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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.
Caustic Soda Issue 1 will make it’s “Con” debut this weekend during Denver Comic Con. The books illustrator, Dan Crosier and writer Shane Roeschlein will be at Booth 933.
We’ll have prints of the mag-sized, limited run, Caustic Soda – A Year Future Narco Romance Issue 1. This is part 1 in a three part series titled, Hello, the War is Here and will be collected into a 72-page graphic novel, set for release in 2015. The issue features (pictured below) a skate-punk themed cover by artist Joe Triscari of Moonlight Speed.
If you are at DCC this weekend, stop by booth 933 and say hello. We’d love to meet you. We’ll have copies of Caustic Soda issue 1 available along with prints of the limited run, Caustic Soda t shirt.
Or if you can’t make it into the city for DCC, join us Saturday, June 14 at 3 Kings Tavern for a launch party with bands, Blackaciddevil, Throttlebomb and a performance by Show Devils featuring Enigma and Serana Rose.
Happy New Comic Book Day!
Late last month, Dan Crosier finished the illustrations through page twenty-four, completing the first issue. Issue one of our three-issue book was then sent to Patrick Brosseau for lettering. I worked with our layout guru and hops-connoisseur, Muana Fanai on layout and print prep. The variant cover by Joe Triscari worked incredibly well, check it out:
Issue 1 will be available in extremely limited quantities and for sale at Denver Comic Con http://denvercomiccon.com/ (June 13-15) and also at the Caustic Soda/Show Devils launch party at Three Kings Tavern, Sat. June 14 (more info on that soon), online at the CS Shop and at San Diego Comic Con.
You can purchase a copy in the CS Store, COMING SOON.
Below you will find a link to a Spotify playlist that captures the scope of Part 1 in sound. Songs by The Stooges, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Wire, Max Richter, Wu Tang, MC5, Baby Huey and more have been part of my ongoing, working soundtrack and inspiration for Caustic Soda.
Experiencing the graphic novel, Mesmo Delivery, is a physical challenge on par with a bar fight. You don’t exactly know what to expect. You get hit from all angles and you swing blindly hoping to slam into something concrete that will at least help you collect your bearings again. You can smell the blood. You can smell the bodies. Every time you turn the page you encounter an assault on the senses unlike any other you have experienced before in a comic. And when you finish reading it, you walk away with pride knowing you stood your ground and persevered. You leave the experience with the comic tucked in your arms like some trophy dame that recognized you as the last one standing. You leave exhausted and battered and you rush to find someone else to throw into the rumble.
Mesmo Delivery, by Rafael Grampa and Marcus Penna drags you into the story involving Rufo, an as-big-as-a-semi-truck ex-boxer, and Sangrecco, an Elvis impersonator that is as dirty and greasy as his glistening sideburns. We are introduced to the two characters and the basic plot that they are transporting an 18-wheeler of unknown contents to an anonymous client. And therein lies the beauty of this book, its seeming simplicity. The major conflict of the story is fairly predictable; tough guy walks into a bar full of tough guys and fights break out. But, the story combined with the jaw-dropping (and/or shattering) art by Grampa makes it very clear you’re experiencing something that is far from plain.
Mesmo Delivery is the full-length comic debut from Rafael Grampa and he storms onto the scene like a wide-shouldered trucker in a rest stop urinal. The art is unlike anything you have seen prior to the comic. Everything is grainy, dirty, and you will be shocked your fingers aren’t covered in grime from holding the book with such focus. In lieu of trying to find the proper words to describe Grampa’s artistic style, here is a page for your enjoyment:
Fine detail seems to be a specialty for Rafael Gramps as you can clearly see in the reflection of the shifter knob, the wrinkles in the clothing, the grains on the hands, etc. Grampa also displays a keen ability to play with choreography on the page. For example, on page 28 when Rufo takes a boot to the noggin’ he releases the understandable, “mmmmf”, but Grampa details the dialogue bubble almost like a snake slithering out from his mouth and curling up the page. Grampa does this often in the comic where you will see something normal being done drastically different and it takes you by surprise.
Mesmo Delivery became my “go to” comic for any friends who said they are, or want to be more immersed in graphic narrative. The story is engaging with a clever twist at the end.
Sacrifice your body, take the beating, read Mesmo Delivery.
By Randall Lahrman
Pick up a copy at your local comic store or order direct from Amazon.
Randall Lahrman resides in San Diego where he is completing his MFA in Fiction at San Diego State University. He spends his free time with his beautiful wife, Cayse, and his daughter, Genesee. He frequents the local comic shop every Wednesday in search for the latest adventures from The Batman, The Goon, Deadpool, Wolverine and many others.
We’d like to formerly introduce and welcome veteran comic letterer, Patrick Brosseau to the Caustic Soda team. Patrick Brosseau–pronounced “Brah-sew”–likes beer, doesn’t wear pants and will be lending his considerable talents and expertise to our book. Pat was a senior letterer at DC and has an impressive resume of work including Wolverine, Aliens vs Predator, Hellboy, Batman & Robin and Doom Patrol, to name a few. You can check out his portfolio at http://www.coroflot.com/droog811
We’ve been waiting to share this news (and shared it with our Kickstarter backers late last year) and are proud to have him aboard.
Meanwhile, in between launching Distortions Unlimited 2, Horrorhouse Fest and Mile High Horror Film Fest, Dan is cranking out pages weekly and the book is shaping up nicely.
Below is a preview of one of Pat’s lettered pages.
I hear constant chatter that The Walking Dead (both the comic and its companion television series) is not about zombies at all, but about the struggle for survivors to retain their humanity. Robert Kirkman himself has confirmed this. Horror is used as a backdrop to the human condition. As a writer, this is a tactic I can relate to, and also one I have often employed in my own work.
