SPRING 2008 - SUMMER 2008

1. For starters, I believe you could be the youngest, if not one of the youngest, contributors of Garbage Pail Kids. Can you tell us a bit about your GPK background, like your experience collecting the cards as a kid and what they meant to you, and any shock you might have had at their re-introduction in the 2000’s?

I think I am the youngest contributor to GPK. I started working on concepts when I was 23, and literally graduated from college the week that I first talked to Jeff Zapata. I remember that I was about to get on the train for my commute home, when I got a call from Jeff. I was trying to find a spot to get good reception in the train station, and I was talking about the concepts that I had submitted. I was so excited, and was hoping that I didn’t lose my connection. I’m sure people thought I was crazy discussing snowmen with human body parts and monkeys eating brains.


I loved Garbage Pail Kids when I was younger. I would carry my large stack of cards with me everywhere I went. I even have a Christmas home video where I’m opening series 10 packs that were in my stocking, and you can see how excited and hyper I was looking through each card. It’s hilarious. I also remember sometimes getting packs of GPK for treats after meals. I’d say that the art really influenced my personal style, and it’s always stayed with me.

Somehow I lost all of my cards after they stopped making them, except for a couple that my mom saved in a big box of photos from when I was growing up. She says that I stuck them all somewhere and those were the only ones she managed to salvage. Many years later, I stumbled upon ALI Gator which was one of the cards that was in that box, and I found a trading card company that was selling unopened full GPK sets. Over the next few months, I saved up my money, and re-bought every single series. This was in like ’97. Back then, I thought that there was no way that GPK would ever come back. Little did I know what was to come. Jump to 2003, I find out that Topps is bringing them back, and was psyched.

2. As a fellow collector and GPK enthusiast, some of the GPK community may have an occasional concept slip through the system and get published, or dream up some crazy concept idea or name, but you took it a step further and went full-steam ahead by contributing some amazing concepts for the ANS sets… how did you go about contacting Topps, and how exactly did work find you there?

Well, like I said, I was just finishing school when I started sending stuff to Topps. I was putting together my portfolio, and I was looking for full-time jobs in the animation business, which is what I went to school for. Getting your foot in the door can be a long process, so it seemed like a good time for me to try to contribute in some way to the new GPK, which is something I had always wanted to do. ANS4 had come out, so I had GPK on the brain. Basically, I just started sketching up ideas, looking through my cards for inspiration. After I had some that I liked, I didn’t really know a direct way of contacting anyone at Topps, or even who to contact, for that matter, so I started sending them to the different collectors who ran GPK fan sites to see if anyone knew who I should be sending my ideas to. I believe I actually sent them to you, and you were very encouraging, but it was Wayne of Wayne’s Garbage Pail Kids Reference who actually sent them along to Jeff. Eventually, I was talking directly to Jeff, and that’s how I got started.


3. Can you share your initial experiences with submitting your concepts to Topps and any feedback you may have received about your work?

It was very cool when I got to the point where I was consistently sending stuff to Jeff, and getting feedback. For ANS5 there was a pretty consistent flow of ideas going back and forth between him and me. In the beginning, I was emailing Jeff really rough ideas as I came up with them. He would let me know which ones he liked, which ones he hated, and what to change or add. Then I would do a pretty tight pencil drawing of them. Eventually I started just sending the tight pencils. I like getting them as close to how I think the final card should look as I can. I think altogether I ended up submitting around 30 ideas for my first series. Jeff was very patient and helpful in taking the time to explain the business to me, since this was really my first professional job, and I was pretty green. I have to be honest though, I was a little intimidated by Jeff in the beginning. He let me sweat it out a little as far as letting me know if my ideas were going to be used, but he was always encouraging. By the end of ANS5, I had gotten better at drawing GPK, and had a better idea about which ideas would be accepted. The last few ideas were approved pretty quickly.


