Rebels Without A Cause— thoughts on David Rubin and Marcos Prior’s Grand Abyss Hotel

Marcos Prior and David Rubín are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. Or at least that’s the way it seems in Grand Abyss Hotel, their comic about these turbulent times we find ourselves in and our own violent reactions to them. The only problem is that it’s hard to tell what they’re mad about. This is a protest comic without ever really defining what they are protesting which makes it a bit empty. Opening with a protest-turned-riot and then following the media’s reaction to it, both the social media and more traditional TV talking heads, Prior and Rubín channel what’s happening in Hong Kong’s, in Portland, in Paris and across the world in the last few years. Tapping into our shifting political, financial, and moral foundations, Grand Abyss Hotel is both a sobering view of our current discourse as well as an all-to-possible view of where we’re headed, without a solid foundation trying to express what we should be rebelling against.

Rubín’s artwork, the lit fuse of this potentially incendiary work, uses every page as its own canvas. His layouts, colors and pacing establish a world on the verge of something monumental, a radical shift either into a utopia or a dystopia; it’s not too clear which way we’re heading. Each page contains the spirit of rage, whether it’s an explicit depiction of it as a reaction to this feverish world or whether it is a buried rage, as in the second chapter, that shows one of the 1% actors of this world, trapped in a scenario of his own making turned against him. Coloring his own work, Rubín slaps at least a dash of red on every page. Sometimes that red is a representation of the mood of the page, a simmering anger in our souls, and sometimes it’s the infernos that are burning down the structures and mechanisms that have create the world.

As Prior and c break the book into a prologue and four chapters, each piece has its own plot. It’s not even necessarily right to call these pieces chapters as they function more as discrete units of social and political unrest, coalescing into this view of a world gone mad. But none of these units seems to have anything to say other than the world has gone mad. The first chapter is a riot, an inciting incident that seemingly announces that we’re pissed and we’re tired of the world as it is. Opening with a wordless sequence, Rubín’s art is full of anger and resentment. It incites you to want to fight but it follows a prologue that’s full of hot button topics and talking heads. If anything, the world that Prior and Rubín are rioting against is a world where we’re told what to think and feel by celebrity newscasters who are as interested in ratings as they are in journalism. It’s not that the creators come out and say that explicitly but before and after the riots, we’re overpowered by their depictions of newscasts. Before and after actions that could either be an explosive sacrifice or a terrorist act, Prior and Rubín borrow a page out of the Frank Miller playbook and ground us in a view of this world that’s shaped by people reading teleprompters. There are so many voices in this book that it becomes a cacophony of noise.

The second chapter seems to be the one that has something to say, when a prominent bank official is kidnapped and forced to live on an average pension. While this portion of the story feels like a subtle homage to another politically charged book, Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V For Vendetta, it’s also the one section of this book that feels like it has something to say. Living wages are a real issue today, when we allow multi-millionaire executives try to determine how much money is really needed just to survive on a day to day basis. It’s the least sensationalistic portion of the book but also the one with the most potential to actually say something. It’s disappointing then that it ends with no resolution or growth. Prior and Rubín introduce real and true conflict into this chapter without ever pursuing an ending to it before jumping into the last two chapters which feel far removed from the personal challenges posed and questions asked here.

It gets hard to read this book through all of the voices and the noise. Maybe that is why the 2nd chapter seems to have the most potential, because it is the most focused with only two voices; the kidnapper and their victim. But after that sequence, Prior and Rubín dive back into the presentation of multiple voices, coming at us from every possible angle. As society becomes a place where the fire department prioritizes us by our social media standings, the anger and rage of the book continues, where all of these forces fight to commoditize and standardize us. Maybe that’s the rebellion that Prior and Rubín are calling for, a rebellion against defining our worth by politics, economics or social standing. But if that’s it, this book buries its concerns under its desire to find something just to fight.

The Grand Abyss Hotel depicts a world on fire, a world of us versus them, that feels all too real at this point in history but it never takes a side in that conflict. It’s angry at the world without ever expressing a worldview that gives us an understanding of exactly why it’s angry. Rubín’s beautiful artwork paints a world that seems to be only a year or two in the future, both visually and temperamentally. It’s not necessarily the world outside of our window but it’s also a world that’s not too far away. In this slightly futuristic view of the world, Marcos Prior and David Rubín can’t quite express where we should be directing our anger.

Grand Abyss Hotel
Illustrated by David Rubín
Written by Marcos Prior
Published by Archaia