SPRING 2008 - SUMMER 2008

1. Right off the bat, I have to start out by saying - not only are the ANS7 Garbage Pail Kids cards #14 (CORA Reef painted by Brent Engstrom) and #37 (Extra CHRISTIE painted by Fred Harper) two of the strongest pieces of the set, they are also two of my favorites. Though you were only able to submit three concepts for ANS7, how do you feel about these pieces and the way that they were embraced by the collecting public?

For ANS7, I submitted nine ideas total, mostly very quick small sketches. I would have liked to get more in, but I started pretty late in the series' development. Topps accepted three of the nine... and that's a pretty good ratio for this stuff.

I love how all three of my gags turned out, and it's great that CORA Reef has received fan acclaim. Brent really made that one soar with his digital painting. Harper's Extra CHRISTIE final took some heat from vocal GPK fans for apparently not looking enough like fried chicken, but I think Fred nailed the concept and I really like his painterly style.

ANS7 Concept: 14a Coral CARSON and 14b CORA Reef

ANS7 Concept: 37a Extra CHRISTIE and 37b Chick KEN

2. Historically, I remember you contacting me some years back regarding some of Bunk's unpublished '92 Wacky Packages final artwork images. How you intended to create some webpages for the 'Lost Wackys' set. I was floored by the WP pages you eventually developed -- they were very detailed and comprehensive (and your ANS WP pages are amazing as well). What motivated you and how much feedback have you received from collectors and artists?

I had been intrigued for some time by the evidence on John Pound's web site about the 'Lost' Wacky Packages series that had been nearly completed in 1992, then abandoned by Topps. I thought that was a ripe subject for internet detective work. I had also been checking out your site for a while for all of the great GPK info, and was always impressed how you presented each GPK series in great detail, mostly on one web page. When I started my 'Lost 1992' site it was in emulation of your treatment.

Fans enjoyed seeing the previously-unpublished titles on my 1992 site, including the Tom Bunk pieces that you sent to me. Some fans later appropriated some of those titles, like Tushie Roll, for printing in a bootleg 'Lost Wackys' sticker set.

*Click* Pic To Visit Wheaton's Impressive Topps WP Resume

I started my All-New Series WP pages to try to document the creative process behind the modern-era titles, while the information was all fresh in the writers' and artists' minds. So much about the old stuff has been lost to time. Those web pages helped me to get in touch with artists like Dave Gross, Luis Diaz, Neil Camera, and George Wright, all of whom were very generous in providing anecdotes about their process and in sending me scans of artwork.

3. To backtrack, can you tell us a bit about your artistic background? Images of your comic panels come to mind … ones that you had sent to me years ago -- I knew then I was dealing with someone with a certain amount of talent indeed. When did you first submit work to the Topps company, and how did you find yourself working for them?

I grew up drawing, and my main ambitions as a kid were to be a writer or an artist. I've always loved comics and cartooning - some of my earliest influences were Charles Schulz's Peanuts, MAD magazine, and Wacky Packages. In high school I was mainly interested in drawing comics, and then in college I majored in Fine Arts and learned to paint in oil. After I graduated I spent a couple of years as a "starving artist", doing some small-time freelance graphics work as well as commissioned oil paintings, often portraits of people, but I would paint any subject I was asked to: cars, boats, pets -- even cows for one client.

At the same time, my friend Wayne Wise and I formed a studio called Fragile Elite and self-published some black-and-white mini-comics in the midst of the early '90s 'zine-scene. Our peak came when we published Grey Legacy #1, a professionally-printed magazine-size issue that got some nice attention. Our favorite response was from rocker Iggy Pop, who wrote us back after we sent him a copy: his letter started out "You guys, I loved the fucking comic." But I simultaneously got burned out on art and fell into some financial difficulties, so I put drawing and painting to the side for a while.

I had been collecting Topps' all-new series of Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages since they were revived starting in 2003, but I never gave any thought to submitting to Topps until my wife Renée suggested it in early 2006. She was helping me to open some packs and said, "You could do better than this" (I can't remember what card prompted that reaction!).

(Wheaton's ANS6 Final Artwork For "Miracle Weep")

I had honestly never thought about it before then. I was content to enjoy the revivals as a fan and hadn't done much (if any) art for a long time. But she and I hashed out some ideas, and I worked up a handful of quick gag sketches as samples.

Instead of submitting the samples "blind" in the mail, I decided to try to meet art director Jeff Zapata in person at the 2006 New York Comic-Con where Topps was to have a booth. So I hopped a train to Manhattan that February for a day trip… without an advance ticket. To my dismay, the show was sold out when I got there and NY Fire Marshalls were threatening to shut it down because of overcrowding. I was disheartened, to say the least - there was no way I was getting in to the show. So I trusted photocopies of my gags to a convention staff member who turned out to be sympathetic to my plight; he delivered my stuff to the Topps booth.

A few days later I followed up with Jeff by e-mail. He said that he got my ideas, and liked them… and encouraged me to submit more.

4. After getting to know each other as website-runners, it was very exciting for me to see you submitting GPK and WP concepts to Topps… and their overall acceptance of your work. Was it a 'dream come true', not only as a collector and website author, but as an artist, to be working with a Wacky Package panel of colleagues? Can you even describe the feeling of holding a printed card of your own work in your hands?

It has been a huge treat to become part of something I had enjoyed as a kid, and to tell my family, "Remember those stickers that I stuck all over my bedroom? I help make them now". To think that I'm helping a kid somewhere to annoy his parents like I once did… it's a beautiful thing.

It's also a true honor to have my ideas considered to be worthy of standing alongside those of creative people I admire. And to contribute to pop culture franchises that have included work by people like Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch, Mark Newgarden, and John Pound... that still blows my mind a little.

ANS6 Concept: 17a SCOTT Pocket and 17b CAL Zoned

5. I previously interviewed Dave Gross back in 2005-2006 who had worked on a few GPK finals at the time and was considered a 'crossover' artist… dappling in GPK but mainly working on WP. And though I've been wanting to interview you for quite some time as a 'concept artist', you have now done everything -- from GPK and WP concepts to final artwork pieces. How instrumental has Jeff Zapata been in molding your Topps career and what other projects have you worked on?

I can't give enough credit to Jeff. When I first started submitting ideas, he spent a big chunk of time with me on the phone, going over my gags and helping me to refine them, and making me understand why some ideas just wouldn't fly. He also gave me pointers on painting for Topps and directed me to Dave Gross for more guidance.

After I had worked on Wackys for a bit I sent Jeff some unsolicited GPK ideas as ANS6 was being developed. A couple of them were similar to already-painted pieces that I had not seen: I had one very close to Orange JULIUS and another along the same lines as Lemon NED (editor's note: these images can be seen within the ANS6 'GPK History' section). Jeff and I were both surprised by the parallels. I sent in several more and ended up with four approved gags in the series.

Later, I was very flattered when Jeff approached me about contributing gags to the Hollywood Zombies series (which was code-named 'Project X' at the time). That set was a very different experience because Topps was discovering the "rules" as we went along. Thus the Zombies required a lot more revisions than the other card sets.

6. How 'cool' and 'exciting' is it to find out which artist is working on your concept idea and then waiting to see the final artwork? Though you don't have a hand in picking out which artist works on which concept piece, now that you've taken both a GPK and WP concept from start to finish, how is the concept picked out that you'll be working on - does the art director of the set have the deciding factor, knowing your comfort level, etc?

I love seeing how different artists approach my ideas. It floored me when I first heard that John Pound was going to be working on some of my concepts, because I admire his work very much. I came to learn that Pound will translate the best elements of a rough very faithfully in his final, and he'll improve on the weaker parts. He works fast, too!

On GPKs, I haven't collaborated much with the final painters; in most cases I don't see the painted version until the card is printed. But on Wacky Packages I've been fortunate enough to work closely with Dave Gross, who always brings good ideas to the table and is deeply invested in making the best final piece possible. The most unique example of our collaboration was the time that I shipped a frozen sausage to him so that he could paint a Bob Evans product from life, for the Blob Evans Wacky Package that I designed.

With any of the finals I've done, Jeff Zapata has made the assignments, it was his judgment call. I received the first job with an e-mail that said something like, "Do you want to paint your GPK iPod gag? Let's see some color roughs". I think he wanted to give me an easy one to start with… I sort of figured it would end up as a bonus card if it got in at all, but I was grateful to see it make the base set… easier to get a copy to my grandma that way.

7. Pt 1. So far, you have worked on two ANS GPK sets, starting with ANS6 and three ANS WP sets, starting with ANS4. I find it interesting that some collectors find it disturbing to see an artist's name identified with their artwork - such as the two 'signed' Fred Harper pieces for the ANS7 GPK set. Most of the time, the artist's name is somewhat 'snuck' into the artwork… there are several original GPK series cards with this phenomenon and even more ANS cards. Even with your own painted GPK, ANS6 # 38a I-Clod TODD, one can find your name on the card. How important is credit and recognition to you as an artist?

I like having my work recognized. I'm not sure why the artists are "anonymous" on GPKs and WPs... Maybe the assumption is that the primary audience of kids won't care about credits? At the same time, Hollywood Zombies (which was aimed at an older crowd) did give credit to the painters on the cards, and to all of the creators on the official web site. Which was cool.

At the same time, Topps art cards are a very collaborative medium, and that's a big part of the fun of it. Some cards end up being "auteur" cards, where the artist's original idea goes all the way through from concept to final without editorial changes, but in most cases there's a lot of give-and-take with writer-editor-painter, and it can be hard to remember exactly who originated which of the elements. So it becomes a "we did it" rather than an "I did it." It's best to not have a huge ego about it.

7. Pt 2. As Jeff Zapata suggested, GPK artist Layron Dejarnette did a great job of plugging quite a few GPK websites on the third card concept you supplied for the ANS7 set, card # 36 (Car JACK)… if a website can be recognized on a card for the author's hard work, why not the artist? Topps has had a long history of not publicly portraying artists names on their work (the final printed card), so I find it quite interesting and 'fun' to find a name on a card… do you think it takes away from the flow of the artwork? Though it didn't show up on the printed card, I thought it was very cool to see Brent Engstrom's and your initials on the CORA Reef piece, paying tribute to both the artist and concept artist.

I don't have a problem with artists' signatures on the cards, but unobtrusive ones are probably best. I suppose that the fact that the initials were covered up on 'CORA' points out why signatures can be problematic - the production staff may have to cover or cut signatures for the best composition. I appreciated both Layron and Brent working the names/initials into those finals, they are both classy guys.


8. I couldn't help but notice you snuck your wife's name on your concept piece for card # 36 (Car JACK), you can often find Tom Bunk's kids names on his pieces, names of his friends, or names of his bosses at Topps. Knowing you a bit before and after your GPK and WP fame… how influential and helpful has Renée been in your work? I know I've seen her name as a concept artist for at least one of your ANS WP pieces.

My wife Renée Davis has a big impact on my Topps work. Most importantly, she encouraged me to try to work for them in the first place. She feeds me funny ideas and she is usually my first sounding board for concepts that I come up with. Wacky Packages titles like Hoggin-Dogz, Frogresso, and Enlisterine wouldn't exist if not for her. I promise that I'll get her name into a card one of these days!

ANS7 Concept: 36a Car JACK and 36b Scrap HEATH

9. I do collect Wacky Packages, from the reissue sets to the ANS sets (and thankfully own "The Wacky Packages Gallery" book showcasing the original series and more)… your ANS6 WP, like your ANS7 GPK concepts, have been some of my favorites -- especially Jelly Bully from ANS6 WP… do you feel your work is getting stronger over time? How surreal is it to think of yourself working on WP now and then thinking back to the original series and legends like Norm Saunders?

