Garbage Pail Kids is a series of trading cards produced by the Topps Company, originally released in 1985 and designed to parody the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, which were immensely popular at the time.
Each sticker card features a Garbage Pail Kid character having some comical abnormality, deformity and/or suffering a terrible fate, with a humorous, word play-rich character name such as Glandular Angela or Half-Nelson. Two versions of each card were produced, with variations featuring the same artwork but a different character name denoted by an "a" or "b" letter after the card number. The sticker fronts are die-cut so just the kid with its nameplate and the GPK logo can be peeled from the backing. Many of the card backs feature puzzle pieces to form giant nine-card murals; other back subjects vary greatly among the series, from humorous licenses and awards to comic strips and, in more recent releases, "Fakebook" profiles.
Fifteen original series of regular trading cards were released in the United States, with various sets released in other countries. Two large-format card editions were also released, as well as a set of fold-out posters. All-New Series sets were introduced in 2003, Flashback re-releases began in 2010, and a Brand-New Series was announced for 2012 with Brand New series 2, Chrome Original Series 1, and Brand New Series 3 following in 2013. A new format was released in 2014, using the year as the edition, followed by the release name of Series 1, which had an Olympics-style format.
The series was the brainchild of Topps consultant and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, who came up with the product idea after the success of his earlier creations, Garbage Candy and Wacky Packages. The concept originally began as an unreleased Wacky Packages title, but the management at Topps thought it would be a good idea for a separate spin-off series. Spiegelman and fellow cartoonist Mark Newgarden worked together as the editors and art directors of the project, Len Brown was the manager, and the first run of the cards was drawn exclusively by artist John Pound. They were first issued in 1985. Following the initial success of the cards, several additional artists and writers were brought in to contribute to the series, including Jay Lynch, Tom Bunk, and James Warhola, among others.
The cards were also known as "Bukimi Kun" ["ぶきみくん", Mr. Creepy] in Japan, "The Garbage Gang" in Australia and New Zealand versions, "La Pandilla Basura" [The Garbage Gang] in Spain, "Havurat Ha-Zevel" ["חבורת הזבל", "The Garbage Gang"] in Israel, "Basuritas" [Trashlings] in Latin America, "Gang do Lixo/Loucomania" [Trash Gang/Crazymania] in Brazil, "Sgorbions" [Snotlings] in Italy, "Les Crados" [The Filthies] in France and Belgium, and "Die total kaputten Kids" [The Totally Broken Kids] in Germany.
A smaller card format version was released in Australia and New Zealand. Each pack contained three stickers and the "peel here" indicator pointed to the top left area since there was no die-cut scoring. Initially in New Zealand a 6th series of the Garbage Pail Kids was released as a market test (this version was a mix of the United States series 6 and 7). After this success, Series 1 was released in Australia and New Zealand known as "The Garbage Gang" and were identical to the United States version (albeit smaller). The first series was released in Australia and New Zealand in 1989 with different versions: the Australian stickers were darker, had a different banner, and some of the names were changed to reflect cultural differences. From Series 2 onward, the same version was released in Australia and New Zealand. Series 4 was the last release of "The Garbage Gang".
The commercial success of the trading cards led to the production of a live-action movie, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, in 1987. An animated television series was also created, but its initial scheduled broadcast in the US was postponed due to parental complaints. The show did make a brief appearance on US television years after it was originally intended to air and was also briefly aired in Europe. The movie was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment on July 12, 2005 (the original VHS had been distributed by Paramount), and the cartoon series was later also released on DVD by CBS Home Entertainment on April 4, 2006 (coincidentally with distribution by Paramount).
During the height of the card series' popularity, Garbage Pail Kids were banned in many schools. One of the main reasons for the ban was that teachers cited them as distractions during class.
Topps was sued by the makers of Cabbage Patch Kids, Coleco, for trademark infringement. As part of the out-of-court settlement, Topps agreed to modify the appearance of the Garbage Pail Kids to remove the resemblance between the characters, and to change the logo design. Production of the cards themselves continued, but by 1988 sales had dwindled and a planned 16th series was never produced.
In 2003, Topps reintroduced Garbage Pail Kids with all-new artwork, dubbed the All-New Series ("ANS"). ANS1 was largely made up of artwork intended for release in the 1980s, but 2004's ANS2 featured brand new concepts. Unique numbers on the backs of silver- and gold-foil insert cards could be redeemed online at the official Garbage Pail Kids website where visitors build and "gross out" their own Garbage Pail Kids; as the number of unique code numbers applied to the character increases, the more gross it becomes. Less than six months later, ANS3 was released.
In 2005, Topps celebrated the 20th anniversary of the GPK franchise with special "Sketch Card" original art inserts for its ANS4 set. These were limited to one randomly inserted card per hobby-exclusive box (available only from specialty retailers) and featured original artwork by series regulars John Pound, Tom Bunk, and Jay Lynch, as well as guest artists Strephon Taylor, John Czop, Don Perlin, and Justin Green. Although a regular to the series with over 35 paintings, Luis Diaz was not involved in the sketch cards due to a previous financial dispute with Topps from years earlier.
In 2006, ANS5 was released with 40 more new kids (each with an a/b twin), followed by ANS6 in early 2007. January 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.
