Gum With The Wind

Last week I heard from a talented Nevadan named Jeaux Janovsky, whose mind was warped decades ago by the Garbage Pail Kids craze that swept the nation in the mid-’80s.

I use the term "warped" in the most complimentary way possible, since GPK exposure at an impressionable age apparently generated cartoonists with appealingly perverse comedic outlooks as copiously in its day as did exposure to the Kurtzman-era Mad magazine a generation earlier.

If you want to see what the creative upshot has been for Jeaux, pay a visit to his Jeauxland website or watch him chat about the orphaned pirate spawns in his Peg-Leg Orphanage. But Jeaux’s charming work is not really the topic of the day. Instead, let me clear something up about me and those Garbage Pail mutants spawned by Topps Chewing Gum.

In his first email Jeaux complimented me for being a card-carrying contributor to the GPK phenomenon. He is far from the first to do so, and I am not above basking occasionally in the reflected glory that comes with that history. But I really should put this matter into perspective once and for all.

My involvement in the GPK scene was truly marginal and brief. Other cool cartoonists (including my friend and fellow underground comix veteran Jay Lynch) also had a hand in the GPK series before it ended. They did themselves proud and we all had fun.

But that being said, the true glory for GPK illustrations should rightly and almost exclusively go to John Pound, whose brilliant paintings (as exemplified by the sample card on the left below) set the standard for the series and merit comparison to the hilarious work that Will Elder did with Kurtzman in their best collaborations.

To the right of Pound’s aforemented depiction of Itchy Richie is an example of my mock-certificate art that appeared on a series of oversized GPK cards Topps published late in the GPK arc. Mine were mere back-of-the-card divertissements (the "B-sides," in vinyl phonograph-record parlance, to John Pound’s "A-side" offerings.

This is not to denigrate my own drawings. They are perfectly good Howard Cruse drawings that I don’t at all disown. I’m especially fond of the certificate border that I drew for these cards — inspired as it obviously is by the manic Kurtzman borders that wrapped around the first few issues of Mad after it metamorphosed from comic book to magazine.

But let’s face it, I’ve never pretended to have the painting chops called for if you’re going to play in John Pound’s playground.

Still, I was happy to have the gig, which was the last of a string of cartooning assignments that came my way during the early days of my career, beginning shortly after I moved from Birmingham to New York City.

Maybe I’ll talk about some of those other Topps jobs (including my stint drawing Bazooka Joe comic strips) in some future installment of this blog.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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One Response to Gum With The Wind

  1. Remember Wacky Packs? I think they came before GPK, but I’m not sure. I still have a bunch of mine, pack rat that I am for that kind of thing.

    Never really collected Garbage Pail Kids though..probably because even as satire, I really loathed that Cabbage Patch Kids craze they were poking fun at (I loved your Cabbage Patch Clone cartoon though). On the other hand I loved anything that made fun of advertising, which was basically what Wacky Packs did. You could have had a blast with something like that.

    I’ve always been curious about something: Do the artists for stuff like that get to create their own material, or were they illustrating someone else’s ideas?

    Oh Gosh…you did Bazooka Joe strips? I recall someone did a satire on those with Joe and Mort descending through the rings of hell a’la Dante.

    I’m amazed at how much of that pasty pink chewing gum I went though in my childhood. The cartoonists can definitely say they brought the customers in on those, because I know I’d never have bought that awful gum all by itself. I don’t think anybody would have.