Interview With Garbage Pail Kids Brand Manager Mark Von Ohlen

gpk_94x94Mark Von Ohlen has been Brand Manager at Topps for almost two years now. Originally hired on by Topps to be the Brand Manager over the Star Wars brand, he is now the Topps Brand Manager, Entertainment. He oversees all Topps non-sport brands for Topps; Star Wars, Wacky Packages, Mars Attacks, Walking Dead, Preacher, WWE, Doctor Who, and of course GPK. Working hand in hand with Colin Walton, they are responsible for all Garbage Pail Kids sets/merchandise for Topps. Mark was nice enough to agree to an e-mail interview on the eve of the launch of the next GPK set, Prime Slime Trashy TV. Mark talks about his background, and what his job entails at Topps. He shares some hints about what can be found in the next GPK set. He shares his thoughts on the Direct to Print movement at Topps, and what the future holds there. Mark also shares what’s being offered at this year’s New York Comic Con. And yes, I asked him about Chrome OS 3….

GPKNews – Thanks for the interview, Mark! Being Brand Manager at Topps is a dream job most collectors would love to have! How did you get started with Topps?

Mark Von Ohlen – I’ve been working in marketing for almost a decade, and after my last job I decided that I wanted to work on something I was really passionate about. I am a big geek and pop culture junkie. I go to conventions all the time. Last year I went to 15 shows. This year I’m scaling back slightly – only going to 12! I’m an avid collector of action figures, trading cards and other collectibles. You should see my office; it’s lined with autographed photos, mini figures and binders of cards. When I found out Topps was hiring, I jumped at the chance to work on Star Wars! It’s every geeky kid’s dream. We had a fantastic year with several great new product launches plus of course the new movie. Then, I got to launch the first ever Topps Doctor Who trading cards in the US. As a Whovian, this was seriously a dream come true. Now I’m working on GPK, another brand I grew up with and love tremendously. It’s been a real thrill so far.

GPKNews – Can you share with collectors what a Brand Manager does? Specifically when it comes to GPK, how are you involved with the brand?

MVO – The brand manager has a long list of responsibilities. It’s kind of like being a movie producer because no one really knows what you do, but you kind of do everything. Brand managers are generalists, typically, meaning they have a degree in business management or, in my case Economics and Business, and work with specialists who execute the strategy. As the brand manager, I work with my fantastic associate brand manager, Colin Walton, on product development and marketing. Fans of GPK know Colin as he has been the editor/art director/artist relationship manager/brand expert working on GPK for almost a decade. I would seriously be lost without him. He and I will ideate a product (ie the upcoming GPK Adam-geddon). From there, we will decide on the design elements, what insert cards should be included, sku configuration and pricing, exclusive content, etc. From there Colin works closely with the incredibly talent pool of artists to sketch the jokes and images for the cards. We review them together, and then the ones we like get painted. We also decide on any retailer exclusives and partner with the Sales team on retailer executions. We also decide on marketing initiatives (what conventions to attend, what ads to place, etc). It’s like running your own business on a brand by brand basis.

GPKNews – How aware were you of Garbage Pail Kids when you were a kid? Did you collect back then? I know you are a big Star Wars fan, what do you collect now?

I had so many GPK stickers when I was a kid, and used to put them all over the walls in my house. It used to make my parents so angry, but they kept buying them for me anyway! I collected a lot of entertainment trading cards when I was young. I had several Star Wars sets, ET, Ninja Turtles, WWE and even a Cyndi Lauper card set. I’m still a big geek and have a pretty massive trading card and action figure collection.

image002GPKNews – Garbage Pail Kids Prime Slime Trashy TV is set to launch in early October. The recent GPK sets have all been themed sets. How did you guys decide the time was right to do a GPK set based on parodies of current TV shows?

MVO – The themed sets for GPK are so much fun. The American As Apple Pie set really tapped into this incredible year-long conversation in the pop culture surrounding the election. It was basically the catalyst for our Election pulse program running on right now. We have so much more planned between now and the election! Regarding the TV set, we really are living in the new age of content. An age where Amazon can win Emmys! Seriously, think back even 2 years ago. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? But there’s more content than ever. Not necessarily great content, but certainly more, so we felt TV (in all its forms) was the right medium to make fun of as it undergoes this incredible transformation.

GPKNews – I know you don’t want to reveal any secrets about the new set yet, but do you have a favorite card in the set? Maybe something that really caught your eye?

