Writer: Rick Spears
Artist: James Callahan
Publisher: Oni Press
I gushingly wrote of how underrated Oni Press is this year in my review of “Life After #1,” and the primary evidence for my thesis was Rick Spears’s and James Callahan’s The Auteur. Most traditional methods of describing comics don’t apply particularly well to defending Auteur as an innovative and bewilderingly smart bit of comic book making. For example, simply describing the plot—that thin thread that assures you there is in fact a story somewhere within these pages—will leave you underwhelmed. Auteur features morally bankrupt Hollywood producer Nathan T. Rex in his efforts to make his masterpiece film. Ok. Sure. And describing the content within these pages will likely turn away a few readers. Auteur is violent, disgusting, sexual, and genuinely in need of the “Strong Content!” warning it features on its cover. There are moms left over from the Eminem crusades who can’t sleep at night because of this book and they’ve never even heard of it.
The secret to Auteur is in its insanity. This book is unafraid of anything. You thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a wild meditation on drug excess? Cool, Auteur is going to regurgitate that feeling with a Las Vegas post-production party and an added dose of Toxic Frog Drugs. That’s right, “Auteur #5” finds Nathan T. Rex finally wrapping his cinematic masterpiece, President’s Day, and heading out to celebrate with his crew (and assorted hired ladies of the night). Naturally, this being Auteur, things go horribly, horribly, almost unimaginably wrong.
For a few moments in this issue, Nathan T. Rex, this man who sleazily convinced an aspiring actress to go topless against her clearly expressed wishes and then watched as she was straight up CLEAVED TO HER DOOM, is kind of a sweet guy. He actually makes his psychotic movie to impress a lady. Rex also espouses complicated and fascinating philosophy to his would-be lady, seemingly winning her heart. At least until he starts bleeding from the eyes, and it’s revealed that everyone in the party has been poisoned by the toxic frog drugs, because of course. Somewhere in between we get personified vomit, surprisingly humorous references to necrophilia, and a hooker with a really neat party trick.
President’s Day ends with an enraged audience hurling insults at our completely anti-heroic auteur. Through a certain reading lens, they’re all insults one could hurl at the creators of Auteur (I’m guessing they’ve had a few “misogynist!” tweets in their feeds). I’d imagine this is not by accident. You have to take risks, and you probably have to piss a few people off. Hopefully you don’t have to cleave an aspiring actress down the middle. I’m not saying everything here has to be emulated. Nonetheless, Auteur is very clearly the uninhibited creative work it was meant to be: fun, nonsensical, surprisingly philosophical, and deeply, deeply insane.
Much like the darkly comedic work of Warren Ellis (ex: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.), Auteur finds a way to laugh at Hollywood excess without solely making fun. Nathan T. Rex has finished his film. It will be interesting to see if Auteur stays in theaters past this five-issue run. The story would clearly have to change, but based on this run, creators Rick Spears and James Callahan have plenty more dirty, dirty tricks up their sleeves.
“Auteur #5” earns 8.0 / 10