They have the same pudgy, cherubic proportions as Cabbage Patch Kids--the dolls and characters famous for their homespun sweetness. But these are Garbage Pail Kids. They're bloody, mean-spirited and repulsive. They drink beer, play with shrunken heads and attract flies.
And they attract a phenomenal number of schoolchildren who have been collecting stickers of the Garbage Pail Kids on bubble-gum trading cards since they appeared last summer. Even with increased production shifts and new equipment, Topps Chewing Gum, the Brooklyn company that produced baseball trading cards for 35 years and now makes the Garbage Pail Kids cards, still can't keep up with the demand, a spokesman said.
"I get 45 calls every day to see if they're in," said Joan Fernbacher, owner of Candy Alley, a Los Angeles ice cream parlor in Brentwood. "The minute I get them in, they're gone within a half hour."
"It hasn't peaked yet," said Kenneth Kendall, a clerk at a 7-Eleven store just a block away from Costa Mesa's California Elementary School, which has banned the cards from its campus. "Parents buy cases of them for their kids. They buy them to shut 'em up."
But the Garbage Pail Kids' supersonic success has plenty of other adults annoyed, appalled or angered. Parents and teachers worry that children are wasting their allowance when they buy the cards and are being distracted from their studies when they trade or resell them, that they are developing unhealthy attitudes from the raunchy images and ruining furniture and appliances with the stickers.
"I put them all over my mom's car and got grounded for a week," admitted Darrin Leonard, 14, of Costa Mesa.
Many elementary schools nationwide have banned the Garbage Pail Kids stickers from their campuses.
Like Cabbage Patch Kids, the Garbage Pail Kids have double names. But instead of down-home names like Otis Lee or Rebecca Ruby, the Garbage Pail Kids include Bustin' Dustin, a stitched and bruised baby boxer whose bloody nose runs like a faucet; Dinah Saur, a grinning skeleton, and Pinned Lynn, a Voodoo doll stuck with nails. On the backs of some cards are "permits" to cheat or be stupid or "wanted posters" for adult relatives guilty of child abuse or meanness.
Xavier Roberts, the artist creator of Cabbage Patch Kids, is said to be furious. He is suing Topps for copyright infringement, according to Roger Schlaifer, president of Schlaifer Nance and Co., an Atlanta firm that negotiates licenses for Original Appalachian Artworks, makers of Cabbage Patch Kids.
Garbage Pail Kids cards "debase" the whole Cabbage Patch Kid image, carefully built up over the past four years to promote "wholesome, family, quality fun," which is "at the heart of the most positive aspects of American life," Schlaifer said.
Two years ago, Schlaifer said his firm rejected Topps' bid to reproduce Cabbage Patch Kids on its stickers because "their quality wasn't up to our standards." Garbage Pail Kids cards, he said, have all the marks of a "vindictive act."
Norman Liss, a spokesman for Topps, would say only that the lawsuit "has no merit." He did say, however, that the cards are so popular, Topps is now printing its fourth series of characters and still "can't produce enough" cards, although he declined to give any production figures. Some store owners suspect Topps of deliberately limiting the supply as a marketing technique.
Meanwhile, the relentless demand and an unpredictable supply have frustrated store managers, who say they could sell five times as many cards as they receive from distributors. "We order 12 boxes, and we're lucky if we get three," said Allison Stukkie, assistant manager of another Costa Mesa 7-Eleven store. "First, we limited sales to four per person, then we had to go to two." The cards are sold in packages of five, along with the gum, usually for 25 cents.
Mark Boyd of Back Bay Liquor in Costa Mesa said he sells the packs for 45 cents, mostly because they are so hard to obtain. He said he has obtained Garbage Pail Kids packages from independent distributors, and "they jacked the price up, too." There's no problem selling them at the higher price. Parents, he said, buy them by the case.
Loretta Rivera of Costa Mesa said she makes a few phone calls a day to help her 10-year-old son, Andy, track down available cards. "Seven-Elevens (receive shipments) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a couple of liquor stores on Wednesdays. We try to get there, but we're usually too early or too late."
'They're Very Creative'
Rivera knows she is nearly alone as a parent who actually likes the cards. "I think they're very creative . . . Cracked Jack, he's my favorite. He looks like an eggshell cracking, and a little chicken is coming out of his head. I don't know, I have a weird sense of humor I guess. I like the Marx Brothers too."
Her son washes floors and empties the dishwasher to earn money for the cards, she said.