HOTELL, ISSUE #1
Writer: John Lees
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Publisher: AWA Studios
WHAT IS IT?
A horror anthology of four stories centered around a mysterious hotel and its strange inhabitants.
Think A Contract with God meets The Shining.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Alice, a pregnant woman on the run from her abusive partner, stops at Pierrot Courts to rest. The quiet hotel with its friendly staff seems like the perfect place to recharge; however, in the morning, Alice feels more drained and exhausted than when she arrived. In addition, she begins having strange dreams and when she awakes, it appears that she's been scratching herself in her sleep.
With Alice's partner, Ted chasing after her, she knows she has to leave the hotel, but every time she tries, her exhaustion gets the better of her and she spends another night at Pierrot Courts. Before long, the visions in her dreams creep into her waking hours and she can't help but question how real they are, or how sane she is.
With Ted getting closer and Alice's vision getting stranger, something is bound to break. An eclipse is occurring soon, and something in the "hotell" stirs...
John Lees's script is tight, compelling, and creepy. He nails the unsettling, environmental horror that thrives on a comic book page and creates a sense of nostalgia and wonder with a Twilight-Zone-esque framing device.
Talajic's art shines in the surreal dreams used throughout the story. His haunting images keep the reader in the same sense of suspended dread as the characters experiencing them.
Loughridge's cool color palette throughout most of the story lulls the reader into feeling secure, only to punctuate particularly traumatic and climactic moments with hot reds, pinks, and oranges. It's an assault on the eyes in the best way possible.
Cipriano's lettering expresses a huge amount of personality when things get supernatural. His ability to use nonstandard, wobbly, and off-center fonts elevates the unsettling nature of the horror the book aims to express.
As a first issue in an anthology, it manages to be succinct and effective while still building to something greater. Stories appear to happen concurrently and the audience is constantly given hints about what's coming in future issues.
As a horror experience, it's hard to get out of your head. It's the kind of uncomfortable horror that plays with primal emotions and human nature. The story manages to pull off these intense, often personal scares, without feeling preachy or pretentious.
There's a distinct lack of resolution, but that only serves to make it more fascinating, infectious, and demanding. It's hard to finish this issue and not immediately want to read the next.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
There's some pretty brutal depictions of domestic abuse that deserves its own content warning separate from the often gruesome nature of horror. The depiction of abuse is also a bit lazy. He's extremely and unnecessarily violent and literally says that she only has value because she's pregnant. There's probably a real analogue for this and abuse doesn't have to be complicated or "deep," but the abuser felt more cartoonish than what the tone of the story was clearly trying to achieve.
It does lean into some of the gore and adult content inherent in most horror that makes it unsuitable for all-ages reading. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind before recommending it to children.
Parts of the character development felt rushed. There's a ton going on in this first issue, so I can see how cuts had to be made, but (without spoiling) the attitude of the main character changed in a way that was jarring toward the end of the story.
There's a lot of peach, purple, and other soft, cool colors that make the setting look a little static and uninteresting. Considering the emphasis on the hotel as a setting, it could have been more visually appealing or dynamic.
Certain elements, particularly the use of an eclipse as a countdown to things going off the wall, straddle the line between nostalgic and cliche. Whether it bothers you will come down to personal preference, but there's a lot of ideas that aren't strictly original.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Horror anthologies can be written in a variety of ways, but one of the more interesting, in my opinion, is to link stories through a common setting. Hotell runs with this model and creates a well-put-together world with interesting characters and a tightly knit series of events. It's clear the creative team has a big plan for the series as a whole and with the jaw-dropping conclusion of this first issue, it's hard not to get excited about what comes next.
You should check out Hotell if you like horror, mystery, and get nostalgic over things like Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. It's also worth checking out for the publisher; AWA studios is brand new with some incredible talent and this will be one of their launch titles. If you wind up enjoying this story, you may find that this indie press has even more to offer.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Mountainhead by John Lees & Ryan Lee
Tales of Mr. Rhee by Dirk Manning & Josh Ross
Cult Classic Creature Feature by Eliot Rahal & John Bivens
If you like the art:
Relay #4-5 by Zac Thompson & Dalibor Talajic
Resonant by David Andry & Alejandro Aragón
Going to the Chapel by David Pepose & Gavin Guidry
ABOUT THE CREATORS
John Lees – Writer
New Face: Though fairly new to comics, he's been putting out a lot of great work, especially with titles like Sink
If you join his mailing list, you get a copy of his comic, Deep-Ender, for free
Outlander: Hails from Scotland
Dalibor Talajic – Artist
Outlander: Born, raised, and lives in Croatia
Name Recognition: Works almost exclusively with Marvel Comics and is most famous for his work on Deadpool kills the Marvel Universe in 2012
Multitalented: Went to music school to study the clarinet for his secondary education and taught music and clarinet performance for eleven years before getting into comics.
Lee Loughridge – Colorist
Comic Veteran: He's boon working in comics for over twenty years and has done significant work on Batman and Marvel Zombies.
Accolades: Though never won, he's been nominated for Hugo Awards, Comic Buyer's Guide Awards, and IHG Awards for excellence in coloring.
Sal Cipriano – Letterer
Prolific: As a freelancer, he's credited with nearly 1000 titles across publishers.
Multitalented: Is also a designer and illustrator, and reviews action figures on YouTube
Most of his work has been for DC Comics
Big fan of wrestling
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