Written by: Josh Hancock
Most children of the 1980s and perhaps even beyond have fond memories of picking up a pack of TOPPS trading cards from their local comic shop or collectible store; the most devout fans of such entertainment will recall the glory days of Wacky Packages, those colorful and off-color parodies of the time period’s most popular products and fads. At the same time, the Cabbage Patch Kids burst onto the scene, causing panic attacks and near-riots in toy stores across the country. Every kid wanted those cute, chubby-cheeked dolls that came with adoption papers and other such documents. Seizing upon a unique opportunity, and inspired by MAD magazine, TOPPS enlisted a number of talented artists to create the Garbage Pail Kids, a joyful send-up of the Cabbage Patch phenomenon. Directed by Joe Simko and Jeff Zapata, 30 Years of Garbage expertly chronicles the rise of these hilarious and delightfully morbid trading cards that featured characters such as Valerie Vomit, Foul Phil, and Messy Tessie. Kids loved ’em, parents hated ’em, and TOPPS scored big with this widespread pop-culture hit.
30 Years of Garbage includes interviews with many of the artists and personnel who contributed to the success of the Garbage Pail Kids cards. Art Spiegelman (Maus) provides a great deal of historical insight and engaging anecdotes, as do Len Brown, Jay Lynch, John Pound, and James Warhola. In addition to covering the origins and increasing popularity of the series, the documentary also addresses some of the legal troubles the makers of the controversial product experienced, as well as the much-ballyhooed feature film based on the zany characters. The film is well-made, entertaining, and despite its somewhat lengthy running time (for a documentary, that is), fast-paced. The filmmakers make sure that 30 Years of Garbage doesn’t enter into “talking head” territory; instead, spliced throughout every interview, audiences are treated to archival footage and bright, vivid, full-color renditions of all the Garbage Pail Kids cards (plus some other creative and artistic touches that add a fun, comic-book “flavor” to the picture). Just getting to see all those old cards again and being reminded of some of my most favorite characters from childhood was the highlight of the film for me. For a kid of the 80s, 30 Years of Garbage is a fun, informative trip down memory lane–but the documentary might also inspire a new generation to seek out these incredible (and incredibly funny) pieces of Americana.
For fans of these trading cards, 30 Years of Garbage is the ultimate behind-the-scenes tribute. Considering all that is controversial and disruptive in the world today, it’s amazing to consider that the Garbage Pail Kids once caused such an uproar, but indeed their rebellious reputation is part of their charm. Check out the trailer below and be sure to track down this impressive documentary if you can!