Ryan Claytor is THE man when it comes to autobiographical comics. Now he wants to transform his latest work, Autobiographical Conversations, into a fancy collected edition and he needs our help! I talked with Ryan about his Idiegogo campaign, his book, and the wide world of comics crowdfunding.
I Speak Comics: Hey Ryan, could you tell me a little about Autobiographical Conversations?
Ryan Claytor: Well it’s a series of conversations between a graduate professor I had when I was going through grad school, his name is Harry Polkinhorn, and myself. We’re talking about autobiographical theory and how it relates to the comics medium.
This is presented in comic book form. It was originally published as a mini-comic in a three part story arc and each section was roughly 25-pages long. It was always intended to be collected into a single book so this Indiegogo crowdfunding thing I have going right now is to see that through to fruition.
This is the final format that I’ve always wanted to see this story arc printed in so I’m duo-toning the pages, originally they were just printed in black and white. It’ll have some supplemental material, a new cover, better paper stock, I’m trying to think of everything going into this book, it’s a lot!
ISC: This is your first crowdfunding project, what was the impetus behind it?
RC: The impetus was a couple-fold. One obviously, trying to raise money for a project. Two is, it’s really a pretty fabulous marketing campaign. Starting this out and trying to get people interested in it, I’m forced to tell everybody and their mom about the fact that I’m doing this, which is marketing at a grass roots level. As the word gets out and more and more people hear about it, it’s really a fantastic marketing opportunity.
ISC: But you mentioned before that the reason you went to a crowdfunding platform because other revenue streams didn’t pan out. Wanna tell us a little about that?
RC: Yeah so, in the process of creating this book I always had this hierarchy in the back of my mind, “When I’m done with this three-part story arc I want to present it as a completed whole.” And the first thing that I did was apply to the Xeric Grant, which is a comic book self-publishing grant that is put on by one half of the TMNT creators and they give you approximately five thousand bucks to print your small press comic book. That happened for years and years, a couple times a year, until about a year ago when the founder said they were going to cease funding of small press comics for a couple of reasons. One, because the web is so prevalent and you can put your stuff online for free, or close to it and two, because of the influx of crowdfunding which was making it not as important for him to keep this up.
I applied to the last Xeric Grant, the last round of submissions, and I did not get that. The second tier that I thought I would try would be to present it to publishers. I presented it to many different independent publishers and there was some interest but no solid bites, so my third tier was crowdfunding and that’s what I’m doing right now.
ISC: Why is Autobiographical Conversations so special? What are you most proud of?
RC: What am I most proud about? It’s really like the longest, continual, single story that I’ve done. I’ve done longer books but they’ve been done in sectional format, so I’m really proud that I’ve got this big completed work. Second, I feel like my artwork has grown a lot over the course of this project and I’m proud of a lot of these pages.
Also, this is the first time that I’m having an offset print run done in the United States. That’s really important to me because after having moved from California to Michigan and getting to know about the local economy and the importance of buying local, I really wanted to put my money into my new home state. I’m also really excited to work with a printer that’s five minutes away from my house, so the quality control will be second to none.
It’s important for me to compile this into one book because I’m always most proud of my most recent work. I want that to be available to a wider audience and not force people to go on a treasure hunt to find the entire story arc, because they’re kinda dispersed in these mini comics in very small numbers. I want this to be available to everyone.
ISC: What’s the response that you’ve seen thus far?
RC: In the first three days of my month long campaign I was at the one thousand dollar mark. *Update: Ryan is now just $300 shy of reaching his goal. I’m feeling pretty good. It’s not there yet, I still need a lot of help if I want to make my goal, but I think it’s a pretty decent mile marker right now.
ISC: Are you meeting new fans, new readers that you’ve hooked with this project?
RC: I’m getting a lot of referrals. You know there’s statistical analysis that I can view and there are people that I have not contacted that are coming to the campaign, so that’s great. But I have a lot of different avenues that I’m using to get the word out. Over the course of 10 years of self publishing I’ve gathered a couple thousand email addresses so I sent out an update to my 2000 email addresses and in addition to that I’m contacting a bunch of friends and colleagues on Facebook, and of course on my website I update the crowdfunding opportunity as well as the general social media outlets.
