ELEPHANT EATER COMICS: AN INTERVIEW WITH RYAN CLAYTOR

Everyone likes a good story. Good stories reach out to us from the page inviting us to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes to explore life from a different perspective. I’ve always been drawn to those larger than life stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Maybe this is because of all the superhero stories I was obsessed with as a kid. While I still love these kinds of stories, as I get older, it’s not the stories of the fantastic or the incredible that grab my attention. It’s the stories of people seeking to find meaning and truth and beauty in the everyday, mundane activities of life that have taken there hold on me. These are the kinds of stories that remind me that I don’t have to live vicariously through the cape-and-tights-wearing heroes I grew up with. These are the stories that help me figure out how to suck the marrow of life from the present moment. Ryan Claytor, a Michigan transplant from California (seriously, who moves from California to Michigan?), tells these kinds of stories through his unique autobiographical comics series, And Then One Day. He was kind enough to plop down on The Green Couch to share some thoughts on comics, community, and his current projects.

Tell us a little bit about how you got into comics.

I was very interested in comics as a kid.  When I was growing-up, probably between the ages of 7-12 years old, that’s all I would read.  However, once I got to high school I forgot about comics for the following decade.  It wasn’t until shortly after I finished college that a friend of mine requested that I take him to the local comic book store.  That was my RE-introduction to comics (around 2002-ish) and I’ve been hooked ever since.

In your “And Then One Day” series, you focus on the everyday, sometimes mundane, stuff of life. Why share these kinds of stories?

Well, my artistic focus has definitely shifted since I was creating those strips in 2004-5.  At the time, I wanted to become a different kind of voice that I felt was lacking in autobiographical comics.  It was tough for me to relate to a lot of the downtrodden, self-flagellating perspectives that I saw depicted in a lot of autobiographical comics.  I was more interested in presenting a different perspective on life, one in which everyday occurrences are examined, enjoyed and valorized.  Don’t get me wrong, I still look back on those strips and enjoy them, but I’m answering these questions in 2011, half-a-dozen years after creating those strips.  Right now, I’m more focused on creating longer continuous narratives.  I think the page-a-day strips really helped me to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of each page, since each page was a self-contained thought or story.  If I had attempted a longer story right from the start, I’m not sure I would have had the artistic maturity and stamina to pursue comics.

What are some of the other comic projects you’ve worked on over the years ?

Outside of “And Then One Day” I’ve contributed to some anthologies.  One such collected book was a series of strips about overheard conversations called, “I KEEE YOU!!”  I’ve also produced a few 24 Hour Comics (which I am sold-out of, but you may be able to find a stray copy or two lurking on the internet somewhere.  I’ve done some limited edition letterpress prints in comics form and some readers have even commissioned custom comics from me for special occasions, but I have to admit my main focus has been my “And Then One Day”

Why do you think comics are important as an art form?

Comics are the intersection of visual art and literature.  You can do anything with comics.  I love the illusion of time that you can create on a two-dimensional surface, and unlike film, it’s a narrative art form that can be created by a single person.  There doesn’t need to be committee decisions about scripts, actors or anything else.  The product can be an unfiltered vision of the artist’s intended message.

 You’ve taught classes about creating comics. If you had to choose one major, overarching lesson that you hope you instill in your students, what would it be?

Be passionate about what you do.

What role has community and/or collaboration played in creating your art?

All of my books have involved other people in my life to some degree or another, so in that sense I need community, I enjoy interacting with humanity, and seeing what happens when different personalities and personal histories bounce off one another.  However, with regard to the creation of my work, I write, pencil, ink, letter, print, publish, and promote everything on my own.  So, the collaboration is pretty minimal.  My most recent project, “Autobiographical Conversations,” was co-written by a graduate professor, Dr. Harry Polkinhorn, and myself, but he left the comic-making largely up to me.  He was the perfect artistic partner for me: always there when I needed him and largely absent when I needed to work.

You have done some pretty extensive touring to get the word out about your work. This seems like something musicians have to do to “make it” but I’ve never thought about it in the realm of comics. Could you share a little bit about your recent tour and what that experience was like for you?

Funny you should ask.  I’m actually posting some pretty thorough tour updates on mywebsite right now (Sept 2011).  My most recent tour took me to a dozen southeastern united states and just as many bookstores, colleges, and comic book specialty shops.  At the completion of this most recent tour, I have now signed my books in all 48 contiguous states.  Now I just have to find a shop or two in Alaska and Hawaii.  🙂

Your comics are autobiographical in nature. Could you point people toward some of the comics that have really inspired/influenced you?

Sure.  I grew up reading Sergio Aragones‘ comics (Groo the Wanderer, Mad Magazine) and I still think his work is brilliant today.  Craig Thompson is another favorite of mine.  Andi Watson has done great work on titles like Slow News Day, Love Fights, Little Star, etc.  Manu Larcenet is a European cartoonist who illustrated one of my favorite comics called “Ordinary Victories.”  Let’s see…how much time do you have?  Ha-ha!  I could do this all day.  Michel Rabagliati, Stan Sakai, Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian are all amazing.  OH!  And I just finished reading another comic by Nick Bertozzi (Lewis and Clark, Stuffed, Boswash), a highly-underrated comics artist.

Do you have any new projects/event coming up that you’d like to share about?

My most recent project that I just finished a couple months ago is the 3-part story arc called, “Autobiographical Conversations.”  I’m really proud of this work and I’m anxious to share it with people.  Regarding upcoming projects, I recently proposed to my now-fiancee, so this next year will be spent illustrating save-the-date cards, invitations, websites, thank you cards, and a WEDDING COMIC BOOK!  🙂  Then I have some other projects lined-up, but I won’t get to those until after the big day in July 2012.

You can find out more about Ryan and his comics at www.ElephantEater.com

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