This Past Is... The Future!

The Caterer #3

This is a pamphlet-format, comic book type of comic, the kind of thing that's 32 pages long and wilts when you leave it on the edge of a table. It's from Floating World Comics, which is not one of the top eight or so publishers with Diamond; as such, you'll soon be considerably less likely to see anything sharing its attributes on store shelves, barring isolated groundswells of support for particular projects or a particularly adventurous-in-terms-of-ordering shop in your area.

Now, I'm speaking academically here, specifically; as far as I know, the only way to obtain this comic is through the link above. It's $4.95, since it's a color pamphlet in today's market, and shipping's a bit more. And I daresay that's something you'd better settle in for - the rising threshold for distribution by Diamond seems increasingly likely to cement the small press pamphlet (to the extent that any pamphlet-minded press in comics is large) as a matter of strictly boutique concern, with publishers/artists releasing tiny (or on-demand) print runs through the internet via unique homepages or mini-distributors to the especially alert reader.

It'll seem simpler than ever to just post things online -- and indeed, this very comic is getting just such a gradual release -- but I don't think the pamphlet will totally vanish, not so soon. Longstanding aesthetics of format imprint themselves on the expectations of consumers, and find voice in the desires of creaters. In other words, when there's something a comic is -- and to most English-inclined North American readers above a certain age, no is is greater than the pamphlet -- it's eminently likely that some people will rightly burn with desire to make comics 'as they are,' economics be damned.

And then, of course, there's those pesky comics about comics that are the comics they're about.

The Caterer #3 isn't really the third issue of anything; it's a faux reprint of an issue from a wholly fictional 1975-76 action series from the also-fictional Pearl Comics Group. The mastermind behind the project is British sci-fi prose author and satirist Steve Aylett (last seen in American comics with Tom Strong #27); the comic's 'writer' is Aylett creation Jeff Lint -- a hot-blooded wildman sci-fi specialist and subject of a prior faux biography and an upcoming faux documentary -- and the art (credited to "Brandon Sienkel") appears to have been digitally pasted together from any number of various authentic comics of the era.

So, at its core, it's like one of those parody comics you see a lot of online, where the serious words have been taken out and replaced with funny ones - the main difference is the elaborate nature of the purely visual editing, on top of the pitch-perfect state of the printing, all grainy pulp and inside-cover historical essays, with a handy bag 'n board included with your order! The seams in the artifice do show an awful lot, but still not quite as much as I expected from this complicated a mix (nakedly parodic ads for dead seahorses and a Suspect Package aside); I found myself presuming the original comic had to go through an American Flagg! style front-to-back restoration, which is a credit to the enthusiasm the book encourages.

The story? Well, it's probably best described as Michael Kupperman guest writing an issue of Flaming Carrot Comics, only with a totally different premise (which is something Kupperman might try anyway). Our Hero is Jack Marsden, a beaming blonde man of action who leads his friends into two-fisted scrapes while spouting anti-authoritarian declarations, distressing non sequiturs and thrilling exclamations ("Stroll on! Toxic darts - the stuff of life! By the time they come around I'll be king of this place and its meagre assets! I'm everywhere and in all things and that's fab! Stroll on!"). The supporting cast includes the obsessed Sheriff Leonard Bayard and ghostly(?) pirate(?) named Pete. And a bear. Nothing much happens, although Jack delivers a powerful manifesto to society and several people die in violence.

It's pretty fucking funny at times, if afflicted with a propensity for random humor (you know the type) that's seen a lot on the internet. It's also dense and wordy -- like a '70s relic from a smallish mainstream publisher, sure -- and nearly every line is some sort of oddball joke or funny turn of phrase, one after another after another after another, enough to get you longing for the measured restraint of Tales Designed to Thrizzle - and even Bob Burden knows to toss in the occasional breather! This stuff, in contrast, nears suffocation.

And yet.

There's moments of real, off-kilter beauty in here, most of them courtesy of Aylett's ambition to underlie his barrage of jokes with some simulation of the poetry that can sit in emphatically oddball comics; his Jeff Lint may be an jokey avatar of unhinged outsider masculinity (or so it seems from this small education!), but Aylett really does want to present his (fake) subject as an artist, less a zany font of meme than a potential (fake) entrant in some future (fake) edition of Art Out of Time. As such, he charges his work with a cadence, maybe not so strong that it emboldens the work out of the pocketed white noise of joke joke joke joke joke, but undeniably there to bolster Aylett's play to a place where you can nod along with his (real) assertions of Lint's (fake) genius, and fake an understanding of where he's coming from. Really.

Plus, hey - maybe all that soft paper and those old-timey graphics take a little sting out of today's economics. It seems curiously right paying cost and shipping to get a comic like this in the mail, reprint or not; I've done it with stranger and more authentic items, several times!

Sure. Follow that link up top. Buy this comic; it'll make you laugh. And maybe its backward glance will ease you into what's ahead for pamphlets like this - a costlier, more detached state of being and having, for us comic book lunatics who won't let the floppies roll up and die. I mean, how in the goddamned hell do you wait for the trade with this? How can the digital ether cradle it like pulp? What can be better? I bet Jeff Lint, out there in fiction, knows the answer is nothing; brace yourself for a future where your pamphlet proclivities are just barely less fantastic.