Garbage Pail Kids: Creative Destruction of 1980s (Counter) Culture


Art Spiegelman and several others working for Topps Company successfully challenged the cultural mileu of the 1980s with Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. Released in 1985, Garbage Pail Kids parodied Cabbage Patch Kids, widely popular and expensive dolls kids and parents went bonkers over. While some Garbage Pail Kids are a direct parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids, others are political in nature. For example, “Adam Bomb” shows a kid with a mushroom cloud exploding out of his head. Others include “Snooty Sam,” “Rappin Reagan,” and “Alice Island.” And each character has a twin. In the Garbage Pail World, there isn’t only Rappin’ Reagan but also his twin “Ray Gun.” These Garbage Pail Kids, then, could be considered commentary on the Reagan era, which was one of continued Cold War, the star wars initiative, and mass deportations of immigrants.  

But, like many successful parodies, the Garbage Pail Kids became iconic in their own right, and co-creators Mark Newgarden and Jay Lynch question this success. Newgarden explains the cards were made for mass production and for the kids, not collectors and obsessed fans. Jay Lynch compares the Garbage Pail Kids to graven images. He said, “The image of the Garbage Pail Kids stopped becoming satire and started becoming holy icons that just exist in and of themselves.”


1 Zapata, Jeff and Joe Simko, directors. 30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Kids Story. Lionsgate, 2017.