What Happened To Garbage Pail Kids?

Garbage Pail Kids have been an iconic collectible since their introduction by the Topps trading card company in 1985. They were developed as a parody of the incredibly popular Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, which were introduced to the public via a massive marketing campaign that kicked off in June 1983 with an "adoption" event at the Boston Children's Museum. Within six months, the ugly-cute dolls with distinctive round, plastic, dimpled faces, yarn hair, and cuddly bodies were so popular that their lack of availability after "just" 2 million dolls were produced by toy company Coleco caused actual riots during the 1983 Christmas season, as reported by MEL Magazine.

Perhaps this backdrop of ugly, violent greed lurking behind the aggressively wholesome image of adorable yet slightly creepy dolls grown in a cabbage patch and waiting to be adopted (each Kid came with actual adoption papers to be signed by the proud new owner — erm, parent) made it inevitable that not only would there be a mocking, grotesque send-up of the Kids, and that the parody would become nearly as popular as the original. 

Garbage Pail Kids were a spin off of another line of humorous trading cards

Per Den of Geek's YouTube story on the history of Garbage Pail Kids, the Topps company had a long history of producing not only traditional baseball cards but also other bubble gum trading cards. These featured scenes from popular movies and television shows, including "Star Wars," as well as lines of humorous parody cards. The most popular of these were Wacky Packages, which featured puns and illustrations aping actual products' packaging — Alpoo for Alpo dog food, G.I. Toe, A Real American Zero for G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero, and so forth. It was therefore very much in the Topps wheelhouse to take on the Cabbage Patch Kids, and because they were such a phenomenon, executives decided to give them their own line as opposed to folding them in with Wacky Packages.

The lead designer on the project was cartoonist Art Spiegelman who began his career with Topps and would eventually go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his graphic novel "Maus," which tells the life story of Spiegelman's father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning artist led the cards' art direction

Art Spiegelman was joined by fellow underground comics artist Mark Newgarden, as editor and art director of the project, and John Pound, an artist who had a history of creating famously outlandish and colorful covers for science fiction novels. It was Pound who drew the entire original run of Garbage Pail Kids, as reported by Den of Geek on YouTube. After the first Garbage Pail Kid card was introduced within the Wacky Packages line, featuring a bedraggled, fly-ridden doll emerging from a trashcan with the caption "Pick of the Litter!," the stand-alone line came to be and Pound's original creations remain well-loved among GPK fans.

Fifteen different series were produced by Topps between 1985 and 1988, along with the usual spin-off merchandise as well as an actual live action motion picture adaptation, 1987's "The Garbage Pail Kids Movie," which was universally panned. Movie critic Caryn Rose wrote in The New York Times that the film was "too repulsive for children or adults of any age" and to this day it holds a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A 1987 cartoon series was produced for CBS but never ran due to ongoing controversy surrounding the line. 

Kids loved 'em, adults not so much

Garbage Pail Kids were popular with the children of the '80s but their gross-out, often violent humor didn't always sit well with parents and teachers. In February 1986, the Sun Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale, Florida ran a New York Times report that stores couldn't keep them in stock. Topps spokesperson Norman Liss wouldn't release GPK sales figures, noting that this was a "very competitive business" while also telling the reporter "demand is incredible, more than we can keep up with."

In the midst of the craze, one parent shared that she had forbidden her 7-year-old from collecting any more cards, calling them "not at all healthy," while Tom Blair, principal of the Montrose, New York F.G. Lindsey School, called them "nasty and unkind — they make fun of the way people look and act."

Later that year, Original Appalachian Artworks Inc. of Cleveland, Georgia — owned by Cabbage Patch Kids' copyright owner Xavier Roberts, who had licensed the design to Coleco — sued Topps for copyright violation. Judge G. Ernest Tidwell ruled in their favor, per The New York Times, citing ”a fine line between parody and piracy" and calling the stickers ”an attempt to make money.” The matter was officially settled out of court, with Topps agreeing to alter the design to make the Garbage Pail Kids look less like Cabbage Patch Kids, but it was near the end for this iteration of Garbage Pail Kids anyway, as sales were dwindling. Topps stopped producing cards after the 15th series. 

You can't keep a good Garbage Pail Kid down

Per YouTube channel Toy Galaxy, Topps brought back Garbage Pail Kids cards in 2003 by finally printing the never-before-printed series 16 that had been planned for 1988. Series 2 soon followed with all new artwork and marked the first time that the cards were sold without the traditional stick of bubble gum. Five more series followed through 2007, followed by a two-year break and a return in 2010.

Since then, Topps has produced an annual release along with assorted branded merchandise, online exclusives, and themed sets, including the professional wrestling themed set shown above. In the words of Toy Galaxy host Dan Larson, "What began as a hybrid product, a spin-off of their own brand, and a parody of another would go on to be one of the longest running, most successful pop culture properties ever created by Topps." Like all successful satire, they are no longer reliant on their very specific interpretation of a very specific, relatively short-lived fad and now seek to satirize a wide-ranging assortment of current events and cultural norms. 

Are your old Garbage Pail Kids cards worth any money?

Garbage Pail Kids remain beloved among a loyal number of collectors and fans. GeePeeKay is a site that strives to be "the most complete reference website for Garbage Pail Kids collectors both new and old," run by Matt, who has been a collector since the 1980s and maintained the site since 2006. Galleries exist for every GPK series and there's even a feature that lets you look up your own name to see how it's been interpreted into Garbage Pail Kid form over the years — people named Paul have a whopping 23 renditions to gloat/cringe over.

If you have a few Garbage Pail Kids cards of your own collecting dust in your parents' garage, you might be in for a surprise pay day. Per Old Sports Cards, a mint condition Nasty Nick, the very first card from the very first series released in 1985 and featuring an adorable, dimpled vampire who appears to have just bitten the neck of a Barbie doll (and drawn blood?) will fetch an impressive $7,500.