Landing in Lansing with a love for comics

Claytor grew up in California, but moved to Michigan in 2008 after his wife took a job with Michigan State University's Art History Department. He began teaching as well and continues teaching to this day at Michigan State University and University of Michigan Flint. He is also Director of the MSU Comics Forum, a yearly free event held on campus.
Claytor's first class at MSU was an introductory comics studio course, which he still teaches nearly four years later. "I had always wanted to teach a comics class at a university level," Claytor says. "I proposed that class, and [MSU] said 'go for it.' The class over-enrolled, and it has been offered ever since."
As the course's description implies, students learn what it takes to create comics. "We learn about the fundamentals of comics, the language of comics," Claytor explains. "Everything from lettering, to character design, inking techniques, to comics specific language like panelization to pacing." Claytor says by the end of the semester, students have several short story comics created, which are complied into books. "Then we go across the street to 21st Century Comics and Games, where we have an in-store signing."
He doesn't limit his class to only art students either. "I like having more than just art students in my class," Claytor says, mentioning Biology and English students have taken the course. "I think it brings a different, broader perspective to the class."
Teaching isn't new to Claytor either, "I've taught classes ever since I got out of college, and even before that." The allure of teaching for Claytor is simple, "I like interacting with people," and teaching comics is the cherry on top, "Combining that love with my love for comics is something I've always wanted to make happen, and since moving to Michigan, it's been happening."

From California to Lansing
"Lansing has treated me really well," Claytor says. "I met a really great core group of friends shortly after moving here, who are also cartoonists." With a laugh, he added, "Everybody always wonders about the California boy in the snow, but I actually really enjoy the change of seasons." Changing states hasn't hurt Claytor's access to comics either. East Lansing's 21st Century Comics and Games showcases Claytor's student signing event, and he loves the stores offerings of both mainstream and alternative comics. Clem's Collectibles in downtown Lansing is another favorite haunt of Claytor's, and even sells some of his collected And Then One Days comics.
Comics are not Claytor's only vice either. "I've become addicted to Sugar Shack cupcakes," he adds, which he describes as being located "Way-too-conveniently" nearby. Thankfully, Claytor makes use of the Lansing area's outdoor offerings to balance out his love of cupcakes, making frequent visits to Lake Lansing, Burchfield Park, and Fenner Nature Center. 
Spreading the Comic Message: The MSU Comics Forum
The MSU Comics Forum started in 2008 with humble beginnings, with just a keynote speaker and a handful of artists. "Since then, we've grown it into three-dozen artists in Artist's Alley this year, we've added scholar and artist panel discussions," says Claytor, who acts as Director. This year's Comics Forum included keynote speaker Nick Bertozzi, a screening of the documentary Wham! Bam! Islam!, and a gallery exhibition of 1950s comic books from the MSU Special Collections Library. Nick Bertozzi even designed a poster for this year's event. "I'm really proud of where we've taken it since I've stepped in [as Director] in its second year."

As for the Comics Forum's mission statement, Claytor says it's "An event for scholars, creators, and fans." Claytor sees the Comics Forum as a happy medium between scholarly events and traditional comic book fan conventions, "Usually, those two audiences don't mix. And so, we're trying to position ourselves in the middle of that, where all these different parties can intermingle."
The amount of creators isn't the only thing increasing year after year at the Comics Forum, the amount of attendees continues to rise—as does community involvement, Claytor says, citing appearances on local radios shows and newspapers. "It's been really nice to have more Lansing community involvement this year, I think this is probably the most we've had."
No Capes
Claytor started his own autobiographical comic book series, And Then One Day, in 2004 and has continued making comics ever since. Claytor writes, draws, and publishes the series through his own company, Elephant Eater Comics. The comics showcase anecdotes and quirky events in Claytor's day to day life—a far cry from what some think of when it comes to comics. Claytor doesn't battle super villains in his comics, unless one counts the curveballs Life throws in his direction. His autobiographical strips can range from humorous to very personal and touching.
Claytor showcases and sells his comics at conventions and stores around the country. In 2007, Claytor had signings and exhibitions in 18-states and two Canadian Provinces as part of his North American In-Store Signing Tour. In 2008, Claytor made the most of his relocation from California and had his Moving to Michigan Tour, with signings in ten states.
Claytor had this advice for beginning comic creators,"Just keep doing it," and in regards to 'breaking in' to the industry, he adds, "Really all you have to do is start making comics." Claytor doesn't see the comic industry or community as having a wall to break though either; he sees it more as walking into the ocean, "You can just dip your toe in, and try it out for a little bit, or maybe you want to walk in up to your knees. Or maybe you want to be completely submerged and do this the rest of your life. But, it's not like there is a barrier, or a wall, or anyone stopping you from doing this—it's just creating comics, and the more comics you create, the better you are going to get."

Daniel J. Hogan is a freelance writer for Capital Gains. He also writes and draws the comic strip, Clattertron. You can follow him on Twitter, @danieljhogan.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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