Trash Talkin’ With Former GPK Art Director & Artist Jeff Zapata

Interview is republished, by permission, from Sybil Ferro and the Garbage Pail Kids Misfits Facebook group, © 2020.

This week’s victim for Trash Talkin’ was once the Artist and Editor for comic book companies; Valiant, Acclaim and Crusade Comics. He was Art Director, Editor and Artist at Topps for Wacky Packages, Mars Attacks, Hollywood Zombies and our beloved Garbage Pail Kids. And he continues to contribute sketch cards for Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck Trading Cards. In 2017, He co-directed and co-produced 30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story. Yes, it is of course, the man with the greatest signature EVER, the one and only, Jeff Zapata!

Let’s get to it!

Sybil Ferro – Is working on GPK as fun as you make it look?

Jeff Zapata – GPK’s are fun to draw. My main ambition and concern is keeping true to the style, however very nerve racking when trying to make a new aesthetic. in the style (which is always my main ambition and concern.). The guys who draw the main cards are like big league football players. I find it amazing they can still do dozens at a time and still make it smooth. If given the same opportunities and encouragement as the pros did when starting I think anyone with heart, technique, and commitment can do the same. Once an artist has encouragement and feels confident the art becomes fun.

SF – 30 years of Garbage has got to be something you’re very proud of. We’re now at 35 years and for sure GPK is hotter than ever… how much do you think that documentary has helped shape new fans and reignite old fans’ passion in GPK?

JZ – The documentary was an odyssey for me, Joe Simko and his wife June Gonzalez as GPK fans. Working at Topps for over 13 years in the main office I heard stories that I always wanted to track down and clear up for history sake. The documentary clears the air of the history I always heard and wanted others to hear. Joe had his questions about the GPK movie, fans and overall impact as well. I was originally just one of the interviews. After Joe and our then partner/director Sean Tiedeman (the guy with all the camera equipment and Hollywood connections who actually filmed the movie) heard my stories, I became part of it. We never made a cent. Joe and June are in charge of it really. They put their heart and soul to make it happen . We had some copies that we were able to sell. But that’s about it (for me) after we sold the rights to the distributor . Did it teach some about non-sport cards and the “real” history of Topps? I hope so. That was my intention. I had fun interviewing and helping direct the other stuff too. Joe and June are really in charge of it , deal with the sales etc. and nurse it. I don’t think we’ll ever forget the experience. I hope people get the first 30-45 minutes. It’s what I was very interested in getting out to the public. It can be seen on Amazon Prime, iTunes , Vudu and other streaming websites. Plus, I think copies are still available from Joe and June.

SF – What can you tell us about the new RL Stine book? (Or I heard a rumour…books plural?!?) How did that come about? Who approached who there?

JZ – The RL Stine book. First, I’m at a loss why they picked me. I was in the deep woods collecting antique glass when I received a call. I was asked to do a favor. Concepts which was my specialty at Topps (when I was art director) was asked. I drew concept drawings thinking it would go to another artist. Later I heard they wanted “me” to draw it. Why me?!!! I haven’t talked or asked for a job at Topps for years. Except helping them out with a legal problem a year or so before. So I said yes to the job as if it was a joke. I saw advertising about the book but wasn’t really updated about scheduling. Finally, 14 days before the book needs to be at the printer I’m asked to draw 75 detailed images. I even called several sketch artists to see if they wanted to do it. But they were too busy and successful with sketch cards and not ready to jump in at this point in the schedule as I saw it. And the pressure, timing and pay wouldn’t make it worth their time. So I said, “Damn it, I’m the closest ship to a distress signal to a ship I used to command. I have to do it. I’m the only one close enough to the ship (GPK’s) at that time. I called my friend who knew my inking and drawing style, Fred Wheaton, to assist and help embellish some of my inks. He was a life saver. And we did it! The outrageous deadline dictated the style but I tried to make it like we had weeks to do it . I have no idea what people may think of the art or story. But we did it within 20 days (counting the time with meetings etc). In the end, I think we did a great job considering the delays and last minute rewrites. Some of you may have heard a bit of my record. This was not my first crisis. It was one of many. During it (based on the distress timeline), I did what my training and experience taught me to do. I took the proper steps at the proper time. I did what had to be done , when it needed to be done overnight. Given the same circumstances, I would do exactly the same. Because the steps that I took and the order they took these were absolutely necessary to save the ship. more important than my ship. Nevertheless, it’s a great book and different and made by people trying to reach a different audience. It’ll be a blast to see what the reactions might be. But the next book is even better and we should have more time to do the art.

SF – You are a GPK legend and have worked with all the other big names in the scene. What would you say is your most memorable experience…a moment where you had to pinch yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming?

JZ – Legend? I’m not sure about that. I’m more like Forest Gump. That guy in the corner of an old picture. Just in the right place at the right time. But I pinched myself every time I worked with Tomas Bunk and John Pound. Jay Lynch and I became close friends. He was at my apartment all the time. Thus, I became friends with Art Spiegelman and others. So I’d say my friendship with Jay Lynch and really get to draw and hang out with him is a big highlight . The Stine book is sort of an homage on what he taught me to do (quickly).

