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Claytor, Ryan & Baldridge, Nick – Coin-Op Carnival #1

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Coin-Op Carnival #1

Quick, a show of hands: who remembers Ryan from the days of his mini comics with the fuzzy covers? You’d have to be a very long time reader to get that reference, but I was reviewing his comics a decade (longer?) ago, but he hasn’t had many comics out for awhile, what with life and all. So imagine my surprise when I got word about this one! OK, technically, it’s not a comic, more of an interview/review/historical… book? Zine with the highest production values I’ve ever seen? Eh, I’ve never been good with these labels. This is clearly a labor of love from Ryan and Nick, and it’s all about pinball games and old-timey coin-op games. You already know what that means if you’ve ever seen one; generally speaking they were games of skill with intricately designed exteriors. Yes, that’s vague, but try a Google image search and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This one starts off with Ryan and Nick talking about their plans for the book (in one of the two straight up comics), then quickly transitions into their interview with Wayne Neyens. Who’s that? Only a 99 year old man who’s still sharp as the proverbial tack, and one of the most prolific pinball inventors in the world. It’s a wide-ranging interview that covers a lot more than pinball; I’m glad they let the interview wander, because the man has had a fascinating life. From there they have some extensive reviews of Mystic Marvel and Space Pilot, two of those old-timey games I mentioned earlier. Also included is an explanation for the inner workings of these types of games, which was riveting to a dummy like me who has no idea about that kind of thing, and a review for a DVD tour of the Cliff House, which is an extensive museum of these artifacts. The place has an in-house blacksmith to replace broken parts! The only negative thing I have to say is that I wish they explained a few more of the terms, but generally speaking they did a good job with that, and this is clearly geared more towards a person who already has a working knowledge of this stuff and not a tourist like me. If that’s you, you will absolutely love this book, and they plan on putting another one out every two years. If you’re a casual fan like me, I was glued to the page all the way through, which is about as positive a review as I can give. Try it out, why don’t you! $15

Claytor, Ryan – Autobiographical Conversations

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Autobiographical Conversations

It’s probably best to start this one off with a “warning” of sorts: this is a comic between the writer/artist and a professor about the nature of autobiographical stories, specifically comics. That’s right, an autobio comic about autobio, so if those aren’t your types of comics generally, this is most likely a comic that you should avoid. Unless the intense focus on the subject matter (and the lack of much in the way of personal details about the author) flips it back around to being interesting again to you. What do I know, I’m not in your brain. Anyway, it’s right up my alley, and also impossible to review in any coherent form without giving away some of their conclusions and/or making this a 3000 word review about my own thoughts on the subject. But my thought come from years of reading such comics, while theirs come from years of schooling and, as such, their thoughts are the better ones to follow. Anyway! The vast majority of this comic is a conversation between Ryan and a professor on his campus. They discuss the merits of showing autobio stories from the perspective of the author versus only focused on the author, emotional truth versus literal truth, and how your perception of yourself is most likely different from how other people see you, and whether or not it’s possible to tell that truth if you’re also including your own perceptions of other people. It’s heady, fascinating stuff, or at least it will be if you like autobio comics. I think it would be anyway, purely for anybody out there who spends too much time in their own head. If that sounds like you, give this a shot! Ryan has been a favorite of mine since the early days of this website (2001), and it’s always nice to see those guys and ladies still making great comics. $12

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Claytor, Ryan – The Machinist

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The Machinist Now Available !  $3

My head is all clogged with a miserable cold, so my reasoning may be a bit more suspect than usual here.  Of course, it’s possible you always think my reasoning is suspect; I just wanted to throw out a warning.  This book is the story of a Detroit machinist who, after being laid off after working at a tool and die factory for 20 years, drinks and wonders about the future of the town and America as a whole.  It’s not preachy but it is an honest and at least mildly heartbreaking take on the state of things, and it has one of more genuinely sweet endings that you’re likely to find.  After this wonderful story is a 5 page afterword with more of the factual details, as Ryan moved to Michigan in the summer of ’08 and has watched things go from bad to worse.  It’s a useful piece for people who haven’t kept up with the situation, and a nice summary for those who haven’t… and I don’t think it worked as an afterword for this comic.  Like I said, I have my doubts about being able to articulate this clearly at this point, but the story by itself was brilliant.  It encapsulated the despair at the state of things while still holding a genuine love for the way things were, and it frankly didn’t need an afterword.  The fact that the afterword was done well and contained factual information is almost besides the point.  Maybe it would have worked better as a text forward, as I get that some people really don’t know what’s going on in Detroit and some background probably was necessary.  I think what I’m using far too many words to say here is simply this: sometimes less is more.  This shouldn’t be taken as a knock on the comic, and I’m hoping that’s perfectly clear.  Ryan’s work is better each time I see a new issue.  A minor tweak would have suited me just fine is all.  $3

