It has sometimes been commented that high school is hell. It can certainly be a very unpleasant experience; I can attest to that firsthand. But eventually you do get out of it. However, what if high school was literally Hell? That is the premise of Satan’s Prep, a graphic novel written by Gabe Guarente and illustrated by Dave Fox, Luis Chichon & Tricia Van den Bergh.
Trevor Loomis is an apathetic individual drifting through his teenage years. He has led an unremarkable, underwhelming life. Then one day, while plugging his guitar into a defective amp, he is electrocuted. Through some sort of bureaucratic error his soul is sent to Hell. There he is set to spend an eternity attending St. Lucifer’s Academy for the Hopeless and Damned, aka Satan’s Prep. His fellow classmates are other teenagers who died before their time, as well as various adolescent demons.
The torments of Hell are visited upon the human students of Satan’s Prep, courtesy of both the devil-spawned faculty and the demonic teenagers, who are the jocks and bullies of the afterlife. Guarente’s story is rather like John Hughes meets Clive Barker. This is a very dark comedy.
Trevor becomes the unlikely inspiration of the human students, who regard his stoicism & indifference in the face of the torments of the damned as “badass rebel defiance.” Trevor, however, thinks he knows better:
“I don’t have the heart to tell Steve and the other guys the truth. That what they took for rebellion was really cowardice in disguise. Or, if not cowardice, complacency. I was a specialist at both in my other life.”
Of course Trevor then meets Persephone Plumm, a cute Goth girl who appears to be attracted to him. Persephone tells Steve that when she was alive she suffered from immense depression. After running away from home she walked into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer, dying and ending up in Hell.
Persephone is the first person Trevor has ever really cared about. But she then begins hanging out with the demon jock clique headed up by Moloch, an arrangement to keep them from pounding the tar out of Trevor. Angry, he wants to find a way to get her back. But then Trevor’s pal Steve suggests that Persephone might not be what she seems. Perhaps she is a succubus, a deception by Hell sent to cause him to finally snap out of his lethargy & resignation and actually care about someone or something, just so they can then snatch it away. As Steve explains it:
“It’s genius, actually. They give you hope, only to rip it away. Much more effective than ripping you limb from limb.”
Trevor is not quite sure what to believe. Nevertheless he cannot help but care for Persephone, and hope that she really is what she seems. And that spurs him on to organize his fellow human students into trying to stand up to the demonic tormentors of the school.
Guarente’s scripting on Satan’s Prep is very good, darkly humorous & sardonic. But his plotting of the story is somewhat uneven. Scenes and events could have flowed a bit more smoothly into one another.
Guarente never takes the time to explain exactly how most of the human students ended up at the school. Trevor is supposedly in Hell because of a mix-up in the paperwork. A guy named Miles who was a stuck-up, spoiled rich kid on Earth is presumably there because he was a total jerk. But the rest of the humans really seem like they were given a raw deal. Guarente could have developed them more fully.
I also thought the ending was a bit weak. It felt like Guarente wanted to have a story that was simultaneously self-contained and that left the door open for sequels. But I don’t think he quite pulled it off as successfully as he could have.
Probably the strongest aspect of Satan’s Prep was the artwork by Dave Fox, who illustrated the cover and the first half of the book. Fox is a really talented artist. His characters are very expressive and full of personality. He was the designer of the visuals for the book’s cast, and he draws them all incredibly well. I was especially amused by his depiction of the school principal Cerberus. The guardian of the underworld’s middle head is urbane and well-articulated, while his other two are savage and rabid. And fitting a giant three-headed dog into a suit & tie is quite a sight.
Fox’s use of gray tones in his artwork is very effective. It definitely gives the story real atmosphere.
It’s regrettable that Fox couldn’t illustrate the entirety of Satan’s Prep. Having the second half of the book drawn by two other artists breaks up the flow of the story somewhat, as well as results in some of the characters’ visuals being a bit uneven and off-model.
I certainly do not want to disparage the work of either Luis Chichon or Tricia Van den Bergh. They both appear to be talented artists. It is just that both of their styles are quite different from Fox’s work, as well as from each other.
I did like the coloring by Aya Ikeda-Barry on Satan’s Prep. She colored almost the entire book (Matthew Petz is listed as the co-colorist on chapter three, so I’m not certain about the division of labor there). Having Ikeda-Barry coloring the majority of the story probably gave it a bit more consistency of tone & atmosphere across the work of the three different artists than in might otherwise have had.
Oh, yeah, I wish the size of the lettering could have been larger.
Although a somewhat rough production, Satan’s Prep was still a good read, and it’s worth a look. If there is a sequel, hopefully Guarente will take his experiences writing this and improve upon his craft. His work shows definite potential. Likewise, ideally a follow-up will have a single artist illustrating the entire story.