My local comic shop owner tells this joke whenever people start complaining about inferior movie adaptations:
Two movie producers are stranded in the desert. They wander around, totally lost, and are pretty sure they are going to die out in the sand. One of them sees something in the distance and, while they think it is a mirage, they go check it out. Turns out it isn’t a mirage, it is a woman with an orange juice stand.
“Do you want some juice?” she asks.
“How much?” the producers ask.
“Free,” the woman says.
They each take a glass of chilled orange juice and right before drinking it, one of the movie producers drops his pants and pees in his glass.
“Why did you do that? the other producer asks.
“Because I can.”
The Auteur, written by Rick Spears with art by James Callahan, takes this joke’s basic premise into fairly absurd extremes. Nathan T. Rex, a movie producer, is the main character and it is unwise to approach him as the “hero” or “protagonist.” Even “antihero” would be a stretch because I think, on some level, an antihero is someone you want to root for. Nathan Rex is self-absorbed and cartoonishly hedonistic, but lacks the basic courtesy to get any joy from his delusional power trips. Coming off of creating the biggest box office bomb in the history of cinema, Nathan is trying to turn things around by producing a hyper-gory slasher flick titled President’s Day. Through a series of disturbing and uncomfortable encounters, the reader follows Nathan in his attempts to regain any credibility in Hollywood while becoming increasingly depraved and insane.
I am not wholly convinced that we as readers are supposed to like this guy or care about his comeback. From the get-go, I see no reason to want this man to succeed and I wonder if Spears is indulging in some spleen-venting schadenfreude by creating a truly vile stereotype of a movie producer. If there was some possible instance of a redemptive quality in Nathan T. Rex, I might consider reading more issues of this. But after one issue, it really feels like a protracted revenge fantasy. If you hate movie producers and want to see them in the worst light possible, this is going to be your book.
James Callahan’s illustrations and Luigi Anderson’s colors considerably amp up the crassness and explicit nature of the material. The artists make great use of the medium from the very first page (showing Nathan delving into his “idea space”) to a tour-de-force double page spread of Abe Lincoln smashing Nathan in the eyes with his axe. No stomach-churning detail is left out. My favorite page of the book shows a TV set being thrown out a window. The dialogue balloons stay oriented with the TV set as it spirals down and the reader needs to rotate the comic to read the text. I found this detail playful and entertaining.
I think the whole creative team is having a good time creating the book, but their enjoyment doesn’t quite compel me to keep reading. I know there are readers who will enjoy its send-up of a despicable character, and its attacks on the self-important quick-fix Hollywood culture. Personally, I don’t want to read characters that have no redeeming qualities. I found it easy to root for antiheroes such as Jesse Custer and Spider Jerusalem since they were trying to do some greater good by doing some reprehensible things. Nathan T. Rex is a deluded madman and I don’t want him to succeed at anything. That isn’t the same as wanting to watch him fail, however.