This self-called “Premature Release Edition” of Oni Press’ “The Auteur” #1 is stuffed full of bloody violence, effects from illicit drug use, sexual innuendo and all of those other depraved things that read like a list of banned content from the dusty old scrolls of the Comics Code Authority. Gratuitous? Far from it, as writer Rick Spears effectively uses every one of these “offenses” to portray the depths of desperation reached by a Hollywood producer behind a financially disastrous and potentially career-ending project. Artist James Callahan revels in the ugliness of these vices, making for an engrossing comic that’s downright beautiful in its seediness and proximity to the bowels of Tinseltown.
From the first page, practically from the very first panel, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a comic about superheroes, zombies or anything remotely mainstream. In fact, Spears and Callahan almost show distaste for such things, in an opening sequence that indicates such ideas are “shallow” and “cheap.” It’s also immediately clear that protagonist Nathan T. Rex is on some kind of wild acid trip, punctuated when the reader turns the page and finds a grotesquely-shocking double-page spread that answers the question, “What if Geof Darrow had drawn ’70s-era underground comix?”
There are no filters, no off-panel implications and no holding back — on anything. Callahan puts all of the violence; every scattered piece of brain matter, every split eyeball; right in the reader’s face, with a bizarre but fascinating attention to detail, using fine lines to exquisitely capture that which is often left to the imagination. Colorist Luigi Anderson isn’t being coy, either; his palette is stark and bright, with no dark shadows or gradient transitions. There is an almost paint-by-numbers precision to his coloring, the contrasts between which play a large part in the bold, in-your-face manner that this comic presents.
The elements of Spears’ story are all carefully blended archetypes of well-known Hollywood players and products; mix in one part George Lucas, one part Peter Jackson, one part James Cameron, and any other big-name filmmaker that comes to find and out comes Spears’ T-Rex character. T-Rex’s poorly-received “Cosmos” film, on the verge of going down in flames, is the film that everyone who hated “Avatar,” “The Hobbit” or the “Star Wars” prequels expected it to be. T-Rex personifies all of the perceived Hollywood stereotypes, particularly that of success at any cost, and this issues centers around the character’s eccentric and self-destructive behaviors as he desperately strives to save his career.
The story has a pleasant kind of disjointedness, flashing back and forth not only in time but between T-Rex’s time on the job and his drug and alcohol-fueled psychedelic binges that almost give the feel of a four-color acid trip. Some great lines of narration and dialogue, and some clever use of perspective by Callahan, enhance this book and make it clear on what it’s supposed to be: a counterculture look at modern pop culture, built with elements from the all-too mainstream entertainment that it so eagerly and bluntly tears down.
“The Auteur” is not for everyone, but then, alternative offerings never are. Anyone with a disdain for the mainstream, or even those just looking for something totally different, will find satisfaction here. The ongoing series is scheduled to begin next March, but “The Auteur: Premature Release Edition” #1 premieres this weekend at New York Comic-Con.