ISC: There’s sort of an expected genre convention to the Indiegogo page, to the Kickstarter launch pad, you’ve got a video and all this other stuff. How’d you go about building all that? Did you think a lot about it or just throw it all together? You clearly had a script, but what else what into it?
RC: There was a lot of thought put into that [laughs]. Whenever I see someone do a slipshod jokey job I’m less likely to fund them than someone who seems like they have their poop together. I really went through a few script revisions and gave them to trusted friends to read over and give me feedback. I went through a honing process.
If you watch the video you’ll see that it’s a brief historical overview of what I’ve done in comics, which I think is important because it leads into the current project really nicely. Where as if you heard about this campaign initially you might think, “This is kinda weird, a comic about autobiographic theory as it relates to comics, in comic book form… Pretty esoteric.”
ISC: It shows that you’ve got comics under your belt, you’ve made comics before, you’re the real deal.
RC: Right! I hired a videographer to help me shoot the video, and edit, and produce it. I had a lot of direction for it, what images are appearing at what time and stuff like that, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of Ian Sapporin so I want to give him props.
If you hear the music in the background, that is my long time friend James Longoria. We met in first grade and we’re still good buds today and he is a guitar virtuoso. Basically I called him up and said “Hey can I hire you to make a little musical piece for me?” and he’s like, “No. But you can do a drawing for me and I’ll make this for you.” So we did a little bartering and he asked what I wanted. I’ve really been getting into bluegrass lately and I wanted something acoustic that I could talk over, interesting but not busy, cause it’s not gonna be the main focus. I’m sure he crapped that out in 30 seconds because that’s James and he’s amazing. I couldn’t’ think of a more appropriate musical piece to accompany it.
ISC: If this is successful, what do you think that says about your books? About autobiographical comics?
RC: It’s almost too scary to think about because we’re only three days into the campaign and you’re asking me what if it does make? So if it does make I’ll be real happy. I’ll definitely feel a sense of validation, like there are enough people who are interested in this and willing to support me that I’ve been doing something decent over the past 10 years. If it doesn’t make, we’ll take that route from there. I’m not gonna stop making comics or anything [laughs].
ISC: What do you think about crowdfunding? Is it good for comics?
RC: I really don’t see a detriment to it. If you put up a crowdfunding campaign and it doesn’t make, possibly there are some questions you need to ask yourself as an artist, or about what you’re producing. Maybe there’s not enough of an audience for it or maybe it just needs some honing. I think it’s kinda like the ultimate equalizer because if there is an audience for it you’re not waiting on a publisher to give you that opportunity to find your audience, it’s sort of like making the audience yourself. It’s really fantastic that we have the opportunity to do that these days.
ISC: And what are some of the incentives and what was some of the thinking behind them? I know you’re giving away books and original art.
RC: I’ve actually done a lot of research on what you should do for incentives. Some people’s mindset is you should charge more than what the incentive is worth because people should be willing to help crowdfund this and basically contribute to your cause sort of apart from your incentive. Other peoples’ mindsets are more along the lines of, well you should give people more than what they’re donating for to incentivize it, to encourage them to donate, and I think I run the middle, maybe closer to trying to give a little more than what people are buying.
I’m giving away books, a three pack of posters I created for the MSU Comics Forum. They’re beautifully printed offset posters, so like a trilogy poster pack, some original artwork, and the big kahuna, for $2,500, you can get me wherever you want to do a public lecture on my comics. That means that I fly myself anywhere in the United States. I purchase my own lodging, food, whatever and I show up wherever you want me to. I bring a stack of books with me, essentially you’ve got a built in Ryan Claytor presentation. And there’s a big range of incentives, nine or 10 different levels that you can invest in.
ISC: Ok you have printed books, you’ve done the crowdfunding, are you going to start looking into digital distribution?
RC: Yeah definitely. Once I get a little down time from teaching summer school, having my first child, making this book, fulfilling the crowdfunding incentives, and going to comiccon THEN… I’ll take a couple breaths and I’d really like to start moving my work into digitally available formats. It’s not something I’ve done yet and honestly I feel behind the curve on it, but there’s only so much time in a day.
ISC: Any parting words for your fans out there?
RC: I’d love for people to check out the crowdfunding campaign, the website is http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/autobiographical-conversations-comic-book-by-ryan-claytor. I’d love to see people out there.