Peel Here #111: A Grossville High School Reunion!

By Shawn Robare

It’s not very often that I get a chance to revisit a set of stickers I’ve shared before with some interesting behind the scenes updates on the production and input from those involved in creating the set.  I was really happy to have a chance to do just that this past week when Gary Cangemi the co-creator, artist and writer behind Fleer’s 1986 sticker set called Grossville High paid a visit to Branded.  Not only did he share some of his experiences working on this set, but he also graciously provided a scan of the original artwork for one of the cards to share here as well as to clean up a bit of a buggy mystery.

About a year ago, a reader of the site named Joe pointed out one of the obscure facts about this set that I neglected to talk about when I first posted about the Grossville High cards.  Basically, the Grossville mascot (named Ronnie the Roach) is hidden in the artwork for each card in the set, so there was a additional bit of fun to be had in searching for the little bugger.  Joe had also pointed out that there was one card that didn’t feature a hidden Ronnie, sticker card #58, Miss Body English (pictured below at the center-left.)

As you can see in the original artwork below, Ronnie is indeed there, he was just cropped out of the final card art by Fleer…

What I really love about getting a chance to see this original artwork is the little details and differences between it and the final printed card.  First of all, one of the things that I’d appreciated about the artwork when I first took a look at this set was the care that was put into the aesthetics of the color when it came to the backgrounds.  This set is very loud with a lot of neon yellows, neon greens, reds, oranges and purples, and it can be an assault on the eyes at times.  One of the ways that I assumed Fleer tried to tone this down was by dimming the backgrounds, which both highlights the main characters and reduces the color “volume” so to speak.  Well, with the original piece, we get a chance to see the artwork as it was intended without the background obscured, and honestly it’s not nearly as eye-strain-inducing as I’d imagined.  Actually, the overall art seems less garish and less intense.  I think this has a lot to do with the fact that Fleer went with a very vivid and saturated look to the set instead of using the more subdued palette Cangemi originally chose.

Closer inspection of the piece also reveals some changes in the art that Cangemi noted Fleer had asked him to make.  In particular you can see a reduction in Miss Body’s bustiness…

Anyway, here’s what Gary had to say about working on Grossville High…

“My business partner Larry Newman came up with the concept of a gross high school and most of the names.  I did all the writing and artwork for the series.  There are some creative and design problems with the series caused mostly by the lack of time given me to complete 66 designs PLUS the humor on the backs.  I remember doing the whole thing in 5-6 weeks.  Some of the stuff got repetitive because there wasn’t enough time for creative development and feedback.  You will notice there are no African-American characters in the series.  Joe Stereo WAS black originally but fleer was so afraid of being accused of racism they made me turn him into a white guy.  I told them they were wrong, that to exclude African Americans was more racist.  Of course they had no objections to my stereotypes of Chinese, Italian, or Latino characters…go figure.  Some of these cards wouldn’t survive today’s hypersensitive market and others make me cringe a little, but the 70s-80s were a different time when people could kid around about race without all the political correctness.  Sitcoms were loaded with these stereotypes.

The only resemblance I see to GPK (in response to my assertion that Fleer was riffing on Topps’ GPK stickers – Shawn) is the naming scheme and the grossness, but I tried to be as original as possible and more MAD-like.  The faded backgrounds were fleer’s decision.  The original art, which I still possess, is rich in color depth and detail, too much so.  Fleer said the characters didn’t stand out enough like the GPKs did so they cut masks around the characters and lightened the backgrounds.  There IS a roach on the Miss Body English card, you just need to look harder.  I had a great time designing these cards but wish they had given me more.  They would have been much better.  By the way, the GH originals were not painted, they were done in Prismacolor markers, ink and colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper.”

As for the future of Grossville High, Gary had this to say…

“I now own the exclusive rights to Grossville High and plan on resurrecting them in some form or another, either a class reunion or a next generation concept.  I also wrote a script for a GH graphic novel which I would like to produce someday.  I think Grossville High, with some updating, would make a great CGI film.”

