Andrews &McMeel senior editor Jake Morrissey recalls that it started with a loincloth. Soon after the January 23, 1994, "Doonesbury" comic strip mocked the upscale and eccentric J. Peterman clothing catalogue, "a bunch of us were sitting around talking about what an amazing catalogue it was, how we secretly ordered from it and how we reveled in the prose." Morrissey and staffers started riffing on perfect faux products for the catalogue -- and came up with copy to justify a $49 loincloth: "I met him while on safari in Kenya. He was tall and fierce. A hunter of wild boar. With muscled legs and sinewy arms. A man who knew how to dress for the heat," read the perfect (or is it purple?) prose.
This Tarzan fantasy snowballed into what is now The J. Pretension Catalog: Owner's Manual No. H2SO4 (that's the formula for acid), a parody catalogue that ships with a 20,000-copy initial printing this month. The nearly 100 product entries, accompanied by Peterman-like illustrations, range from the gritty ("The Sing-Sing Shirt... One size: L. One color: Gray. You got a problem with that? We didn't think so." ) to the literary ("The Dorothy Parker safety razor... Because like Mrs. Parker, you understand the true meaning of melodrama.") to the uh, current-events conscious (clips so one Mr. Simpson won't see gloves go astray). And, in appropriate Peterman exotica, the catalogue, shaped like the unusual, oblong original, had to be printed in Asia. "No publisher here would do it for that small a print run," explained Morrissey. The original catalogue is printeds here in the U.S. -- but has a run in the "hundreds of thousands," Morrissey said.
Morrissey and company will have to wait and see just what kind of royalties they might receive -- "We had enough trouble convincing management it was a good book idea!" -- and have also been trying to work the Seinfeld angle, since that show, of course, spoofs Peterman as well. "I sent a copy to Julia Louis-Dreyfus [who plays Peterman worker Elaine Benes] but have heard nothing so far," said Morrisey. He hopes to have better luck creating bookstore events near the three Peterman stores in Lexington, Ky., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Manchester, Vt. "We plan to do as much guerrilla publicity as possible," said Morrisey. No doubt he'll think of the perfect Peterman -- or Pretension -- ensemble to wear while doing it.