Buff Monster And The Melty Misfits Are Going Jumbo

Den of Geek talks to Buff Monster about The Melty Misfits Series 4, his love of Garbage Pail Kids, and the power of the "Jumbo" trading card format.

Buff Monster Melty Misfits eBay
Photo: Buff Monster

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The Melty Misfits, creations of artist, painter, and street artist Buff Monster, exist in a brightly colored universe where whimsy and the macabre intermingle. The creations’ strangely cute, typically cyclopic, buck-toothed faces are set inside an ice-cream-based anatomy and, like the tasty treat from whence they evolved, they are always in a state of melting — which means, like life itself, their existence is fleeting. 

The ephemeral nature of The Melty Misfits is especially appropriate considering, since 2012, they have made appearances on highly collectible, vintage-style, wax-pack sticker trading cards. Initially introduced as an homage to the Garbage Pail Kids card series that first appeared in 1985, which were grotesquely comedic parodies of the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, Buff Monster’s sought-after misfit children often pay tribute to pop culture or works of art. 

And with Series 4 of The Melty Misfits debuting exclusively on eBay on October 6, collectors will seek to acquire these new cards, appearing for the first time in “Jumbo” format, before the opportunity slips through their fingers like ice cream on a hot summer day. 

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In advance of this exclusive release on eBay, Buff Monster joined Den of Geek for a video interview to discuss his longtime love of Garbage Pail Kids, why he’s chosen to release the new cards in a “Jumbo” format, and to tease out a little of what fans can expect from this series. 

You can watch the virtual panel discussion below, or read on for the Q&A transcript.

Den of Geek: What is the appeal of Garbage Pail Kids? What spoke to you about them when you were a little kid?

Buff Monster: Garbage Pail Kids came out when I was a kid, and I found them when I was about six years old. There was something about them that really captured my interest. Even as a kid, I knew that they were painted. They had this really cute, round sensibility. The characters were eternally happy regardless of what crazy situation they were in. They were underground, they were a little edgy and stuff. Like a lot of kids at the time, they just really seemed to hit some sort of unspoken nerve, and have stuck with me for a long time.

For me, one of the things with Garbage Pail Kids is that you can pull the sticker off of the card. And years later, I wish I hadn’t done this, but I was pulling the stickers off and putting them on my notebooks, Trapper Keepers, desk, everywhere I could. Were you a sticker puller or did you keep them on the cards?

I pretty much kept them on the cards, but I think you using them like that is great. That’s what they were supposed to be. There were cheap cards; it was 25 cents for five cards and a stick of gum. They were cheap, disposable, they made millions of them. They were meant to be used by kids, they were meant to be stuck on Trapper Keepers, and bikes and everything. That’s just what they were. It’s only all these years later that they’ve really become collectible, but that was never really what it was from the beginning.

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Which is precisely what I’ve used eBay for because, now, I’m recollecting all of the things from my childhood that I either blew up with a firecracker or stuck on Trapper Keepers or whatever. 

Everyone is, and that’s why the prices are going up. Everyone [is an] adult, everyone’s got a job. Everyone has money to buy the things they had when they were a kid, and so there we go.

Is there a first GPK card that you recall getting?

The first ones I saw, there was a couple of characters from Series Two and a couple characters from Series Three. Series Three had just come out when I’d seen them, so that was just such a funny time. Back then, I didn’t know what they were. And we went to this card/comic book store and they had already pulled a Series One set and a Series Two set that were in a case. And I think they were like 60 bucks or 80 bucks, and I was like, “God, that’s expensive, man.” Eighty bucks in 1986? That was a lot. I had never bought anything for 80 bucks.

Now, of course, those sets go for more. But even back then, it was like, “Oh man, okay, you got to pay a premium if you wanted the set.” But then we would just stop by this convenience store on the way home from school, my mom would buy whatever and we’d get a couple packs of cards. 

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Trading cards are a way for me to take this thing from our childhood, this thing that was readily available and not super collectible, low-price mass-made item. And really transform that into something totally different, transform it into this low run artist made product, collectible. So, that is always something fun, I think that transformation is what’s interesting.

