Baffled? Perhaps the promo text for “The Caterer” No. 3 reprint, from Floating World Comics, the comic book’s publisher, will help:
Described by Alan Moore as “the holy barnacle of failure”, The Caterer dragged [former publisher] Pearl Comics into a legal hell when its hero spent the whole of Issue 9 on a killing spree in Disneyland. The smirking Jack Marsden became a cult figure and role model for enigmatic idiots in the mid-70s. His style and catchphrases were such an insider code that hundreds of people got beaten up by baffled or enraged onlookers.
Floating World Comics has teamed with Lint biographer Steve Aylett to present a reprint of Issue 3: this stand-out issue includes the beginning of Marsden’s goat obsession, a fierce appearance by the ghostly Hoston Pete, a great example of the Marsden ‘stillness’ and no less than four classic Marsden hallucinations. The leaning Chief Bayard’s preoccupation with our hero results in the violent deaths of six people, and Jack delivers his infamous ‘lipstick for dogs’ diatribe.
THE CATERER RETURNS!
‘I button myself against advice and leave the house,’ smirks Jack Marsden, emerging into primary yellow sunshine. He was a singular character for SF author Jeff Lint who, at a loose end for money in the mid-seventies, was hired by the fledgling comics company Pearl to come up with a launch title. Lint seems to have taken to the comics scene with the total absorption he gave his best books. His main contribution to the short-lived Pearl Comics was the baffling action strip The Caterer. Illustrator Brandon Sienkel worked with Lint in those heady days: ‘The Caterer was a strange one – he didn’t have any special powers, he was this blond grinning college kid as far as I could make out. He sometimes pulled a gun …But it was strangely hypnotic, I must say. We had fan mail.’
Much debate has grown up about the meaning of The Caterer and any of the nine issues will fetch up to $70 (£2) on eBay. Fans debate its motifs and catchphrases, and its hero’s fogbound motivations. ‘I believe Marsden represents Jeff Lint’s own creative urge, bursting out at odd moments and killing everybody,’ says Chris Diana, president of Against Advice: The Caterer Fanclub. ‘The Caterer is often seen standing at a grave, but we never see the inscription and Marsden has his usual grin on his face. I agree with many readers that this is the grave of Fatty Arbuckle, comedian of the silent era.’ Anyone with a mustache enrages the Caterer, provoking him to ‘punch that demon from your face and save you from it’, an enterprise which often leaves the victim’s entire head a bloody mass. He is twice seen to be strangely disarmed by the sight of a spacehopper, standing motionless for fifteen panels (some readers regard the spacehopper as the Caterer’s ‘kryptonite’). His general outlook is one of childish glee at some untold knowledge. ‘Age is not for acrobats,’ he smirks at a pompous tailor, before grabbing up a chair and smashing him to the floor. There is speculation that Hoston Pete, a strange piratical character who only visits Jack Marsden in his basement, is a representation of Lint himself. Other readers believe that Hoston Pete is only visible to Marsden and is a schizophrenic ‘voice’ that impels the Caterer to misdeeds.
Several dissertations have been published deconstructing the long, complicated rant in issue 6 about how goats have the skeletal system of chickens (the most incisive being ‘That’s no scarecrow, it’s a crucifix in a hat! True Phantoms in The Caterer’ by Alaine Carraze). The tirade, conducted over five dense pages after Marsden interrupts a school swim meet, has been interpreted as everything from a critique of Jimmy Carter’s then-undisclosed connection to the Trilateral Commission, to a warning about genetic tampering, to homosexual panic (which would jibe with the mustache attacks). Certainly the Caterer’s friends are bewildered (or understanding) enough to stand listening to this drivel. But when he tries to leave by riding on an unwilling dog, the cops arrive on the scene and Marsden goes into one of his frenzies. All credit is due to Pearl Comics for depicting the relatively static scene of the diatribe on the cover, rather than the explosive gun battle that follows.