MVO – I reviewed every card with Colin and honestly this theme is spectacular. The artists really gave us fantastic paintings. As someone who watches too much TV, the whole set a lot of fun. Some standouts: we have a Twin Peaks card that I love! (One of my favorite shows.) We have Kathy Lee and Hoda behaving exactly as you might expect. My name ‘Mark’ is finally back on a card and with a TV show that I’ve loved for the past 20 years (hint). Plus we’ve got classic shows, current favorites and even returning series like The X-Files, which is one of Colin’s favorites.

GPKNews – I know Topps is already working on the next GPK set, Adam-Geddon, set to release in Jan. 2017. Collectors seem to be excited about that theme. Is there anything you can share with collectors about what to expect with the Adam-Geddon set?

MVO – Get ready. This one is over the top ridiculous. Adam-geddon is explosive, literally, and one of our more hilariously violent sets in recent years. In many ways it feels like vintage GPK because it delivers on that shock factor that the original fans loved.

GPKNews – A change that jumped out to me when looking at the sell sheets for Adam-Geddon was the pack configuration across the board. Hobby/Retail packs moved down to 8 cards, while Collector packs up to 8 cards. I noticed prices on pre-orders are lower than past releases. Was the reason for this change to get to a lower price point?

MVO – We lowered the pricing in retail to $2 packs to create a lower barrier to entry for new consumers. We’re always trying to reach new collectors and felt the current pricing structure was a bit prohibitive. We also streamlined the hobby sku to eliminate confusion about content.

GPKNews – What does the future hold for the Garbage Pail Kids brand? Can you share with us any other plans for 2017?

MVO – Well, we still have 3 more months of 2016 to get through first, and they are going to be insane. With the election imminent you can expect us to be even more engaged in the political conversation, as we’ll have several more releases between now and Election Day. We also have something special planned for Inauguration Day that we’ll reveal toward the end of the year. As for 2017, I expect to continue our pop culture products where we make fun of celebrities, music, movies and TV. We saw some amazing press coverage regarding our music sets, in particular the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and Riot Fest. We’re looking to do more of those partnerships.

GPKNews – I know you attend conventions like San Diego Comic Con, Star Wars shows, the National Sports Collectors show, etc. Do you enjoy meeting with fans and hearing what and how they collect?

MVO – I love going to conventions. I attend between 10-15 per year. Only a few are ‘official’ for Topps like SDCC, NYCC, The National. The rest of the time it’s just me walking around meeting celebrities and artists. I love meeting the fans and always want to hear from them. We’re making products for the fans so the more information we can get from them, the better we can serve the needs. Luckily the GPK fandom is not shy so I’m pretty up-to-date on their requests. I would love to do a Topps sponsored GPK con at some point, and I know there is interest there. We haven’t been able to make it work yet but maybe sometime in 2017?

GPKNews – Topps offered Jumbo GPK sets at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. I know Topps usually has a presence at the New York Comic Con in October. Any show exclusives from Topps planned for the event? Anything GPK related going to be offered?

MVO – Yes, we will have some pop culture oriented exclusives at NYCC. We branded them as GPK Prime Slim Trashy TV and we parody Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls, The Flash, Big Bang Theory, and My Little Pony. It’s 5 new paintings (so 10 stickers total counting the A&B names) for $29.99. You can find us at NYCC Booth #454 with the GPK exclusives plus a Star Wars Rogue One exclusive card set, giveaways, and some surprises.

GPKNews – Funko recently started offering GPK Series 2 to distributors for a Nov. release. Collectors are excited to see the GPK license agreement continue with Funko. I know during 2015 there were many license tie-ins with the 30th anniversary of GPK. Is Topps still open to licensing the GPK brand for merchandise? Anything cool in the pipeline?

MVO – Yes we are thrilled with the Funko items! Aren’t they awesome? In fact they did exclusive GPK Election Funko’s as well featuring Donald Dumpty and Billary Hillary. We are still continuing to explore new licensing opportunities but nothing new to announce at the moment.

chrome2GPKNews – A popular topic with collectors, really since 2014 and the last Chrome GPK release, has been, will there be a GPK Chrome OS 3 release? I know there have been some comments on Facebook that you guys are looking into the possibility. Can you share your thoughts on Chrome OS 3 getting a release? Maybe as an online exclusive? Would a Kickstarter type of campaign work for something like this?

MVO – This is every GPK super fan’s favorite topic. I honestly get emails every week on this product, but Chrome is really tricky. It’s an expensive technology, and it’s not for everyone. Our goal on GPK is to expand the brand to a wider audience. That’s the reason we’ve done the themed sets (American Pie, Trashy TV), the Election items, the Pop Culture parodies (The Grammys, The Academy Awards, etc) and partnerships (Riot Fest) and expanded licensing (Funko). Obviously as we are looking for new fans we don’t want to leave our super-fans behind so we are exploring ways to make Chrome a reality. We don’t have a solution yet, but we’re open to ideas. I wouldn’t rule out Kickstarter, but maybe even something as simple as a preorder that requires a minimum purchase quantity before we go to print. If we hit the number, it happens and if we don’t, it doesn’t get made. Would fans be okay with something like that?

