Trash Talkin’ With GPK Sketch Artist Jeff Cox

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

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…let’s get ready to Traaaaaaassssshhhhh Talk!!!!!!

You know the score by now, we ask 13 lucky questions, to your favourite GPK artists, so you can get down and dirty, under the skin, and up the nose of one of the living legends in this sick world of ours.

And this weeks very welcome addition comes in the form of, true misfit Jeff Cox!

Sybil Ferro – Almost immediately after you attended Gross Card Con 2020 Vegas shut down… first of all, congratulations, and second of all, what was your Vegas Adventure experience like?

Jeff Cox – Well, thank you, but technically, I wasn’t invited. Ha! At the time of the announcements regarding who would be there, I still wasn’t an official GPK artist. I had done some work for Topps on Star Wars, but didn’t get my first Garbage Pail Kids invitation until January this year, to work on the Mr. & Mrs. Valentine’s Day set. “Toofless” Jay O’Leary, another GPK artist who lives a few hours north of me, had purchased a table in artist alley, so we kind of crashed Gross Card Con, and they set us up right next to all the other GPK artists. The entire drive to Vegas we were listening to the radio, and even as we approached town, they announced all the conventions that were getting cancelled that weekend. We really weren’t sure if it was going to happen or not, but it did, and it was a great turnout. They shut the city down immediately after we left! Rubbing elbows with all the other amazingly talented artists was definitely one of the highlights of being there: meeting and talking art with Pat Chaimuang and his 11 year old son, Jenye; hearing war stories from Smokin’ Joe McWilliams, Mark Pingatore, and Chad Scheres; hanging out after hours and making more art with David Acevedo, Toofless, and other Team Trash alum Floydman Sumner and “Kid Grimm” Shane Garvey. It was a blast. One night, Toofy and I were on our way back to the hotel, and he tells me about a drawing that Jeff Zapata did the previous year with a sharpie on the wall of the Nerd Bar, a nearby watering hole. So, we walk down Freemont Street to go check it out, and just as we enter, we see Noah Hathaway, the actor who played Atreyu in “The Neverending Story”. It was total luck running into him, and he remembered us from the convention which was being held on the other side of town. We even name-dropped another amazing artist, Bekki Sharp, and he remembered her, too, since he was just in England a week prior and had signed some of her art. It was surreal, the entire experience. The weekend went too fast, but the experience is one that I’ll look forward to for many years to come.

SF – Tell us about your earliest GPK memory?

JC – Going to the mom and pop store just across from my grade school when I was a kid. My best friend, Mike, and I would cross the road at lunch or after school and buy 25 cent wax packs, Icee’s, and whatever candy we could afford with the leftover change in our pockets. We’d flip through those cards on the playground, the back of the classroom, the bus ride home, and at each other’s house during sleep-overs, studying them almost. It’s ingrained as part of my childhood. I had a pretty good stash of OS cards back then, wrapped up safe and secure in rubber bands and tossed in an old shoebox. If you had told the ten-year-old me that one day I’d draw these pee and fecal stained, snot-nosed booger cards for Topps, I would never have believed you.

SF – Who were your artistic influences growing up/who are they now?

JC – Growing up? MC Escher was definitely one of the biggest influences on me. His calculated, mathematically-constructed, black and white drawings are so clean, and his linework impeccable. The impossible imagery fascinated me. I tried several times to emulate his shifting of one image into another without much success. I even had a tee shirt with Relativity printed on it. It was honestly one of my favorite shirts, and I literally wore holes in it. I’d also have to say Shel Silverstein was a big influence on me as a kid. His books were always the most coveted from the library, and you rarely found them on the shelf. He made me appreciate poetry by using potty humor; I mean, the dude spoke straight to my prepubescent soul. My mom also had a coffee table book of Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post covers that I used to flip through all the time. I’d stare at the pages for hours, and imagine the scenes about to be played out and what each person was thinking and feeling. The detail in them is incredible, too. I have to give a shout out to Bill Waterson, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson, Charles Schultz, and Jim Davis for making some of the best comic strips on the planet. I’m also a huge fan of Salvador Dalí. I visited Tampa, Florida many years ago and I still regret not popping into the Dalí Museum. I’m also loving what Lowell Isaac is doing, both with GPK and other projects. I guess because I have such a clean, polished design, that I appreciate the loose, flowing style that he brings to the table. Pat Chaimuang is another GPK artists that’s on a whole other level. The guy does absolute legendary work, a fusion between cartoon and photorealism. I’d love to become a fraction as talented at the brush as he is already. It was an honor to have my table directly across from his at Gross Card Con in March, since I caught a couple endearing moments between him and his son, Jenye, being instructed on color blending and lighting. Truly the master teaching the student.