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Claytor, Ryan – Rock & Soul

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Rock & Soul Now Available! $2

I seem to be talking about a lot of 24 hour comics these days. No master plan there, that’s just where they happened to end up in my chaotic “reviewing pile”. Also, before I get started, let me just commend Ryan on his production values. It might seem like a minor thing, but I see so many comics that have some basic, fundamental problem with the design or the copying that it’s great to see his stuff always look fantastic. The comic here is a wordless tale about Ryan on a trip to the Grand Canyon (I don’t know if that should be capitalized based on the English language rules, but for sheer grandeur I’m sticking with it) and his thoughts on some old relatives. It’s an interesting book, if maybe a bit stretched out, but hey, it was a 24 hour book and he was running the event and trying to put a comic together. I’m a bigger fan of his diary strips, but you could also do a lot worse than this. $2, contact info is up there or this is in the store too…

Claytor, Ryan – The Collected And Then One Day

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The Collected And Then One Day Now Available! $10

This collects And Then One Day #1-4, all of which are currently out of print unless you hurry and get one of the last remaining copies of #3 out of the online store… $10

Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #7

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And Then One Day #7 Now Available!  $4

If you thought the discussion about autobiography from ATOD #6 was definitive, well, Ryan did not agree.  This issue is the start of a new story arc (is it a story arc if it’s autobiography?  I didn’t think so) in which Ryan has a lengthy conversation with a university professor who has his own ideas on autobiography and its nature.  It is, at the very least, going to be continued in the next issue, so if you miss Ryan drawing big mutant fight scenes (which only happened in your own head, you weirdo), you might want to take a break until #9.  Ryan does manage to make the subject fascinating, even though it’s entirely possible that they’re never going to come up with a definitive conclusion on a subjective thing like this.  My main complaint with this issue is that he could have chucked the 3-5 pages of small talk, but then you have a completely dry story with very little evidence of humans being involved, so I probably would have complained either way.  He’s also stepped up his art a notch or two.  It was a never a problem to begin with, but there’s an impressive amount of detail once the story moves outside to a lunch conversation.  So what do they talk about exactly?  The background of the professor, whether or not autobiography (or even history) is more truthful than fiction, the benefits of autobiography that manages to help people while not being completely truthful (he uses that “recovering drug addict” from Oprah to make a good point), and the difference between objective and emotional honesty.  I loved it, but then again I’m immersed in comics on a regular basis, so your mileage may vary.  If you prefer his funnier stuff there are plenty of options on this page, if you like a good intellectual discussion there’s plenty to love here.  $4

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Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #6

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And Then One Day #6 Now Available! $12

Boy is it tempting to ignore any semblance of a review and just go into the question posed in Ryan’s introduction: what is autobiography? Ryan had been mulling that over after seeing a theory that all autobiography is no more valid than fiction, as it’s all subjective information given by the subject in question. So Ryan decided to gather together various people from his life (parents, old and new friends, exes, acquaintances, even a teacher), give them a set of 20 questions and a tape recorder, and put them in a quiet room by themselves to answer all those questions. He then gathered all that information and put them all into this comic, which is theoretically more autobiographical than his previous comics. I think his leaving the room while they answered questions was a bit of overkill, as he’s no more likely to get truthful answers out of someone while they’re answering questions with the full knowledge that he’ll be listening to their answers soon enough anyway than he would if he was the one asking them, but who’s to say if I’m right on that one? Also I thought the interactions between himself and various friends would have been more potentially revealing than just setting them loose on their own. Well, there it is, that’s a ready-made project for #7, and the only thing that will satisfy my curiosity as to which method would work better. As for his general theories about how this would work out, he was probably right. We get to learn all sorts of things about Ryan that he probably would have never revealed otherwise, even if it is an “all ages” book, so we don’t get all the dirt and/or more embarrassing information, which is probably for the best anyway. You know, for somebody who was “taking a break” after #4, he sure has put out a lot of quality work since. I’m aware that my saying that everything he puts out is his best work yet gets a little tiring, but it sure seems true. This one is a must for any artist trying to define the nature of autobiography, as there’s plenty in here, from the content to the methodology, to get a conversation started on where this artform should go from here. $12

Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #5 Sketchbook

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And Then One Day #5 Sketchbook Now Available! $8