GPKNews – Print on Demand products has been a focus for Topps as a whole this year. Topps Now on the baseball side, the Preacher cards, UFC, WWE, are just a few. I want to say the trend might have actually started with the Garbage Pail Kids online sets released early this year. Most of the GPK online sets have been released under the Apple Pie theme. Will new sets continue being offered by Topps? If so, for how long? Through the presidential election? Are there any plans on offering online sets under the Trashy TV theme after the release of that set?

MVO – Thank you for giving credit where credit is due. The GPK Election pulse was basically the ‘beta’ version of Topps Now. And the GPK community delivered! Print on demand is happening because of this awesome group of people. We’re looking to expand it into more properties as well. For GPK, we have 3 more months of election madness ahead so more is on the way. In 2017, we’ll continue to parody pop culture (music, movies and more) and try out some new territories as well. We have a few ideas for Trashy TV – would you guys like a GPK take on classic Christmas Specials?

artgpk-stic-16gpkrace-0001_fr_1GPKNews – Do you see Print on Demand being the future of card distribution for manufactures? Do you see a future where this is the main method GPK collectors will go to purchase cards?

MVO – Our industry is changing significantly and in many ways catching up to where media is going. Think about your TV viewing habits. At one point it was crazy to think people would record shows and zap commercials, but now that’s standard practice. Binge watching has also become the new norm. I can tell you I watched ‘Stanger Things’ in one Saturday. As media consumption becomes customized or immediate so must trading cards. Print on demand is a great solution to this. I also think it eliminated some of the hurdle of not knowing what you’re getting. Trading cards are the original blind bag purchase, which while it’s all the rage in 3D mini figures today, there’s also a consumer base who just wants to know what they’re getting. I love the chase, the hunt, the gamble, but I’ll also open my wallet for something specific that I really want to avoid the ‘work’ of hunting it down. That’s where print on demand really delivers. It also allows us to be very in-the-moment. Topps Now captures moments right when they happen. GPK has been doing that all year with the election. If you play any of the Topps card trader apps, that’s the same experience. The immediacy and relevance is maximized with print on demand and digital. We’re looking at the 2017 plan for GPK and seeing how we can really play in this space even more than 2016 as it will allow us to be in the moment. This doesn’t mean ‘traditional’ trading cards are going away. Tactile collectibles are always going to be important and we intend for our full-series sets to always be around.

GPKNews – At the 2015 National Sport Collector’s Convention, during the Topps Q&A session, there was discussion around pack searching in retail stores like Target/Wal-Mart. Topps representatives mentioned Topps was working on packaging that would make searching packs harder. This is a very common frustration with collectors who walk in to Target and see the local pack searcher “fingering” the packs. GPK Jumbo Retail packs were “see through” for the Apple Pie release. Is there any work going on at Topps to help combat pack searching?

MVO – Yes, Topps is working on something but I can’t reveal any details right now. My #1 recommendation for fans looking for hits and high value items is to shop in hobby or buy full boxes or cases, as that is where you get your guarantees anyway. The odds are really long in mass for hits unless you pick up a $20 value box which usually comes with a manufactured relic card. The retail market is really for the casual collector and to fill in your base and inserts as the price per pack is lower.

GPKNews – Have you had a chance to see the 30 Years of Garbage documentary Jeff Zapata and Joe Simko directed? If so what were your thoughts on the film?

MVO – Yes, I was at the premiere in NYC. It was so great to meet those guys in person. Colin works with them regularly and they were instrumental in bringing GPK back to the current fan base. I personally loved the film and learned quite a few things that I didn’t know about the history of the brand. I hope we’re still talking about GPK when it comes time for the 50th!

GPKNews – You are in charge of classic brands for Topps that in many cases collectors have been collecting for decades. What are your thoughts about being part of this Topps history?

MVO – I feel the weight of this role every day; and I mean that in the most positive way. There’s an incredible legacy that people who worked at Topps before me have left and I want to add to that. The reason I wanted to work for Topps in the first place was to be part of something I truly love. Being the brand manager working on awesome brands like Star Wars and GPK is a dream come true. I hope the fans see the passion I have, and are as excited by everything we’re doing with these brands now as they were years ago.

GPKNews – Finally, what’s your favorite Garbage Pail Kid?

