Garbage Pail Kids was the biggest collector's item of the 1980s. Here's how a bunch of underground cartoonists
satirized popular dolls and inspired an entire generation of youth to become collectors.

January 8, 2020 Anders Landén




How did the love for GPK start? How old were you then (and how old are you now)?
Were you early or late compared to friends?

My infatuation with Garbage Pail Kids started at the beginning of junior high school (högstadiet), during seventh grade, in the Autumn of 1985 - I must've been around 12yo. Most GPK collectors I know now were in grade school (mellanstadiet) at the time, but I was a bit older. One day, heading home from school I noticed two kids really into some trading cards in the seat in front of me on the bus, I leaned forward to get a better look and I was blown away by what I saw; they turned out to be 2nd Series GPK cards. I was instantly wowed and won over; that obsession has lasted 35 years!

Do you remember a scene of when you bought/got your first cards?
Where did you grow up (where do you live now)?

At the time, I was living in Colona, IL, a small town outside of the Quad Cities where I grew up - where my wonder years occurred during the '80s - my brother, Jason, and I begged our mom to take us to the closest Toys"R"Us to locate the cards. We both spent our saved allowance to purchase $10 worth of packs and I remember still needing the 'MATT Ratt' character to complete my set, even after trading with my brother. I currently reside in Denver, CO and have been out here for more than 20 years, but looking to relocate back to my home state in 2020.

Why do you think it was such a hype?
Why did they work on every kid?
Do you remember a scene that caught the hype?

I grew up with an older brother having Wacky Packages stuck to his bed board, step siblings that collected MAD magazine, and friends (along with myself) that listened to 'Weird Al' Yankovic, so the idea of parody and satire was firmly embedded into my head already by the time GPK were released - therefore, there was this instant connection with these sticker images that were poking fun at the very popular Cabbage Patch Kids dolls at the time; I'm sure it was very similar for other kids. Plus, they became a hot commodity the moment parental figures were against them and the more news reports and articles mentioned the cards being banned from schools.

It was that perfect period between prepubescence and adolescence, where you didn't know the meaning of counterculture, but enjoyed the idea of coolness (GPK) up against, and at odds with, cuteness (CPK), and your parents and teachers not liking the material. The cards were everywhere; on the bus, on the schoolyard playground, in piles on lunch tables for trading or inspection - every kid wanted the cards, even if only collecting them briefly; for a name, character, card back, etc.

And why this moral panic from grown ups?
So much moral panic during the 1980s - video, GPK and hard rock?

Unlike most grown ups, the cards really didn't speak down to children. Even as a youngster, you could tell the quality of the artwork was topnotch. As a youngster, you didn't know major underground comix artists had a hand in creating these masterpieces, but you knew the $.25 cent pack and 5 sticker cards in your hand was well worth the money and value. The subject matter on the cards really did expand your knowledge, made you want to draw and create, broadened your imagination. Every form of entertainment, be it artwork media, music, video, etc., questions peoples' morals and values - which is a good thing. However, as a kid, there is a level of innocence and the cards felt like a language only you and your friends could understand. The artwork spoke to you; like a secret from adults. I was lucky, even after my brothers had turned to collecting baseball cards my mom was very supportive in my collecting of GPK even though my step father wasn't, she was a firm believer of individuality.

Interviewing all of these GPK-legends - when in time do you wish that you where there with them looking at history?
Some certain moments?

There were some wonderful GPK websites on the internet at the time I started my own pages, but they mainly just displayed information on the actual set releases (card numbers, character names, card images) … where I wanted to know who created and painted the artwork, I wanted to dive deeper into the creation and production of the trading cards. Even after publishing my website, it took a year or so to find contacts for the creators and artists and compile the artist information.

I wish I could have been a fly-on-the-wall during the artwork thumbnail discussions, when the ideas were still at a conceptual stage, before the tight pencil and color rough stages. A lot of this earlier material by Pound, Warhola, and the art directors (Newgarden and Spiegleman) still remains unseen and undocumented. I also wish I could've been around to eavesdrop in on the 'naming panel' meetings, when the cards received their final nomenclature.

