In 1985, the adolescent world was awash in the afterglow of the 1984 Summer Olympics, the “last” Star Wars movie, and the glory years of the Atari 2600.
We were waiting for the next big thing and, while Cabbage Patch Dolls or baseball cards filled the void for millions, there was a huge middle ground waiting to be served.
Enter the original Topps Garbage Pail Kids, bane of parents and teachers everywhere.
But while adult consternation was reason enough to love these boogers, you might not remember just how great these card/sticker/thingies were.
That’s where I can help, with seven solid reasons Topps Garbage Pail Kids are even more awesome than you remember.
They Came from the Mid-1980s
The original Topps Garbage Pail Kids came out in 1985.
If you’re reading this, you probably have fond memories of the 1980s. I mean, we knew about Atari and the Super Bowl and The Smurfs, but we were unburdened by the Internet, soccer, and the Marvel Universe.
Those were good times, and the Garbage Pail Kids remind us of those good times.
And, even if you don’t have fond memories of 1985, it’s almost a certainty that you were alive then … and any time you were alive is much better than any time you weren’t alive.
They’re Politically Incorrect
We have come a long way as a global culture toward not stepping all over each other at every turn, and that’s generally a good thing.
I don’t want you to throw me off a cliff, for instance, just because I’m long in the tooth and maybe not as useful as I used to be.
But we also spend a lot of time these days tiptoeing around every word we say, because the next opportunity to accidentally offend someone is just a keystroke away (I have probably scored several times on that front already in this post).
But the Garbage Pail Kids give us a chance to just laugh at shit because it’s funny, even if it does involve …
Fat kids …
Kids with strange names …
Kids with exploding body parts …
Kids with terrible communicable diseases …
Ugly kids …
Skinny kids …
And on and on and on. These are nasty things to think about, nasty things to live through … but freaking hilarious when you remember the losers (you included) who resembled some of these characters.
They Don’t Care
If Garbage Pail Kids were people, they’d be Gen Xers like the rest of us, diving headlong into middle age and staring down retirement and death.
They’d be trying to navigate this new world of ours and, if they had aspirations to do anything beyond sliding off the front of their couches while watching The Bachelor, they’d have to make amends.
They’d apologize to all the kids with pounding headaches and the misunderstood atomic bombs that they offended with their callous jokes, for example.
But Garbage Pail Kids remain fixed little pieces of cardboard, frozen in their smirky smarminess after all these decades.
They stare at you with their vacant eyes even as they wait for the blade to fall and lop of their bowling-ball-shapped, cabbage-smelling chubby little heads.
Looking at you, GuilloTINA.
Some of them are yellowed or bent or frayed or even torn … but not a damn one of them is sorry for anything they have done in the last 35 years.
Not only are Garbage Pail Kids, like, the best terrible trading cards you’ll ever find, but their pedigree is impeccable.
If you’ve never collected sports cards, you’re a fundamentally flawed person. But you probably also don’t know the story of how Topps pushed their way onto the scene in the 1950s and then ate their big-dog competition, Bowman, five years later.
Topps held a baseball card monopoly for 25 years after that until Fleer won an antitrust battle against them. That decision led to the sports card boom in the 1980s, when a ton of sets flooded the market — Fleer, Donruss, Score, Upper Deck, Leaf, Sportflics, cough, sputter, crap.
After 20 years of junking up the hobby, all the other companies basically Adam Bombed and *poof* disappeared from the scene.
And who was there to pick up the pieces?
In the sports world, Topps is the unquestioned leader at inducing cardboard addiction in grown men, and their huge backlog of photos, card designs, artwork, and other artifacts is a huge part of that.
And guess what?
Topps has all the keys to the old Garbage Pail Kids stuff, too … and they keep bringing out new stuff that plays off the old stuff.
Music to my hard-hearing ears.
They Did A/B Testing
Everybody loves the punderfully iconic “Adam Bomb” card at #8a in that 1985 first series.
But if that combo somehow didn’t resonate with you, well, you could always opt for the the “Blasted Billy” version of the same card (#8b).
Or if Flat Pat left you, um, flat, you could seek out Run Down Rhoda.
See, the good folks at Topps must have had their Dad Joke Thesauruses humming along at top speed, because they just couldn’t choose a single name for each of the 44 pieces of gruesome artwork at their disposal.
Rather, they assigned two names to each, and issued them as “a” and “b” cards. That’s why you could pick from …
Junky Jeff or Stinky Stan (22a/22b)
Kim Kong or Anna Banana (34a/34b)
Tee-vee Stevie or Geeky Gary (10a/10b)
Boozin’ Bruce or Drunk Ken (9a/9b)
Topps couldn’t choose, so they left the choice up to us. And now, we have twice the cheesy lines and monikers to bombard our kids and grandkids with.
They Are the Intellectual Heirs to Wacky Packages
If you never lived in a house (or trailer) with an avocado green refrigerator adorned with an “AJERX” or “Dr Pooper” Wacky Packages sticker, you’re a fraud of a 1970s/1980s kid.
For the rest of us, Wacky Packages were probably our introduction to snarky pop culture … and they were incredible.
Great artwork, clever turns on recognizable name brands, horrifying visuals, incomprehensible word combinations we thought were off-color but couldn’t prove …
Wacky Packages had it all!
But what else would you expect when a Pulitzer Prize-winning artist like Art Spiegelman gets to unloose his wit on a set of trading card stickers meant to corrupt America’s youth?
Well, maybe a follow-up like Garbage Pail Kids? Yeah, Spiegelman created those, too.
Suck It, Cabbage Patch Kids
I was 12 years old when the cherubic, sickening sweet Cabbage Patch Kids hit the big time among my peer group in Indiana.
And I was conflicted …
I was young enough and momma’s boy enough that the dolls appealed to me. Wouldn’t it be great to have a “Kid” with my name, who looked like me?
But I was also a boy who was supposed to be growing into a man.
In the end, Santa Claus (suck it, disbelievers) settled my internal debate by delivering a little tyke with dark, curly hair that Christmas, and I loved him.
And I hated him.
Mostly, he sat in a corner of my room, watching. I’d glance at him every now and then, but we pretty much gave each other our space.
Especially when Dad was around.
When Topps Garbage Pail Kids came along, though, I was saved. Here was my favorite company in the world taking direct aim at not just the physical misfortunes bestowed upon my friends and me, but also on my possibly possessed, definitely emasculating rubber-faced BFF baby doll.
So, when Borden Jeffery gave me his fixed-stare scrutiny, all I had to do was flick my Bic and threaten to transform him into Fryin’ Brian, and our tenuous power structure was restored.