Those of us who were children in the late 1970s remember a form of schoolyard wampum that was ubiquitous at the time. We traded them with each other, and bought them from the corner sweet shop with our allowance, for 25 cents a pack. We’d huddle and inspect each other’s collections, muttering “got it, got it, need it, got it, need it.” We carefully stored them in plastic sleeves for the future, in meticulous fashion.
Haha! I was totally kidding about that last one. We stuck them all over our bedroom door, until our parents grew furious and made us scrape them off with a putty knife, turning them into garbage.
They were STICKERS.
You probably know about Garbage Pail Kids, and Wacky Packages. In the early going, these were wonderfully sick little paintings, and plastered into a door-size collage, they made for a fun gross-out marathon when friends came over.
Wacky Packs (as they’re affectionately called) had an inferior imitation called Crazy Labels*, but here’s the thing; they were still pretty good. They had an unfortunate tendency to work the phrase “PURE FUN” onto almost every card, but they were still painted and Prestyped, just like Wackys. I don’t know how hard they are to find; I would surmise harder than Wacky Packages.
*Crazy Labels had “Don’t-Eat-Those” for “Doritos”, and that’s a good one.
Weird Wheels was a brief crazy-car series I adored. “The Blobb”, “Zom B. Zee”, “Voo Doo Vette”; these were affordable works of art. Mars Attacks! was legendary, sure, but you couldn’t stick them on your door or headboard. You had to keep them in a shoebox, and make sure your little brother didn’t get to it.
For the first nine or so series of Garbage Pail Kids, the Kids were a very obvious parody of Cabbage Patch Kids, which were the hottest thing going in the mid-1980s. Everybody’s big sister had a Cabbage Patch doll, I swear. An endless series of stickers depicting every imaginable misfortune befalling what looked like Cabbage Patch Kids was powerful playground juju. Plus, every GPK was printed under two different mocking names, and if a friend happened to have the same name, you could slap it onto their notebook and laugh at them. It was a grand time all around.
I dabbled in stickers for girls because they got the puffies, the holograms, the glitters and the scratch-and-sniffs. Girls received these from teachers because they did better in school. You could buy packs of them at the 5 & 10, but it felt like cheating. The most coveted Scratch-and-Sniffs were Pizza, Cotton Candy and Hot Buttered Popcorn. The unpopular ones were Smelly Socks (natch), Cut Grass and Skunk. Skunk could render a Trapper Keeper unusable. It wasn’t patchouli, like He-Man’s Stinkor; it was the same smell as the little fuckers that would pop off in the woods behind the house at night.
But stickers for girls never reached the level of subversion that the boys’ stuff did. Norm Saunders was a master illustrator and painter in the middle 20th century, and did tons of art for Topps. The lion’s share of Wacky Packs were conceived by Jay Lynch and Art (Maus) Speigelman, both seminal figures of 1960s underground comix, and painted by Saunders at a quality on par with the advertising it lampooned. From the 40s to the 70s, there existed a fabulous vein of oneupmanship in comics and cards, with MAD magazine and Wacky Packages exhibiting the very cream of the crop.
This was merely the tip of the gum-backed iceberg. There were stacks more stickers out there, of monsters, ghouls, robots, you name it. But Topps had the best, every one die-cut to the unique outline of the art. That’s where I first learned of the power of parody, humorous subversion, and gross-out gags.
Not to mention big trouble from Dad, for messing up my bedroom door.