We start by discussing where we see satire and parody in pop culture. Students naturally wind up talking about “Weird Al” Yankovic or SNL (Saturday Night Live) Weekend Update—things that clearly parody society. I introduce them to artists who use parody in their art, which leads us to examine the art of Garbage Pail Kids (GPK) artist John Pound, who is considered the pioneer of the GPK style. After examining a variety of images by the GPK artists, students brainstorm ideas for their own parody art cards.
Left: Alex P., Messed-Up Mario. Right: Eric S., Hungry Homer.Left: Sofia S., Peter Particle. Right: Isabella B., Tim Hurtinʼ.Sophia C., Danny Dorito, grade twelve. Right: Nick V., Radical-Rabbi.
I love anything from the 1980s. From a pop culture perspective, growing up in the 80s was awesome. I was raised on amazing movies, cartoons, music, and trends around every corner. As a child, I was drawn to many “gross” things from comics, cartoons, and movies, but my love for humor and parody took a “disgusting” turn when I discovered Garbage Pail Kids.
For those who don’t know, Garbage Pail Kids (GPK) were a huge trend in the mid-1980s. They were trading cards with cartoonish paintings featuring a plethora of bizarre “kids” on the front, hand-painted by some of the best underground comic artists of the time. The cards started out as a parody of the highly popular Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Each GPK card was a spoof of something relevant to the period. They became a phenomenon. More than thirty years later, the Topps trading cards property is still going strong.
The Parody of GPK Artist John Pound
We start by discussing where we see satire and parody in pop culture. Students naturally wind up talking about “Weird Al” Yankovic or SNL (Saturday Night Live) Weekend Update—things that clearly parody society. I introduce them to artists who use parody in their art, which leads us to examine the art of GPK artist John Pound, who is considered the pioneer of the GPK style. After examining a variety of images by the GPK artists, students brainstorm ideas for their own parody art cards. Once students devise a list of potential ideas to parody, they move on to character development.
Even though GPK cards are often gross, there’s something cute and loveable about them, too. To ensure students strike that balance, they must take extra care when designing their characters. I start by showing them a model sheet for the anatomy of a typical GPK character.
After we study the cartoon style, students jump into designing what their character should be doing and wearing. Students spend a few class periods roughing out ideas for their concept and then move on to a final pencil drawing. The drawing should be fully detailed and show the character in the right body pose for the overall theme. When the pencil drawings are finished, I scan them and share the files with students.
Combining Traditional and Digital Art
Once students have the scanned copy of their pencil art, they move to working on the computer. For this project, I teach them how to use Adobe Illustrator. They upload their drawing to Illustrator and begin drawing line art on various layers. This is a cool adjustment that students tend to enjoy, and it gives them a different task than merely drawing on paper.
Once the line art is complete, the next step is to add background color. In the original GPK acrylic paintings, the artists airbrushed the backgrounds, so for our digital take on them, we use gradient effects in Illustrator. After the character and backgrounds are colored, students add their final touches. They create the top banner titles using text and shape tools. Lastly, they add a wacky name using a verb and a noun.
Help from the Experts
After students finish their artwork, I enjoy reaching out to the GPK artists, who are a friendly bunch. We have a GPK artist join in on critiques and ultimately decide which students have the “best” work. Winners earn prizes such as packs of GPK cards, autographed cards from the artists, t-shirts, and more. It’s a lot of fun, and students really get caught up in the friendly competition. The real prize is having a working artist in the field view their artwork and give them feedback.
Even though students start out knowing nothing about Garbage Pail Kids, they wind up loving them. Students come up with exciting, sometimes gross, and delightful parodies. Many of them express a desire to create their own original cartoons that combine pop culture with satire. Through this unorthodox lesson, students gain a better understanding of satire to use in their future artwork.
Options for extending the project include creating a back for the card that contains a character biography, facts, or anything else suitable to reinforce the parody.
Art teachers incorporate visual language, written language, spoken language, sign language, computer programming language, and more into their lessons. Students create the first letter of their first name using a cut-paper mosaic technique, combine typography with graphic design tools to create name designs, use a CAD program to turn character drawings into 3D-printed figures, design public word sculptures to inspire positive action, and more.