It is a rare thing, even these days, to find a comic book that so actively shuns classification as Oni Press’ The Auteur. Seemingly frivolous, yet infinitely visceral and insipidly ridiculous, this nutjob little story will almost immediately turn most readers away. And you know what? That’s okay... I was fortunate enough to speak to a representative from Oni Press at the recent New York Comic Con. She told me something refreshing. During a meeting, the big ups at Oni were apparently given the opportunity to publish a mainstream book that would have been a pretty big deal. However, the group decided, unlike many other publishers, not to err on the side of the prosaic, but instead to buck the commercial and make quality comic books. If ever there was a book that exemplifies the fruition of that decision, it’s The Auteur. And I, for one, applaud Oni for it.
Now, despite what you might imagine after a quick flip through its transcendentally chaotic pages, the actual setup of The Auteur is actually a pretty simple one. Tarnished Hollywood star and failing producer, Nathan T. Rex, needs to re-enliven his career after a string of unfortunate cinematic missteps, which include such made-up films as The Ten Commandments 2 and Death Fist (both of which I would watch the absolute shit out of, FYI).
To do so, he has not only procured the services of the turban-wearing, snake-oil selling “charlatan guru” known only as Doctor Love, but he has also dedicated himself to ingesting as many known psychedelic drugs as possible on some kind of strange spirit-animal, vision quest ... thing. Through these myriad avenues of inspiration, Rex hopes to recapture the magic of his younger, more profitable days, and by the end, he seems to have found what he’s looking for. Death, it appears, marks the spot.
Throughout this blossoming misadventure, though, we follow the increasingly infamous T. Rex as he contends with the next generation of bloodthirsty and unapologetic studio executives, face-shredding mental projections of dead presidents, prophetic nun strippers, paper bags chalk-full of huffin’ glue and of course, “big black asses.” It’s a heartwarming romp, really; good, clean fun for the whole family!
In actual fact, of course, The Auteur charts the desperate attempts of a broken, once-famed man as he grasps at the tenuous strands of his own cultural relevance. And it’s fucking brilliant ... but I’m almost not sure why. Almost.
It’s a strange feat to come to grips with this title, existing as it does like some kind of communal fever dream shared between Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs and Charlie Sheen. As a character, Rex is grotesque and hilarious, wild and clutching at his sanity like an arthritic man would a cumbersome medicine bottle; like most bruised celebrity, his meltdown is infinitely watchable, if he himself is not necessarily likable.
In this very different characterization, not to mention the way he steers the story in general, writer Rick Spears employs that hallucinogenic, frenetic writing style that instantly grabs me, instigating a rash of introspective, poetic asides, but grounding any pretentiousness through oddity in a keen, weaponized wit. This book is a fucking lunatic running naked through the streets, and it’s impossible not to gawp at it in quiet wonder, and no small amount of worry.
Following Spears’ lead is the art of James Callahan, and in it, I think I’ve fallen in love. Distorted in a mangled writhe even during its most sane moments, Callahan’s visuals take sick, cartoonish delight in howling throughout this book. Whether it’s the tandem of a recently crashed and crumpled sports-car and its quite inebriated driver, a tinseltown back-alley chase that harkens back to a scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit or any of the vastly colorful scenes of insanity, where men are bifurcated to reveal insides made of snakes and spiders, Callahan brings a style that smiles in the face of the depraved.
The Auteur is self-reflexive, turning a mirror not only on the creative process, but the public consumption of that end result. It knows full-well that most people will view it very much like a movie called Death Fist: with derision, passing judgement and indefinable distaste. And that’s just fine by me.
Writer/Letterer: Rick Spears Artist: James Callahan Colorist: Luigi Anderson Publisher: Oni Press Price: $5.00 Release Date: March, 2014