This story appears in the Den of Geek x eBay special edition trading card magazine.
The first thing you notice about Buff Monster is his name, one that conjures up mental images of a werewolf pumping iron. In reality, this NYC-based fortysomething is an unassuming guy who has become one of the world’s most in-demand street artists thanks to his unrelentingly optimistic work. Typically populated by sentient scoops of ice cream, Buff’s art (despite whatever his parents may have called him in his youth, Monster’s website is quick to point out that he considers his current moniker his “real” name) is as welcome as a trip to an ice cream parlor on a blazing summer’s day.
When glancing at Buff Monster’s works, it’s easy to get lost in the disorienting nostalgia it evokes. Does his art recall an impossible, idealized past? Or are his ice cream minions marching us all towards a better world full of all-you-can-eat unity and friendship? The Melty Misfits trading cards certainly make the latter feel true.
Since 2012, Monster’s various series of The Melty Misfits (produced with Tom Lichtman of Sidekick Labs Trading Card Publishing) have meticulously recreated the look and feel of vintage Garbage Pail Kids cards—using now-antiquated printing presses and custom-made sticker paper to recreate the feeling of unwrapping wax packs in the 1980s.
His characters are less gross than their GPK inspirations, but just as lovable, which is doubtlessly the reason that he is currently partnering with eBay for a special pack of The Melty Misfits this year that will introduce these creamiest of collectibles to an entirely new audience.
DEN OF GEEK: Tell me about the origins of The Melty Misfits cards.
Buff Monster: Tom [Lichtman] is a manufacturer, or he’s like a mad scientist that cares about vintage trading cards and has these old printing presses. He didn’t really have a say in the art because that’s not really his specialty. I didn’t know what the art was going to be at that point, I just agreed that we’d do it. We agreed on a production schedule, we agreed on a deadline. And it was up to me to figure out what these cards were going to be.
This humanoid ice cream character that I’ve been using now didn’t exist back then.
I really needed to develop this character in a very short period of time. Thinking about what kind of jokes or gags or situations this character would be in. And then to actually make the art.
What was the initial artistic process like for the cards?
I had always wanted to do airbrushing. So I had to buy an airbrush, I had to learn how to use the airbrush. That period of time to create those first 30 characters which became Series 1 was totally crazy. I was sleeping a short while, getting up, cranking through, taking a nap in the middle of the day, and working as late as I could. It was just this relentless, crazy period to get all this artwork done.
What’s remarkable about The Melty Misfits is that they have your style and aesthetic while still paying tribute to previous card lines like the Garbage Pail Kids through how authentic they seem.
I used to work in magazines and I have a background in printing and pre-production and all that sort of stuff, so I know this stuff. You have to understand the history of printing, and you have to understand the resolution that things are printed at, which is called line screening when it comes to printing. Most people don’t think about line screening even these days because in magazines or anything it could be done, like super digital—and the printing is going to end up nice and crisp and high-def and sharp. But that’s not how trading cards were printed in the ’80s. They were actually rezzed down. What I do is I tell the printer to dial that back to the resolution they would have been printed at in the ’80s. So it’s a subtle thing.
I asked my printer, “Does anyone else ask you to do this?” They said, “No one asks us to do this.” And that’s what I would assume because no one knows this and no one would even ask for this because everyone wants the new thing, the shiny thing, the high-def thing. And it’s like, “It’s not what I want.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about your favorite Garbage Pail Kids.
They all had an influence. Their roundedness, the eternal cuteness in the face of whatever situation they’re in. There’s a character from Series 3 of an ice cream cone thrown down on the ground, that one I think maybe subconsciously had an impact on me. I have a huge Garbage Pail Kids collection. I have a ton of stuff. Garbage Pail Kids from around the world, test wrappers, crazy stuff. But what I really focus on is the art. So I have the pencil sketches from Series 1 cards. I have color roughs. I have a few final paintings.
The ice cream one, Basking Robin from Series 3, card number 101, I have the original pencil sketch for that. I think I might have the color rough. I’ve got to dig through my collection and see. But yes, I’ve been able to kind of track down some of these ones that I really like.
I wanted to ask about your “We Will Persevere” poster because optimism is such a major part of your work. Are you finding any challenges in maintaining that, given COVID and the current political climate? How do you maintain that level of positivity right now?
With that poster in particular, “We Will Persevere,” that was originally presented as an opportunity to address COVID, and the day the poster was due was just after all the protests started after George Floyd. And so putting a fine point on it as it relates to COVID just seems inappropriate.
Now the poster, if it was just for COVID, it probably wouldn’t be too terribly different. And I did think about making a finer point of things, racial injustice, Black Lives Matter, this pandemic, the terrible president, but ultimately I thought, “I don’t think that’s quite the way to go.”
I always come back to what is going to be optimistic, what is going to bring a smile and joy hopefully to people, and also not insult people’s intelligence. I think we’re all aware, I think we’re all paying attention. I don’t think we need to spell it out so crystal clear. I think you can read it in different ways, depending on what you’re most concerned or bothered by.
What’s the alternative? Just pure chaos and everything just goes to hell? No. We will persevere. It might get worse before it gets better, but we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got to hope for a better future. That’s the only option, right?
The Golden Melties
Special The Melty Misfits Series 3 Pack Exclusively for eBay!
This special pack features three new cards (featuring the as-yet unseen artwork that Buff Monster made for the winners of the three Golden Tickets) plus four random Series 3 cards. The pack costs $5.00 (+S/H) and will be accompanied by a free promo card for the next series of The Melty Misfits, available via eBay at New York Comic Con.