Becca Tobin’s Hotel World comes to us via Comic Book Slumber Party, the micropublisher who brought us the splendid recent Fairytales for Bad Bitches anthology that I described here in this column as being full of “unashamedly rebellious posturing” earlier this year. Tobin’s memorably eyecatching cover was a huge draw for that book and I’ve been rather eagerly anticipating something longer form from her and the CBSP crew ever since.
Hotel World’s tongue-in-cheek fantasy takes place in an indeterminate dystopian future after society has collapsed and a sprawling corporate hotel-centred civilisation has sprung up in its stead. We’re introduced to this 3,000,000 square miles of hospitality-based culture by the Boss – an oddly dream-like and despotic creature who is the 27th such leader in a long line of inn-based autocrats. As far as a cogent narrative is concerned, though, that’s essentially your lot because this minicomic is all about Tobin letting loose with her frenetically fertile imagination in a series of rapidly paced shorts.
A procession of bizarre guests and staff members populate the corridors of Hotel World, some of whom experience those selfsame guesthouse gaffes and motel mysteries that have befuddled and perplexed us all. Only in a significantly more surreal manner. Bird Lady, for example, finds her relaxing retreat ruined by a pair of cooing doves getting noisily frisky in the honeymoon suite next door.
Meanwhile ‘Valuable Staff Member’ explains the profound philosophical realities of that odd little folded arrow on your hotel toilet paper. And in the longest entry in the comic we’re introduced to the severed Hand – a ghostly set of digits who provides a service to guests by giving them memorably hideous nightmares and feeding off their psychic residue.
Tobin’s garish stream-of-consciousness antics are all essentially rather random and haphazard, yet there’s a strangely endearing charm to her off-kilter oddness. Visually and thematically it’s like a particularly lurid version of Noah and Nelly – weirdness for weirdness’s glorious sake with little concession made for a coherent overarching storytelling structure. That’s both the fun and, to a certain extent, the frustration of Hotel World. As a premise it works as the perfect showcase for her eccentric character concepts but, sadly, we have just 14 pages of her semi-psychedelic silliness to enjoy here.
There’s a distinctive appeal in the way in which Tobin integrates dark humour with vibrant hues – the mildly menacing and the borderline malignant dressed up in a hallucinogenic swirl of colour. It’s both incongruous and comforting at the same time with those gorgeous watercolour images transfixing the audience’s attention and rendering the slightness of the plot moot in relative terms. It’s those pages where she eschews traditional panel structure to create a series of mini-narratives within a larger image that really stand out though, giving a sense of world-building wonder to these trippy environs (see above right).
If you have yet to have been introduced to Becca Tobin’s unique approach to comics then Hotel World is a perfect initiation. Those attending this weekend’s Brighton Illustration Fair (BIF) can grab a copy from the Comic Book Slumber Party table…
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