'Kill The Body And The Head Will Die' – Navigating the Glorious Madness of The Auteur #1

By Ed Saul


There's a story about The Wizard of Oz that says Judy Garland got so hysterical with laughter during a take that the director, Victor Fleming, slapped her; afterwards, he became so morose that she kissed him on the spot where his nose had been broken years before, in an eerie parallel with Dorothy forgiving the Cowardly Lion for frightening Toto.

There's a story about Heath Ledger that says he told Christian Bale, in the interrogation scene of The Dark Knight, to inflict real injuries on him. No indication is made of whether Bale actually did.

There's a story about the Rolling Stones that says Mick Jagger's female vocalist on Give Me ShelterMerry Clayton – found the strain of the song so intense that she suffered a miscarriage later the same day.

Do you get where I'm going with this? Do you see the pattern?

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Whether or not you do, it's printed across the cover of Oni Press' The Auteur #1, and soaked into its pages. One cover has the main character popping his own eyeball out like a zit, for Christ's sake. The creators hid it in plain sight behind an unholy mess of colour and shape: to create is to suffer, and sometimes, to suffer is to create.

Simple, no? You can count a million proofs apart from the ones above, from a delusional Spanish landowner being beaten about the head for living in dreams to a frustrated despot secretly transcribing the Quran in his own blood for no adequately-explained reason, to every single woman who's ever gone through childbirth. We hurt others, we hurt ourselves, we make a mess: then in one way or another we 'clean up'.

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Nathan T. Rex, the central protagonist, is a messy concoction of artists: all of the madness of Hunter S. Thompson in the slick, handsome skin of a young Orson Welles, with a good dose of Kubrick, Lucas and maybe a little I'm-Still-Here-era Joaquin Phoenix in there.

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He is a man in the midst of deep suffering – when you're making a movie, who isn't? – and only creative control can seemingly cure him. Amongst a sea of psychedelic gurus, unfeeling investors, pissy directors, enchanting backsides and poorly-thought-out axe murderers, he's swimming against the tide towards the 'depths' of genius – if it isn't just his own insanity. And he's dragging us with him.

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After a terrible CGI sci-fi trilogy entitled Cosmos, T. Rex's career is hung on the success of holiday-themed slashed President's Day. In the midst of the psychedelic opening, an Abraham Lincoln of the axe-wielding variety gives him his first (albeit not entirely original) epiphany; and by the end of this first chapter, we find out his second, which is much more intriguing…

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The art by James Callahan animates the panels in an incredible Mad Magazine style, populating rather than cluttering; the adrenalin-fuelled scripting by Rick Spears, leaking with pop-culture references, brings out the rawness of the characters and situations without ever straying too far into a Grant-Morrison-style maze of confusion. The colours by Luigi Anderson finish the job like an axe to the brain, reminding me of the madness-inducing palette from the original edition of The Killing Joke. (And the Moore influence is there; "Idea Space" comes into play…)

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There is something sublimely loveable about this comic, a grand promise from its "Premature Release" opening chapter that tells us we're going on a wild ride, and that things can only get crazier. It's deluded, it's messy, it's disgusting, and I love every page of it. I wish I could have passed out copies to the audiences who saw the premiere of The Artist, just to demonstrate the terrible juxtaposition: that was what movies were like. This is what they are like.

There's only a handful of comics I even bother to read these days. Out of them all, there were only two where I felt excited to find out what happens next. The Auteur makes three.

There's no business like show business if Ed Saul tells you it's so. Let him tell it to you some more via http://aboxofbones.com or edsaul.writer@icloud.com.

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Hannah Means ShannonAbout Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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