I was probably too young for Garbage Pail Kids. I was possibly too young for Cabbage Patch Kids too, for that matter, but had one anyway, given to me when I was 2 years old and my dumb Mom replaced me with a brand new baby. My Cabbage Patch Kid was named Maud (they came pre-named, with a birth certificate) and she had red yarn hair. My baby sister also got one, a brunette named Valerie, which I felt was unfair because she’d done nothing to deserve it besides poop and scream and steal my parents’ love.
Cabbage Patch Dolls were a huge phenomenon in the 1980s, and so too, eventually, were the little trading cards that parodied them. Topps bubblegum did Bazooka and other candy store staples. They’d paired baseball cards with bubblegum for years, and were expanding to “non-sport” cards as well. Failing to secure rights to do a legit Cabbage Patch line, they decided instead to do a “fuck you” line that would skewer these saccharine-sweet dolls.
30 Years of Garbage introduces us to the brilliant, twisted minds behind this idea that was obsessively collected by kids and doggedly censored by parents and principals. Jacques Cousteau, for some reason, cautioned parents that their Garbage Pail loving kids would inevitably end up on cocaine! I may have been too young to appreciate this stuff at the time, but I have certainly been aware of them in retrospect. These bubblegum comic artists tapped into a vein of childhood rebellion and ended up making lasting work.
I was shocked to learn that a Garbage Pail co-creator was none other than Art Spiegelman, who wrote Maus, a deeply moving graphic novel about the Holocaust (he uses cats and mice effectively – if you haven’t read it, you simply must). I shouldn’t be surprised that I’d never known the connection – his publishers worked hard to keep it that way!
30 Years of Garbage provides equal doses nostalgia and insight. You don’t need to love the product to find this documentary compelling: who got screwed, who got sued, who won the war between the First Amendment, and Product Disparagement?
But it’s also interesting because I see this fad repeating itself. My little nephew Brady is into something called Shopkins, which as far as I can tell, is a really stupid “toy”. It’s a tiny rubber thing, shaped like some grocery store item, about the size of a pencil eraser. He’s got a bag of rice, and a bag of flour that looks almost identical to the bag of rice. How these are fun toys I have no idea. We usually pile them on Lightning McQueen and race. But Brady’s own counter culture is already budding at 5 years old: Shopkins are parodied by the Grossery Gang, the same basic shitty toy, but disgusting (ie, mouldy cheese). I don’t get it, but adults aren’t meant to. It’s kind of cool that he’s got his own little act of rebellion, but if you’re in the mood for some throwback rebellion, here’s a hint: the Garbage Pail Kids are back.
30 Years of Garbage is playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival this Sunday, May 7th, 5:30pm at Innis Town Hall.