Max Clotfelter’s “The Elements Of Rough,” Volume Two : If You Didn’t Hate Family Get-Togethers Before —

I don’t know what the fuck you can do with two bucks anymore.

Not only can you not got a beer with it, much less anything more interesting like, say, a hit of acid, you can barely get a candy bar or a goddamn Slim Jim. Two bucks, seriously, ain’t shit.

Max Clotfleter could probably get away with charging a lot more than that for his latest self-published mini, The Elements Of Rough, Volume Two — but that’s all he’s asking, and while it’s a tough little item to find outside the Seattle area (although I’m willing to bet John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distro will have it up for sale sooner or later), it’s absolutely worth whatever effort you have to put in to track it down — as well as, of course, its two-dollar cover price.

The second in Clotfelter’s occasional series designed to answer the largely-rhetorical question “dude, why are your comics so rough?,” our focus this time shifts from Max’s fucked-up old man to his arguably-even-more-fucked-up mother and sister as they “celebrate” the occasion of sis Liz’s 35th (and, as circumstances would tragically end up having it, last) birthday. Joining then-newly-sober Liz and nowhere-near-sober mom are an interesting cast of characters including a collegiate Max and his then-girlfriend, Beth, and Liz’s boyfriend — who not only thinks a feral raccoon makes for a nice birthday gift, but also used to date mom.

Say it with me : “JERR-Y! JERR-Y! JERR-Y!”

By and large all anyone and everyone does here is drink, act like a moron, and then act like an even bigger moron once they’re drunk, but Clotfelter never loses sight of how strange and tragic this whole scene is to outside eyes — particularly Beth’s. Most people who come from dysfunctional backgrounds are keenly aware of it, of course, but those still operating within said dysfunction can be oblivious to it all —sometimes by dint of simple routine, but often because, hey, going along to get along is a pretty easy survival mechanism.

Seriously, though, don’t ask me how anyone could survive a home life like this one.

Of course, Clotfelter’s inimitable cartooning style — rooted in the “ugly art” aesthetics of S. Clay Wilson, Jim Osborne, and Rory Hayes but with a truly singular slant that emphasizes the humor within the grotesque without compromising a whit in terms of sheer, excruciating detail (I kind of want to know how much time he spends on cross-hatching in an average panel, but I’m afraid of the answer) — is probably the only vehicle by which stories this harrowingly endearing (it makes sense in context, trust me) can successfully be told, and that marks our guy Max as something more than a simple “cartoonist” — in fact, much as he’d no doubt flee in terror from the term, I’d so so far as to call him a genuine auteur.

Of the morbid, sure. Perhaps even of the nihilistic. But an auteur nonetheless. His comics — this one is particular — are, indeed, “rough,” but there’s no self-pity on display here. Somehow, some way, through it all, Clotfelter seems accepting of “his people,” while not letting them off the hook for the voluntary part they play in their own degradation. It’s a tough balancing act. I’m not even sure how he pulls it off. But he does — and nobody else can, or would even be advised to try.

To return to the question we started with, then — what can you get for two bucks these days? Why, one of the very best comics you’ll read this year.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. Your patronage there not only enables me to keep things going, it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. There’s plenty of stuff up on there already, so you’re sure to get good value for your money, and needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support.

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