The series was the brainchild of Topps consultant and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, who came up with the product idea after the success of his earlier creations, Garbage Candy and Wacky Packages. The concept originally began as an unreleased Wacky Packages title, but the management at Topps thought that it would be a good idea for a separate spin-off series. Spiegelman and Mark Newgarden worked together as the editors and art directors of the project, Len Brown was the manager, and the first run of the cards was drawn exclusively by artist John Pound. Following the initial success of the cards, several additional artists and writers were brought in to contribute to the series, including Jay Lynch, Tom Bunk, and James Warhola, among others.
The commercial success of the trading cards led to the production of a live-action movie, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, in 1987; however, the film was both a critical and commercial flop. An animated television series was also created, but never broadcast in the US due to parental complaints (although it was briefly aired in Europe). Oddly enough the complaints weren't because of the content but because parents felt the series was merely a commercial for the cards.
During the height of the Garbage Pail Kids' popularity, Topps was sued by the makers of Cabbage Patch Kids, Coleco, for trademark infringement. As part of the out-of-court settlement, Topps agreed to modify the appearance of the Garbage Pail Kids to remove the resemblance between the characters. Production of the cards themselves continued; however, by 1988, sales had dwindled and a planned 16th series never saw production.