In film studies, one popular concept is known as “auteur theory.” The auteur is classified as the film “artist,” and can be identified in a couple ways. First, the auteur must have a certain style that sets them apart from other directors/ auteurs. This can be seen through many different elements, such as color palette, lighting, use of the same actors, etc. Basically, you are able to look at a film and know that it has been directed by the auteur. An example would be Tim Burton, or Quentin Tarantino. Second, the auteur’s films tend to have a central meaning, or a common theme. This theme can be seen through the entirety of the auteur’s work. Film and comics are closely related mediums, so my question is, can there be a comic auteur?
When one thinks of comics, who are the of the first names that come to mind? Many will tell you, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, etc. They are indeed huge names in comics, but are they auteurs? Auteur directly translates to “artist,” and in film, one can see the director’s stamp based on their choices. Comics are no different. One can easily look at a Frank Miller comic book, and know it is by Frank Miller, based on the art style, and dark palette. In regards to the question of central themes, Miller’s comics feature ideas on morality, dualism, feminism, and the balance of good vs. evil. A popular graphic novel of his is The Dark Knight Returns in which he brings a darker view of the classic DC hero Batman. By all accounts, Miller fits the definition of an auteur.
Marvel Comics, one of the biggest names in comics, featured the workings of Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby. Lee and Kirby collaborated in 1961 with their Fantastic Four comic. Together, they went on to create some of the biggest superhero comics of all time. With their work, they sought out to smash some of the norms that they saw in comics at the time. With Lee’s publishing and editing, and Kirby’s art, Marvel became a household name. Both can be considered auteurs in their own right. Kirby’s art contained many reoccurring themes and elements. He was particularly interested in the occult and the supernatural, so in many of his comics, he features eyes to represent the mystical. Lee’s writings contained messages of diversity among superheroes, really emphasizing that anyone can be a superhero. His heroes generally came from modest backgrounds, such as Spiderman’s Peter Parker. Overall, these two can be considered auteurs because their work and style is unique to each of them.
Auteur theory is a large part of film studies, and I argue, a part of comic book studies. Any form of media in which an author/ director/ artist has a certain discernable style, they can be considered an auteur.