It looks like Ryan is still too busy to produce comics with any kind of regularity, so he’s decided to go the “easy” route: turn the book into a journal. And, again, he’s managed to top himself. He’s up front about the fact that this is all raw, all taken from sketchbooks reflecting his ideas at the time, with very little planning or figuring out how it’ll all look when it’s put together. It doesn’t show at all. This is essentially a look at his life from 9/9/05 to 12/1/05, but it’s a lot more verbose than his other books. Drawings are just to accentuate the dialogue in this issue, not the other way around. There are several pages where it’s just him talking about his new house, his new graduate school, trying to find good friends in the new area, etc. And he still somehow manages to make it the best book of the series. This felt more like an extended letter from a long lost friend than anything else, and that’s an impressive accomplishment. There’s also a foreword from a friend, a long afterward and a pretty extensive interview with Ryan about all sorts of things. If you’re frightened by that $8 price tag, all I can say is that if you’ve seen the other issues of this series you know that these books are made with pure love (and some sort of paste), and it shows after one look at this thing. It’s also right around 100 pages of pretty dense text, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth if you’re a fan. If you’re not a fan, you should really think about checking out some of the older, cheaper, fuzzier issues first and then see what you’re missing here. $8

Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #4

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And Then One Day #4

Damn it all! I had a review all ready to go in my head, talking about how this is the best issue of the series, how Ryan has put all of his skills together here to make the best cover to cover read of the series. It even has the best of the fuzzy covers! Then he has to go and ruin the whole thing by saying at the end of the book that this is going to be the last issue of ATOD, if not forever then at least until he gets though with the schooling needed for his master’s degree. So it looks like I can add Ryan to the growing list of comic creators who have given up, “temporarily” of course (because how many of them actually come back to comics with any kind of regularity?), on making comics right around the time that they completely win me over. Oh no, it couldn’t have been after the first issue, when I wasn’t really sure how the idea was going to turn out, he has to wait until things are going about as well as they can go in a diary strip, then bam. Most of this is tongue in cheek, of course, but damn it! He’d better still be this good when he comes back to the book! All that being said, it really is the best of the bunch, the jerk. Strips about working, teaching, trying to get a better job, renting a boat, looking at personal ads, buying a house, all sorts of good stuff in here. Maybe if enough people buy his books he’ll give up on this whole “personal improvement” kick and chain himself to his drawing desk to make comics again… $2

Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #3

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And Then One Day #3 Now Available! $2

Hey, as long as the fuzzy covers keep coming, I’m happy. More tales of Ryan’s life in this one, mostly including him spending some time with his new girlfriend, fretting about getting a new job, hanging out with his parents, going to Las Vegas, meeting Art Spiegelman (although he left out the part where he actually talked to him), and his general obsession with everything to do with comics. The strips are getting funnier and he’s really getting the hang of this whole daily diary thing, and it’s not like I hated it to begin with. Look, it’s no secret that I love a good diary strip, and this is a pretty good diary strip. If that doesn’t convince you, well, then you must hate them and there’s no convincing you at all, so why am I still trying? This is also in the online store, contact info is up there, $2!

Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #2

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And Then One Day #2

Three cheers for sticking with the fuzzy cover! It’s probably a pain to produce, but there’s nothing like holding a soft comic. OK, there are probably better things in the world, but I’m one for simple pleasures. I’d also like to apologize to Ryan, as I said in the last review that things seemed to be going really well for him, then it all started to fall apart. Still, he seems to be handling it all well. This comic was also the first time that I’m aware of someone using one of my reviews as a starting point for a diary strip, so I couldn’t help but use it for the sample. Hey, half the time this whole independent comics scene feels like one big circle jerk anyway, so allow me this indulgence. So what about this comic? Well, even though it deals with darker subject matter than the last issue, it manages to never get morose, as Ryan seems to have a good grip on the world. Sorry, no breakdowns put on paper here. Strips in here are about getting to teach a class on comics to kids, the best poster ever, breaking up, working, facial hair, obsessing over comics, a fiddle festival, a guy on a cell phone in the bathroom (what is up with that anyway?), and getting beat playing a video game by a five year old. I thought it was even better than the first one, which is always a good thing. It’s $2, contact info is up there and here’s that strip I was telling you about…

Claytor, Ryan – And Then One Day #1

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And Then One Day #1

Ooh, fuzzy cover… Well, that’s one plus right off the bat. As you can probably see from the cover, this is a collection of autobiographical strips. The odd thing about this one, and I honestly can’t tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, is that this is pretty much an angst-free collection. I’m just so used to people who do autobio complaining about their job, or their girlfriend, or their lack of both of those (or either), that’s it’s just a bit startling when the worst a guy has to complain about is passing out at the gym from working out too much. Ryan, from what I could see in this one, is your average comics geek. He teaches, has a girlfriend and a (seemingly) normal family that he keeps in close contact with. I’m ready to see more because I can’t imagine that his life is this peaceful all the time. Here’s a website, this is $2 and worth a look.