SF – You have been sharing some GPK art in epic comic book scenes…. Will we be seeing the next GPK comic series coming out anytime soon? If not, any other big releases you are excited about?

JZ – Don’t get me started on a real GPK comic book. I thought of origins, the dynasty and locations. What I have in mind for my GPK universe is maybe too deep. I recently pitched a comic but haven’t heard back. I decided to make a website doing the comics I always wanted to do. You’ll see Adam Bomb being made in WWII, you see who Dead Ted really is, you’ll see how GPKs connect through history and how they evolve. Each card will make sense. After working with these guys for years, they kinda whisper who they are, where they came from and who their family is. It’s pretty deep. Dead Ted was born in WWII same time as Adam Bomb. But back then he was G.I. Blow Joe. It’s a long story. GPK’s are more than what you see in the cards. It all has meaning. My first story explains all of this. It has to be done for my sanity.

SF – Do you have a “go to” process to get your creative juices flowing for a job? To get your brain pumping and your fingers twitching?

JZ – What gets me excited and gives me courage when I see a blank piece of paper is Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoon intro. The music speaks of possibilities and amazement. My wife thinks I’m crazy when I play it in a loop. I suggest anyone hear it to kick ass. Also hiking and reading about history gets me going.

SF – What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you, or you can give, to any fellow creative who is suffering from writers/illustrators block?

JZ – I think watching an old movie or listening to a movie soundtrack helps me. This advice I’ve gotten from Marvel Artists. But sometimes I’d go hiking or play an old video game, do yard work, fix an engine, something completely different to get my mind off drawing so I can feel refreshed. But artist block does happen and can be depressing so doing something adventurous helps.

SF – We’ve seen you draw, sing, strum the guitar, feed raccoons and we know you have a mean vintage glass collection – the world of Jeff seems like one giant ball of fun. Is that the secret ingredient for creativity?

JZ – Like I said for the last question, it helps refresh my imagination to do other things that may seem silly, odd, scientific or adventurous. I also like to cook and fix things around the house to loosen up or keep my mind off stressful stuff, I like to keep my hands busy to deal with stress or boredom. I end up taking up hobbies that keep me moving in some way. It helps me fall in love with my stress. I’d like to study magic and look for meteorites as my next hobbies to explore.

SF – Tell us a GPK secret that you could get in trouble for.

JZ – I try not to tell any company secrets (if any), but I think I did already during this interview.

SF – The GPK licensing scene has never been more vibrant and more varied. From GPK Monopoly and Challenge coins to Adam Bomb fizzy drinks and car sunscreens… tell us some of your product ideas that never made the cut? Surely there must be one that we can bring to life now?

JZ – Those are still top-secret. But there was always a pudding dispenser idea being submitted by me or someone. Seems like that was always a cliche idea by every fan and inventor. But I have ideas that I’m still trying to bring forth. Mostly interactive novelty items.

SF – What’s the weirdest/hardest commission you’ve had to do?

JZ – I say this R.L. Stine book because of the last minute timing, weird-funny-story and pressure was way up there. Brought me back to my comic experience. So I used those old comic tricks to get it done in time.

SF – Tell us about your experiences with the GPK super fans at Gross Card con? And are you missing the convention scene?

JZ – The last Gross Con was full of great memorable times with great fans during and after convention hours. I got to know a bunch of the fans better than the last actual Gross Con a couple of years ago and we became a club. Thanks to them I really got an idea of all the type fans that love GPK and how we all can hang out together no matter our occupations, color, gender, etc. We had a ball and still talk about certain hilarious moments. Including when some of them had a whole restaurant sing me Happy Birthday with a cake and all. The joke was it wasn’t my birthday and I just got through explaining how much I hate when that ever happened to me. People were wishing me Happy birthday the rest of the weekend who had no clue it was a joke and we cracked up every time. I miss that show and the gang that goes to it.

SF – We always ask, “who would win in a battle between two GPK characters, but this time we want to ask you, if you had to put a band together what GPK characters would be in there and what would they be playing?

JZ – That’s tough. Adam Bomb lead singer, Evil Eddie Bass, Dead Ted lead guitar, Ray Gun on drums? That’s just top of my head and probably would have a different answer if asked again.

SF – And finally, bonus question! Are you scared that one day you will open an old bottle and release an ancient fart?

JZ – I think I’ve came close. Some of those bottles that still have the caps on after centuries must let out something. I hope i dont discover any diseases. Thanks so much for asking such great questions and keeping GPK alive.

Interview was conducted by longtime GPK collectors Sybil Ferro, Will Marston, Slippa Chervascus, Roddy Francisco Fell, and Alicia Forrest in Sept. 2020, and originally appeared on the Garbage Pail Kids Misfits Facebook group. Sybil can be contacted here.