Well, and I would add that with Garbage Pail Kids, and I think the inspiration that you’re carrying over with Melty Misfits is that, with GPK, even though this was targeting kids — targeting a younger audience and of course, older folks collected them as well — they were never cheating on the artwork. The artwork was always just so gorgeous and solid. So it wasn’t like they took this approach of, “Since this is for kids, whatever, we don’t have to actually have very good artwork.” It was good artwork, right?

It was, yeah. John Pound is the original artist. He did a lot of totally different things before that, that are really amazing. And he’s gone on to do totally different things after that, but he created that signature look. Even as a kid, I didn’t know it was a guy named John Pound and then these other guys, but I could tell they were painted. And the thing that always got me about Garbage Pail Kids was that the art was made for the cards. It wasn’t like a photo of a baseball player that was some derivative thing from the game. This isn’t a derivative thing, this is the art is made for the cards. And so the card becomes the original thing. It isn’t a derivative of something else, it is the thing itself. Look, I’ve switched to doing the artwork digital these days for a variety of reasons. Series One and Series Two were hand painted, but all those original Garbage Pail Kids artwork, and even actually still today that they’re making them, they’re all painted by hand. The craftsmanship and everything that goes into them is just top-notch.

Well, let’s talk about the Melty Misfits, of course. As a kid, you were a GPK fan and you were inspired as an artist, but Melty Misfits are an entirely different thing. They exist, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you’ve said they’re a metaphor for life. Ice cream is a metaphor for life and these characters are largely… there’s a slight darkness sometimes but also a whimsy to them. For you, what have been your favorite Melty Misfit creations that you’ve come up with? Who are your favorite children?

There is big variety, as you mentioned. Some are really cute and cuddly, some are darker. There is this subversive thing to it which was not intentional, but just how it is. I think if you take them as a whole, if you’re talking about ice cream as a metaphor for life, then you need a range of characters to try to capture that range of emotions that life is. And so I think I’m known for the bright, happy ones and those are the ones that I’m drawn to. But for me, characters that are forlorn or are not happy in a way, I feel like it’s a little bit more accurate in terms of day-to-day life. But I also think it’s just extra ridiculous that, here’s this ice cream character that’s just not happy. It just seems so preposterous, so those are always fun to play with, for sure.

Some of my favorites end up being the ones that are tinged with a bit of an evil side, or seem to have a parallel in the horror genre. I don’t want to say villains, but some seem to have a bit of a villainous side. Amongst your fans, which tend to be the ones that they gravitate to? Is there a most popular Melty Misfit out there?

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I would expect that collectors like the variety, for sure. And I think, as far as what would be the most collectible or the most valuable would definitely be along the lines of card Number One, for example, because it’s card Number One. Or series that I’ve done that are super limited. Some of the production runs we do are a decent size that makes sense, some of them are just rare, just small, just because of certain circumstances. The thing about doing these trading cards is that there’s a lot of technical things that we need to live within inside of. There’s limitations in terms of the paper we can use or how much we can get of it. There’s all sorts of limitations. Vendors we rely on go out of business so we’ve got to use someone else, or there’s always something we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with old printing presses, and so there’s limitations in terms of kiss cutting and all that sort of stuff. There’s all these things that you don’t normally… For me, I actually don’t really have to deal with it. I make a lot of things and most things are just how they are, but these ones we really need to live with inside of these constraints that we just can’t do anything about. So some things do become rare just because we just didn’t make that many of them, or where we sold them and there’s just not much in the archive.

So it’s like collectors want, “Oh, do you have this thing?” And it’s like maybe, or not, or I just don’t have that many of them. And so I think for me, it’s about the authenticity of it. It isn’t like this manufactured scarcity. “Oh, let’s just make 10 and then it’ll be impossible to get.” I never want to do something like that. Yeah, we’ll do rare things, but it has to be reasonably attainable. If it’s a one-off sketch card, well, that’s just what it is. The golden tickets, there’s only three of them, so that’s just what it is. But other things, the error cards, well, each one’s different. You can’t really get a complete set of errors, that’s just not possible. So some stuff is just rare, that’s just what it is, and some stuff is reasonable to collect. And I think having that variety is what makes it interesting.