If you were god for one day. What would you have changed in the story about GPK (except the movie)?

It's hard for me to let go of obsessions and possessions, so when the 16th Series GPK set wasn't released in early 1989, it took a while to grasp that GPK was no longer going to be hitting store shelves, or rather, store counters. If I could change anything during the history of GPK, minus the movie (UGH!), it would be to have seen the official release of the 16th Series GPK set that was shelved and still remains unreleased in it's original format. I remember writing to Topps in 1989 asking whether the set would be released … no response. I was well into high school at the time and most of the collectors around me had stopped collecting GPK during the 4th and 5th series sets. Even though the card artwork was eventually released in different ways (All-New Series 1, bonus cards, etc.), I still feel unsettled as a collector knowing that the old reverse card material was never printed and that the original set was never released.

LEGO collectors often reference their "dark period". It is the years between childhood playing and as grown up finding the LEGO again. Did you have a "dark period"?
What happened in that case, how did you find your way back to the cards?

Absolutely. Trading cards always felt a bit different from toys, per se, without such strict age guidelines labeled on the packaging. I remember turning 13 and feeling I wasn't supposed to be playing with toys any longer and a year or so later I did put down my LEGO, Transformers, G.I. Joe, etc. But as a 'true collector', after a spell, you definitely go back and start to recollect this material again as an adult in some form or another. That 'dark period' for GPK lasted a good decade, right up to the point of publishing the website. I had to start hopping on the internet for college homework and one of the first things I searched for was 'Garbage Pail Kids' which led me to some great sites and discovering eBay around 1998. I never owned the 1st Series GPK set (only 25 singles in random condition), so I began recollecting GPK around that time and going full throttle back to into collecting and discovering more about the cards.

When did you realise that you were a collector?

I have a very addictive personality. I believe one realizes that they're a 'true collector' when one becomes a completist within their field of hobby or hobbies - and they can't stop collecting. With music, I always collected every song single, B-side, mix … and this goes for trading cards and their variations (however, I can no longer keep up with today's pricey chase card material and parallels), for Harry Potter LEGO (special poly bags), for The Dark Crystal Funko POP!s (sticker variations), comic covers, etc. Anything that I collect I'm not satisfied unless I have it all and until I have it all. And then you turn to the next thing to collect.

How many hours a week is dedicated to the homepage and the collection?

I spend 40hrs a week looking at a computer for work, so I try to limit evening and weekend hours updating the website and social media pages to 10 or so hours per week; this often fluctuates during larger retail releases when updating becomes a bit more time consuming. This past year was very busy with newly licensed GPK product, and 2020 looks to be just as engaging for the 35th anniversary, if not even more! It's been hard to find the time to revisit older pages and revamp and expand on them. Items are always coming in the mail for my many hobbies, so collecting is never put on standstill!

When did you start the site? Is still growing? Who is the visitors?
Is there a community and what do you share? Have you made friends thru this?

I first published the GPK website in 1998 (as 'Barren AARON's Garbage Pail Kids Reference Guide') and celebrated 20 years in 2018, which is unbelievable to me - to be plugging away at something for that long. There was a time after 15 years that I thought I'd stop updating the website, I was feeling burned out, but in late 2014 I became an executive producer for the 30 Years of Garbage documentary, that was eventually released on video in 2016, which really rejuvenated my passion for GPK.

I don't sell myself well, I'm a very non-proactive and passive webmaster, so I don't keep track of the number of visitors and page requests; perhaps because it's a very 'nonprofit' project and a pastime I perform as a passion for the hobby, where I remain humble, but the site and visitors definitely continue to grow. I recently placed the website on some social media channels so have witnessed just how diverse visitors are, from an international and even gender level. The visitors in general range from die-hard collectors to easy-going perusers who remember and are fond of the nostalgic characters.

There is definitely a large GPK community that runs a plethora of different websites and social media pages for all aspects of the cards, be it for international releases, Cheap Toys figures, sketch cards, sell & trade, et cetera. Some gather for the 'GPK' conventions and trading card shows throughout the year. The website and community has led to some amazing friendships, some I know will be lifelong - with many collectors and also several artists, from the original series and from the new releases.

