Two decades from now, when today’s kids want to show their children their favorite trading cards, they won’t be pulling out Pete Roses, George Bretts or Buddy Biancalanas. Instead they’ll be dusting off such treasured images as Leaky Lindsay, a stringy-haired little she-monster whose runny nose equals Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. Or they’ll haul out Wrinkled Rita, Oliver Twisted, Bad Breath Seth, Messy Tessy, Dead Fred and the rest of the 88 dirt bags who populate the world of the Garbage Pail Kids.
A cross between Cabbage Patch dolls and Mad magazine cartoons, Garbage Pail Kids are the new kings and queens of the trading card world. Introduced last June by Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.—the Brooklyn, N.Y. company of baseball card and Bazooka Bubble Gum fame—the Kids are a spin-off of Topps’s Garbage Pail Candy—a plastic waste can filled with confectionary versions of fish heads, old shoes and other detritus. Yet company spokesman Norman Liss admits that the sight of the peel-off cards plastered on the nation’s buses, books and doorways “was really unexpected.”
Priced at 25 cents for a pack of five cards and a slab of pink bubble gum, the lowlife Kids are apparently turning high profits. Mohmmed Khan, who owns two Manhattan candy stores, reports sales of nearly 500 packs a day. Joan Fernbacher, owner of Candy Alley in Los Angeles, sells out her stock “within two days, and if your store is near a school, like mine is, that’s to be expected.” Chicago teacher Judy Feiertag says her students “like the takeoffs on the Cabbage Patch dolls, which they thought were a little silly.” But the real gauge of the Garbage Pail phenomenon is that at least one school, Manhattan’s PS 6, has banned the Kids from its premises. “They’re a disruption, a distraction,” says principal Jack Zuckerman, who concedes that the cards “are the most popular things in creation.”
If some children have long held that Topps’s bubble gum lacks taste, some adults are now making the same complaint about the company’s latest product. “The cards have a risqué bathroom humor that 8 or 9 year olds think is funny,” says Chicago teacher Feiertag. “They’re also nasty and insulting, which might appeal to an insecure child.” Even the Garbage Pail Kids’ most ardent defenders make no claims for propriety. “They’re funny and gross,” explains New York’s Ariel Siegelberg, 9, “and I like gross things.”