I had a great time reading And Then One Day, a collection of Ryan Claytor‘s autobiographical daily comics. They feel like blog posts about his daily life in illustrated form, but they’re also blog posts that are compelling and interesting and about a wide range of topics.
It’s the diversity of these strips, along with the obvious passion for comics that Claytor shows, that makes this book a real joy to read.
Many autobio comics are so depressing that they often give that niche in the genre a bad name for people who aren’t ready for that sort of navel-gazing. Whether by Joe Matt, Robert Crumb, or Harvey Pekar, autobio comics have a way of presenting the creators’ darker sides, or at least what they see as their most personal sides.
Most creators of autobio comics enjoy exploring their angst, almost as if the act of turning themselves into comic book characters makes their stories somehow more digestible for readers. But there have been other creators who have used the form to explore other sides of their personalities. James Kochalka, for instance, has done a daily drawn diary for years that seems designed, in part, to be resolutely bright and cheerful.
Many people forget that some of Eddie Campbell’s earliest comics were autobiographical–including his masterwork Alec. Campbell showed his intelligence and passion by simply presenting his good and bad sides in his comics. He neither dwelled on the positive nor on the negative; instead, he somehow managed to find great kernels of truth in his comics simply by presenting them as truth.
Okay, so Eddie Campbell is one of the greatest cartoonists in the world today, and Ryan Claytor is no Eddie Campbell. However, Claytor does share Campbell’s honesty. In this book, we see Claytor’s good and bad sides, his sentimental side and his weak side–all laid out, one after the next.
I was really struck by a few of the strips. There is a wonderful sequence where Claytor applies, and is turned down, for a job at a city college. We can see his enthusiasm grow from day to day as he goes through the interview process.
The humbleness of his March 16, 2005 piece is impressive. We simply see Ryan eat breakfast, brush his teeth, tie his tie, and brush his hair in four inset panels at the top of the page. Taking up the bottom two-thirds of the page is Ryan simply praying for success. It’s a beautifully intense yet calm scene, wonderfully capturing his inner monologue about the moment with a very simple image.
On March 18, when he’s turned down for the job, the strip has a more conventional narrative flow. In seven panels, we see Claytor get the dreaded phone call, and then slowly wander away from the pain it caused him.
Other strips are much more pleasant. The May 13, 2004, strip ponders how a bug can stay on a car going 60 miles an hour. It’s kind of a banal thought, but the enthusiastic art makes the strip fun.
On February 2, 2005, Claytor goes to a lecture given by the great Art Spiegelman. During the lecture, Claytor is told in no uncertain terms that he cannot record it. Despite that mishap, Claytor gets to meet Spiegelman afterwards. The joy he conveys at meeting a comics hero is contagious.
And I loved the January 3, 2005, strip where Claytor gets excited about spotting snow on a mountaintop during his ride to work.
And there are also moving pieces. The tribute to Will Eisner is sweet and quite understated. The scenes with his parents were also quite moving to me because my parents had the same sort of retirement that Claytor’s had. Until my dad passed away, my parents were world travelers who even saw the Great Wall of China. Reading Claytor’s stories about his parents brought back some very melancholy feelings about my own parents.
We also see Claytor meet and break up with several girls during the time of these strips. What’s especially moving are the complex feelings that these breakups bring in his mind. He feels somewhat conflicted about his relationships, which I actually found quite moving and interesting.
This really is a wonderful book. The honesty and passion that Ryan Claytor feels for comics is exciting; when he talks about dreaming about comics, I felt myself nodding along to his story.
Take a break from looking under the bed for Skrulls and try this book. It just might make you see your life in a different light.