However, I would like to push deeper into the philosophy of The Walking Dead, perhaps further than Kirkman ever intended. Though the story as a whole may not be “about” the zombies, their distinct presence is there for a reason, so it would be a great disservice to not acknowledge their thematic importance. Once a work of fiction has been released to a world of readers, it is open to endless interpretation, and this is one option that I have returned to when considering The Walking Dead’s artistic merit:
The zombie is The Other.
The idea of The Other is an ancient one, its themes expressed in all factions of art, gaining philosophical popularity in the 20th century when intellectual minds such as Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault developed it into a concept with the potential to impact all humans. Broken down into its simplest form, The Other refers to that which is different—a person who does not fit within the confines of society’s accepted box.
In The Walking Dead, people from all walks of life and racial backgrounds are forced to work together despite their differences or face extinction. One can easily see this theme at play in both the comic and the television series. Cooperation does not always prevail amongst these groups, but those who continue to survive the harsh conditions understand that there is no room for The Other in human society; everyone needs a role. As a result, the idea of The Other becomes displaced, shifting instead to the undead. To most humans, this is a convenient solution, one that does not cause any loss of sleep at night. Though the undead have faces and traces of identities from former lives, those have been abandoned in an infected world. Humans make the mistake of thinking that the zombies are not “us,” when they are in fact the lurking unrealized potential of humanity. From here it is just a short leap to labeling the undead as The Other; a zombie’s only instinct is to consume the living, which often results in the transformation of a living person into their ranks.
This is where a thick grey fog begins to gather over this particular theme of The Walking Dead. When a member of the undead horde is simply the shell of someone a character has never met, it is much simpler to dismiss the zombie as Other and destroy it in the name of survival. When someone a character has held conversation with or learned to love becomes infected, it then becomes much more difficult to view them as Other. Take the Governor for example. For all his terrible qualities and failures at humanity, he refuses to let his niece (or—in the television version—his daughter) Penny be known to the world as a zombie, and he cannot bring himself to kill her himself. He knows that death is the only fate for The Other in this new world. Not just rejection and isolation, but total eradication. The Governor does his best to treat her as close to normal as is possible, but the concepts of normalcy have been twisted. Was he insane, or was he able to acknowledge something human still lingering within Penny? And where exactly is this line drawn?
Once any human becomes referred to as “it” versus “he” or “she,” the label of The Other automatically transfers over. But at what point does this transition occur? When a zombie bites a man or woman, their death is imminent save for a lucky quick amputation such as when Dale is bitten on the leg (again, this differs slightly in the television series; it is Herschel who falls prey to this near demise). The victim is treated as sort of a Transition Other, often quarantined from the rest of the group and taken care of by those closest to him or her. More often than not, the bite victim receives a bullet through the head immediately after death takes them. This allows the once thriving human to avoid regressing into the undesirable Other. Before the apocalypse occurred, most humans wanted to know what existed—if anything—on the other side of death’s tunnel. In the new world, there is almost a unanimous decision to avoid this completely. A notable exception would be the character of Jim, whose comic and television personas both face the same sad fate—after being bitten, he wishes to be left alone to follow through with his transformation, hoping in some disturbed way that he will be able to reunite with his fallen family.
What would it be like to enter the psyche of the undead, if such a psyche even exists? It would take the hand of a careful writer with serious intentions to handle this idea. The recent film Warm Bodies was overall surprisingly successful in capturing a humorous take on this vision, though I am not familiar with the novel it was based on and to what depth it might explore this same idea. As much as I am fond of satirical approaches, I think the psyche of the undead deserves deeper examination. I often recommend the little seen 1998 film I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain, which features a decidedly more depressing take on the subject matter.
These questions are worth asking: Would a zombie, in fact, retain any sense of their former self and feel some dark regret that can never be mended? Would a reader ever be capable of experiencing some level of pathos for the undead instead of sheer disgust? It’s hard not to pity such a creature when the specifics of its existence are spelled out. Once a human with a family and dreams for the future now reduced to a cannibalistic ghoul with nothing left beyond instinct and hunger. How much of a stretch is this fate from those afflicted with terminal illnesses—their bodies wasting away into glorified mummies, or coma victims with no more to offer than common garden vegetables? Humans can only speculate about this. Much like we can never truly tap into the mind of non-human animals, it would be near impossible to do the same with a zombie. Of course, this entire angle may not even be applicable to The Walking Dead, but that does not make it any less fascinating to ruminate upon.
Perhaps I’m reaching too far within the themes of The Walking Dead, but I am a firm believer that any successful piece of horror art is worth analyzing beyond the surface. There are reasons why so many readers connect with this series; what those reasons are will forever be up for debate. For many—including myself—it is the characters. Without a core group of survivors to identify with, there is no hope to cling to and the entire story falls apart. The few that have managed to survive over the comic book’s entire arc often feel like distant family for the moments that I am turning the pages, so much so that it was crushing to witness my favorite character receive the most brutal death of all in issue #100 (I won’t spoil who that was for those who have not made it that far into the series, but if you aren’t emotionally demolished by that scene then it is possible that you have become a zombie yourself.).
Will we ever grasp the extent of death and the great beyond? At this point, the zombies are much closer to understanding this than humans ever will.
By Chad Stroup
Chad Stroup is currently pursuing his MFA in Fiction at San Diego State University. His work has most recently been featured in Fiction International, The Newer York, Coffin Catalogs, and an exciting new horror anthology titled Splatterlands. His blog, Subvertbia, is a showcase of some of his short fiction and poetry. http://subvertbia.blogspot.com/. Like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChadStroupWriter.