Peel Here #85: Grossville High is no Garbage Pail Kids…

By Shawn Robare

While flipping through images of my sticker collection recently I realized that I never posted my collection of Grossville High sticker cards.  Well, here’s to rectifying my overlooking of this small bit of 80s sticker nostalgia.  The set was released in 1986 by Fleer as their answer to the phenomenon of Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids.  I find it very interesting that Topps had such a strangle hold on the non-sports card/sticker market through out the 70s and 80s considering that they’re peddling a very simple item.  Tiny thin squares of cardboard and stickers don’t really scream revolutionary proprietary product to me, and I wonder why the other companies like Fleer and Donruss had such a hard time competing.  Granted, Topps managed to snag the licensing rights to a lot of established film and TV franchises (including Star Wars, Buck Rodgers, Rambo, Mork & Mindy, and the Incredible Hulk just to name a few), but what I’m more interested in were the new ideas and exclusive properties that these companies created.  Even while maintaining all of its TV & film licenses Topps was also creating great in-house sets like Monster Initials, Ugly Stickers, Weird Wheels, Wacky Packages, and Garbage Pail Kids.   Fleer and Donruss on the other hand weren’t putting up much in the way of competition, though Donruss did have a couple fun sets with Zero Heroes and Awesome All Stars.   Fleer’s main entry into the this world of artist driven non-sports sticker cards was this Grossville High set…

Playing directly off of the design and content of Garbage Pail Kids, these sticker cards featured a bunch of disgusting gross-out caricatures of the denizens of the stereotypical high school environment.  Unlike GPKs they were no twin cards, and the concept wasn’t parodying another product or franchise (unless you count GPKs themselves), but the characters still featured pun-y alliterative names and were exuding almost every bodily fluid imaginable.  These stickers were also pulling a lot of artistic influence from MAD magazine, in fact one of the cards above, #8 Billy Bob Slob looks strikingly like Alfred E. Newman.  All said and done, I think the creative team over at Fleer misinterpreted the level of gross-out humor that most kids were responding to, much in the same way that the later Garbage Pail Kids sets did.  There’s just too much going on in these cards that it ends up making every card look way too similar and really most of the jokes end up being too repetitive.  There are just too many pimples and way too much drooling going on that it obscures most of the gags.  When GPKs first hit the scene, one of the strongest aspects of the sets was the diversity in concepts.  It also doesn’t help that the overall color scheme is so uniform.  The purple, yellow and neon green in the boarder part of the card design permeates the art on each card.  It all blurs together to form on giant garish image.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some stand out cards in the set though.   I really like the Jack the Zipper card, probably because it’s so focused on the gag at hand and isn’t strewn with yellows, purples, and greens.  I also dig the Fly Guy sticker even though the name is so straight forward it’s painful in its non-creative simplicity.  Hell Brundle Boy would have been a better name.  I do like the nod to the original Fly film where this unfortunate kid is only half fly, with one human arm and a fly head.  It feels like some thought was put into the design.

Also, even though the design of the cards is monotonous in its repetition, I do like some of the reused elements.   In particular the obscuring of the background in the art is nice.  It adds a nice repeat-viewing aspect to the set which makes it fun to go back and pour over the cards at least a second time to try and catch all the little details.

It is kind of interesting to see how crazy or off the mark some of the gags are though.   This set appears to use the same artist throughout and I’m sure it was difficult trying to come up with a visual gag for all the names.   Take Fanny Form above.  What exactly is the joke here?  From the name I would have assumed a big butt joke, but the artist chose to go with a bug-eyed serpent motif.  Or take Lila Brarian, who doesn’t even look female as the name would imply.  I guess I’m just glad the artist chose to side step the overly repeated library barbarian jokes that was so common in the 80s, and instead chose a pseudo-zombie caricature.

I’m also kind of enthused to see some weirdly out of date political references in this set in the form of Mao Tse Tongue, which is a great pun-y turn on Mao Zedong (Tse Tung.)  Granted we were still at the end of the cold war communist scare, but he was hardly an imposing nemesis having been dead for a decade at the time.  Maybe it was a weirdly placed 10-year anniversary kind of thing?

It’s interesting to see Grossville High also take a direct hit/rip at GPK with the Walter Weird sticker card (which is lifting a combo of Split Kit from the 2nd series and Half Nelson from the 3rd almost verbatim.)  Well, there are those added rubber ducks and chickens…

All in all, the set is lacking the focused attention and quality of the earlier GPK sets, but if nothing else it was Fleer’s shot at taking on a giant so I have to give it some credit.   Maybe if they hadn’t cut & pasted all the borders or varied the coloring a bit it would have been a more effective set of sticker cards and it could have gotten an additional series or two. Who knows…

  • Joe S.

    Thanks, I saw that. So cool. I’ve actually been working on a mobile website to view GPK cards. I think I may add, too.

