Greetings, junk-fiends and welcome to the long awaited (right? RIGHT?!) third installment of GROSS OUT, your guide to the fetid, foul, forgotten toys of the toxic 1980s. We spent our time away in the crypt (bet you didn’t know the Clubhouse had a crypt!) thinking long and hard about what to palm off on you next… what neon-splattered nonsense to reveal to you, the rabid readers, so deserving of only the BEST of the worst the toy box has to offer. After some deliberation, we hit on something truly unBEARable.
Now, it’s a good bet that if you’re tuning into this column – if you’re checking out this website at all – you’re familiar with the Garbage Pail Kids. Unleashed by Topps in 1985, the lovable little scamps took the obscenely popular Cabbage Patch Kids, and gave them the ultimate black eye, turning the sugary sweet icons of cuteness incarnate into vile, diseased abominations. The stickers (and heaps of attendant merchandise) became so popular that GPK actually dethroned the trend that spawned it… gone were the adorable, saccharine playthings that infested the earlier chunk of the decade, replaced by a putrescent wave of repulsive, gross-out bliss.
Thank god some of the cutesy icons of the Reagan era survived undefiled, like the Care Bears… Wait. Strike that.
Topps wasn’t done with the youth of America. They were still too well-adjusted. Too well-behaved. Another nightmare had to rise from the depths of the Topps think tank, another cherubic horror show designed to barf all over good kids’ dreams and make bad kids jump for joy, much to the chagrin of their ever head-shaking parents, who still supplied the pocket change to get their brats to shut up… and so, the GROSS BEARS were born!
Wait… “Gross Bears?” Not, like, “Scare Bears?” And wait, they were buttons? Okay, so maybe Topps didn’t think this one through all the way, but I’ll be damned if these things weren’t totally awesome.
My first encounter with these abominations were upon their release, back in ‘85… I spotted them in the candy rack in line at the local grocery store (where I was trapped much of the time, when not begging for death at the laundromat)… they were Garbage Pail Kids! They had to be… but they weren’t. I couldn’t fathom what I was looking at, but I knew I had to have them. Begging a few off my mom, I feverishly opened them up, and to my absolute confusion and glee, it was the exact, same GPK experience I had become addicted to, only with Care Bears… and buttons.
I couldn’t fathom what I was looking at… even down to the characters these were the same thing… only different. The quandary was so insane for my toddler mind that I put them out of my head, banished for years to that special realm of pseudo-memory so bizarre, so impossible that I assumed I had to have made it up. For more than a decade, I firmly believed the Gross Bears were something I had dreamed. It took me thirteen friggin’ years to discover that these bad boys were oh, so gloriously real, and just as awesome as I’d recalled from the mists of my earliest childhood. Literally, a dream come true.
Upon finally reviewing the entire set, I couldn’t believe how depraved some of the concepts were (“Goodbye Bear?” Really?), and how awesome the art was. I immediately recognized it as the work of Tom Bunk, my favorite GPK artist next to originator John Pound. Bunk had, up to that point, been doing artwork for the gags on the back of GPKs, before being moved to the front lines with series 3, but Gross Bears was his moment to shine solo and he made every last painting sing.
Colorful, sick, clever, rad. The series had very little push (and at one point even test marketed as Garbage Pail Bears, somehow making both more and less sense by extension), and disappeared as quickly as it showed up – like so many unheralded classics of the wild, wild ‘80s. But believe me when I tell you that this is absolutely a diamond in the rough.
To this day they remain a bit obscure and semi-expensive, but far more accessible than when I was coming up, wondering if these things even existed… so putting together a set, or at least snagging a handful, shouldn’t be any trouble. It is highly recommended. Can you imagine, plastering these all over your sleeveless denim jacket, like Maurice from Little Monsters? How cool would you be?! No one would know it, but damn it, you would be. And here at the Strange Kids Club, that’s enough.