There’s an irony there because you mentioned manufactured scarcity. That is something that we’ve seen where companies only release a certain number of things, or there seems to be a variant that’s put out there. But, really, the origin of that scarcity as a collector is that people used these toys, people collected these cards, and they were damaged or they went away. Or some of us put the stickers on notebooks, there was an authentic scarcity. So even this Melty Misfits vintage style pack actually replicates the original scarcity of collectibles, which is just ironic, it seems like.

Well, as far as the wax packs go, all those machines that the trading card companies used to do the wax packs back in ‘80s have all been destroyed. So you can’t even find one of those, you can’t even put one together with spare parts. They just don’t exist. And so my partner, Tom, he built his own waxing machine and he’s the only guy still in the world that does these old-school wax packs. And so they’re printed, they’re waxed, and then each one is folded and sealed by hand one at a time, in America.

It’s a very labor intensive thing. Tom has been doing this for a while. I’ve been working with Tom for eight years, that’s how many years we’ve been doing Melty Misfits for, but he’s not going to be doing it forever. It’s all a moment in time kind of thing. We’re working on stuff, we’ve been working on stuff, we’ll work on some more stuff at some point. But there will be a time where it just won’t be feasible, so just like the history where trading cards has moved away from that, we’ll eventually just have to move away. Or stop doing it because nothing’s sustainable, which really gets back to the whole metaphor of ice cream in the first place.

Now you mentioned the golden tickets. Tell me about what Golden Melties are?

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The main series of Melty Misfits Series One, Series Two, Series Three, we put in golden tickets. And the golden tickets basically allow the person who found it to create their own character. And so basically, it was just an interesting situation where for Series Three, which was the most recent one, all three golden tickets have been found. And most people hadn’t seen that artwork that I’d made for those winners, either. So this was just an interesting opportunity to do a special pack that would have these three special cards in it. And that was good. That was a good thing. It’s fun that we can do a special little pack like that every once in a while.

Well, and the Golden Melties pack that was available on eBay also included a promo card for the next series of Melty Misfits, that will be available via eBay…

We’ve got our new series coming out, it’s the jumbo series and the jumbo cards is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. Again, going back to production issues, there’s a lot of production issues related to doing jumbo cards. There are just certain technical limitations that I just never dealt with or never, for whatever reason, we just didn’t go down that road but this was the time. 

So eBay reached out and we talked about doing some exclusive releases. And obviously, I use eBay to buy Garbage Pail Kids and all sorts of stuff. So eBay is a good resource for things and I think a good price guide maybe, to see what things are going for. I thought this was a great opportunity. Here’s a set I wanted to do and here’s a new partner I can team up with to release them. And here they are, it’s 20 new characters, all new artwork. You know them more than anybody.

I know a little bit.

So it’s great, they’re sticker cards, they’re five by seven, which is four times the size of a normal trading card. It’s actually the same size that the artwork was made, all the artwork is always made five by seven inches. Again, going to these production limitations, basically we’re using custom made sticker paper. And when we were talking about doing this, there was a certain amount of paper that was available for us to use and so that’s how big the edition became. If we wanted to do a few more packs or a few more sets, the minimum order would be like $6,000 of paper and that paper actually has an expiration date on it. And so it just became this thing where it’s like, well, we’re just not going to do that. We’re just not going to go down that road and I thought that what paper we had available was sufficient.

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So what the “Jumbo” set is, it’s going to be 200 numbered boxes. We’ve never numbered the boxes before but being that it’s the “Jumbo” size, we can actually have silk screen prints. And that’s really where the numbering came in. So doing a two and a half by three and a half screen print doesn’t make any sense, but five by seven inches actually becomes more interesting. So there’s four silk screen prints, signed and numbered, out of 200. And that’s what that is and then of course, we have some loose packs besides that. But yeah, man, they look good. Man, they look good. Using fluorescent inks and all this special stuff we put into it, I’m really happy with how they turned out.

But you’re literally in the process of printing them right now, right, as we’re having this talk?

