Collectibles: The art of the playground fad

  • @timwalker

If you didn't spend much time in school playgrounds during the mid-1980s, then the Garbage Pail Kids will mean very little to you. But to those of us who swapped and hoarded these gross stickers, a new hardcover collection of their artwork makes for a particularly sick nostalgia trip. The Garbage Pail Kids were produced by US collectibles manufacturer Topps. Each pack contained one stick of dry bubble gum and three stickers. The book, Garbage Pail Kids (Abrams, £12.99), features images of 206 stickers: some hauntingly familiar, others infuriatingly rare.

Somewhere in my mother's attic is a scrapbook filled with the originals: multiple images of cartoon children with names such as "Swollen Sue Ellen", "Disgustin' Justin" and "Hugh Mungous". A high percentage are characterised by snot, vomit, farts and other scatalogical proclivities. The era of their birth is obvious from the likes of "Rappin' Ron", a baby-faced version of President Reagan, and "Deaf Geoff", whose ghetto blaster has blown a hole in the side of his head. These were our Pokémon: unregulated, unsanitised (actively de-sanitised, in fact), and collected assiduously with whatever pocket money we could muster.

Artist Art Spiegelman was among those responsible for creating the Garbage Pail Kids in 1985, as his famous comics memoir of the Holocaust, Maus, was awaiting publication. The stickers were a response to the popular Cabbage Patch Kids dolls: a wittier, grittier parody.

Banned in some US schools, they even spawned a dreadful straight-to-VHS movie in 1987. As Spiegelman writes in his introduction to the book, "Garbage Pail Kids became as big a phenomenon as Cabbage Patch Kids. They offered something that was not so benign and parent-friendly; rather, it provoked: 'Oh, my god, what is that? Where did you get those? Your allowance is cut off! And you're grounded!'"