What is the most usual questions you get (saw that you mentioned that you don't value cards)?

I tend to receive quite a few emails and messages asking where's the best place to sell GPK childhood collections - or a parent's collection (I'm still very loyal to eBay), contact information for the artists (usually direct them to their personal websites), to verify if a card or uncut sheet might be a bootleg, for hi-res images of the original artwork (I usually don't have large images to begin with, and don't have permissions to circulate if I did, that's why it's usually watermarked), and of course, pricing (even with the caveat).

Which cards are most after sought today? And reaches the highest prices?

Naturally, the 1st Series GPK cards are most sought after and their respective packs and boxes reach a very high price. Next would be certain productions of the 2nd Series… and then releases that had smaller production runs, and where releases weren't as widespread or in demand, such as the the last few releases like the 14th and 15th Series sets that are harder to locate. Most Topps releases in the '80s, much like their sport card lines, were mass-produced so most of the middle releases are still relatively easy to obtain. Other sought after cards for die-hards and/or completists would be card variations and/or errors cards such as the ever-popular 9th Series 'no number' 355b card (where the ink has faded and went missing during the printing stage) that is found in a specific production run. And naturally, anything with the ADAM Bomb character sells, Sells. SELLS.

What are you looking for right now? And how does your collection look like?
What is the best things you found?

I feel my Original Series collection is as complete as I'm going to get it and I stopped collecting international releases some time ago to focus on other hobbies; aghast! But, I still collect some newer GPK releases, pick-and-choose online material, the GPK Funko POP!s and Mystery Minis were a favourite, and have been more focused recently on some of the newer licensed product such as the Geeki Tikis, Greenlight die-cast cars, and Creepy Co. product.

My most unique item is a green-ink sketch card by John Pound from the All-New Series 4 release that never found its way into the boxes but was purchased directly from the artist (the first iteration of a 'Return' sketch card); only three known to exist. But, from the Original Series, my favourite items would have to be the original tight pencil and color rough artwork, also by artist John Pound, for the 3rd Series #104 character which is the mascot for my website and the first 'Aaron' card within the GPK realm. From the middle releases, my buddy Tom Bunk has placed my name within the artwork for several pieces, so those cards and some of the final artwork are my most prized possessions. For some later releases, Brent Engstrom and Joe Simko have also given myself and website some shout-outs on card. It's wonderful to be recognized and acknowledged by these brilliant artists.

What are you dreaming to find? Who is your favourite GPK illustrator? Pound, Warhola, Bunk? Why?

My dream was always to find an Indiana Jones-like hidden tomb of 1st Series GPK boxes since I never owned the complete 1st Series set as a kid, but that dreamed was answered via eBay in 1998 when I was able to hold a 1st Series box, open 1st Series packs, and collate a 1st Series set! When I was collecting international releases I always wanted to find a horde of Bukimi Kun boxes from Japan. I have definitely slowed down on collecting 'everything' GPK due to space and quite a few other interests, but I will always search for new information for the website.

Every artist brings something different, unique and interesting to GPK, even if it means putting their own twist on the brand. Pound artwork is probably the most nostalgic, profound and prolific for me, since that was the only artwork found on the card fronts for the first two releases and the characters I have stared at for the longest period of time since 1985. His paint strokes are quite effortless and masterful. I grew up with MAD magazine, so I was also attracted to the reverse card artwork by Bunk and the introduction of his artwork style to the front of the cards for the 3rd Series set and Warhola's for the 6th Series set.

If I would start a GPK collection. Where do you think that I should start?

GPK Collecting feels very generational now; some 'kids' started with Original Series, some started with All-New Series, and others with later releases. Collectors tend to enjoy what they find aesthetically pleasing, so start with releases by artists that you're drawn to. Most people want to collect the Original Series, which started the phenomenon, but this isn't always feasible. I know some collectors that only like the Brand-New Series releases. Some 'piecemeal' their collections by only collecting certain cards from various new releases. It's very hard to be a completist in this day-and-age, especially with the amount of chase and online material.