2. Do you recall how you found
work at the Topps Company during that time -- any specific contact or person
that may have seen your work and asked to interview you? Was this job specifically
for Garbage Pail Kids (GPK)?
Nick Meglin, an editor at MAD recommended me to Len Brown at Topps. I think they sort of had an artistic pipeline when someone needed an artist. I had no idea why I was going way out to Brooklyn to show a portfolio. Meeting everyone that first day was a bit surreal being that it was a dingy old factory area, I thought that I left that world back in Pittsburgh. Len took me through a maze of dingy hallways to a room to meet Mark Newgarden and Art Spiegelman. It was like a darkroom with these 3 guys hovering over me in a spotlight very film noire. After I showed them my stuff they showed me what they were working on. I couldn't help but think with all the snot and vomit that it'd be a big step backwards from what I normally did. I thought I knew Topps well, as a kid I collected everything but these new cards were crazy. I agreed to give one of the ideas a try but really all the signs were negative I even remember riding the subway back to Manhattan with fresh gum on my shoe. A few days later I was back in their office with a finished piece and they all liked it. More importantly I really got into it. I suppose I filled their workload by becoming the 3rd artist besides Tom Bunk and John Pound. I ended up doing about 10 pieces for that first series..Series 6.
One note about John Pound - to me
he was and always will be the 'GPK Master' The more I looked at his art the
more I realized it was just impossible to attain his level of brilliance
design, the technique, the ideas, - saying the most with so little, just great.
Instead of emulating his art style I just had to accept that I was a different
artist. Also, since I worked in oil paint I couldn't use an airbrush and detail
might have been more difficult. Art and Mark did a great job at art directing
Tom Bunk and I into some uniformity but really John Pound's work always hit
the nail on the head.
The big turning point was the Cabbage
Patch 'settlement'. Up to that point life was fantastic!
but after that
agreement we got word that the look would change 'a little'. Tom Bunk did
new model sheets that showed the new GPK look - the characters now were to
look like they were made of plastic with elbow joints and cracks...not soft
and fleshy as before. Speaking for myself
I thought the new look was
terrible! a total bummer. To me they just didn't seem real anymore
one too many steps from reality, nothing like the old look. That was probably
the beginning of the end or at least a turning point. I'm sure the kids picked
up on it. I made the best of it as one does do satisfy a client but the shift
killed some enthusiasm. As for my work load I always had other jobs
alien barroom scenes, dragons, spacemen, etc etc and
too. As GPK started to wined down, my other jobs filled in my schedule. I
also started doing kids books which meant something different - a royalty,
unheard of in other parts of the illustration field.
OS6: 213, 214, 216,
231, 232, 233, 241, 244, 246, 248
OS7: 252, 262, 268, 272, 273, 274, 279, 281, 290, 291, 292
OS8: 294, 295, 296, 297, 308, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 334
OS9: 340, 351, 361, 364, 372, 373, 377
OS10: 380, 381, 382, 398, 402, 404, 405, 406, 410, 411
OS11: 420, 425, 432, 433, 437, 441, 442, 443, 447, 452, 453, 455, 459
OS12: 460, 463, 474, 475, 476, 478, 483, 485, 486, 492, 495, 497
OS13: 504, 522, 526
POSTER: 10, 12, 13
According to James Warhola's study-in-dinosuars for cards 425a DENNY Saur and 425b RIP Tile a thumbnail sketch shows the dinosaur Kid and a note by Warhola that the urine should be 'very green pee'. James would oftentimes meet up with Art Spiegelman, who also lived in New York, to go over concepts in person over food and drink. The character in the boat scenerio, riding the wave of pee, stayed in the scene from start to finish. Spiegelman questioned whether the urine should be green or blue; as the color rough demonstrates, the color blue was chosen and the dinasuar was initially the color green. Art also noted that one of the buildings should look like a fire hydrant (a canine gag) and the building does take this form for the final artwork, but I'm not sure the joke comes through. In the end, the dinasuar Kid became a brown and flesh-colored 'reptile' where the tail is not in view and the character's face becomes cheerful.
My family loved my GPK work as they
had with all of my work for MAD magazine. It was mainstream and mass
produced. I was a hit with all my nephews and nieces. The experience though
short-lived as it was, was incredible! I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
It was underground humor for kids - something despised by most adults. I don't
think its ever happened before and can ever be repeated. The idea found the
perfect time and place and the right creative bunch to make it all happen
- Mark, John, Art, Jay, Tom and Len. I was just very fortunate to go along
for the ride.
5. Speaking of family, your uncle, Andy Warhol, was of course a renowned leading figure in the visual art movement, especially in New York City and reviving 1960s pop art what were his thoughts on your chosen career and his feelings on you working for Topps on the GPK images? I have seen larger-than-life surreal images in your art studio that come to mind what influenced those?
As for career advice, my Uncle Andy
tried to persuade me to go into something different - either photography or
film directing. His thoughts was that illustration was a dying profession.