The ANS cards differ from the original series ("OS") in a number of ways, the most obvious being the upgraded quality of card stock with a glossy protective surface. The ANS releases also changed the card numbering format: OS cards used a continuous numbering pattern so that each new set would pick up where the last one ended (e.g. OS1 ended at 41a/b and OS2 picked up at 42a/b while ANS reset the numbering back to 1a/b with each subsequent release). Each ANS also featured special "chase cards" randomly inserted in packs; for example, Foil Cards show characters from the original series (with modified artwork due to the lawsuit), Scratch 'n Stink cards, Collectible Card Game cards, Temporary Tattoos, 3D Pop-Up cards, Alphabet cards, Activity cards, Magnets, lenticular Loco Motion cards, and die-cut Jigsaw Puzzle cards, along with special bonus cards available only at participating retailers in either "bonus boxes" or rack-packs; these bonus stickers were the first cards not to have a twin set.
Topps released a 25th anniversary Flashback set on February 24, 2010, featuring reprints of characters from the original 1985–87 GPK series (8 each from OS1 to OS8) plus six previously unpublished "Lost" characters and 10 "Where Are They Now?" cards showing classic GPKs drawn as they would appear today. Packs contained randomly inserted chase cards including lenticular Loco Motion, authentic Printing Plates, four levels of Parallels, and hand-drawn Artist Sketches by pop-culture artists including Layron DeJarnette, Brent Engstrom, Dave Gross, Mark Pingitore, Joe Simko, Colin Walton, Fred Wheaton, Jeff Zapata, and veteran GPK artists Tom Bunk and Jay Lynch.
A second Flashback set was released on February 23, 2011, with 65 more OS reprints from series 1 to 9 plus five more "Lost" kids, 10 new "WatN?" cards, five 3D cards (resembling holograms but in full color), one-of-a-kind Artist Sketches, and 10 "Adam Mania" cards showing variants of Adam Bomb's iconic mushroom cloud, plus Parallels of the base and Adam Mania sets.
GPK Flashback Series 3 followed on November 2, 2011, with 65 OS reprints, four "Lost" kids, 10 "WatN?" cards, five 3D cards, 10 Adam Mania cards, Artist Sketches, and Parallels.
Topps recently released a book that showcases the first five series. The cover depicts a pack from the very first series released back in 1985. Each card is displayed with the "a" name and the "b" name on the bottom corner of the page.
In 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" (BNS1). The set was released on October 24, 2012. BNS1 features 55 new GPK characters, a reality TV subset, motion cards, mix 'n' match stickers, parallels, artist sketch cards, and code cards redeemable for a chance to be painted as a GPK in the next BNS. BNS2 was released in March and features 55 new characters plus 18 reimagined characters plus lenticular cards, glow in the dark cards and folded cards. Unlike the all new series set and like the old series sets the numbering of BNS continues where the previous series ended. They have now announced that there will be a BNS3 released in the middle of October, after the release of the chrome edition in August.
Topps re-released the original series 1 as a chrome set; it contains all 41 characters from series 1 plus 14 unpublished characters. Released in October 2013.
On July 30, 2014 Topps re-released the original 1985 series 2 set plus a set of 13 returning characters from series 2 characters that have been reimagined in previous garbage pail kid sets as chrome cards. Chrome cards are thicker than the original cards and are not stickers.
Topps has released a series of all new cards with all new artwork for 2014. Like the older cards, these have activities on the back of the cards, including checklists, puzzles, and "Fakebook" profiles.
In July 2015 Topps released the 30th anniversary series it had 110 a and b cards (220 cards total). The numbering differed from previous series instead of going from 1-110AB it had several themed subsets each of which started at 1 a and b the subsets were checklist cards featuring variations of adam bomb 1-2ab, Adam Bomb don't push my button featuring classic GPK characters pressing Adam Bombs button 1-10ab, Artistic Impression featuring historical art as GPK characters 1-10ab, Artistic interpretation featuring characters drawn by guest artists 1-5ab, Comic book covers featuring art from the comic books 1-7ab, Cutting room floor featuring rejected concepts 1-5ab, Garbage pail kids kids featuring the children of classic Garbage pail kids characters 1-10ab, Garbage pail pets featuring animals as garbage pail kids 1-10ab, Garbage pail presidents featuring 10 former US presidents as Garbage pail kids 1-10ab, Lost original art featuring the original art which was never published of classic GPK 1-6ab, Zoom out featuring zoom outs of garbage pail kids showing what happened in the background 1-10ab and 80s spoofs featuring spoof of things that were popular in the 80s 1-25ab
On August 21, 1987, a live-action film based on the card characters was released. Its campy production made it both a critical and commercial flop, opening poorly in 374 theaters with initial receipts of $661,512 and total gross receipts of $1,576,615, barely making back its 1 million dollar budget. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 0% critic rating and 35% audience rating. The film is considered as one of the worst films ever made. Topps featured advertisements for the movie on the original series 9 and 10 box-topper poster and variant wrapper.
On March 12, 2012, it was announced that Michael Eisner's Tornante Company would be producing a new movie based on the Garbage Pail Kids, likely with computer-generated character imagery. Michael Vukadinovich has been hired to write the screenplay for the film and PES has been hired to direct. However, the film is currently no longer in development.