Garbage Pail Memories.

"First card I remember"
My six brothers and I survived our 1980's childhoods, as one of the many poverty stricken families living in a then troubled London. An age awash in a diet of unemployment, welfare checks, and Tesco value Fish Fingers, the lack of finance unintentionally rendered us a group of siblings innovative by design; aiding my future path of humility, and general survival instincts in the daily grind. On the flip-side however, we also had to endure missing out on whatever global festive craze pounded open the wallets of parents worldwide on an annual Christmas basis; He-Man, BMX Bicycles, and Care Bears, as examples of this.

In 1983. A collection of plastic infants known as the Cabbage Patch Dolls, hit this deep commercial nerve hard -  $4.5 billion worth of global sales hard, that is. The crusade of parents to secure a doll for their child is the stuff of legend - such is the power of commercial manipulation upon the nature of fragile human emotion, and in many ways, the modern absurdity of a Black Friday stampede, began with these lumps of moulded plastic with wigs glued on their heads. For the Gunnell household though, they were simply far too expensive. Thankfully, there was a cheaper, more disgusting and sometimes disturbing alternative; part gruesome, part fascinating, and as successful as it was subversive, it carries a special place as a source of 80's childhood entertainment - made even better by the fact parents hated it... The Garbage Pail Kids!

Released in 1985 by Topps as a stance against the bland, corporate cabbage monster, the trading cards were the antithesis of everything the Cabbage Patch Dolls stood for. Cheap, cheerful, and containing vast collections of oddly distorted animated characters wonderfully rotten to the core, the stickers were a major playground hit; which at 20 pence (UK price) for a five card pack, was affordable to even the poorest of pan-handlers. While the stampede creating multi-million selling Cabbage Dolls were presented as cuddly, conservative goody too shoes - created to slot nicely into those prosperous flawless families; the kind which only exist in John Hughes movies and The Waltons. Their gruesome, low-brow, rebellious and downright crude trading card opposite, belonged to my world; the raw, blunt reality of blue collar street kids; who preferred parent scaring grime and grunge, over the pale bliss of perfection.

"Very Messy"
The Garbage Pail Kids - who would release a regular series of fresh cards each year, eventually proved so popular it spawned a movie which – while a massive flop, and rightly considered terrible by most conventional movie lovers (It’s IMDB rating currently stands at 2.7 out of 10.0), it retains a special place in my heart due to my elder brother purchasing an ex-rental copy in 1990, and forcing us - in a nice way, to watch it as a sibling family every night for three weeks straight. If anything, it is arguably the most off-beat movie ever made; and deserves some credit for being different, at the very least - even if farting midgets in plastic suits just isn't funny, and full grown men leaving a kid for dead in a sewer, is actually pretty unnerving.

As the 1990's took over, and once devoted infants shelved their stickers for silly teenage haircuts and the fashion abomination known as shell-suit tracksuits, the Garbage Pail Kids faded into oblivion. However, over the past few years - and born from a mixture of retro cool and the discovery of a new generation, fresh designs of the characters have been released and sold by Topps; albeit in smaller amounts. Of course, children are far less attentive today, and the cards are unlikely to ever retain the dizzying heights of the mid 1980’s. But that's good with me, because in my view, the entire gang belong to history as a unique, rebellious footnote of a decade where standing out amongst an explosion of colour, was a very, very difficult task to achieve. And yet they remain so memorable, I write about this article, almost three decades later.

So I salute all those Messy Tessie’s and Nat Nerds; which remain half stuck on unfurnished walls and cupboards of 80’s children - long vanquished from their childhood abodes. Or as yet unopened packs containing Potty Scottys, Adam Bombs, and genuine 1985 air. You grotesque bunch were there for all us kids who wanted inexpensive mayhem, as a firm and welcome middle-finger to ridiculously expensive toys; allowing an alternative in yielding to public pressure, and generally grossing kids out with images only less disgusting, than the taste of the stiff as Shatner chewing gum stick, which came within each pack. You scared me, shocked me, and even caused the odd family fight; but I will never forget you - in spite of the movie doing the franchise more harm than good.

And for those reading this article; If you have any childhood Garbage Pail memories of your own, visit my Facebook page and post them to my wall. I would love to hear them...

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80's Forever said...

I can honestly say, my mom never minded me collecting these. I didn't have a massive collection, had only a few, but they were a cool card to collect.

Lee Gunnell said...

Sounds like you had a cool mother. I only possessed a few too, but having many brothers, quite a few were stuck around the house. :-)

Matt said...

What a beautifully written retrospective. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Still have a full set of series 3, and the movie. I remember in 2nd grade finding the card that had my name on it and proudly showing it to my mom exclaiming "It's me!", and not understanding why she got so angry... I guess she didnt want to be the mother of "Stoned Sean".

Anonymous said...

Bring them back

Anonymous said...

I did the exact same thing!!! i still have the stoned sean sticker on a old binder.

JACLYN said...

They were such a memorable part of my childhood too. I treat myself to unopened packs off ebay every once in awhile.