The final (and perhaps least characteristic) issue has the Caterer leaving his small-town setting, visiting a thinly disguised version of Disneyland and simply going berserk. It is still disputed as to whether Pearl Comics was already crashing (and Lint was therefore going out in a blaze) or Lint had gone on some psychological bender that provoked the company’s downfall. Sienkel claims that the title was going great guns until the Caterer’s ‘Mouse World’ adventure. ‘The Caterer just rolls up in that strange sedan he was always riding around in, and the minute he gets out he just starts shooting the hell out of everyone. There’s hardly even any dialog, I think at one point he says “Don’t come any closer” or something, but that’s it. He’s shooting a guy in a duck costume when he says it.’ This apocalyptic issue caused parents to complain and shocked newsvendors to cancel, but it was the threat of legal action from the Disney Company that troubled Pearl executives. It could not be denied that some of the spree victims resembled copyrighted Disney characters (in particular the mouse Satanic Radar Ears) and, with the middling-to-poor sales of other Pearl titles Fantastic Belt, Rocket Trouble and The Mauve Enforcer, Pearl filed for bankruptcy in May 1976.
To kids who read it at the time, it is still a badge of honor. Fans swap dialogue (‘Will you come to my party?’/’I won’t prevent it.’) and the character rears his sneering head in the likeliest places, as in the various versions of the song The Caterer/Das Katerer which litter recent Fall albums. Rumors of movie adaptations come and go (one putatively directed by Tim Burton and starring Brad Pitt), but it’s doubtful that the Hollywood system could accomodate it.
As fan club president Chris Diana says, ‘The Caterer would be sick on today’s comics, and on the movies, and on you.’
WHO WAS JEFF LINT?
Jeff Lint was one of the most original and ignored SF authors of the 20th century. Like scientist CH Hinton, he was so far ahead of his time that his existence has had to be disregarded so as not to screw up the continuity.
In Lint’s own unfinished autobiography The Man Who Gave Birth to His Ass, Lint recalls deciding early that he’d prefer life to come out and fight rather than dropping a thousand bad luck hints a day. His first published effort appeared in a wartime edition of Amazing Stories because he submitted it under the name ‘Isaac Asimov’. It tells the story of an unpopularly calm bum who is pelted every day with rocks, from which he slowly builds a fine house. The story already reflected the notion of ‘effortless incitement’ that Lint would practise as an adult. This enraging philosophy included the practice of whistling in tune with what people were saying, addressing people as ‘Petal’, and pointing to things with his elbows. Lint perfected the technique when he stumbled upon the notion of telling people he would pray for them.
His first published novel was One Less Bastard, in which Billy Stem must tell the truth or be transformed into the average man. This was followed by Jelly Result, Nose Furnace, I Eat Fog, Slogan Love and Turn Me Into a Parrot. Adopted by the sixties counterculture, he collaborated on a concept album, The Energy-Draining Church Bazaar. He also created a kids’ TV show, Catty & the Major, which was quickly taken off-air due to eruptions of violence and doubt in young viewers. After the publication of Clowns & Locusts, Fanatique, The Stupid Conversation, The Phosphorus Tarot of Matchbooks, Doomed & Confident and other books too interesting to remain inconspicuous, Lint died in Taos, New Mexico, apparently smothered by his own beard. The late-nineties saw the start of an industry of Lint apocrypha and fanaticism. Many books have been published which pick over the disputed fortune of Lint’s genius. My upcoming documentary LINT: the Movie will hopefully put many of the myths to rest.
Jeff Lint said many authors’ creation of ‘understandable’ characters who are a kind of ‘hollow’ each reader was supposed to occupy, soon left him aggravated as a reader: ‘I will want to turn left and the character will turn right; I would ignore but the character obeys; I would destroy an argument but the character is blandly convinced and wastes years of his life. As a reader I find myself locked within an automaton I cannot control, which will never do what I would do (even by chance), and which provides no nourishment.’ Lint’s idea of an acceptable hero was a spider with multiple eyes like rally car headlights who, when issued an order, would jet tears of mirth from the entire bank of eyes. Characters such as Felix Arkwitch and The Caterer’s Jack Marsden are fine examples of such tricksters. Alfred Bork has called Lint’s writing ‘pointillistic’ and I think this derives from the fact that every single sentence comes directly at you. Each point is the head of a thread, a retrievable plumb-line of information. But few have taken up the option to draw on such threads. Perhaps the renewed interest in Lint, and this Floating World Comics reprint of a stand-out issue of The Caterer, will see his true meaning brought to light.
-Steve Aylett, author Jeff Lint biography LINT