It’s been at least 10 years since I first met Ryan Claytor on the floor of the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, where he was selling copies of his self-published minicomics. Claytor was living in San Diego at the time, working on his Master of Fine Arts degree.
Since then, Claytor has relocated to Michigan, where he’s now the coordinator of the Comic Art and Graphic Novel Minor and an assistant professor at Michigan State University where he teaches comics studio courses. But he’s still making comics, and his latest, A Hunter’s Tale, is currently up on Kickstarter.
Claytor’s previous work falls into the autobiographical and non-fiction arena, but this project is different — in A Hunter’s Tale, Claytor has adapted a poem written by his grandfather, Charles Kermit Claytor, into a comic. I spoke with Claytor about his approach to adapting his grandfather’s writing, how it helped connect him to his grandfather and more.
Over the years you’ve self-published your own autobiographical comics, about your life and family. But this project feels similar yet different, in that you’re making a comic based on a family member’s writing rather than your own. How has creating this one been different for you than what you’ve done before?
A Hunter’s Tale is a project that is both especially significant to me on a personal level, as the script is a poem that was written by my late grandfather almost 40 years ago, but at the same time I feel like it’s especially important for our global community, as it’s a story about empathy. The two subjects in this narrative, a hunter and his prey, ultimately form an unlikely understanding of one another. It’s a story that’s been with me practically my whole life, but over the past couple years of the pandemic its message has felt increasingly relevant.
How did creating this comic help you connect with the memory of your grandfather? And can you talk a bit about his work as a poet?
Well, I am not a hunter, but my grandfather was. If I’m being honest, when I first encountered the title of the poem, I almost didn’t read it. However, knowing my grandfather’s story helped me to understand how hunting fit into his life. Admittedly, I’m in a privileged position to be able to walk into a grocery store and buy pre-processed meat and vegetables. However, at a young age (in the early part of the 20th century), my grandfather was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which at that time was essentially a death sentence. The doctors told him if he had any hope of living, that he needed to move from his tiny Midwestern town out to the deserts of Arizona and hope the dry climate would clear up his TB. When he was out in the desert living off the land, he needed to hunt in order to survive. This story is complicated by the fact that he was not staying on this land legally. If the game warden found him, my grandfather would be brought in from the desert climate, his only chance of living. Consequently, he became a VERY good marksman because if he took a second shot, the game warden would know where to start looking for him. If I put myself in those circumstances, I’m pretty sure I would have done the exact same thing. All this to say, even knowing the story of my grandfather’s life helped me connect with him on a more human level and also with the theme of empathy he chose to write about in this poem.
As far as crafting the comic went, how has it been different for you illustrating a poem rather than a script?
Without my grandfather here to discuss the project, I’ve tried to remain vehemently faithful to his words and illustrate the story in a way I felt was true to his original theme, message, and personality. I’ve also every page to my father (my grandfather’s son) who assures me that he cannot wait for the book to come out so that he can simultaneously brag about both his father and son.
I know you’ve used crowdfunding in the past — I’m pretty sure I probably interviewed you about it back in the day! — but why did you decide to go that route for this particular project?
The Kickstarter Comics category is a really special place right now. It’s grown into a true community over the past several years. Success rates for comics projects are at a record high and beating out every other category on Kickstarter right now (in the metric of project success percentages) precisely because of that community! If you look at the people launching comics campaigns, take a moment to investigate their profile stats. I think you’ll find they’re not just on the platform for a quick money grab, they’re invested in the community. Most of the comic creator profiles will show something like five projects launched, but 75 backed! …or 90 backed! …or over 100 projects backed! It’s a tremendous place to find new projects, new voices, stories that larger publishers won’t take a chance on, and presents an exciting opportunity to test out your own product in front of a global community of comics enthusiasts.
Obviously you have the next few months of your life planned out in fulfilling this project, but once you get that done, what’s next for you. comic wise?
Just prior to A Hunter’s Tale, I released the first issue of a limited-run series called Coin-Op Carnival with my best bud, Nick Baldridge. Together, we co-wrote and I fully illustrated the only source for full-color, completely illustrated content documenting the history and stories surrounding electro-mechanical coin-operated amusement devices (pinball and pre-video arcade games manufactured prior to 1978). That first published issue is jam-packed with a Wayne Neyens interview (the most prolific pinball designer of all time), in-depth game reviews, E.M. tech explained, product spotlights, comics, and more. Every page of the publication features new full-color illustrations, if not full-blown comics. I’ll likely get back to working with Nick on the follow-up issue and perhaps another project or two collaborating with him.
Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d want folks to know about this project?
I think if people head over to www.aHuntersTale.com they’ll find something to get excited about. I’ve really tried to craft a high-quality product (A Hunter’s Tale will be professionally offset-printed in full-color), yet keep the barrier of entry as low as I possibly can, in an effort to get my grandfather’s work into as many hands as I’m able. The entry-level physical pledge gets you a 32-page comic book, including free U.S. shipping, all for $10. I haven’t seen a physical kickstarter tier that compares to that for quite some time. There are also some fun reward tiers, like the “Book Club” tier, in which backers can participate in an invitation-only book discussion via zoom with me (Ryan Claytor, the artist) where I’ll discuss the making of A Hunter’s Tale comic book adaptation, share behind the scenes art, provide insight and commentary to the work, and field questions from the private audience that will max-out at 10 participants.
But before I go, I really want to thank you, J.K., for chatting with me about this new comic book I’ve been illustrating over the past several months. I cannot wait to share my grandfather’s work with a wider audience than he likely would have ever dreamed of connecting with.