Even if we enjoy are current vocation or employment, it’s safe to say that many of us have found ourselves in a toxic work environment. Whether be because of horrible supervisors, terrible co-workers, or meager pay and benefits, workplace woes are something with which we can find solidarity in. We are united in our disgruntled discomfort.

That’s a notion that creator Josh Hicks has captured perfectly in his new comic Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit, out next Tuesday, May 7th, 2024, from Graphic Universe™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. In Hotelitor, hostile meets hospitality when the titular robot-hotel is thrust into the far unknowns of space following an assault from an alien entity. With the staff and guests marooned and desperately trying to get back to their home colony, they must work together and navigate frayed nerves and ferocious monsters if they hope to survive.

I spoke with Josh Hicks recently about the idea behind Hotelitor, how mech-based strategy role-playing games influenced the book, how thoughts on capitalism and labor impacted his story, and how this beautiful mix of interesting characters, a toxic workplace, and larger-than-life punch-‘em-ups came to life.

I’ve read Hotelitor once and have revisited several sections of the book several times since receiving a review copy. It’s very much the perfect combination of delightful, intricate art, fully-defined characters, and workplace nonsense that’s relatable and made that much more enjoyable with the mecha-mayhem abounding. Hotelitor is a more than 130 pages and I found myself with the feeling of mourning that comes when a good book ends—which is a testament to Hicks.




FreakSugar: For folks considering picking up the book, what is the conceit of Hotelitor?

Josh Hicks: Hotelitor is a big sci-fi comedy about a giant robot that is also a hotel. When a mysterious alien entity attacks the space colony that Hotelitor is stationed on, it gets stranded in some unknown corner of the universe, leaving its staff and guests to figure out how to get back home – if they can avoid throttling each other first, that is. Giant mech fights, shared living nightmares, corporate conspiracy, bad bosses – it’s basically about a toxic workplace that has limbs.

FS: The cast is so colorful and rich. What can you tell us about the characters we’ll meet?

JH: Our hero, Anna, is a college student on an unpaid work placement, and she leads a bunch of other low-level service workers in trying to solve this crisis. At the same time, she’s got to try to appease the rest of the staff and guests, all of whom have split off into different factions and are suffering from cabin fever. We’ve got cultish musicians-in-residence, washed-up journalists, despotic middle managers, an incredibly buff lifeguard… it’s basically an exercise in sticking as many weirdos in a floating metal box as possible and then seeing what happens.

FS: The look of the book is so much fun! What was your thought process when designing the art and the world of Hotelitor?

JH: I love drawing little maps and diagrams and stuff, and I usually think at least a little bit in terms of video games when I’m working on a book. For Hotelitor, I was thinking a lot about these great mech-based strategy RPGs from the early 90s and how I could adapt some of the visual language from that world to tell a story in comics. There’s also so much mecha manga from the 70s and 80s that I love, and I really wanted to pay homage to those with the designs and the fight sequences. I’ve never really done action in a book before, so I wanted to be ambitious and fully commit – but it’s nice that I could also play a little bit in my natural mode (i.e. drawing people stood around a table, bickering).



FS: Gotta ask: Have you ever worked in a hotel or the service industry? Because much of what’s shown in the book feels very real.

JH: I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten to work in comics and animation for the last ten years, but a lot of the book was drawn from weird job stuff I did before that. I was a very timid video game store employee for a while after school – all of our individual sales figures were tracked, and I’m pretty sure that I was officially the worst video game store employee in the country at one point. I worked in a big warehouse filing exam papers, I worked at a print place, I did unpaid work in college for a bad reality TV show… all of that stuff got rolled into the book, especially that feeling of being young and out of your depth and having to enter into these weird pre-existing power dynamics. One of my oldest friends also worked as a lifeguard in a big hotel for years when we were in our late teens and early 20s, and I definitely stole inspiration from him.

FS: The book is very much a critique on capitalism. What made you want to tackle this topic and in the form you do?

JH: Initially, I just wanted to write about that late-teen, early-adult period, where maybe you’re slightly adrift and the idea of figuring out what you might end up doing for the rest of your life looms large. I wanted to make something about that work-based stress and worry, and I think it’s impossible to write about work without dealing with capitalism and the exploitation of labor a bit. It was kind of always going to happen. I also wrote a lot of the book during lockdown, which threw a lot of stuff into relief, and I’m sure that coloured it a fair amount. It’s a light-hearted comedy, ultimately, but there’s definitely some legitimate anger underneath it all.

FS: On that same note: why mech and kaiju and larger-than-life robots and monsters? Have you always had an affinity for them?

JH: Years ago I’d made an illustration of a giant robot hotel – like a beta version of Hotelitor – for a comics show or something, and I just kept looking at it and imagining characters and a world that could fit around this stupid image. I have no memory of why I drew that specific thing – mechs and big monsters and anime and tokusatsu stuff have been a part of my inner life since I was making thoughts, basically, so that element of the book was really natural and organic. Something about that stuff so keenly appeals to the lizard part of my brain – the colour, the bombast, the creativity – and it just felt like the perfect framework to build this story around. I will never stop loving giant monsters and I am fine with that.

FS: What are you reading right now?

JH: I started re-reading all of Dragon Ball after Toriyama’s passing, and it is a consistent joy. That was huge in my animation and comics development, and it’s been nice to just revel in his art again for page after page. I just picked up the first volume of Tokyo These Days by Taiyo Matsumoto and Mary Tyler Moorehawk by Dave Baker and they both look great – I can’t wait to get stuck into those.

FS: If you had a final pitch for the book, what would it be?

JH: If you’ve ever wanted to punch out your boss with an 80-foot robot, this is the book for you.

Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit is out next Tuesday, May 7th, 2024, from Graphic Universe™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

From the official press release:

This spring, take a trip aboard the finest hospitality craft in hyperspace in HOTELITOR: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit, a hilarious sci-fi satire by cartoonist Josh Hicks that invites readers to take a trip aboard Hotelitor: the finest hospitality craft in its colony, equipped with jet feet, a hyperspace engine, and single, double, and adjoining rooms. The fun, loud and light-hearted satire of late-stage capitalism will land in stores in this galaxy on May 7, 2024 from Graphic Universe™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

When a giant alien attacks the ship, Hotelitor‘s surviving guests and staff find themselves stranded in deep space, where 18-year-old intern Anna Greene must take charge. Alongside her fellow entry-level service workers, she’ll try to control the chaos while rival factions emerge, wealthy VIPs seize hotel resources, and the musician-in-residence develops a literal cult following. As Anna and her friends search for a way home, shocking discoveries about Hotelitor‘s owners await them—that is, if another giant alien doesn’t smash the crew first. Welcome to the worst first job in the universe!

Hotelitor is super influenced by classic mecha manga like Mazinger Z and tokusatsu media like Ultraman and Godzilla, but it’s also informed by my own history of bad temp jobs and student work placement debacles,” said creator Josh Hicks. “It’s a very silly book about a giant robot hotel, but it’s also essentially a power fantasy about low-level service workers getting to punch out their boss with a robot and redefining their relationship to labor by flying off into space. Basically, it’s high literature.”