The Auteur is a despicably hate-fueled Odyssey that follows a thoroughly unlikable main character as he tries desperately to finish a project that no one cares about. In that way, it reminds me of A Confederacy of Dunces, when its own main character manages to make everything worse by pursuing his own twisted view of perfection. The Auteur has a similar wit, but lacks the prose that was so vital to Confederacy’s charm.
The story follows Nathan T. Rex, a former A-list film producer with a great name and a Vincent Price mustache, who suffered the biggest box office failure in the history of cinema. To reclaim some good will the studio, he is stuck working on a pathetic B-movie slasher flick, for which he displays an absurd level of dedication that endangers the public, breaks laws and strains his sanity. What I know for sure about Rex is that I wanted him dead within fifty pages.
The comic tries to capture some of the zany mind-bending silliness that made Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas so popular. It at least partly succeeds, as I found myself laughing at some surprisingly deranged moments. Writer Rick Spears and artist James Callahan have obvious talent for getting across exactly what they intend. It just wasn't entertaining.
Roger Ebert used to say that it takes enormously talented people to make something truly terrible. “Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve” to makes something “so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience.” To make something so awful requires ambition and confidence. I think that’s what we have here.
One thing Ebert got wrong was that the films he considered ambitious catastrophes (Death to Smoochy, The Fountain) did find fiercely loyal audiences. I count myself among the most hardcore fans of The Fountain, even though it was thoroughly bashed by critics (I even bought the expensive, but excellent, comic book version).
I can imagine a thriving audience for The Auteur that voraciously devours the content and craves more. I can imagine my younger self, perhaps after a particularly bad breakup and in an unreasonable state of anger, enjoying the vile and wretched behavior of the nihilists within The Auteur. I can imagine them. But I’m not them. I hated this comic book.