MVO – I have Monstrous Mark on the door of my office. 😉


13 Replies to “Interview With Garbage Pail Kids Brand Manager Mark Von Ohlen”

  1. I’d assume Mark might come here and read these comments.. so everyone please post your thoughts.

    1) Why does there seam to be a Huge push on going away from Garbage Pail Kids to what seams more about Garbage Pail Parodies. GPK are intended to make fun of your friends, not of celebrities.

    2) I also feel there were WAY TOO MANY Political cards. One after another after another after another.. and from this interview it doesn’t sound like it is going to stop. Please just stop.

    3) Sometimes when Topps makes a set available at a Comic Con it is only available for resellers (basically). Then other times you sell the extras on your website. Then you print a limited supply at Riot Fest and do not give fans any notice with time to buy tickets or flights. Please at very least give notice to the super fans. How would that notice change anything other than helping out your super collectors?

    4) After you and Colin give the go ahead for an artist to paint a final GPK, have you or would you ever NOT accept a final because the art just wasn’t up to the GPK look standard?

  2. I agree with EVERYTHING said by ADAM Bomb! Honestly Mark claims he talks to the fans and knows what we want, but he couldn’t be more out of touch with the true fans wishes. Go into any of the Facebook groups and ask what fans really want and they will respond with these issues:

    -Bring back Die-cut cards.
    -Bring back a normal numerical set and not a set of subsets.
    -Give us actual card backs again, not just text backs saying what the set is.
    -Use decent card stock, not flimsy paper like we are getting.
    -Have higher standards for the art on the cards!!!
    -Bring back the old GPK feel. Kids who are in silly or gross situations. Make them look like kids and not these little people versions of celebrities. If you want to make a pop culture/political/current events set then start a new brand. This new stuff is not GPK!
    -KILL online sets!!! If GPK goes the Topps NOW route, sales will suffer somewhere, whether it’s on retail, hobby or online, sales will drop due to market oversaturation. People can’t keep up! Also $29.99 for 4 cards is robbery!
    -Comic Con and Riot Fest type sets are a pain for non-event attenders to get! NYCC is sold out so no one can even try to go there to get that set. Riot Fest is so obscure and yet there was a card set for it that sold to resellers and NOT fans. Now we have to spend $100+ if we want that set.

    Have some consideration for your real fans here Mark, Colin and the rest of Topps. You are overextending your brand and diluting GPK down to the cheapest made product with a high sticker price and you have killed the fun!!!!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more Stephen Sodergren! Well said. Took the words right out of my mouth. Mark & Colin need to get their heads out of their ass’s & get with what the fans want. These online series is a joke & not worth the paper they’re printed on. Funny thing happened the other week Mark, (Incase you’re reading this) I created some custom sketch blanks for an artists in one of my Facebook groups & he contacted me after he received them & told me & I quote, ” WOW Rob you are amazing dude. Not only did you do a great job creating these sketch blanks but dude when i say this I’m being dead serious….. the sketch blanks you made for me are way better than what Topps sends me to do sketches on”. Pretty sad (but I’m happy about it) to hear that from a Topps artists when I’m just a small time mom & pop business & what i created was better than what Topps put out. Mark you need to get with it dude, stop fooling yourself & others you’re not in touch with the “True Fans” that you claim to me. How about come join one of the GPK Facebook group & you will see what the fans want, not what you think we want.

  3. I agree with both Stephen and Adam, these sets are too much!! There’s too many subsets printed cheaply on flimsy paper. The quality is crap and like these guys, we spend thousands easily on cases. Sketches are being thrown at us at a high number, now they are becoming worthless. Gpk resale is doing poorly right now. We don’t necessarily buy them to resell, we buy large amounts to complete sets and get that rare hit we love. Then we are left with cards that no one wants because everyone is flooded with them and out of money from the sets being too big. How did we go from 82 card sets to over 300??
    I’m glad to see they are working with pack searchers now! I hope there are other stores that we can buy them in because walmarts here in Michigan no longer sell them and we will never shop at target because target do not care about the protection of our children. I’m sure you heard they allow men in the woman’s bathroom. Being a father of 2 young girls, I could never put my daughters in that predicament.
    Another issue regarding quality is the online exclusives, my girlfriend and I have bought numerous amounts of online cards many, many times and every time we recieve them, they are damaged with bent corners, creases, ect. The people packing the cards must be throwing them around and then not packing them to protect them. When people buy something new, they expect it to actually be new, especially with collector cards. I hope that you can help us because we are truly the backbone to gpk, we do love it but many have left the hobby due to these reasons and I want to stay. Please help us! Thank you!!

