While his schoolmates were depleting their weekly allowances to buy Garbage Pail Kids, 10-year-old Peter Lim of Rockville collected a set of 210 of the popular bubble-gum trading cards in the past year without ever "spending a dime," he said.
"My friends gave their extra cards to me," said the fifth grader.
While they are the rage with elementary school children around the country, the cards depicting grungy characters with names like Snooty Sam, Thick Vick and Sewer Sue are less popular with adults and have stirred up a controversy.
Some schools have banned them. The state treasurer of West Virginia, A. James Manchin, has urged retailers to remove the cards from their shelves, saying they "make fun of everything from the family dentist to Uncle Sam, breed contempt for the American way of life."
The cards are also the subject of a legal challenge.
Garbage Pail Kids cards spoof the equally popular but entirely more wholesome Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, and doll creator Xavier Roberts says the cards are ruining his dolls' image. He has taken the Brooklyn-based Topps Chewing Gum Co. to court in his home state, Georgia, where a federal judge in Atlanta is reviewing a request to halt production of the cards. Roberts also is asking for all of Topps' profits from the cards.
Norman Liss, a Topps spokesman, said there is no legal basis for Roberts' suit, but would not comment further.
Meanwhile, the newly released fourth series of Garbage Pail Kids is selling out fast, several retailers in Montgomery County said.
"We received six boxes of those cards yesterday and they were gone by the end of the day," said Arthur (Sonny) Souders, manager of Janeta's Discount Beer and Wine in Rockville, where Peter Lim's friends buy their cards. Souders said each box contains 48 packs of five-card sets.
The sets, with one piece of bubble gum, are sold for 35 cents each at the store.
Peter Lim, a pupil at Meadow Hall Elementary School, remains oblivious to the legal battle being waged, although he is well aware of his teachers' feelings about the cards. During the school year, he said, he hid them in his school desk because his teacher had forbidden them in the classroom.
"Most of the teachers disapproved of the cards," said the pupil, "but I just kept them out of sight."
His mother, Hae Soon Lim, pronounced them "disgusting." But at least her children "don't spend their money" on the cards, she said.
Child psychologist Lois Loew, who works for the Montgomery County schools, said she does not see any danger in the enthusiasm for Garbage Pail Kids, which she compared to comic book characters.
"Some kids just like to be gross. They like to play in mud and dirt," she said.
"Yet, grown-ups become potters and sophisticates by working in ceramics."
The "downside may be that the cards are used to make fun of other kids," Loew added.