4. Do you have any art schooling in your past? Or have you always been artistic?

I started drawing when I was very young. I spent a lot of time trying to reproduce all of my favorite cartoon characters and superheroes, as well as my favorite GPK. I clearly remember drawing stuff as far back as 1st grade, trying to impress my classmates, and I always loved art class whenever I had it. No one ever sat down and taught me how to draw when I was younger, but over the years I have taken some painting classes and general art classes to try to expand what I could do. I think I really started to approach art in a different way when I went to The Art Institute of Philadelphia for animation. I learned a lot about composition and planning out my drawings. I also got a lot of practice with various figure drawing classes I had to take, which I found really helpful when applying that to drawing more stylized characters.

5. What other projects or work preoccupies your time besides your work at Topps? Have you considered working on other Topps projects or have been approached to?

Besides working on GPK, I am currently the Lead Animator for an animation studio in Hamilton, NJ called Two Animators! (www.twoanimators.com). I’ve been working there with a very talented group of artists for almost two years now. We do a lot of web animation for various animated series and games, as well as other original concepts. Whenever I have some time to spare, I also tinker around with some of my own animation ideas.


I did some concept work for Topps’ Hollywood Zombies series. That was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I wanted to, due to a busy schedule. I haven’t been approached to work on any other series, but I’d definitely jump on the opportunity to work on Wacky Packages. I was a big fan of the series that came out in the early 90’s, and I know I could come up with some nasty product parodies.

6. I know for Wacky Packages concept artists, walking through the grocery store can inspire ideas for their work… when do concept ideas for the “Kids” ‘pop’ into your brain?

It’s kind of a similar process for me. For the most part, I don’t sit down and try to think of new ideas. I’ll be going about my business, and something I see or think about will spark an idea. Another thing I do is try to think of things that I enjoyed as a kid, such as games I played (Tether BILL), making snowmen (Armless AARON) and winter (Ice COLE), opening presents (PETER Package), milk (Milkin’ MILT) and cookies (Licked VIC), my birthday, which is Valentine’s Day (Courtin’ CODY), as so on. Other times I’ll get ideas from a movie I’m watching. For example, I thought of "TODD Da!" while watching The Prestige, and "Inmate NATE" while watching Saw.


7. Is there a certain concept process you follow… as far as checking that GPK concepts remain fresh and unused (to adhere to strict GPK fans rules and regulations)?

As I think of ideas, I’ll usually jot down a short description in my sketchbook, or do a quick thumbnail so I remember it. When I’m ready to start submitting concepts, I’ll flip through all of the previous cards, and make sure none of my concepts are too close to something that has already been done. If I find a similar idea, but I think I could take it farther, or add something to it, I’ll submit it, but if not, I don’t. "MIKE Strike" was an example of this. There was a card in the original series of a bowling ball with a GPK face on it, and I thought it would be cool to show the kid throwing his head as the ball and have his eyeballs stuck to his fingers watching his own head go down the lane. After I choose which ones I want to use, I’ll do a rough sketch to lay out how I see the composition of the card. That’s usually what I send to Jeff, and then I do a final tight sketch and incorporate any changes or additions.


8. So you’re basically handing over your art to Topps to distribute to other artists to complete for the final artwork. Do you have a say in where the concepts go, or does Zapata (the art director for GPK) choose who he feels best fits the mold for the concept?

No, I don’t have any say in who does what concept. It’s always fun discovering who got which concept though, and what their interpretation of it is. I suspect who gets what concept is decided by both who has time, and whose style would work best for it.

9. How do you feel about seeing the different interpretations of your concepts once the final artwork is completed -- and has most artists stayed pretty true to your ideas? Do you see the final artwork before its released on card?