  • Shawn Robare

    Joe – Hay man, I posted an update to this review a little while back. Gary had been kind enough to let me post a piece of the original artwork from card #58 that features the roach. You can find it here:

  • Joe S.

    Thanks for clearing up the mystery of the missing roach on card #58, Gary. Drove me nuts for a long time. I’m happy to say that I have a complete set of Grossville High cards and also have a full box of unopened packs, as well. One of my most cherished memories of my grandmother when I was a kid was when we were out shopping one day, and she bought me some packs of GH cards.

  • Gary Cangemi

    Thanks, Shawn. I just solved the mystery of the missing roach on card#58, Miss Body English and an apology is in order. The geniuses at fleer apparently cut it off when they cropped the artwork. The roach is just below her left knee in the original artwork. I feel bad for all the people who went blind trying to find this illusive insect all these years. I never knew it was missing. That’s not all fleer cropped on this particular card. They thought she was too well endowed in both the upper and lower extremeties and they had me reduce her measurements. When I get some free time I will submit another post revealing some other “behind the cards” tidbits about Grossville High. I strongly advise collectors to hang on to these cards. They will be very rare because fleer did a limited production on them and canceled them after just one series. By the way Shawn, you were dead on about the Guy Fly card. I’m a huge fan of the old sci-fi/horror films and Guy Fly was indeed a tribute to the original Vincent Price/David Hedison fly flick.

  • Shawn Robare

    Gary – Thanks for taking the time to add your insight into the creation of the Grossville High stickers. 5-6 weeks is an insane time crunch for what’s called for in a set like this. I mean even at 6 full weeks you were having to turn out at least one and a half of these paintings/pieces a day. That’s an interesting point about committing the African Americans, and you’re right that was a mistake on Fleer’s part. I know from talking with fans of sticker sets like this that part of the charm is trying to “find yourself” in some of the stickers, be it with a similar appearance, name or ethnicity. You’re totally right, when you’re taking shots at everybody is sort of stops being racist and just starts being part of the world you created for the set and leaving gout a race almost becomes a racist decision. I’m excited to see what might come of a relaunch of these characters, and wish you the best of luck in resurrecting the brand. Keep in touch with updates and I’d be happy to pass along word on the site.

  • Gary Cangemi

    Great review and fair analysis. I am the artist/creator of the Grossville High series which I created in 1986 for fleer. My business partner Larry Newman came up with the concept of a gross high school and most of the names. I did all the writing and artwork for the series. There are some creative and design problems with the series caused mostly by the lack of time given me to complete 66 designs PLUS the humor on the backs.I remember doing the whole thing in 5-6 weeks. Some of the stuff got repetitive because there wasn’t enough time for creative development and feedback. You will notice there are no African-American characters in the series. Joe Stereo WAS black originally but fleer was so afraid of being accused of racism they made me turn him into a white guy. I told them they were wrong, that to exclude Afr. Ams. was more racist. Of course they had no objections to my stereotypes of Chinese, Italian, or Latino characters…go figure. Some of these cards wouldn’t survive today’s hypersensitive market and others make me cringe a little, but the 70s-80s were a different time when people could kid around about race without all the political correctness.Sitcoms were loaded with these stereotypes. The only resemblance I see to GPK is the naming scheme and the grossness, but I tried to be as original as possible and more MAD-like. The faded backgrounds were fleer’s decision. The original art, which I still possess, is rich in color depth and detail, too much so. Fleer said the characters didn’t stand out enough like the GPKs did so they cut masks around the characters and lightened the backgrounds. There IS a roach on the Miss Body English card, you just need to look harder. I had a great time designing these cards but wish they had given me more. They would have been much better. I now own the exclusive rights to Grossville High and plan on resurrecting them in some form or another, either a class reunion or a next generation concept. I also wrote a script for a GH graphic novel which I would like to produce someday. I think Grossville High, with some updating, would make a great CGI film. Thanks for the positive comments and the constructive criticism.Fans always know best.

    • Daryl

      For what its worth, I really enjoyed the Grossville High cards more than GPK so thank you for your work on them. Enjoyable memory from my youth. Id love to see you release them in some form again.

  • Paxton Holley

    These are AWESOME!! I’ve heard of them, but never actually saw them before. Fantastic.

  • Teaessare

    Fantastic blog you’ve got here. Oh the nostalgia. I thought I was the only one to have ever bought more than one pack of Grossville High stickers.

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  • Joe

    You forgot to mention that Fleer actually included a fun little psuedo-search game with this set. The school\’s mascot \””Ronnie the Roach\”” can be found on each card, except Miss Body English for some reason.

  • Shawn Freeman

    Grossville High cards were excellent. The artwork and colors of the cards were done quite well. I don’t see how anyone could like Garbage pail kids and not like Grossville High!