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Coffeepots and Severed Heads

How to Get Your Hands on 'The Caterer'

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The Caterer: Issue 3

Jack Marsden is a smirking college jock who unleashes verbose diatribes on goats filled with sawdust, lipstick for dogs, and the virtues of bovine udders. He has hallucinations about grizzly bears and dances on all fours when shot at by firearms. He also has a penchant for sitting still for disturbingly long periods of time before embarking on random killing sprees. Naturally he possesses all the elements of a comic-book superhero.

Desperately out of print since 1976 (when the series was cancelled because of issue nine, in which Marsden goes on a killing spree at Disneyland), The Caterer is arguably the strangest comic book ever published. Word bubbles crammed with postmodern rants are paired with action-packed panels illustrated in stereotypical '70s form. Reading it is essentially an exercise in tolerance and bewilderment. But it's this exact obscurity that elevated this little comic to cult status from day one (back issues can be found for upwards of $70 each on eBay). Lucky for us, its creator, Jeff Lint—author of sci-fi cult classics Jelly Result and The Stupid Conversation—saw fit to at least reprint issue three on glossier paper that, thankfully, retains the cheesy '70s ur-color.

"I need a coffeepot the shape of my severed head," Marsden says in a phone call to his college's faculty office. This is the opening panel. Rather than question the demand, the blond secretary lets Marsden continue: "If you take a catfish by the whiskers and pull outward it inflates into a life raft. I know this for a fact, Mister Skeleton."

And he goes on: "I'm afraid I'm serious. Bats only attack sick animals, such as your future. Painting leaves green, which were green, complete, repeated and artificial..."

If you're lost, rest assured, everyone who reads The Caterer is lost. I suggest reading it with friends so you don't feel so alone. The Caterer's surrealism is a bit Lynchian, except with goofier dialogue about air jelly, bulk lard, and human innards made of liquid. Throughout the course of this particular issue, a plot may be unfolding, but it's hard to say what it is. The opening splash page has Marsden repeating "STICK WITH ME!" five times into the phone while his apartment burns. On the next page, he asks a tombstone if it has any "ciggies."

A couple hallucinations occur on top of it all, one involving the aforementioned grizzly bear and another in which Marsden and the bear are plunged into a modified Hieronymous Bosch painting. And for all its silliness, the writer manages to churn out rather striking prose. Before Marsden's final killing spree of innocent townspeople, he tells them, grinning: "People don't mature, they just lose interest." And later: "A cynic is someone who finds out at birth what others find out at death." He even lashes out at his professor: "Sometimes when I look at you, professor, I see an ignorant gray cancer whose one dubious virtue is that it's technically legal."

None of this would be so effective if it didn't look so damn normal. The penciling is painfully average. It's almost as if the panels were drawn first and then the writer filled the word bubbles with the most disconnected sentences he could imagine.

Further compounding The Caterer's weirdness is that author Jeff Lint never lived. Existing halfway between Kurt Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout and whoever the hell JT Leroy is, Lint is—if I have this correct—the creation of British sci-fi novelist Steve Aylett. Aylett has written an entire faux-biography of Lint, called Lint, which was published last year. According to Lint, Lint ran with the Beats, was trippier than Philip K. Dick, and had a fan in the young Ann Coulter. A representative sentence: "On July 13, 1994, Lint had a near-death experience, followed immediately by death."

Anyway, The Caterer and Lint are works of art, and they complement each other; you shouldn't read one without the other. Lint is fairly easy to come by—a good bookstore will be able to get it—but for The Caterer, a jaunt to your favorite retailer probably won't do. I suggest visiting www.steveaylett.com, which links to the distributor carrying this masterpiece of insanity. In the short time I've owned it, I've read it more times than I have the finer comics of note. It'll run you about $10, but that's a small price to pay to be in on the joke.

 

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