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Monday, March 8, 2004 Last updated 10:49 p.m. PT

'70s spoofs 'Wacky Packages' are back


NEW YORK -- Somewhere, in a a junior high school locker, sits a faded sticker: "Weakies, the Breakfast of Chumps."

Time to scrape it off, and make room for a new generation of pop culture spoofs. "Wacky Packages," the hot 1970s fad parodying popular household products, is revamped and ready for the 21st century.

In May, the Topps Co. will rerelease Wacky Packages with one eye on the nostalgia market and its other on kids brought up in the computer age. The company hopes its product can transcend time and the generation gap.

"Poking fun at things, making parody, is a long accepted form of entertainment and one we think transcends generations," said Ira Friedman, vice president of new products at Topps.

"But the question remains: aside from the adult market, will it resonate with younger kids today? We hope so."

Born in 1967, the "Wacky Packages" were hand-drawn parodies done with Mad Magazine style-humor, placed on punched-out cardboard with a lick-and-stick back, and sold like baseball cards in a pack with a piece of gum.

Early artists included pulp-novel cover master Norman Saunders, who also created the Mars Attacks series for Topps, and Art Spiegelman, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for his illustrated holocaust narratives "Maus" and "Maus II."

Everything was fair game. Jell-O became Jail-O - a metal file hidden in a jello mold and billed as Sing Sing's favorite dessert. Gravy-Train Dog Food became Grave Train, with a picture of a dead dog and the grim tag line, "Your dog will never eat anything else."

Topps even took swipes at its own products, turning Bazooka gum into Gadzooka.

Initially, the cards were not successful but when they were brought back in 1973 as stickers they quickly became the biggest thing since white rice (or Minute Lice, as the stickers would have it).

"Anyone who was 7 years old in 1973 who wasn't really square was into this stuff," said Greg Grant, a University of Pennsylvania research mathematician who also runs an elaborate "Wacky Packages" Web site. "It was just life back then."

With their booming popularity, New York Magazine put them on the front page, The New York Times gave them a large spread and kids all over the country affixed them to school desks and lockers.

"It's an inherently common pastime for kids to take a printed sticker and - as a form of expression, mind you - put it on something," said John Williams, the creative series manager at Topps. "It's kind of like graffiti, I suppose, just maybe not as messy."

By 1976, Topps began running out of ideas, and called it quits after printing the 16th series. Briefly in early 1980s and again in the early 1990s, Topps came out with new "Wacky Packages" series but they never took off.

Grant said the ones from the '80s and the '90s were "just too far into gross-out humor."

Oddly, the Topps folks decided on the rerelease after the success of last summer's encore of the uber-gross Wacky-Pack-successor, "The Garbage Pail Kids."

The new series will feature art from some of the original artists and with takeoffs on modern products like baboon-flavored "Chimp Stick" (Chap Stick), "Mr. Coffin Casket Liners" (Mr. Coffee coffee liners), and blue snazazberry flavored "Bling Pups" (Topps' own Ring Pops).

Completing the consumer angle, the backs of the new stickers will feature fake coupons offering savings like $2 on "Vinnie's Brooklyn-English Translator" or seven cents on an "Extremely Complicated Straw."


On the Net:

Topps, Co.:

Grant's Web site:


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