SF – What was the initiation process with getting through to Topps to become an official Topps Sketch Artist? Describe for us how you felt when you found out you were in.

JC – Oh, fuck. Can I say that? “Oh, fuck”? Lol. The process of getting on with Topps was challenging, to say the least. But I used to remind myself that things happen for a reason, and when the time is right, everything will fall into place. So, you could say it was also a test of patience for me. I would submit a sample of my portfolio every month with a warm, brief introduction about how I’d love to become a card artist and work on projects like Star Wars and Garbage Pail Kids. Lather, rinse, repeat. It took me nearly 11 months to finally get my first invitation, a Star Wars set, “Rise of the Skywalker”. I was absolutely elated! I felt like I had finally reached a milestone I had been pursing seriously for nearly two years straight. You see, in my mid-twenties, I dated a girl who told me my art sucked, and to stop doing it. And I listened and believed her. Because of it, I didn’t do any art at all for many, many years. That is, until March 1, 2018, when I picked up a pencil again and drew my first sketch card. I had heard about sketch cards and thought it was an interesting novelty, drawing a miniature work of art on a tiny, tradeable piece of paper. That first card was Wicket the Ewok, but with the words “Thug Life” tattooed across his belly, Tupac style. It surprised me that I still had some artistic chops even after years of dormancy. So, I drew, and drew, and drew some more. I remember some of those first cards took me about four hours to draw and color. But eventually, I became faster and more proficient. Brent Scotchmer and I used to chat and was an incredible mentor to me in those early days, constantly giving me advice on improving my speed and consistency. One of the challenges of working on big sets, especially with Topps, is that you have anywhere from 40 to 100 cards that need to be drawn up according to minimum standards per contract, and you only have three to four weeks to do them all and get them returned back to New York City. So, it becomes a test of endurance, being able to do at least 4 or 5 cards a day, every day, for weeks without break. Easier said than done. But eventually, my persistency won, and after months of submitting portfolio samples, I finally got a response back from the powers that be in the Topps HQs. Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it.

SF – How many sketches did you have to do for the 35th anniversary set and what was the process like dealing with knocking out the sketches?

JC I did 99 sketches (all the artists that worked on it got the same number of blanks) for the 35th anniversary set, which I literally just wrapped up less than a day or two ago. We all had to do 6 four-card loaded puzzles, 14 die cut shapes (7 trashcan, 7 poop), 3 panos, 3 tryptics, and 46 regular shaped card. Most artists, myself included, did full color. I mean, this is a big set! 35 years of GPK is pretty amazing, and I think we all wanted to push ourselves and really give collectors something special. I’ve seen a ton of artwork from the other artists, and it’s really mind-blowing (I was going to put in an Adam Bomb pun here, but decided to pass, so use your imagination, kids). It was exhausting, an artistic marathon, getting to the finish line, especially considering we had just slightly more than three weeks to meet the deadline, but it was rewarding knowing that our art would wind up in someone’s loving collection. Unless you’re a flipper. Then you can eat a bag of dicks. It’s one thing to sell at fair market value because you’ve got bills to pay, and it’s another to buy low and sell high with the sole intention of profit with zero love for the hobby. But, alas, I’ll step off my soapbox…

SF – What was your best Saturday morning cereal and cartoon combination growing up?

JC – Lucky Charms with Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Even with all the toy-based cartoons that came out in the 80’s, I always preferred the classic cartoons, where all the characters were voiced by Mel Blanc. Sugar cereal as a kid was also key to Saturdays, and Lucky Charms was like crack cocaine to my young mind. By 1pm I’d be bouncing off the walls, all jacked up on sucrose methamphetamine, getting kicked out of the house to go ride my bike with my friends and play in the woods, only to come back at dusk, covered in dirt, bruises, and bug bites.

SF – Describe your art/sketch corner, where all the magic happens.