Well, they were printed a little while ago but my partner just finished packing them. Just getting them in wax packs and all that sort of stuff. And should be shrink wrapping them any day now, maybe they’re already shrink wrapped. I don’t know, but I’m going up… Well, by the time this airs, I will have already gone up to Vermont to pick them up.

This notion of “Jumbo” cards, it does seem like you’re just making a lot of work harder for yourself. What is the appeal of the “Jumbo” card? Even maybe, what’s the history, from that vintage perspective?

I think in this whole process of doing The Melty Misfits, everything’s just making my life harder. Everything. It’s just a crazy amount of work; it’s stressful. Even after eight years and eight series, you’d think it’d get easier but it actually gets more difficult. Our vendors go out of business or there’s certain technical limitations we have to deal with. It just gets harder to do and we’re not even trying to make it better than it was. I just want to do it just the same as it was, and that’s hard to do. It’s pretty crazy, how much work goes into it.

So, for example, with the “Jumbos”: So, normally we’d want to do a kiss cut, which is an old-school, this weird shape that goes around. And when we’re doing the smaller cards, that makes sense. We’re using a printing press from the 1950s, actually not printing but doing the kiss cutting. And it’s got grippers and all that so basically, we could do two cards kiss cut at a time, on each side of the sheet. But that’d mean that the fifth card, the middle column of cards could not be kiss cut. Then it’s like, “Okay, well, are we going to have, I don’t know, five cards out of the set that don’t have kiss cut?” I was like, “No, we can’t do any kiss cuts and that sort of stuff.

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But there is a historical precedent for five-by-seven “Jumbo” cards. They were never done in wax packs, as far as I know. Garbage Pall Kids had done some “Jumbos,” but those were in cellophane packs. This is a real opportunity to really do something kind of crazy, and what I always wanted to do was to use the same box. So that we’re using this old tombstone cut out box of four stacks of cards, six packs up, but I really wanted to do this bigger pack that fits in the same box. So it’s all just part of this thing.

I’m going to ask you for a little bit of a tease here. Is there a card that you’re most excited for fans to check out, out of the new series of Melty Misfits? Anything that you just want to tease out a little bit?

There’s definitely some good ones in there. Working on this set … So for me, working on new series, I only really want to do new series if there are designs that I like. That I think are good and it makes sense to do. I don’t want to be in a place where I’m beating a dead horse, I’m jumping the shark; I don’t want to be in that place. So working on a new set, I knew I wanted to do about 20 designs for this one. I started looking back through designs, even from Series One. Every time I do a new set, there’s always new ideas, the best ones get made. The other ones don’t get made for a variety of reasons and so there’s always going back and seeing, what do I want to do?

And so for this one, actually, there are some good designs that I just never did. And part of it is the longer I do it, the better I get at drawing the characters. So there’s some ideas where, eight years ago, I just couldn’t take that on, but now I can take it on and do a good job at it. There’s definitely some fun ones in there. I don’t know if I want to give away the surprise just yet, but I think there’s a nice mix of darker characters. There’s a nice mix of a couple of pop culture things in there. There are some historical art things in there. I like it, all with super bright colors and all that sort of stuff.

All right. Well, you can keep the secret safe for the moment anyhow, but the cards are on their way.

They are.

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We’ll be able to check them out soon enough. I won’t give away any secrets, but I can say having seen a lot of your work throughout these years, when I get to take a peek at the next series of cards. The next series of artwork, I continue to be wowed and blown away by the creativity because it’s like, “Okay, he’s done it again.” I can honestly say that with this next series, that it is a whole new, fresh injection of artwork but right within The Melty Misfits world, right at home there.

Well thanks, Aaron. 

Yeah, man, I’m excited for everyone else to see it. There are some good ones. I have some favorites already, but I won’t talk about it yet. All right. Well, with that said, The Melty Misfits next series is coming out via eBay, an exclusive collaboration between eBay and Buff Monster. Keep an eye out for those and I guess, to borrow a phrase from Buff, stay melty.

That’s right. Thanks, Aaron. Good to see you, man.