Jesus H. Christ, it’s about time.
If you’ve read a small-press comics anthology at any point in the past 15 years or so, or picked up a free Seattle newsweekly or a nominally “underground” ‘zine of any sort, then you’ve seen a Max Clotfelter comic. In many ways, it’s probably fair to say his work’s been damn near ubiquitous. And yet, despite having a rich back catalogue of material to choose from, no enterprising publisher to date had stepped up to the plate to put out anything like a semi-comprehensive collection of his stuff.
Leave it to J.T. Yost at Birdcage Bottom Books to correct this historical injustice and to finally package an impressive selection of Clotfelter strips in a “proper” paperback. There’s no doubt that paring down exactly what to run with and what to leave behind was likely the toughest part of putting Rooftop Stew together, but for those who need a “primer,” the variety on offer here does the trick nicely and odds are good that any “newbie” encountering this material for the first time will walk away a bona fide fan.
For my money, Clotfelter’s most consistently-impressive work is his autobio stuff, which generally takes the form of youthful reminiscences that show his overmatched mother and nowhere-near-ready-for-prime-time father doing something that, on some level, was their “best” to keep their just-this-side-of-delinquent son from turning out — well, exactly like them, but it’s also clear that in many, if not most, key respects Max was left to his own devices on the Marietta, Georgia streets. And at school. And at home. And — anywhere. It’s probably a wonder, then, that he turned out as relatively well-adjusted as he seems to be, and this book will certainly leave you puzzled as to how that came to be — as well as relieved that it did.
Mutant animals and people in post-apocalyptic and/or skid row situations are another constant theme herein, and while that shit’s always fun, it packs a little bit more of a punch when Clotfelter transposes those themes into nominally “real world” situations, such as the strip relating disgusting shit he’s come across on his walk to work (including, but hardly limited to, a surprising amount of blood), and the one in which he and his partner are relegated to the societal margins thanks to the heavy hand of gentrification. Hope is in scarce supply in all of these comics, yeah, but few possess Clotfleter’s keen ability to see the — dare I say it — funny side of living in the midst of civilization’s slow-burn collapse. In that respect, then, he’s something of a successor to the likes of S. Clay Wilson or Rory Hayes or even, in a pinch, Mike Diana, but minus the sexism and amorality that often marred the work of many of those confrontational artists.
Which isn’t to say that Clotfelter shies away from the deliberately offensive himself, but his comics, while certainly bearing a number of “throwback” elements to the “ugly art” aesthetics of yesteryear (he gets some cheap laughs out of a hideously deformed and mentally retarded kid named Red Eye, for instance), are generally imbued with a more modern sensibility that usually see them side with the oppressed (even the passively oppressed) rather than the oppressors, and in that respect, the comics collected here may actually demonstrate a way forward while still cleaving to, and even honoring, the genuinely transgressive ethos of the past.
Rooftop Stew is available for $12 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/products/rooftop-stew
Also, this review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Joining up is the absolute best way you can support my ongoing work, and I make sure you get plenty of content for your money, so please give it a look at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse