How A Garbage Pail Became A Treasure Trail

“The idea was to be rude, crude, gross, rebellious, snotty, disgusting, all of these things. I sent them 30 or 50 pages of ideas, including a nice one of a little kid barfing on a baby blanket.”

John Pound, Primary Artist – Garbage Pail Kids


Greetings from the salt water of Del Mar, CA fellow CBSI members. I heard an all too familiar ring the other day. It was a reminder of that melodic chime that used to stop me in my tracks. I mean we are talking Pavlov’s dog reaction on display.

As the jingle grew louder and louder, I would run harder and harder towards it holding the little change I had in my short pocket from falling out. My hope was I was one of the first to hear the music as other neighborhood dudes would be reacting in the same way.

Kids would be tearing down the streets from all angles not wanting to place last in line. A best description would be to picture ants attacking a piece of fruit on the ground. All this was to reach the almighty ice cream truck!

Huffing and puffing I would eek out the words “A pack of Garbage Pail Kids please!” It was ripped open instantly while scanning for a new card I had not seen before. Bingo…There’s one! making the chase and sweat all worthwhile.

I look back and wonder what made these so special to so many? How were 800 million of these grossed out cards bought from kids like you and I all around the world?

Well, let’s take a look at that shall we? The year was 1985 where Madonna’s Like A Virgin, and Chaka Khan’s I feel for you ruled the airwaves.

Alight, to start this it’s important to take a look at the company that created the craze – Topps. The idea to do a Cabbage Patch parody series originated directly with CEO Arthur Shorin. Topps had previously pursued a license with the Cabbage Patch folks.

Len Brown (Creative Director, Topps (1959-2000): We actually tried to get the rights to do Cabbage Patch, which were very popular. When that failed, one of the senior officers at Topps said, “Well, let’s parody them if they don’t give us the rights.”

“Topps’s decision to satirize the Cabbage Patch Kids had precedent in Wacky Packages, the company’s line of cards dating back to the 1960s that spoofed consumer products. It was part of an irreverent sense of humor that had been around nearly as long as the company itself.”



The above is said to have been the 1st appearance of GPKs. It was an initial sketch done by then creative consultant Mark Newgarden. This was used as the catalyst for the 1st series of cards produced.

The responsibility to get them to market was given to Topps Art Director Art Speigelman, Supervisor Stan Hart, and the aforementioned Mark Newgarden. Together, they auditioned a number of artists and brought the group together to get this off the ground.



Ok trivia time; what was the card of the first run which had the privilege of being 1a? Yep, you guessed it Nasty Nick. The first set had 82 cards in it in June of 1985. Half of these however were the same picture, just with a different name.

So 41 were unique characters. This was all done in a tight timeline of 2 months. When did they think they may have had something special? When the most iconic piece of GPKs art was finished they all looked at each other grinning “We have a winner!

Just what was that card? Adam Bomb.



The only topics that were taboo during these early years was religious elements and anything suicide related as the fear was kids would act these out in real life. With this collaborative team really starting to gel as a unit, it was time to test them in the retail stores.

Topps had a great distribution system so the product was always placed front and center by the candy counter or register. GPKs took off like a bat out of hell. Within no time counterfeiters on the streets of Chinatown were selling uncut sheets.

All while the creators would see wrappers on bathroom floors, stickers on public toilets, even punk bands had them on the sides of their guitars! With immediate orders going back to print, the group started brainstorming for the second series. Yet they needed more help.

There was not enough hours in the day for creativity. With this, a decision was made to bring in freelance artists like James Warhola to provide his talents. He was amazed at the limits they would want these cards to be pushed to in terms of obnoxiousness.

Here’s an example of James’ initial drawings. He had thought it was a little controversial already, they wanted more “goo” for Julius Sneezer. Here is pre and post approval…



Topps was enjoying massive success with GPKs. In fact as the height, some stores were selling up to 500 packs/day. Unfortunately, when you are at the top of the world, everyone wants to take shots at the king.

The media started to run with articles involving schools and parents who were outraged by these cards and wanted them stopped immediately. Then the real first real kink in the armor occurred – In the Spring of 1986, Topps was hit with a lawsuit from the copyright holders of Cabbage Patch Kids. It was based on trademark infringement.

In the end after a rather lengthy court battle, Topps was forced to change the look of GPK. They went to make them look more like hard plastic, then a soft woven doll. Here’s a look post lawsuit of what the new cards would look like shifting away from the original look.



This was followed by an absolute bomb at the box office for their new GPK movie. It was trashed by critics and panned by audiences as the budget made the movie look as if it was made in a garage.

By the end of 1998 and sixteen series completed, it was clear the fad was on its way out and Topps opted not to release the final run of cards. Ironically, the last card in the line was Ada Bomb, a bookend to one of the first releases, Adam Bomb.

We have been witness to many ups and downs with trends over the years. The window of success with GPK was short lived, however they certainly left their mark on the world, and our pocketbooks!

In 2003 Topps attempted to revive the GPK line and start with new cards.