He was right to a certain extent - the need for illustrators was a downward
spiral. Of course I didn't listen and went my own way and became an illustrator
as he had. He still grooved with everything that I did - the sic-fi / fantasy/
and the Garbage Pail Kids. He thought
it was all great. He came from an illustration background so he was always
tapped into the mass media. It set him apart from most of the other big contemporary
artists making him like an oracle mirroring our popular culture back to us
in the form of FineArt. Yes, he was especially intrigued with my GPK work.
He loved things that hit a nerve and the GPK's certainly did that. One of
his comments was that the small 5 x 7 paintings were too small
tI try doing them big so they can be hung on walls by rich people. He always
thought big. It took me a while but I finally took his advise and in recent
years started making my images larger than life, not 5 by 7 inches but 5 feet
by 7 feet. To my surprise it kind of works - making something lowbrow and
mass produced into something highbrow. Could it be like making a boring old
soup can into something important. Maybe. I have no idea where these large
paintings will take me but I'm having a helluva lot of fun doing them. [ed.
I never offered any of my own concept
ideas. I stuck to their system they had in place - Mark and Art giving me
the gags and I focused on designing and painting. They never seem to be short
of ideas, their creative flow was great. You name it they were coming up with
it. Brainstorming at its best. There may have been a few times that my interpretation
may have been too literal or I may have had a hard time seeing the humor
Didn't happen too often. They'd rework the idea or try giving it to either
Tom or John. At first the ideas were just thoughts and words, then they went
into a doodle stage, then I'd sketch it out and if it passed mustard I'd get
the go-ahead on a finish. Each card had a life of it's own. At the idea stage
everything was up for criticism, all for the purpose of making them better.
The only things I have from the early
series are the sketches, tissues and some of Art's and Mark's doodles. Unfortunately
not one final painting. Yes, Topps kept all the finals. I suppose at the time
it didn't bother me. As a beginning artist I was just happy to get work so
I accepted any terms thrown at me. The same went for MAD magazine,
they insisted on keeping the original artwork. That policy changed in the
early 90's and then artwork was returned. Though there was a big difference
with MAD. When MAD put everything up for auction at Sotheby's,
they were gracious enough to split the profits with all the artists. That
didn't happen with Topps. They didn't feel any gratitude toward the artists
that helped make it all happen for them. I guess generosity wasn't quite their
thing unless maybe you were an executive.
I think I was first contacted out
of the blue by John Williams
he asked me if I'd do a few. He caught
me in between book jobs so I had fun doing them like in the old days. Of course
it helped that the pay was better and the artist kept the art! At some point
I started working with Jeff Zapata but my memory is lacking as to who was
who over the phone.
9. This period was a very short-lived
freelance job for Topps where you created less than 15 new pieces; was other
work keeping you from working on more? And, was it different working with
a whole new group at Topps?
Actually I was up for as many as they would give me. I think they divvied up the gags as they wanted. I had no clue who the other artists were or who was doing what. I did change my medium to acrylics and tempera. I stopped working in oils several years before. It was definitely a better change not to wait long for paint to dry.
1, 21, 31, 35
ANS3: 9, 12, 16, 18, 27, 34, S10
ANS4: 19, 21, B8
The following unpublished piece by James Warhola is rumored to have been intended for the 14th Series set, but was most likely rejected prior to this release. Artwork that the higher-ups at Topps found questionable in taste were held back and often resubmitted in future sets to see if the paintings could be 'snuck' in for a later release. The last, largest contribution from Warhola for the 1988 GPK sets was for the 12th Series set and three pieces for the 13th Series set. Only one final artwork image made it into the 14th and 16th Series sets each and were most likely images held back and re-submitted by the NPD Department. Warhola had this to say about the piece: "Yes it's one of my rare 'not in the mood' pieces, I think I was moving out of the city and was rushed, thus the slightly different style. [The painting] is oils and of course no one else used oils except me" (April 2016). The piece does feel 'off' and not one of Warhola's strongest offerings, but as mentioned, he was moving out of NYC physically and quite busy. Mark Newgarden, one of the art directors for the set, mentioned no dates were located of when this piece was planned or completed but "the sketch notes call for a few of the coils and food splashes, but James really went overboard here. I'm guessing that 'Yes', it probably sat around for quite awhile."
Likewise, great meeting you also at the premier. Loved the movie, very well done! Doesn't seem like 30 years, really its like yesterday.
The children's picture books have
pretty much tapered off and for the last several years I've been doing art
for art's sake. I still like telling a story so I hope to keep my hand in
the narrative. Presently I have a show out of the blue this September in Bratislava,
Slovakia. It's a Warhol/Warhola show and besides my uncle's and my work from
my books it'll feature four of my large GPK inspired paintings. Hard to say
how those Eastern Europeans will view it but it certainly should be interesting.
I think with the way the state of the world is at the moment it certainly
could use a good dose of raw humor.