Spears & Callahan Weave a Psychedelic Tale of Gonzo and Schlock in "The Auteur

Drugs. Booze. Movies. Fake blood. Real blood. Murder. All components of a typical (well, typical-ish) day for Nathan T. Rex, the titular protagonist of writer Rick Spears and penciler James Callahan's "The Auteur."

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Rex, a formerly-successful Hollywood producer, is an amalgamation of Ed Wood, John Waters and Hunter S. Thompson, plus every amoral psychopath you've ever heard of. To make his movie -- a slasher flick/romantic comedy called "President's Day." Rex is not above, for instance, hiring an actual serial killer as a murder consultant, or blowing up a good chunk of Los Angeles. The whole thing is illustrated with the kind of visuals reminiscent of certain illicit substances, a visual style that makes you think that the universe just might invert at any moment, or that existence might start to melt.

In short, "The Auteur" is an unsettling, gory and strange trip into a gross man's head, and Spears and Callahan are more than happy to talk about their Oni Press-published project.

CBR News: How would you sum up "The Auteur" of the title, Nathan T. Rex, and what drew you to do a comic about that kind of guy? Do you think he's irredeemable as a protagonist, or is he going to grow?

Rick Spears: Oh man, I don't think you can really ever truly "sum up" Rex. He's alive and kicking and constantly changing. He even surprises me constantly. He's a guy out to be more than he is and possibly more than he's even capable of being, but he never stops trying! It's that struggle that I find interesting. I like stories about people that strive for the impossible and facing failure is a big part of that. And I don't think anyone is irredeemable but Rex definitely digs himself a deep hole! Will he be redeemed is another matter. I don't know, honestly. It's up to him.

James Callahan: Yeah, he sort of does whatever he wants to. I'll agree that his perhaps most redeeming quality is his persistence, even in the face of inescapable failure. Rex is driven by an impossible certainty, that's contrary to any apparent evidence. You sort of envy it though, that absolute confidence, despite the fact that it is constantly turning his and everyone else's life into hell.

What's your working relationship like for "The Auteur?" The visuals are extraordinarily striking and unconventional. How has the illustration informed the story, and vice versa?

Spears: Jim and I have been pals for quite a few years. When I'm writing, I have a good idea of what he can do, so I write to his strengths as much as I can, but I also push and fuck with him a bit. Sometimes I'll throw something in the script that I don't think is even possible to draw, and James pulls it off every time, even bigger and crazier than I could have imagined.

Callahan: I think that hits it pretty spot on, except I wouldn't have thrown in those last flattering parts about myself.

What previous works are you drawing on, either with storytelling or illustration? It's a comic about movies and is rife with references, but what pop culture, specifically, is in its DNA?

Spears: I pull from all over the place, really -- everything I come into contact with. There are the big obvious things like "Fear and Loathing" and "Looney Tunes," but I get ideas constantly from even stupid stuff like a half-heard commercials, or a misheard conversation, or just random -- I call it 'automatic research,' where I try to let fate guide me and take in information without letting my conscious mind have any control. It's all about tapping into the sub-conscience. And yeah, there are tons of references throughout, like Pee Wee Herman in the background and stuff like that. I call for some of that in the script, but Jim adds a lot, too. It's just something that's fun to do.

Callahan: If anything, I'd say we push more in the direction of no influences, as lofty a statement as that is. Why make a comic that's already been made? But making something that's never been seen before is easier said than done. The mild successes we've had on that front have been the moments most gratifying to readers. It's hard to do, but I think that's where we're reaching out towards.  Although anyone could make comparisons of "The Auteur" to one thing or another, more often than not, when I see someone look at an issue for the first time, they say, "What is this?!"

How much can you say about the next story arc? What's next for Rex?

Spears: Well, Rex has been literally kicked out of Hollywood, so he has to become an independent producer, which creates a whole host of new problems. His new film will be called "Sister Bambi," a "Nuns-in-prison" picture shot in a real jungle, Cinema verite-style. What could go wrong?

Callahan: Rex is not always the worst person in the room. That's a big change. Now, I'm not saying whether he's improving in behavior, or his company is regressing, but -- stuff will happen.

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