With each series, I think I have a better understanding of what works in Wacky Packages, so I believe my concepts have gotten stronger. I think that I have a better sense of GPKs now too - I hope that the generally more favorable reaction to my ANS7 ideas is an indication of that.

Norm Saunders casts a massive shadow over WPs and you can't work on them as a painter without thinking, "What Would Norm Do?". He came from an era when illustrators were classically trained, and he could convey in a few quick brushstrokes the same information that would take me hours, and I'd still not come close. John Pound is the GPK equivalent, of course - the gold standard by which all following artists are measured by.

Jelly Bully Original Concept Piece Titled Smelly Belly

10. Although the Wacky Packages keep you very busy, will you be submitting more concepts for any upcoming ANS GPK sets? Are there any unpublished concepts still pending approval from the two ANS GPK sets you've submitted for thus far… and will the general GPK public ever lay eyes on these? Perhaps an ANS GPK page on your website in the future?

I'd be jazzed to work on ANS8 GPKs if/when they come to pass. I've held back a handful of rejected ideas in case they can be reworked or otherwise cannibalized for future use. One didn't get into ANS7 because it had a thematic similarity to a piece that Pound had already turned in. Several were rejected for being "too tame", while another was "too violent" (Sometimes the bull's eye is a moving target). I'll give them all a home on my web site at some point.

11. It was wonderful meeting you in person at the Philly show last October. Even though you weren't part of the 'official' GPK panel, and were questioned by the Toser's, it was great to see Zapata make a spot for you at his table. How do you rate your first convention experience … and would you consider a trip out to the San Diego Comic Con? And how cool was it to meet so many fellow artists such as Lynch, Gross, Zapata, Harper and Pingitore? I only wish you and Ping could have stuck around for drinks later that night…

Great to meet you too! The con was a lot of fun; I look forward to the next Philly/Allentown show this spring. I felt very welcomed into the fraternity of Topps contributors and it was cool to meet so many people whom I had only known via e-mail or internet message boards. I keep telling myself I'm going to make it to San Diego, one o' these days…

Fred Wheaton and Myself at the Philly Non-Sport Show

12. As brought up at the GPK and WP Q&A at the Philly show… Zapata would like to see you tackle even more GPK and WP work. Would you consider another GPK final artwork piece? Jeff also mentioned a planned (but not yet, green-lit) ANS8 GPK set… and the potential idea of bringing back the ever famous sketch cards -- which continue to nab high prices on eBay. Would you consider doing some sketch cards yourself if the opportunity arose?

I'd like to show that I can paint a 3-D GPK, since my one painting featured a "just a barfing shadow" as one detractor put it. I'd definitely be interested in doing sketches if Topps pursues that idea… I enjoy making little card-sized drawings, and making hundreds of them sound like a good challenge, an exercise that would help loosen me up - it's common for me to obsess over my stuff and let it become too precious.

13. I must admit, it's been the hardest interviewing artists I have become friends with over the years (I ran into the same problem with Bunk back in 2005-2006)… I feel my questions have come across as rambling banter rather than hardcore questions, so forgive me for that. But I feel this interview was long overdue and I'm excited to share it with the GPK community. I remember submitting a small handful of very amateur concepts during ANS5, and with your support and Bunk's help, had one co-published during the ANS6 set. The piece you drew for me sits in my final artwork album next to the final artwork for that card, so I thank you again for that. On an ending note, will you be on the GPK and WP bandwagon as long as it lasts? I hope so.

Fred's Rendition of My ANS6 #36 Bunk Piece

No worries AJ… I rambled back in the answers. Thanks for considering me worthy of inclusion.

It can be hard at times to fit the Topps work around my day job, but after two years I'm still having a lot of fun! I hope they keep making art card sets for their existing franchises as well as trying out new series ideas… I'll keep at it as long as they'll have me.



SPRING 2008 - SUMMER 2008