Here is a look at the early 2000s thru today :

  • 2003 Topps reintroduced Garbage Pail Kids with all-new artwork, dubbed the All-New Series (ANS)
  • 2005, Topps celebrated the 20th anniversary of the GPK franchise with special “Sketch Card” original art inserts
  • 2006, ANS5 was released with 40 more new kids, followed by ANS6 in early 2007.
  • 2008 saw the release of ANS7 which expanded the base set to 55 new characters and was the last set to feature new artwork until 2010’s Flashback Series 1 subset of six previously unpublished kids.
  • 2010 Topps released a 25th anniversary “Flashback” set featuring reprints of characters from the original 1985–87 GPK series,plus six previously unpublished “lost” characters and 10 “Where are They Now” cards showing classic GPKs drawn as they would appear today
  • 2011 A second Flashback set was released with 65 more reprints from series 1 to 9 plus five more “lost” kids, 10 new “Where are They Now” cards, five 3D cards, unique artist sketches, and 10 “Adam Mania” cards.
  • 2012 Topps announced it would reboot the Garbage Pail Kids franchise with new character and content themes more reminiscent of the original 1980s series in a set called “Brand-New Series 1”
  • 2013 Topps re-released original series 1 as a metallic chromium set containing all 41 kids plus 14 previously unpublished characters
  • 2014 Topps re-released 1985’s original series 2 set plus 13 returning characters from series 2 characters that have been reimagined in previous garbage pail kid sets as chromium cards
  • 2015 Topps released the 30th Anniversary series with 110 a/b cards (220 cards total)
  • 2016 GPK’s put in situations that parodied American culture.
  • 2017 put the Garbage Pail Kids (including some classic kids) in perilous end-times scenarios.


I know that was a little long winded!

Alright, there is the story of GPK including the rise, fall, and where things stand up to today. Let’s now look at the different kinds of cards Including rarities, different prints, and finally the release of the first comic series by IDW and Topps themselves.

It’s interesting, GPK has some parallels with comics in terms of what makes them rare including the aftermarket, foreign cards, and multiple covers and misprints.

One of the more cards of real value is the international cards for ADAM. Especially the early test sets from Germany/Denmark, France/Belgium, and Holland/Netherlands.

Here is an example:


In addition, the most sought-after GPK cards for collectors are the Japanese GPK cards, called the Bukimi Kun. The wrapper being in great condition is the key with these (sound familiar?!)

Here is a look at one of them in all its glory:



Here is a few other international cards to be on the lookout for at your local flea market that could make you some good money.











In addition, reprints and named changed cards can be of real value as well. The key is to collect every single name attached to that specific art. Here are a few as examples others may have more than two names:



Finally misprints, accidents, and mistakes can be very valuable (again sound familiar?!) Here is an example of Punchy PERRY – as the die cut varies. Pay close attention to where the black circles are on each card to see the difference. With this it drives the value of the card up tremendously.



Now to some comic news. When SDCC 2014 was going on it was announced that IDW would be publishing the first GPK comic book. There was a rare 8 page Ashcan that was given out later that year at NYCC. Inside of the book looked like a three ring binder with a detailed look at some of the art that fans would be seeing with the comic released.

Here is a look at the front, back, and inside:

NYCC Ashcan



As the release grew closer, Previews Magazine in their October 2014 book ran a full page ad including what some of he covers would look like upon street date.



Here is a look at the covers for Issue # 1:

  • Regular Cover – Homage to TEC #27
  • Deluxe Color
  • Blank Variant
  • RI Variant



Here’s a look at covers for Issue # 2:

  • Regular Cover
  • Deluxe Cover
  • RI Variant



Here’s a look at covers for Issue # 3:

  • Regular Cover
  • Deluxe Cover
  • RI Variant Cover



Here’s a look at the covers for Issue # 4:

  • Regular Cover
  • Early Alien IAN Cover
  • RI Variant
  • Blank Cover
  • Deluxe Cover




Here’s a look at the covers for Issue # 5:

  • Regular Cover
  • Deluxe Cover
  • Blank Cover
  • RI Variant Cover



Unfortunately, with the lack of sales IDW canceled GPKs after 5 issues. However, Topps tried to make their own comic. These were for the die hard collectors and have miniscule print runs.


All the below issues were available directly from the Topps website for one week only for each issue!


Here’s a look at Issue # 1:

  • Print Run – 265 copies
  • Regular Cover
  • Sample Page



Here’s a look at Issue # 2:

  • Print run – 455 copies
  • Sample Page



Here’s a look at Issue # 3:

  • Print run – 291 copies
  • Regular Cover
  • Sample Page



Here’s a look at Issue # 4:

  • Print Run – 204 copies
  • Regular Cover
  • Sample Page



Well there’s a good luck into these cards including the impression they left on millions of collectors around the world.

I am going to leave with you a few facts about GPK you may find of interest:

  • In Italy, the Garbage Pail Kids were known as The Snotlings, in France they were The Filthies, while in Germany they were The Totally Broken Kids
  • Several schools banned the stickers in the ’80s because they were too much of distraction in classrooms
  • In the past few years, various Garbage Pail Kids have become a popular choice for tattoos.
  • The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, released in 1987, is considered to be one of the worst films ever made
  • A Garbage Pail Kids cartoon was pulled in the US just days before its air date because of complaints from parents

That’s it for this week. I hope you learned something new. Feel free to share any GPK stories you had growing up in the comments section.

Thank you for those who continue to make this column part of your reading material weekly!


Talk soon,











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