1. Prior to your freelance artwork for Topps that started in 1986, what did your art education/schooling and work résumé look like up to that point as you carved your artistic path in life?
Life started for me in Pittsburgh. I attended Carnegie-Mellon and upon graduating with a design degree I went to NYC and studied at the Art Students League. There I really learned to paint - same place where all the greats went - Rockwell, Rothko and Hopper. I also discovered that paperback covers was a great niche for artists pursuing good traditional painting. In those several years of being a student and freelance illustrator (before the Garbage Pail Kids) I did a lot of everything but mostly sci-fi/ fantasy paperback covers. As things go, I was pleasantly sidetracked when I joined the 'usual gang of idiots' at MAD Magazine. For MAD I did covers and interiors and laughed a lot more while working. My medium was oils and they afforded me longer deadlines which helped in paint drying.
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)?
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
the 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 original and final artwork piece for 6th Series cards 248a HECTOR Collector and 248b G.P. KAY was completed by John Pound and James Warhola, respectively. Pound's character, pictured to the left, was completed before the 6th Series release and was originally intended for the 5th Series release, but was later re-painted by newcomer Warhola, pictured to the right, as a test piece for painting Garbage Pail Kids by the NPD department. Unlike the rendition completed by Warhola with nine GPK sticker images there are no distinguishable GPK images from the previous sets that can be found on Pound's artwork containing sixteen GPK stickers.
The artwork for the 6th Series cards 233a WES Mess and 233b Trash-Can KEN, painted by James Warhola, was based off of the Vertumnus piece created by Giuseppe Arcimboldo in 1590. Per Roman mythology, Vertumnus is the God of seasons, gardens, plant growth, fruit trees, etc. The Vertumnus painting itself was based on the Holy Roman Emperor (1576 - 1612) Rudolf II whom greatly appreciated the piece.
3. You worked on the original GPK sets from the 6th Series set to roughly the 13th Series set in early 1988 (card number chart attached below), where I believe the single artwork pieces stuck into the 14th and 15th series sets were carry-over images that were previously unpublished please correct me if Im wrong, like #645 Handy MANDY for the 16th Series set. Do you remember this gradual decrease in work for Topps, and was this your decision to move on from the project?
The big turning point was the
Cabbage Patch 'settlement'. Up to that point life was fantastic!
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
the new look was terrible! a total bummer. To me they just didn't seem
maybe 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
MAD assignments 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.
There are several Unpublished Garbage Pail Kids paintings from 1987 intended for the 10th Series set including two by artist James Warhola; a kid being branded and a brick being tossed through a stained glass window. An artwork chart is listed below for Warhola's completed Original Series pieces.
213, 214, 216, 231, 232, 233, 241, 244, 246, 248
4. Looking back, during that year and a half you worked for Topps, the experience must have flown by. With this same time period in mind, how did you feel about working on GPK at the beginning, during the middle, and at the end? Were your friends and family supportive, and/or was this a means to a paycheck?
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/ MAD assignments
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
he suggested I 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 advice 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. note: see
See the highbrow version of the 7th Series image 273a Haunted FORREST and 273b Sappy SARAH pictured at the top of this interview page along with artist James Warhola; which includes one of his uncle Andy Warhol's iconic 'Campbell's Soup Cans'. The trading card image is pictured below for reference.
Artist James Warhola completed the first final artwork piece for 9th Series cards 346a Peeled PAUL and 346b Skin LES prior to the New Product Development (NPD) team at Topps having John Pound paint a different, alternate version for the printed card. Per Mark Newgarden: "The consensus was, it just wasn't working. Compare it to John's and you can see why. Definitely a tough concept to solve. Even John's doesn't read if silhouetted. What's unusual is that we went this far and then started all over again with another artist." In previous sets, John Pound's tight pencil or final artwork was used for new GPK artists coming on board to mimic; this was a reversal, bringing in Pound to solve the concept. Newgarden has the number '14' circled on the artwork -- possibly for the fourteenth final artwork piece turned in for the 9th Series set and the artist's initials circled 'JW' along with several potential card names including; Raw RON, CURT Shirt, Inside OTTO and Peeled PAYNE. Without the closet of skins in the background (and nomenclature) the concept wouldn't read with Warhola's finished product; the character is simply removing an "outfit". Compared to Pound's piece, with different footing and hand placement, John adds another layer of humor by making the character accidentally tearing his "outfit" while removing it, thus, putting that closet of skins to good use.
6. Did you often come up with your own GPK concepts, or was it collaborative with Art [Spiegelman] and Mark [Newgarden]? Were there any concepts you plainly shook your head at and refused to do?
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
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.
Artist James Warhola was the third largest contributor to GPK during the original releases. Warhola's pencil art for 12th Series cards 486a Chiseler CHAD and 486b JULIUS Sneezer can be found littered with notes by either Art Spiegelman or Mark Newgarden along with his own notations; James lived in NYC and was able to visit the Topps office or meet up with Art in the city to go over concepts, etc. Comments were jotted on the sidelines pointing out a 'Skylight' at the top of the picture and that the farthest sculputure was a 'H. Moore Type'; this may have been a dedication to Henry Moore (an English sculptor/artist) who passed away in August of 1986 who created sculptures of abstract human form. The other two statues are The Thinker (Le Penseur) by Auguste Rodin, a French sculptor, and David, a Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo. Additional notes mention a 'Younger Kid, full profile, chipping at sculpture' where a chisel and hammer were added to the artwork, to add 'More goo' to the main sculpture and that the 'Back statues will be the same green slime color as his present work".
The color rough for James Warhola's artwork for 13th Series cards 504a COOPER Scooper and 504b JESS Desserts went through several changes from start to finish. Besides a drastic change in clothing and a hat added, the character's tongue has been removed for the final artwork; from the picture, the left arm/hand does not show up on card and the left eye is missing (instead of the right eye). The layout of the picture became horizontal with a neighborhood and ice cream truck added to the artwork. It is interesting to point out that part of The Eyescream Boy title shows up in the artwork as the name of the ice cream truck.
8. Do you remember who contacted you from Topps for the All-New releases that started in 2003? Were you happy to jump back onto the GPK bandwagon for the ANS2 set released in 2004?
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?
The All-New Series 2 final artwork image for cards 1a Peg Leg GREG and 1b JUSTIN Timber Leg by Warhola. An artwork chart is listed below for Warhola's completed All-New Series pieces.
1, 21, 31, 35
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.