Also, another bit of fun trivia for this set is that it was originally intended to be called Grossburger High, but Fleer nixed that idea for being too close to yet another of their rival Topps’ products, Gross Bears (their Garbage Pail Kid-like parody of the Care Bears released in 1985.)

I really want to give a huge thanks to Gary Cangemi for sharing his thoughts on the set and for giving the Branded readers a chance to look at some of his original untouched artwork!  I also hope he gets a chance to bring these characters back to life in a new project, and I’m really excited to see what might come in the future…

  • So many gross, awkward cards I had never heard of before- so freaking cool! The fact that this article goes a bit deeper than just describing the cards, is the exact kind of reason I enjoy coming here too. Here’s hoping Gary gets his chance to release that new card set, or at least a few web comics.

  • Hey Jason, I did receive the e-mail (and I’m excited about posting the pictures in the coming weeks.) Yeah, it’s hard enough trying to figure out who some of these artists are, let alone trying to track them down, so I was ecstatic when Gary contacted me.

  • I used to love these cards when I was a kid! Chucky Chews was definitely one of my favorites. That’s pretty awesome that you got to speak with the artist. It’s nice to have some insight with stuff like this(stuff like this just doesn’t come out anymore). Shawn, did you get my e-mail with the TMNT photo? My e-mail says it was sent, but I also have a draft of it in my inbox. So I just want to make sure that you received it.

  • Joseph Strianese

    Hey, it’s Joe again. Any word from Gary about his GH plans?

    • Hey Joseph, not yet. I’ll have to try and reach out to him…

      • Joseph Strianese

        Actually, I decided to email Gary yesterday and he replied with a ton of new info regarding GH. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it yet. Still waiting to hear back.

        • Rad! Can’t wait to hear what he has to say!

          • Joseph Strianese

            Gary told me to get the internet buzz rolling. Here’s what he said in his emails:

            “Yes, I am planning the return of Grossville High. I acquired my former partner’s share of the rights a few years back and am now in total control of the series. I’ve already started preliminary development of the new Grossville High Class of 2014 cast of characters which I will then submit as a Kickstarter Project to raise funds for production. I am going to offering various rewards for different levels of giving including, signed limited edition enlarged prints of cards, AND a limited number of opportunities for fans to have their own faces used as models for official GH students or faculty members. If this proves successful and sales of the cards do well once launched, my hope is to issue an annual series of cards, plus a special 30-year class reunion set of the original series from 1986 to be issued in 2016. Ronnie the Roach will return as well and will grace EVERY card this time. Time frame? I’m not sure yet but a full itinerary will be included in the Kickstarter presentation. Shoot me another email in September and I’ll update you on progress. Obviously I want cards on the market as early as possible in 2014. To raise additional funds if necessary, I may even put some of the original 1986 artwork up for auction on ebay. I still have 65 of the original 66 pieces, including the first one ever done, Peter Picker, and the infamous Joe Stereo that Fleer made me change from African-American to caucasian because they were afraid of repercussions. I actually created the new face over the old one because I didn’t want to redo the entire card, so I imagine an x-ray might reveal the original Joe’s face.
            As for GPK, I’ve been following their comeback, and the later designs show much more creativity than the old. That’s a challenge I hope to meet with Grossville as we attempt to reboot the series with 21st century grossness. But there’s no way I can compete with Topps unless a competing company were to show some interest. Barring that I plan to forge ahead on my own.

            I also have a rough draft of a Grossville High story I did years ago that I would like to develop into a graphic novel with the hopes of getting it onto the screen. I think Grossville High would make a fantastic film with all the computer animation available today.

            Buzz away! And tell folks to hang on to their 1986 collections because if this relaunch is successful, the original cards will go up in value. The first and only set had a very limited print run making them much more scarce than the GPKs. I just secured the domain name I’ll get a website up and running ASAP so I can start disseminating official announcements.”