Garbage Pail Kids may be best known as a purposefully-puke-inducing trading card parody of a specific moment of mid-1980s ennui in the aftermath of the Cabbage Patch Kids toy phenomenon (notably the 1983 holiday retail riots it caused), but the franchise is still kicking in 2020. Moreover, this ‘80s icon is about to be tackled by a mainstay of 1990s culture, Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, for a new book series.
The Topps Company, perennial producers of the classic crude sticker cards, is teaming with author R.L. Stine for a three-book deal with the children’s division of publisher Abrams Books to produce a middle-grade-aimed series of books based on the Garbage Pail Kids, as EW reveals. The first of the initial trio, Welcome to Smellville, is already set to arrive on store shelves sometime this fall, depicting the exploits of previously one-dimensional trading card characters such as Adam Bomb (the exploding head mascot of the franchise), Brainy Janie, Junkfood John and Nervous Rex. Each book will be packaged with four exclusive sticker cards. As Stine lauds of the deal in a statement:
“The Garbage Pail Kids are ghastly, loud, messy, out of control . . . out of their minds. In other words, MY kind of kids!” He adds, “I’m hoping to create a book series that captures all the loopy slapstick fun of these uniquely awful characters, to get all middle-grade kids reading — and laughing.”
This new series seems to be a testament to the subversive cross-generational appeal of the Garbage Pail Kids, which launched the first of what would become myriad trading card series back in 1985, about two decades before the books’ target audience were even a gleam in the eyes of their parents. It’s an idea that’s especially evident with Welcome to Smellville, which bears cover art by Joe Simko and interior illustrations by Jeff Zapata, franchise mainstays, whose creative presentations have not deviated slightly from its ‘80s heyday.
The franchise, dismissed as a fleeting joke destined to be frozen in time, became a mid-to-late 1980s pop-culture phenomenon, not just because it was a subversive graffito (albeit a juvenile one,) applied to the then-ubiquitous Cabbage Patch marketing machine, but also due to the amazing, sometimes-stunning artwork of the sticker cards. This was complemented by the line’s collectability and tradability (often an ice-breaker for friendships). Indeed, borrowing the business model of baseball cards, the individual packs – initially priced at 25 cents each – were affordable to kids, who could easily treat themselves with some pocket change at a local convenience store or even near their own doorsteps by way of ice cream vans, which typically sold them as well. Plus, in a diabolical scheme, each card in the series had a variant with an equally-crude alternate name, doubling the duty of completists.
The pop culture dominance of the Kids climaxed in 1987 with a short-lived (and forgettable) animated series, and, most notably, its touted big screen venture, Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie, a box office bomb that, directed by veteran television helmer Rod Amateau, remains amongst the annals of film infamy, widely regarded as an unwatchable mess of bad jokes and disturbing (not in a good way) animatronic outfits. While that moment resulted in the franchise’s white-hot popularity cooling by the onset of the 1990s, Garbage Pail Kids remain lurking in the ether with various iterations, still crude and sometimes-satirical.
Consequently, it will be interesting to see what the creative recipe of R.L. Stine and the Garbage Pail Kids will yield when the books launch this fall.