JC I have a nice little drafting table in the corner of the basement, which I’ve entirely taken over with my ever-growing vintage toy collection and assorted curios (no, not sex toys, unfortunately). I collect vinyl records and my storage rack of music and the turntable is down there, though I usually put on my noise-cancelling headphones which charge right next to my station where I work. For me, having very few distractions is important to staying focused and remaining productive. I’m too easily distracted by…what were we talking about again? I’ve got everything I need within arms-length: my pencil and eraser, a small army of fine-liners and markers, colored pencils, acrylic paint, watercolors, brushes, and all the necessary accoutrements to get the job done, and more than a few unnecessary ones, too. Proper lighting is also key. I’ve got a nice engineers light that I can position directly over my drafting table and get the right angle of lighting no matter what degree I tilt the table. I keep my laptop and cellphone nearby for reference pics. And then after the work is done, and it’s time for a little r & r, I’ve also got a cushy lounge chair, big screen tv, and several assorted game consoles from the original NES, to first the first and second gen PlayStation, and my Xbox One X. I can watch a little Netflix or Hulu down there if I’d rather just zone out on a television show or movie, or even go old school and pop a VHS cassette in the VCR or pull out a DVD from my classic movie collection. And then, of course, all my GPK are there, too. I can pull out a binder and flip through different series of cards or admire the sketches that I’ve collected (in case anyone needs to know, I have two GPK sketch card focuses: Junky Jeff, and Beastie Boyd. Feel free—emphasis on free—to send me any and all art cards from your personal collections pertaining to these two characters).

SF – What music is guaranteed to get you in the mood to draw?

JC – Wow, that’s a tough question, because I have really eclectic tastes in music. Everything from classical to the heaviest of metal. But no country (with the exception of Johnny Cash, the man in black) or new age crap. One day, the sounds I need might be 90’s hip hop or grunge, the next it might be EDM. Everyone knows I’m a huge Slipknot fan. They’re like Wu Tang Clan, but scary. I’ve seen them a half dozen times in concert, even caught one of Chris Fehn’s drumsticks at a show in Atlanta, Georgia, and they just. Keep. Getting. Better, so they do get me hyped when I’m in need of motivation. But it’s like saying a single grain of sand on the beach is your favorite above all others. There’s so much great music out there, especially the stuff they don’t play on the radio. If you’re only listening to one genre of music, you’re doing it wrong. Lately, I’ve been tossing my iTunes on random for my entire library, just letting it ping pong from artist to artist. It’s actually quite refreshing to rediscover a really great song that you haven’t listened to in the longest time.

SF – What’s in the garbage can closest to where you sketch right now?

JC – An empty box of condoms, a used roll of duct tape, empty cans of energy drinks, a disposable camera, and Velcro gloves with sheep hair caught in the hooks. I don’t want to even begin to tell you what kind of crazy shit went down last Tuesday.

SF – Which GPK sketch artist do you admire most and why?

JC – Pat Chaimuang. I mean, just look at his work! LOOK AT IT!!!

SF – What is GPK missing, what would you change and what do you want to see more of?

JC I love the family relation we have with all the members of the community from collectors to artists and everyone in between. Sure, there’s the occasional douche that comes along and pisses in everyone’s oatmeal, but 99% of the time, we all get along and joke with each other. And I love that. I do have several items on my list that I wish Topps would consider bringing into fruition: priority would be a second and third volume of the OS card books; you know, the one wrapped with a wax paper dust cover that we artists use for card reference? It would be nice to be able to have a hard-bound book with detailed photos of the cards from all 15 (or 16?) OS series, not just the first through fifth series. And, I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, because Topps is the company for which we all want to work, since they have the best properties, GPK included. However, it’s usually the smaller Kickstarter card companies that have a more hands-on approach between artist and art director. Those smaller sets usually have high quality sketch card stock, very forgiving and realistic deadlines, and larger compensation per card as well as more returns. I’d love to see Topps become more competitive with the same treatment offered by these other parties.

SF – If you could bump into your younger self, doodling sketches, what advice what you give him?

JC Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Keep pushing yourself and trying new things and new mediums. Constantly be a student. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; they’re inevitable and it’s how we learn how to better ourselves. Keep a sketchbook with you at all times. Not everything has to be a perfect work of art, and a doodle can be just a doodle.

SF – And finally, heavyweight championship against Deaf Geoff and Junky Jeff. No holds barred, who wins and why?

JC – Dammit! You had to pit your dude against mine, didn’t you, Slippa. First of all, Junky Jeff literally has trash for brains, and Deaf Geoff just blew his brains out of his head with loud music, so both don’t have too much going on upstairs. Not too much strategy, just balls-out grappling. However, Geoff has a boombox, which could be used as a blunt-force object or a sonic weapon. Likewise, the other Jeff could grab one of the trashcan lids in defense. I’ve seen enough heavyweight fights that have gone the distance and came down to the scorecards, I think this would play out the same, it’s pretty fairly matched up. But I think Deaf Geoff would pull out some dirty street fighting move, like a sleeper hold or knee to the crotch, and tap Jeff out. So, it pains me to say it, but decision in favor of Deaf Geoff.

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