In 1987, all that mattered in life were cartoons, toys, and whatever my friends thought mattered. Nothing has really changed, I guess, except that bills get in the way of cartoons and toys. Usually what mattered to my friends was getting their hands on media forbidden by parents. (I’m not talking about porn here – seeing a naked girl at that age would have led to an asthma attack for the record books). There were a few reliable ways to acquire the Forbidden Media: save up your lunch money to pay off an older sibling, have a friend with “cooler” parents, or just steal the shit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist school lunch and I had too much Roman Catholic guilt in me to steal. But I did have friends with some pretty cool older brothers (or that were trying to prove how cool they were). And through those channels I got my hands on some trading cards that left a bruise on my brain and that of most kids coming up in the 80s.
My parents weren’t too into censorship (they did let me watch Poltergeist – thanks mom and dad!) but one thing they didn’t let me go near was a satiric, graphic, and gross to the point of offensive trading card series from Topps called Garbage Pail Kids (GPK). GPK was the brainchild of cartoonist and Brooklyn native Mark Newgarden. Mark worked with Topps consultant and Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman to develop GPK into a spin-off series from the Wacky Packages trading card line which parodied popular consumer products. The finished artwork for GPK was done by John Pound and Tomas Bunk. The series quickly became a pop culture phenomenon and spawned a live action movie and cartoon series (which never aired in the US due to parental complaints – which interestingly enough weren’t about the content of the show. Rather, parents argued that the show was nothing but a commercial for the cards). Topps stopped production of the cards in 1988 before the 16th series could be released and beginning in 2003, they have revamped the GPK with what they call the All New Series.
Mark’s warped artwork gained a cult following and has appeared in everything from the experimental comics album Raw to the op-ed page of the New York Times. His work has been shown at the Smithsonian Institute, the Cooper-Hewitt, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Television and Radio, and the ICA in London. In 1999 Mark wrote and directed four episodes of “B. Happy,” the first of the avant-garde “Web Premiere Toons” for Cartoonnetwork.com. His resume could truly choke a donkey. He’s still on his grind but was generous enough to answer a few questions for RBM to help ice the bruises still on our brains.
Before Garbage Pail Kids there was Wacky Packages. How did that transition come about and did you really have to push Topps to back them?
GPK was a direct outgrowth of Wacky Packages (WP), which of course dates back to the late 1960s. I collected WP as a kid and was a big fan. Some time after graduating art school I found myself ensconced in the New Product Development (NPD) department at Topps in the company of some of the men that originally concocted them- Len Brown, Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch, and Stan Hart. In some ways it was a dream job for me.
GPK was originally conceived as an individual sticker in the 1985 WP revival series. I was assigned the job of gathering new subjects and devising the parodies for those. I was also handed a long list of companies whose products were to be avoided (ie: ones that had threatened or actually sued Topps in the past). Cabbage Patch Kids dolls were an obnoxious, burgeoning fad at the time so they were an obvious choice.
After failing to get license to produce an official Cabbage Patch Kids product, Topps (or, more specifically, Topps CEO Arthur Shorin) decreed that GPK be liberated from Wacky Packages and launched as a satiric series unto itself. As the low man on the NPD totem pole at the time, I wound up cranking out most of the concepts for that first GPK series as I had for the 1985 WP and other obscure series called Gross Bears, which was also a direct precursor to GPK.
Trading cards were huge when I was growing up in the late 80s, early 90s; movies, comic books, even Desert Storm trading cards flew off the shelves. It’s definitely a culture that’s really faded away and gone over almost completely to Collectible Card Games. What’s your take on that?
There was a trading card bubble at that time that burst for any number of reasons. I know that Topps faced increasing competition for shelf space in the chain stores and there were many new competitors that were targeting the growing “direct market” comic shop venues as well. There was probably just too much product out there and not enough of it was any good.
I’m not exactly sure how the popularity of the gaming card genre relates to the demise of satiric stuff I was doing at Topps, but I’m sure it had some impact.
Being an expert on novelty, what do you think is going to be considered novelty ten years down the road?
If I knew I wouldn’t tell you!
Mark’s book CHEAP LAFFS: The Art of the Novelty Item
How do you think Brooklyn has influenced your style and approach to art?
Hard to say; I was born in Brooklyn and I’ve lived here most of my life so I don’t have much perspective. When I worked at Topps it was still a Brooklyn based company, located in Brooklyn Army Terminal on 36th Street in Sunset Park. I would often walk to work from the west edge of Park Slope where I was living in those years. One of the most satisfying signs of a successful Topps series was the heaps of discarded wrappers littering the neighborhood streets which I waded through along the way to work. Seeing the finished product consumed and trashed within spitting distance of the job was always a thrill.
Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash
Mark’s publications are available on Amazon.com (including the inspiring collection of his cartoons and humor, We All Die Alone) and be sure to check out his official website here. He’s also done a series of children’s books with illustrator Megan Montague Cash. You can check them out here. And let’s face it, if it was birthed from the mind of Mark, even a children’s book is going to be a little strange.
Trailer for the Garbage Pail Kids Movie