Last night on Dino Drac’s Facebook page, I randomly opened an old pack of Garbage Pail Kids. Doing so stirred many memories of my childhood GPK obsession, which had some incredible highs and lows.
If you were alive at the time, you should remember the highs. Collecting Garbage Pail Kids was something most kids had in common. You could talk about those cards with just about anyone. They were a way to turn the most distant acquaintance into a fast friend. We’d compare collections, trade our doubles, and just be so comfortable in the weirdness of it all. Hey, everyone else was doing the same thing.
The lows, at least around here, happened after word spread that they were “bad luck.” Things changed instantly. If you had GPK stickers on your marble notebooks, it was time to scratch them off. To be seen with them was to basically be a leper via accessory. Garbage Pail Kids were already sliding in popularity, but this was a different kind of peer pressure. Nobody wanted “the curse.”
Opening up that pack also reminded me that I had this. Garbage Pail Kids were popular enough to inspire legions of would-be usurpers. Over the years, there must have been dozens of upstart trading card sets that took more than a little inspiration from them. Very few of those sets caught on in any memorable way, but if you were a kid who liked disgusting trading cards, boy, you had options.
What you see above is the teaser card for Trash Can Tots, a shameless GPK ripoff distributed solely through vending machines in the ‘80s. Sold in uncut strips of three, the set is legendary among GPK diehards for its crude art and uninspired designs.
At core, those diehards are right. The art is really simplistic, and the characters are pretty plain. But there’s still something undeniably charming about these. I can’t help but think “Year 1 Neopets” when I look at them. (They were also great for kids who loved mimicry, because who couldn’t draw and color a Trash Can Tot?)
When compared to legit Garbage Pail Kids, the Trash Can Tots’ “gore and cruelty” levels were clearly toned down. Very few of them were indisputably gross, and many were actually pleasant. (“Jammin’ Joey,” for example, limited his weirdness to listening to a Walkman.)
I remember designing my own Garbage Pail Kids as a child. They weren’t this sugary, but the art was comparable. Trash Can Tots really did look like the work of a second grader. An extremely awesome second grader.
Their “lightness” had to be intentional, since real GPKs were controversial enough to be frequently banned in households, if not entire schools. In contrast, nobody could get too upset over “Slim Tim,” whose biggest offense was being skinny.
Hey look, they had one for me! They even got the hair right.