Have you ever taken a chance with a new comic series—one devoid of any hype, one where you were previously unfamiliar with the creators—and instantly felt a disturbing connection with the mad minds behind the creation, as if they might be your long lost brethren birthed from the bowels of a humorous hell? Upon immersion into the first issue of The Auteur, released by Oni Press, I believe I have discovered some sickening soul mates in the forms of Rick Spears and James Callahan.
The Auteur is an absurd dark comedy mixed with psychedelic horror, set within a desperate story of love, lust, and the quest for artistic perfection at any cost. The main plot thread follows the (mis)adventures of—er—“acclaimed” director Nathan T. Rex on his quest for the perfect film that will breathe new life into his crippled career. Much like Eli Roth ingeniously created the now-legendary Thanksgiving trailer wedged between the theatrical release of Planet Terror and Death Proof, the brilliantly infantile protagonist of The Auteur decides to plunder another holiday that was somehow never utilized for an 80s slasher film: President’s Day. T. Rex is easily one of the most detestable, yet still engaging lead characters I have encountered in recent years; despite loathing nearly every cockamamie choice he makes, I still find myself rooting for him.
At times, the story reads like a premonition of an acid trip that never actually occurred because the trip turned out to be real life instead. Make sense? Exactly. Spears takes an “anything goes” approach to the plot, yet still attempts to ground it in some sort of pseudo-reality. He somehow succeeds at this near-impossible feat, and the results are enough to give the Tasmanian Devil a case of vertigo. Callahan must find some depraved joy in utilizing outrageous gore and twisting it into beautiful art, like a Saturday Morning Cartoon gone horribly wrong. He pushes the boundaries of “good taste,” choosing to not shy away from expressions of nudity, both the sublime and the grotesque (that’s right, discerning readers, this comic is definitely not for the kiddies). The creative team also makes some innovative panel choices that sometimes even aid in the storytelling—in the first issue alone there is an inside-of-mouth POV and a two page spread of a television plummeting to its doom from atop a tall building (while simultaneously telling us a lot about how T. Rex has ended up right where he is in the present). Even the “normal” panels give the impression of a well-executed cult film. Plot points include— but are not limited to—enlisting a behemoth of a serial killer as a consultant, a hilarious bastardization of the judicial system, disposing of casualties from the set, and an obsessive pursuit of a buxom woman who could have been an extra in a 70s Pam Grier flick (with the attitude to match). I also adore that each issue comes with a centerfold poster of each of T. Rex’s films…it’s a subversive move that pours salt into Hollywood’s wound and it just sucks me further into the mad world of The Auteur.
Colorists rarely get much glory for their work in comics, certainly not as much as pencillers. Sad as it may be, the only other colorist I can name from memory is Laura Allred (also deserved of endless praise, but let’s leave that for another time), but Luigi Anderson is one who deserves major accolades for his work on this book. He attacks his rainbow world as if the images are negatives from a long lost Dario Argento film, where the colors nearly become a separate, yet crucial, character in the story. The combination of this rebellious abuse of the color spectrum with Callahan’s distinct art is pure eye candy for those of us who delighted in going to the newsstand to peruse the new issues of Gorezone and Fangoria at the tender age of 5 (oh, wait, that was probably just me). In black and white, The Auteur would still be a fantastic book worthy of much praise, but the coloring pushes it over the edge into surreal phenomenality.
With the “Fin” at the end of issue number 5, I feared that arguably the coolest comic of the last few years was coming to a premature end. I was prepared to sit and pout in my room since I do not work for Oni Press and therefore I have no say in the matter, but an extreme emotional reaction is preferable to indifference, yes? I have since found out the positive scoop from Oni: The Auteur is still alive and well, with more wild tales to come in the second story arc. Sometimes the world is a kind and just place.
However, sometimes the world is cruel and cold. In a perfect universe, The Auteur would be outselling any men-in-spandex comic on the shelves, and fanatical fiends would be clamoring for the latest issue at their local shop, only to be disappointed that the large order has already sold out. But they’d find it eventually, hidden away in the back issue section of some shop off the beaten path. And it would be well worth the search.
Chad Stroup received his MFA in Fiction from San Diego State University. His work has recently been featured in the Grey Mater Press anthology Splatterlands, and the inaugural Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase. His blog, Subvertbia, is a showcase of some of his short fiction and poetry. http://subvertbia.blogspot.com/. https://www.facebook.com/ChadStroupWriter.