The Pierrot Courts Hotel—a remote place to stay when you are traveling down Route 66 late at night and desperately need to find a bed. Or are you hiding something? Maybe running away from your life? Whatever your reason for visiting Hotell, according to AWA Studios, “many check in but few check out.”
The new horror series written by John Lees and illustrated by Dalibor Talajić is set to release on March 18. The title features colorist Lee Loughridge and letters by Sal Cipriano. Issue #1 also has a cover by artist Kaare Andrews.
Lees and Talajić chatted with The Beat ahead of the release and discussed why this style of horror works so well.
Deanna Destito: The book has a Twilight Zone/Black Mirror vibe. Are you a big fan of vignette or anthology storytelling and why?
John Lees: I love the anthology format. I already play around with it in my other comic series, Sink. There’s a grand tradition of this model of storytelling, not just in comics and horror comics in particular, as seen by the likes of Tales from the Crypt, but on TV here in the UK, with the likes of Black Mirror as you mentioned, and also the likes of Inside No. 9. I think it’s an exhilarating format to work in because I enjoy the challenge of having to tell a full story with a beginning, middle, and end in the space of a single issue, and how that forces you to cut out all fat and be lean and efficient in your storytelling. I also like how it works for horror and suspense stories because it adds an extra layer of unpredictability where there’s no guarantee that anybody is safe, not even the main character.
Dalibor Talajic: Oh yes! I love closed stories. I was never a fan of ongoing series because every story naturally has its end. And if it’s an anthology story as Hotell is, it’s a challenge to create new captivating characters for each issue. And god knows I love challenges…
Destito: Are you a horror fan, and if so where do you draw your inspiration from?
Lees: I love horror! Ever since I was a little kid, far too young to be into such things, I was hiring the most ghoulish horror movies out of the local video shop or staying up to watch late-night Hammer Horror screenings on TV. And a love for all things horror has carried through my whole life, including into my writing career. I remember first reading Junji Ito’s Uzumaki about a decade ago and it blowing my mind, showing me what was possible with horror in the comics medium, how frightening it could be. And I think I’ve spent much of my comics career in subsequent years trying to chase that and trying to create something anywhere close to being as scary as that.
So, I would say that other horror stories – be they comic or film or TV or whatever – inspire me, but not in the sense that I just want to copy the story so much as I want to generate feelings in a reader that those horrors generated in me. I also think you can draw inspiration from real life. Plenty of times I’ve been in a hotel room and had thoughts to creep myself out. Some of the best horror comes from taking relatable, everyday experiences and anxieties and pushing them to the extreme.
Talajic: My professional start was in the horror genre. It was Deadworld, a zombie story. So yes, I am. But horror is a tricky genre. Sometimes there are jump scares required, sometimes gore, and sometimes it’s the atmosphere. Hotell has it all, depending on what story John wanted to tell. So I was to jump all around trying to hit the right tones to make stories work. Again, it was yet another challenge, but I had great fun in the back and forth with both John and editors in shaping this series.
Destito: The images are pretty disturbing (the baby demon in particular!). What is your process to create the horror elements in each issue?
Lees: I’m sure Dalibor can talk more informatively about the process of crafting horror elements here than me. But I know that, when I sat down to write Hotell #1, I set myself a challenge. I’d spent a while navigating other genres or doing genre mashups with horror and something else, and this was my dive back into full-on horror. And I really wanted to go all-out. So, I decided that, for this first issue at least, on every page I would try to have at least one scary element. That can be something obvious like a demon baby, or it could be something more subtle, like a character behaving in an eerie, unnatural manner. And then there’s some creepy stuff hidden so deeply within the fabric of the comic that some readers might never notice them!
Talajic: I partly answered in the previous question. I need to decide if it was disturbing, or if it’s gore… what is exactly that story all about. In this particular episode disturbing was the keyword. I was thinking quite a bit about it and decided that angles of the shots were my weapon of choice to achieve this goal. For instance, there is a scene where our protagonist is in the bathroom after a nap. Just a girl and a mirror. Nothing is happening on this page. The page itself is a set up for the next one (I won’t spoil it). But… my choice of angles within each panel suggests that things are quite right. I must say, I’m quite pleased with that particular page…
Destito: How has your experience been working with AWA on these books so far?
Lees: AWA has been great. For all the years I’ve spent striving to get noticed in the world of comics with my work, it really meant a lot to have an editor – especially one of the caliber of Axel Alonso – reach out to me, and talk about how much he enjoyed my work and how much he’d like to work together. I’ve been to the offices of AWA Studios in New York, and it’s legit, it’s impressive the resources they have at their disposal. And every member of the AWA Studios team I’ve met – the editors, the marketing team, the legal team, the design team, everyone – have all been great. There’s a real atmosphere of passion, of this being something new and exciting and everyone motivated to make an impact. It’s an energizing, motivating environment to be a part of. And AWA have a whole bunch of cool stuff lined up, I can’t wait for you all to get to see more of it.
Talajic: It’s been great! Really! Very demanding, very careful in shaping each segment of a comic book, but that only tells you how much everyone cares about the project. And once the final result is… well, final – everybody is truly happy!
Destito: How has it been working with the creative team?
Lees: It’s been such a fun experience! Lee Loughridge and Sal Cipriano are seasoned pros with an impressive catalog of credits under their belt. Having them on board as colorist and letterer is such a boon to the project. These are guys I’d never have felt legit enough to approach on my own, but AWA brought them on for us, and it shows just how invested they are in having the best talent on these books. Working with Dalibor has been an absolute pleasure. We hadn’t met or talked before Axel paired us up, but we hit it off right away. He really seemed to instantly get what I was going for with the vibe of these stories and has done a fantastic job bringing my scripts to life. He has such a skill for immersing you in a sense of place, grounding everything in a sense of reality, which in turn makes the monstrous stuff all the more frightening. And I had a blast meeting him in person at New York Comic Con last year!
Talajic: John’s writing is very inspiring. He hasn’t burdened me with a lot of details, he trusted me to visualize the story the way I see fit. Having said that, he has a feel of what ignites me, so he pushes my boundaries just a bit for every next episode. Which – again – is inspiring to me. And Lee I have already worked with many times. He lets the line art breathe and doesn’t oversaturate it with colors. He simply adds to the mood of the story.
Destito: So far, there are only four issues planned, but could you continue creating in this world?
Lees: The fourth issue brings this particular little arc, with its overlapping stories, to a close. But that’s the great thing about the anthology format and a world like the one we’ve created in Pierrot Courts. It can sustain any number of stories, you can take it all kinds of places. I know Dalibor and I have already talked a little about other stories we’d like to tell on a return visit.
Talajic: Oh, hell yeah! We’ve already been talking of where to take it next. It’s – as always – up to the audience if we’ll continue. But if we do… well… brace yourselves!
Hotell #1 hits comic shops on March 18. Visit AWA’s website for more.