Oni Press’ The Auteur has been one of the single-most abrasive comic books I have ever read. I mean that as a compliment. Throughout its run, Rick Spears and James Callahan have consistently dug and twisted this story in the truest graphic sense, with reckless artistic abandon and a warped childlike sense of wonder that you just won’t see anywhere else. I’ve used the phrase before, but The Auteur is the premier example of “comic bookkake” - it’s provocative ... and also pretty gross. As I’m left to wonder what that statement will say about my already questionable moral fiber, I feel beholden to qualify it. This is a book that shuns the idea of putting on airs. It is filthy and beautiful, disgusting but hilarious, and by-far the ballsiest thing currently on stands today. For that, both the creative team and Oni Press should take a solid bow, not least because in its fifth and final issue, The Auteur #5 encompasses everything so groundbreaking about the series by turning its purpose on its ear and making you wonder whether there was one at all.
This issue sees our lovelorn and pretty goddamn psychotic director Nathan T. Rex officially wrap up his mess of a cinematic project, Presidents Day, plagued as it was by constant script changes (it started as a horror flick, ended as a rom-com), crippling doubt from its cast and crew and, of course, gruesome murders perpetrated by its serial killer lead. And those are probably the most banal things that happened in this unhinged series.
Rex finally woos his ebony actress muse while showing a softer, more sober and endearingly human side of himself, before then ripping it asunder via his own tyrannical hedonism, broken promises and a fistful of deftly slipped pills. Throughout the meat of the issue, our cast contend with seemingly dead pre-op transexual prostitutes, puke up imaginary bow tie-wearing, martini-swilling vomit monsters, hemorrhage blood from their pores thanks to shaman narcotics and experience mind-bending trips that result from, or explain, all of the above.
As sickeningly snappy as Spears’ writing continues to be this issue, so too - especially in the above scenes - does Callahan’s art infect. The more insane and nightmarish things become, the more Callahan feels at home. Saying that, this whole book in some respect or another is bat-shit insane and fucking nightmarish. There’s just something that I love about his style and the way it works with this story.
It’s a bit like Nick Pitarra’s stuff - not necessarily in style, but in a commitment to gnarling a world to its most visually lascivious degree. I want to see more from Callahan on transcendent books like this. Or they could just do eight more volumes of The Auteur together, that would be cool. Saying that, though, I’m not sure I can keep this up. As you can probably tell, The Auteur is a tough book to review, though not a difficult one to recommend.
The Auteur is, as one member of the press describes Presidents Day during a brief red carpet interview this issue, “Some sort of abstract, art house, slasher romance,” with its writer being best described through Rex’s reply as “only interested in expressing basic human emotions--tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”
Answering whether there could be an audience for the film (or vicariously, this comic book) Rex then says, “The first person through the wall always gets hurt,” a not so subtle nod that, were the writer a rapper, he may have had to preface this with, “Y’all gonna hate me for this one. Like Presidents Day, The Auteur will not be to everyone’s tastes, but in a move that sees his character evolve (in some ways, at least), Rex no longer cares about reclaimed adulation or the resurrection of his career, but rather about the very specific message that the film brings to an audience of one.
In the end, Rex finally screens his movie, but more importantly - and much to the chagrin of its viewers - reveals his reason for making it. I will say that this endgame felt cobbled together at the last minute for the sake of some semblance of a narrative ... but then again, I think that’s the point. I mean, that’s exactly what Rex has been doing this whole time, so it’s not without the realm of possibility that Spears and Callahan were doing the same thing to us, is it? They are not making this for a mass audience of bloodthirsty consumers. They’re making this for a very specific viewer.
So as the entire world around him goes bonkers, angrily trying to figure out “the point,” booing and hissing because the payoff they expected wasn’t the one they got, the creator doesn’t even notice. What he created - on screen and around him - was chaos, but he still created something special, which he could only do by taking everything over and putting literally all of himself into the film. That is what makes him the titular auteur.
But hey, maybe I’m way the fuck off. Maybe I’m grasping at nothing, trying to make my own damn sense of it, but as Spears (via Rex) says when quoting Kubrik, “The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning.” And that’s what I’ve chosen to do with this book.
Love it, hate it or just plain don’t understand it, one thing you will have to concede about The Auteur, especially in this final issue, is that it has never been complacent. It has never been the norm, presenting a wholly unique story about creativity, industry, the creative industry and itself as its own pariah. The Auteuris different. And that has made all the difference.
Writer: Rick Spears Artist: James Callahan Colorist: Luigi Anderson Publisher: Oni Press Price: $3.99 Release Date: 7/16/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital