second series!" Here we go again. Eventually, it was obvious that John couldn't do all of them. Artists were coming as soon as we could find them. The backs, you probably know better than me; when we stuck to puzzles on the back. That was 2nd or 3rd series. That's like when [ed. note: Tom Bunk and later] Jay Lynch got rather involved in it as well.
In terms of when it became an item, you probably have this all fresher in your head than I do. I know that it was becoming a scandal in schools. Certain schools in States were trying to ban them. There was an editorial that appeared about how Garbage Pail Kids were this pernicious, destructive force that will corrupt children. That editorial, I can't remember what it said. It was a column in a paper. It wasn't from New York. I don't remember where it came from. It was the warning bell that A, this is a little bit dicey and dangerous; and B, man, that columnist, whoever it was, made it a phenomenon. Do you remember? Do you know who I'm talking about, that far in the history of GPK. I can't remember which column it was.
Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Certainly. That article's quite famous. I have it clipped somewhere in my collection. Absolutely, I've read it 100 times I think.
When you've talked to people about all this, have you talked to Len Brown?
Len Brown is harder to get a hold of than you. I have failed at every attempt to get a hold of him.
Really? Let me try and give you ... Let me see if I have his email and phone number. Let me see what I have in my address book here... XXX-XXX-XXXX. He lives in Texas. Let me see, if I open up my mail. Let me see if I can do a search on him.
That's my area code when I grew up. He's in the Austin, San Marcos, Texas area. That's unbelievable.
Absolutely, he's been there for many years. Yeah. He does a country music radio show for the internet somewhere from his home. Let me now just see if he's still showing up on my email. One moment. Yeah, Len Brown. Okay. This is it. XXXXXXXX@XXXX.com. That was October 2015. It's probably still good.
RAW: ALTERNATIVE COMIC MOVEMENT; EDITOR FROM 1980 - 1991 ('MAUS' PUBLISHED SERIALLY)
5. Thank you for that, that's very helpful. I'll get a hold of him. Tell me real quick -- did you enjoy doing the Garbage Pail Kids? I know you talk to Jay ... Like you said it's all about the buck. It was just a job. I can see how that would probably be what it was...
I liked that job. It was fun. On the other hand, one of the things is if you start drilling me really close to tell you the way I did it, it was just kind of a dream-fuzed-state-zone, subway out to 36, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, at times it had a pretty funky neighborhood. If you ask me, incidentally, when I knew it was a phenomenon; I'd take a look back at the old notebooks to see an old sketch or drawing... I knew I had to come in [to the office] two, even three days a week rather than one. This was an emergency to get more and more of the series out while it was really hot. For me, it was just I go in and I just do it. After awhile, it got to be more like tearing one's hair out. There's a finite, although large pool of possible ways to distort a head and torture a doll. It became harder and harder as the series went on to do something we hadn't done before.
6. I asked Brent Engstrom, who is one of today's primary Garbage Pail Kid artists, what would he ask you. He asked: "... If he has ideas for new Garbage Pail Kids, would he ever consider returning to [submit] them?"
Yeah. I've never painted any of them. I did very rough sketches, like first off scrolls. I had a notebook that had some of them on it at some point. Basically, what the content would be in general. That fell more onto Mark [Newgarden] to take care of the backs of the cards. He was there like four or five days a week. I was there one, two or three. I never painted any. I kinda say, "You can't go home again." I know I got the call from ... what's his name ... nice fellow who took over after Len Brown?
Len Brown. Oh. After. Jeff Zapata?
No. He was more like from the business side. Let me see if I can find it by just putting "Topps" into my email and see what comes up besides you. Oh, gosh. I tried "Garbage Pail Kids" or "GPK." There's a man who's very nice ... Ira? Let me type Ira into my Gmail. I go through Gmail when you've lost your memory. I-R-A. Ira Friedman. He was probably Jeff's boss and co-equal. I don't know how the corporate structure worked after I split.
7. That's interesting. He just wanted to get you back involved somehow?
He wanted to welcome me back in. I believe he was there when I was there. I know he was there while I was there. I think he was there while all the Garbage Pail Kids stuff was going on. He wanted me to get involved. He didn't know if it was going to be a comic book or something. Do a cover. Do a strip. Do something. That's when I thought about it for a little while. I went, "Well, gee. You can't go home again. I think I'm gonna open some other part in my life now." [ed. note: this was during the All-New series planning in 2002/2003]
8. Yeah, absolutely. I understand that completely. Great, thank you for that; that's a really fascinating backstory. What was ... If you had to identify ... there were 600-plus of these paintings in the 15 series that they ran ... 16 if you count the ones that weren't published in that last series, right when you were leaving. Do you recall any of the pieces that you really loved in particular?
Actually, no. I can go through the first 3 series ... Abrams' book said ... I remember ... Somebody asked me recently if I worked on the Mona Lisa one and I frankly cannot remember. We worked with whomever ... you only had to do so many sit down sessions. When I'd come in and you'd get to have a series within two months or whatever it would be. That's coming up with a certain number of images each time. Certainly after the first few for me at least, it was a blur. I don't have one of those photographic memories, never did.
It would be like, one of us would
say, "Mona Lisa. All right. Mona Lisa. That's good." I believe Uncle
Sam sticking his finger up his nose was one of mine. I was happy with that.
I wouldn't swear to it in court. It wasn't done that way. It was really just
back and forth, bouncing around and see what out of what we had, what the
best was. After that, it would be another session of, "Okay. Here are
the paintings. We have to find names we can match with them." I don't
remember if Uncle Sam was called Sammy Snooter, something like that.
9. Snooty Sam, yeah. Do you know why series 16 was never published? Do you know what happened to those paintings? It's a mystery to this day. They're all gone.
No idea. No idea at all. A lot of that stuff got sold off at some point at a big auction. That auction led to my leaving [Topps], but I don't know what series we were up to when that happened, frankly. I believe much of it was pilfered by employees. You can certainly ask the question of Mark [Newgarden]. I think he may [be able to] help you. I have no idea. Some of the earlier things, things like Iron-On stickers that had large size stickers that had Garbage Pail Kid imagery was one of items. This was an auction that Christie's had primarily to sell memorabilia and make sure that when they went over the million-dollar mark, they would have auctioned off other Topps items. Even though they said they couldn't return artwork to the artists. They needed it to print future series or keep it in their archives.
This is my next appointment. I have to get the doorbell. When that person comes in I have to cut off. I'm sorry!