When I first found Hotel Dare, the cover intrigued me. I didn’t know about the story or the creative team, but I did know that it looked magical and spooky. If you’re not familiar, Hotel Dare is an original graphic novel published by BOOM! Studios, created and written by Terry Blas with art by Claudia Aguirre. The book, as Blas has called it, is a love letter to his childhood memories in Mexico.
Hotel Dare follows Olive and her adopted siblings Charlotte and Darwin as they spend their summer in their Mamá Lupe’s house. Well, creepy and strange hotel is a better descriptor. When the kids first arrive it’s chores, chores, and more chores since there is little to do in the small town that they’re visiting.
That is, until one day they stumble upon an incredible secret in Mamá Lupe’s office which leads them to find portals to whole new worlds behind each door in the hotel. Space pirates, bearded wizards, and cloud muffin kingdoms await the children as they start on this adventure. That said, once the doors are open, worlds start colliding, and it’s up to one family to save everyone.
The graphic novel features panels with conchas and other food illustrated so well that I could smell my own abuela’s kitchen while reading. It also features dynamic characters that explore different experiences of adolescence and family. This uniquely Mexican and queer story has become one of my favorites of the year. So much so, I reached out to Blas to learn more about his inspiration and the story’s creation.
But Why Tho: What inspired you to create and write Hotel Dare?
Terry Blas: I usually watch Star Trek every night. On a trip to England, my husband and I went to the Harry Potter Leavesden Studio tour and I had this thought come to me that whenever there is a problem on Star Trek they have a long technobabble explanation of what the problem is and a science-ish explanation of how to fix it.
I thought, “If a wizard were on a spaceship, he would just wave his wand and…problem fixed.” Then I thought, “Well how would a wizard get on a spaceship?” And that was sort of the beginning of the idea that turned into Hotel Dare. I also felt like it was important to have a Fantasy story that visually has an Aztec aesthetic. Most of our popular, modern fantasy is very European in it’s visual style.
But Why Tho: We sadly don’t see a lot of Latinx characters in media, why was writing a queer Latinx, and specifically Mexican story important to you?
Blas: It’s really important for me to help people understand that the fastest growing demographic in the country is the Latina. Across the board, Latinx’s spend the most money on movie ticket sales every weekend. More than any other group, and we are the largest ethnic minority with the least amount of representation in media. Even when Latinas are portrayed, quite often it’s still as either a sex object or a maid. Neither of which speak much English. Those stereotypes are so damaging and I wanted Latinas to see that other Latinas who were brave and curious and strong and flawed.
But Why Tho: When designing the characters, what was the process of defining the unique visuals of the characters?
Blas: Well I wanted the Dare sibling to all be tied together with the color green so you would still fell they are connected when they are in different worlds. I also wanted Darwin to be a bit chubby, and Olive to have her own style. Lupe I wanted her to look like she was a bit stuck in the past. Obviously Brad can’t have a beard so that affects him physically.
But Why Tho: In most comics, when another language is used outside of English, there is a translation provided. Why didn’t you include translations in Hotel Dare?
Blas: I’m paraphrasing here but Junot Diaz has this great quote where he says: “People will read a book that’s one third in Elvish but you put two sentences in Spanish and they think we’re taking over.” That’s why. Spanish is a beautiful language. Almost a quarter of this country is Latinx and most speak Spanish. What’s wrong with knowing another language? Also, since it’s a comic, you should still be able to put together what’s happening because of the visual element.
But Why Tho: There is almost every element of science fiction and fantasy in Hotel Dare, what were some of your inspirations for the worlds that the kids are taken into?
Blas: Several things. I love fantasy and sci-fi, so there’s a little bit of all the series and things I love in there. Also, some of Alfonso Cuaron’s earlier films like A Little Princess and Great Expectations. And maybe Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve just always liked the idea of mixing sci fi with fantasy and I don’t think it’s done too often. I wanted to create a series where anything could happen, where you could go anywhere to underline the idea that no matter where you go, what people care about is having somebody who loves them.
But Why Tho: While Hotel Dare is a fantasy, it’s also a story about family. How did you decide to highlight that?
Blas: I think that today a lot of people can relate to the idea of a “found family” or, one that you choose. I wanted to write about kindness and how as Mila puts it in the book, “Family are people who treat you like family.” As I started writing and had the idea of siblings going to visit their grandmother, well, that’s already about family. Why are they going to visit? Why haven’t they seen her in a long time? Answering those questions is fun.
But Why Tho: Aztecs come into play in the story. What kind of research did you do to work this cultural touchstone in?
Blas: I researched Aztec warrior costumes. What they had and didn’t have. What they wear is actually an important part of the story. Also, I looked up creatures and gods from Aztec mythology.
But Why Tho: Of all the dynamic moments in this graphic novel, what was your favorite to write?
Blas: You would think the battles or action things would be really fun, and they are, but the smaller, more emotional scenes, especially with Charlotte were my favorite to write. She’s got several of those.
But Why Tho: Did you put yourself into any of the characters and how?
Blas: Absolutely. I have a bit of Brad’s insecurities and Olive’s organizational drive. As a kid I shared Darwin’s love of animals and his gentle nature. When I write, I try to ask myself: “Does this character need to be a man? Does this character need to be white?” It was important for me to have Brad and Darwin, the two boys, be gentle, kind, and loving so that other boys could see that it’s okay to be those things.
But Why Tho: I have to ask, is Mamá Lupe based on your abuela?
Blas: Well, I did call my abuela, Mama Lupe. And she was from Amecameca, and she did give me conchas but that’s about where the similarities stop.
Hotel Dare is a beautiful gem of fantasy with family at its core. It’s gorgeously illustrated with heart in every piece of dialogue. There is a passion in this story that showcases childhood wonder as the story also provides culture touchstones. Make sure to follow Terry Blas on his social media to keep up to date on his upcoming projects.
Hotel Dare is available now, pick up your copy on ComiXology with our Affiliate Link.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.