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
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
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
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
This is my next appointment. I have to get the doorbell. When that
person comes in I have to cut off. I'm sorry!