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This is the one-hundred and ninety-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and ninety-two.
COMIC LEGEND: Art Spiegelman started his career doing Garbage Pail Kids.
STATUS: False, with Specks of Truthiness
Reader Manolis V. passed along a legend that he had heard from a friend of his:
that Art ‘Maus’ Spiegelman started his career drawing Garbage Pail Kids cards
What I imagine caused the confusion is the dates.
Spiegelman’s amazing tale of the Holocaust, Maus, came out in 1986.
Garbage Pail Kids, which were co-created by Art Spiegelman, came out a year earlier.
However, Art Spiegelman by this point was already a known commodity in the comics world, particularly with the creation of Raw in 1980.
In fact, Maus first appeared years earlier (first in the early 70s as a short story and later the first six chapters of Maus were serialized in Raw), pre-dating Spiegelman’s involvement with Garbage Pail Kids.
However, the specks of truthiness in the story lay in the history of how Spiegelman actually DID start his career, and while it was not with Garbage Pail Kid, it was with Garbage.
When Spiegelman was in his late teens in the late 1960s, he was interning at Topps Bubble Gum (most notably the company that produced Bazooka bubble gum and Topps baseball trading cards) and soon found himself working on staff in Product Development.
Spiegelman was crucial to the creation of Garbage Can-dy, candy shaped like, you guessed it, garbage.
But it was his involvement with Wacky Packages that solidified his position at Topps for years to come.
Wacky Packages were trading cards that consisted of parodies of notable products, like Crust toothpaste instead of Crest, etc.
Spiegelman helped hire a veritable Who’s Who of the independent comic book scene to work on Wacky Packages, including such luminaries as Kim Deitch, Jay Lynch, Bill Griffith, Drew Friedman and Spiegelman, himself.
By this point, Spiegelman was already heavily involved in independent comics. In 1980, he and fellow artist Françoise Mouly (an artist whom Spiegelman had a some familiarity with) co-created Raw, a comic magazine geared toward the elite of the independent comics set.
In 1985, while still at Topps, Spiegelman, along with Mark Newgarden, co-created Garbage Pail Kids, which became a national sensation (even getting its own TV series and film).
The next year, Spiegelman’s acclaimed Maus stories were finished (the six chapters from Raw were re-tooled for the final book) and collected into a graphic novel, which drew considerable national acclaim. Five years later, Spiegelman released the second volume of Maus. In 1992, the series as a whole received a special Pulitzer Prize, making it perhaps THE most acclaimed graphic novel of all time.
Spiegelman left Topps in the late 1980s, presumably over dissatisfaction over creator’s rights, and has done a number of tremendous works since.
In any event, no, Garbage Pail Kids did not start Art Spiegelman’s career, but his time at Topps was clearly a big part of his life and career.
Thanks to Manolis for the question! And thanks to Jim Turoczy for an important correction (Maus’ first appearance in comics was in the 70s not 1980. Jim also correctly points out that Spiegelman goes by “art spiegelman,” sans capital letters).
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