High School is difficult for everyone, but Charlie Albert, in particular, has it tough. He’s a nerd with zero chance at his love interest. That is until he makes an unfortunate deal with the devil. HELL HIGH is a story that amplifies the surrealness of high school. ComicsVerse was lucky enough to get a sponsored review with it’s creator, Cary Anderson. Anderson tells us the story’s origins, the creative process, and more! 

Hell High
Image courtesy of Diablo Productions.

For readers who may not know, what is HELL HIGH all about?

Cary Anderson (CA): HELL HIGH is the story of Charlie Albert, a high school senior in the most exclusive private school in DC, who thinks his new principal might actually be the Devil. He also has a crush on the most beautiful blonde in school who happens to be the President’s daughter. This might all sound like insane fiction but high school always felt slightly unreal and melodramatic to me. I just turned up the volume to eleven.

CV: I noticed the recurring theme of deals in the book. Everyone seems to be making one-sided deals with one another. What inspired this idea? Was this by coincidence or was this intended?

CA: I have gone to my high school reunions over the years and each time I go I find out something new that happened back in high school. People that I never knew even spoke to each other had secret romances. Teachers had secret flings with each other. Deals were made after students did some odd things… and deals were made after some teachers did some odd things. There was this whole soap opera going on during high school that I missed out on because I was naive and worried about history tests and book reports. The world today seems to be made up of even more behind the scenes secret deals.

Hell High
Image courtesy of Diablo Productions.

CV: I noticed a lot of myth and demon references throughout the story. What inspired the demons and folklore in your story?

CA: Well, I wasn’t too fond of my real high school principal. He was a bully on a cardboard throne. He had a lot of power, over a lot of people, over a very short but important time in their lives. The folklore is again my cynicism that there are things going on and secrets out there that we have no idea about. I love the idea that there is a religious or spiritual secret within Washington, D.C. that is then within a high school. Layer upon layer of absurdity and melodrama playing out in high school.

CV: Eliseu Gouveia does an amazing job with the art. I love the panel color themes and how they change as different events occur. What was it like working with Eliseu?

CA: I LOVED working with Eliseu. He has a great sense on how to tell a story visually. I’m a film guy so I am very worried about crossing the 180-degree line when shooting. He taught me how that rule can be bent a little on graphic novel pages. I remembered reading how David O. Russell changed the color and maybe even film stock back then on THREE KINGS as the story progressed. It starts off realistic and then the color gets more blown out and the images get contrasty as the story gets stranger and the stakes get higher. I wanted that in a graphic novel form and Eliseu delivered.

Hell High
Image courtesy of Diablo Productions.

CV: Without going into spoilers, what made you decide to use Michael Jackson’s glove the way it was used?

CA: One of the characters in the story collects old movie props. I needed a movie prop, or something from pop culture, that would appear mundane and hokey at first but might seem a little odd or magical when you think about it in the context of my story. Michael Jackson’s sequin glove seemed like something that perhaps could have been magical that was hidden in plain sight. I mean, how could he have done that moonwalk? Maybe that sequin glove had some power that helped him.

CV: What was it like breaking into the independent comic book field? Is this something you’ve always dreamed of doing?

CA: I had a blast. HELL HIGH was originally a film script that got optioned and then never made. When I got the rights back I thought about making it into a graphic novel. I just love the story and wanted it to exist somehow. If it was a film it could cost a fair amount to shoot, but if you can find a great illustrator like Eliseu then you can make anything happen on the page for a fraction of what it would cost to shoot. My old friend from NYU/Tisch, Scott Marcano, has written films and graphic novels. I called him up and told him about Hell High and he was interested in publishing it through his company, Diablo Comics. So that was completely beginner’s luck on my part.

Hell High
Image courtesy of Diablo Productions

CV: Do you have any advice for comic book writers or artists who want to break into the field?

CA: I’m a screenwriter so I’m used to writing characters doing a lot of things while talking. That has to be dialed down a lot in a graphic novel. You have to figure out the one image that conveys a story beat. It’s just a different muscle being used than in screenwriting. Also, I’m a perfectionist and a little hyper and the graphic novel process can be a little slow for me. As Elizeu would turn in these beautiful pages sometimes I would doubt my dialogue, or the story, and would add a page here and there. I don’t want to say that you have to go in fully married to everything written but I think you want to go in pretty close.

CV: What was your favorite part of the book to work on?

CA: I loved the scenes with the character that collects movie props. A lot of that wasn’t planned out when plotting the story. When I started writing that character she really became fun and Eliseu told me he loved her. I also love the illustration Eliseu did in the party scene. He made that scene come alive.

CV: Are there any other projects you have in the works you’d like to talk about?

CA: I have a short film on Amazon called EXTRA SCHOOL. It’s free to watch and stars Bruce Davison and Robert Picardo as rival film extras. I have been a film extra and heard that there is an actress that teaches people how to be extras. That idea cracked me up so I made Bruce’s character an acting teacher for extras. I also wrote another short on Funny or Die called CHAD AND THE ALIEN TOUPEE. It’s free too! It’s the story of a bald James Bond type that is partnered with a talking alien toupee in order to save the world from a race of evil alien toupees. Outside of that, I am a producer on the comedies DEEP MURDER and PRISON LOGIC. I am also hustling a thriller around to Hollywood producers called BLOOD LAKE and writing new graphic novels. I’m a little scared to mention the storylines before they are produced, but like HELL HIGH, I believe they have film potential. (I’ll reveal the titles: ASTONISHING MAN’S BROTHER, KILLER LOVE, INFATUATION, INCORPORATED and THE LAST VIDEOSTORE WAR!) HELL HIGH started off as a script, became a graphic novel and now is being looked at as a possible film in Hollywood. Oh, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

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