Thursday, July 31, 2008

Claytor interview & signing Friday

Following is an interview that Las Vegas CityLife journalist Jarret Keene did with Ryan Claytor, creator / cartoonist of And Then One Day (reprinted here with permission). And for those of you reading this who haven't seen my post on Ryan and And Then One Day yesterday (the entry below this entry), Ryan will be signing And Then One Day at my store tomorrow from 4-6pm and entertaining all who show up with stories about the big wacky San Diego convention and comic stores across the U.S. that he's signed at over the years.

Matters of perspective
Ryan Claytor puts new spin on autobiographical comics
LAST weekend, Ryan Claytor attended Comic-Con International in San Diego, along with hundreds of other international comic-book creators. But Claytor wasn't there to promote his latest work-for-hire stint on a major property character like, say, Captain America, X-Men or Batman. Rather, he was there to represent his own unique series of autobiographical comics, including the beautifully designed And Then One Day #6 -- The Autobiographical Documentary. In other words, in a sea of commercial sci-fi enterprises, there was this unassuming guy at a table, hawking comics about his life.

"I can't relate all that well to imaginative space travel," Claytor admits during a recent interview. "But I can relate to everyday life, ordinary people and the quest for understanding ourselves as individuals and a society. That's one of the things that keeps me coming back to autobiography as my genre of choice."

For Claytor, another exciting aspect of autobiography in comics is it's a nascent, largely unexplored art form. Many folks, even comics enthusiasts, don't realize the first autobiographical comic appeared less than 40 years ago. This is a genre that still has living founders, which is rare you if consider the majority of art history textbooks.

"As an artist, the fact that there remains so much room for exploration also makes autobiographical comics an attractive genre to investigate," he says.

And Then One Day #6 definitely adds a new twist by rendering the perspectives of others. Claytor got his friends and family to agree to answer a series of recorded interviews in a room by themselves. They were asked questions about Claytor, who then transcribed the results into comic-book form. Sure, it's a lot of talking heads, but the way he captures a range of facial expressions -- confusion, hurt, boredom, grief-- is incredible (and not something one expects from an industry known for its grim-faced vigilantes). The process took a year and, not surprisingly, some of the responses caught him off guard.

"It was enlightening, and you should only undertake it with the thickest of skin," he confirms. "One interviewee in particular still apologizes to me every time the subject of my book is brought up. I have to reassure this person that a candid response is exactly the kind of answer I wanted. It makes the book read as authentic -- a little uncomfortable, a bit humorous -- and revealing so that the audience doesn't feel punches are pulled."

The most heart-wrenching moments in ATOD#6 are when Claytor's mom speaks emotionally and lovingly of her son. Claytor admits her responses were difficult to transcribe. Her tape was the last recording he listened to, because he knew it would be emotional to hear what she had to say.

Yet as affecting as certain moments are, others demonstrate how supportive the art-majoring graduate students of San Diego State University have been to Claytor, and to each other, in the last couple of years.

"There was a tight network of students from a variety of disciplines in my department," says Claytor. "I had no idea this would be the case going in. I think it's partially luck, because you never know who the other students will be, since everyone is applying concurrently. But I think an equal part is about being a proactive participant, interacting with students and faculty both inside and outside one's own emphasis."

Indeed, Claytor's comics, published by his own Elephant Eaters imprint, can often be academic-oriented. But he doesn't take offense at the suggestion his work might be better suited for a college classroom than a gathering of superhero-worshiping nerds at a comic convention. Having just launched a 10-state summer book-signing tour on the way to new digs in East Lansing, Mich., he is surveying the best comic shops in the country.

"Capes and tights are still every shop's bread and butter income," he observes. "But the best stores take time to nurture an independent, small-press section and sometimes even a 'local creator' section."

Claytor believes the industry is currently experiencing an unprecedented influx of thought-provoking books right now. Still, retailers wishing to promote small-press books walk the tightrope of providing interesting material, yet taking a gamble on whether or not there will be a large enough audience to support unusual books. For his part, Claytor says that, despite the personal nature of his work, he tries to make his comics accessible to as many people as possible.

"I hope my books strike a common chord with readers, enough so that they can relate to some of the situations, philosophies and sentiments expressed."

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