What can you get done in four hours? Clean the house? File your taxes? Re-arrange your bookshelves? Work half your shift?
Max Clotfelter can crank out some pretty damn cool comic strips, and he’s been doing so for five years as part of Seattle’s monthly Dune meet-up/comics “jam,” a regular ritual that challenges cartoonists to literally write and draw “whatever comes to mind.”
Clotfelter’s always been wildly inventive, of course, creating comics that bridge the stylistic and thematic gap from old-school undergrounds to present-day “aht comics,” but perusing the contents of his recently-released Rat Tactics ‘zine shows something of a hitherto-unremarked-upon (as far as I know, at any rate) evolution in his work, albeit in severely, wondrously truncated form : the yarns at the start, dating back to 2012, are rough-hewn affairs with little by way of concern for even storytelling basics, much less actual narrative, pesky little concerns like coherence and the confidence attendant with it picking up metaphorical steam as we head toward the book’s 2017 finish line. All points along the trajectory offer their charms, of course, and are worthy of detailed exploration — something of an irony, I suppose, given that slowing down to smell the roses (or, hey, the post-apocalyptic mutant shit) isn’t something that the circumstances of these strips’ genesis allowed for — but make no mistake : not eveything here, makes “sense,” nor should it.
I can see an argument that putting these strips out in collected form is something of an exercise in self-indulgence, even if it only carries a $5 cover price, especially since most everything has appeared elsewhere before (a Dune ‘zine featuring the work of all participants comes out every month), but anybody who knows Clotfelter, personally or only through his work, knows that pretense is as absent from his character as is —- uhhmmmm — “cash-grabbiness,” and the totality of this package makes for a stronger reading experience than the sum of its parts do on their own. In short, it’s all a hell of a lot of fun.
Not to mention everything else that Clotfelter’s work is known for : smart, disturbing, gruesome, frequently unsettling. Whether he’s doing autobio, stuff you hope to God is anything but, or stuff that you damn well know absolutely can’t be, there’s no mistaking the deliriously warped sensibilities (and trust me, I mean that as the highest possible compliment), the absurdist humor, the willful disposal of all things “high-brow,” and the dogged tenacity for just drawing the fuck out of every single page that are our guy Max’s stock in trade. This is dynamic. Visceral. At its best, maybe even combustible.
What’s well and truly noteworthy, though, is how frequently Clotfelter is able to churn out that “best” under a set of tightly-constrained rules, and that’s what makes Rat Tactics of interest to more than just completist collectors of his work. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea — that’s a given — but it’s impossible not to be impressed with it, and that’s more than enough for this critic to recommend it as being very well worth both your time and money.
Order your copy of Rat Tactics from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distro at http://www.spitandahalf.com/product/rat-tactics-by-max-clotfelter/
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