  4. Great interview, Jeff, thank you. I’d rather be informed about what’s to come for GPK (even if I don’t like the info) than not know.

    As a diehard GPK collector (going all the way back to childhood), I am heartbroken to even say this…. but in my opinion…. GPK HAS OFFICIALLY JUMPED THE SHARK. These online sets are out of control and not in a good way.

    I couldn’t agree more with that Stephen Sodergren re: diluting the GPK brand as well as many of his other comments.

    The rebellious nature at the heart and soul of GPK has been replaced by a purely commercial mainstream product that only the 1% can afford to buy.

    Also… as a brand manager, Mark, you should be ashamed. I find your comment about only “casual” collectors buying retail and advising real collectors to buy cases (LMAO) to be tone deaf and out of step with the the GPK brand. Not cool.

    The appeal of the “hunt” and trading process had moved to online/ FB GPK community. Now that’s essentially being killed off by the movement to these online sets. My enthusiasm and interest in GPK is rapidly waning with each new email alert of another set.

    It’s simply not enjoyable to collect this way (buying online sets). It’s just not motivating to me to collect GPK in isolation and in a vacuum … which is essentially the end result of the movement to online sets.

    It’s heartbreaking to see this happening to GPK and it kills me to say it because up until now I have been trying hard to keep buying all the online sets. But this is just beyond beyond. What a bummer. Just put the brand on hiatus, honestly.

  5. As a long time collector who has spent thousands on this hobby I can’t agree more with Stephen and Adam.
    The cards are made so cheep these days it’s sad. Releasing so many sets a year with 10 subsets that you would have to spend a year’s salary to complete is assinine.

    As far as I feel you are killing my hobby! I am 39 years old. I have been collecting since they came out in 1985. The sets put out in the last couple of years have made me strongly consider stopping collecting.

    You say you listen to the fans/collectors. As far as I am concerned you dont. There are thousands of people on Facebook groups that don’t like where you have taken GPK. I have seen repeated postings of people messaging you about their feelings and that are disregarded.
    You don’t you look you Garbage pail kids Marketplace on Facebook and open a talk to see what we really want???

    Frustrated, Gary

  6. I agree with the thoughts expressed in the comments here. This interview leaves the impression that Mark is clearly not interested in offering products of value that the fans want.

  7. Another point worthy of note is that card collecting is the defining activity of the GPK community in contrast to other brands such as Star Wars, WWE, UFC, Dr. Who and even sports cards. There are other outlets and ways to enjoy those hobbies in a community. GPK is all about the cards.

    Star Wars has an entire pop culture mega-phenomenon about it that extends to lots of other merchandising avenues not to mention the movies and shows, and has such a rich history that it is easy to be a part of that community even if you don’t collect the cards. But because of that it lends itself to people buying the cards!

    Dr. Who has a rich history as well and a card set will enhance that fanbase.

    WWE, UFC, Baseball, Football, and Soccer are the same, there are things that extend beyond the cards such as other merchandise and live events. These things promote growth for the hobby and lend themselves to people being in a community that interacts around a common interest. With all of these other brands there is a fan base beyond the cards. A fan base that can interact and take enjoyment from their common interest.

    GPK is just cards. Granted there have been other merchandising ventures, but it all spawned from cards. GPK communities were formed around the love of collecting the cards and what we all loved about those cards. They were formed so we could be kids again and trade with each other and just enjoy the hobby with like-minded people.

    Online exclusive cards and sets will not encourage the GPK communities to grow. As a matter of fact online sets coupled with the many other gripes about current GPK have caused fans to sell off their collections. It’s caused others to sell off their extras just so they can afford to buy the next rushed out release.

    Trading has dried up to a trickle of what it once was. More people in the groups are selling and people who want to trade have no trade partners so they have to buy. People are going broke for this hobby and it’s not even fun anymore. The hobby which was once revived because of the fans has now turned into a money machine that alienates us from the product and each other.

    Also I would kind of be remiss if I didn’t point out that having two card sets release in October and January while also bombarding us with online stuff really doesn’t help at Christmas time. Kind of a d*** move in my opinion.

  8. Pingback: Future Direction of Garbage Pail Kids Brand Explained –

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  10. Well said, Stephen! Very good point! Couldn’t agree more. GPK as a hobby will for all intents and purposes be dead in short order. Very short sighted for this brand to move to online sets!

  11. One more thing, the fact that Chrome 3 is not something you want to do bc of the expense is ridiculous! I have bought 1 to 2 cases, just for the release, 1 collector and 1 hobby and many to follow. With this release I have pre-ordered 0!! The garbage that’s being put out is sad!!
    Fix it or quit and do us all a favor dude