It’s always interesting to see what an artist will do with the concept that I submit. I have a picture in my head about how I envision the final card looking. Sometimes the final card will be different from what I expected, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve experienced both. Luis Diaz has done the final paintings for a lot of my concepts, and he always keeps the idea of my original concept, but also puts his own spin on it, or adds things that I wouldn’t have thought of. It’s very much a collaborative effort. On the other hand, Layron DeJarnette has also done a number of my concepts, and he tends to stay pretty close to what I draw, but just tightens everything up, adds details, and gives it a nice glossy finish. His painting of "Armless AARON" is dead on to how I wanted that card to look. I’ll never forget seeing it for the first time. So, it can work both ways. Occasionally I do get a sneak peak of the final paintings that were based of my concepts, which is always a nice bonus.


10. As ‘next generation’ GPK artists, you and Luis Diaz are considered somewhat of a GPK ‘dream team’… he seems to receive quite a few of your concepts. Is this coincidence? Your “Ice COLE” concept, and Diaz’s finished piece is simply mind-blowing.

Luis does amazing work. Like I said, he’s done a lot of my concepts, and if I find out that he’s working on my stuff, I know they’re in good hands. He painted all of my ANS6 concepts, except for one, and all of his paintings from ANS7 were based off my concepts.


11. How often are you asked to re-do concepts? Or are some of the ideas accepted loosely and then twisted or re-imagined by the art director or other artists?

It’s not unusual for Jeff to ask me to make some changes to the stuff that I submit. Ideas are constantly evolving. It’s always good to get some fresh eyes to look at something. It usually makes the final concepts stronger in the end. I’m personally always trying to improve my own concepts even after the original idea has been accepted. Like I’ll think of another way of doing something that I had just submitted the day before. For the glassblower GPK, I originally had the stick with the glass head coming from a hole in his neck, but the next day, I thought it was a cool image, but that didn’t make much sense to me, so I reworked it to how the final card is. Also, sometimes ideas will be accepted, and Jeff, or the artist who paints them will change it around a little. For example, my sketch for the water fountain GPK was pretty straight forward, and it was Jeff who twisted it a little and had Fred Harper make it really creepy and cool.



12. At the recent Philly Show, in Allentown, PA this past October – during the Q&A session with the Topps panel (including John Williams, Jeff Zapata, Jay Lynch and Dave Gross), you were in the audience with us collectors and it was a ‘bonus’ to meet you at the convention (along with Fred Wheaton and Fred Harper) – Zapata was pretty darn adamant about you churning out some final artwork for future GPK sets or projects. Would you consider this? Or at least partake in sketch cards if the opportunity arose and sketch cards were considered again?

I would definitely love to do final paintings of my concepts. That’s really my ultimate goal. I’ve been working behind the scenes to hone my skills. It just takes practice to get to the point where they look how I know they should and want them to. Sketch cards are another thing that I’d love to do. I’ve seen how much collectors like them, so that’d be really fun, and I’d love to put my own spin on some of the older cards.

13. You’re my first “all” GPK concept artist I have interviewed, but I found it important because a lot of the final work stems from these pieces of work and you have submitted a staggering amount of ideas for the ANS releases … but there is one painting that you initially started to paint but it was taken over by Brent Engstrom. Can you tell me about this piece in more detail and will the GPK community ever lay eyes on this original piece that you painted?

Well, I had always been mentioning to Jeff that I wanted to try painting one of my concepts some day, because I have dabbled in oil and acrylic before, so eventually when ANS7 was winding down production, he told me to give my Oreo GPK concept a try, which was a concept that had been floating around since ANS5. He said if it turned out good, he’d use it. So, that was my first try at painting a GPK ever, and it was a huge learning experience for me because time was limited, and I was painting digitally, and wasn’t experienced with blending paint in Photoshop, so it didn’t turn out as well as I wanted it to.


Looking at it now, it’s very flat, the shadows are weird, and there wasn’t enough rendering and depth. Jeff gave me some notes, and I was working on revising it, but there just wasn’t enough time left for me to finish it off, so Brent ran the last base on that one for me. That being said, I’ve been working on painting GPK, and I am much happier with how I’m progressing, so look out for paintings possibly coming to a future set near you.

Thanks Aaron!