Date: 7th November, 2023

For many pinball fans, the name of Ryan Claytor only appeared on their radar thanks to his 2019 collaboration with Nick Baldridge to create the first edition of the Coin-Op Carnival comic book series.

However, Ryan has been involved in both pinball and comic books for far longer, and today the Elephant Eater Comics brand he created is celebrating twenty years of publishing on-line and in-print with the launch of a new book and associated Kickstarter campaign to help fund it.

Ryan Claytor
Ryan Claytor

Ryan is a well-established comic book artist and Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, where he is the Coordinator of the Comic Art and Graphic Novel Minor course of study. A long-time fan of the game, his first public appearance on the pinball scene came when he contributed an article on his dream pinball theme – Groo the Wanderer – for the fifth edition of fellow cartoonists Jon Chad and Alex Longstreth’s Drop Target Zine.

Ryan's Groo The Wanderer game design
Ryan’s Groo The Wanderer game design

Among the many other pinball-related projects which followed, he created designs for his local Pinball At The ‘Zoo show for several years, for Multimorphic to promote their P3 pinball platform, for the PAPA 19 World Pinball Championship, for Stern Pinball to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and, in June 2015, for his friend Nick Baldridge to commemorate the 100th episode of Nick’s EM & Bingo Pinball Podcast.

Artwork for Nick Baldridge's podcast
Artwork for Nick Baldridge’s podcast

Ryan and Nick teamed up again in 2019 to launch their four-part Coin-Op Carnival magazine, with the first edition featuring the life and work of game designer Wayne Neyens.

Issue #1 of Coin-Op Carnival
Issue #1 of Coin-Op Carnival

Since then he has published two more books, A Hunter’s Tale and Mirror Drawings.

One Bite At A Time is a hardcover book running to over 250 pages which documents Ryan’s creative process which has resulted in numerous self-published volumes.

A mock-up of the One Bite At A Time book
A mock-up of the One Bite At A Time book

The book’s title references a quote from Ryan’s father about tackling a large project, which inspired the name of his Elephant Eater Comics imprint. “It’s like eating an elephant. Just do it one bite at a time.

No stranger to documenting events in his life through his art, for the new book Ryan steps back from the actual storytelling to examine the methods and techniques he has used over the previous two decades, detailing the creative process from initial concept to final publication.

It also incorporates his passion for designing neon signs as well as the two popular arcade-themed designs he created for Mr. Jones Watches entitled Ricochet and Step Right Up.

Ricochet and Step Right Up for Mr. Jones Watches
Ricochet and Step Right Up for Mr. Jones Watches

One Bite At A Time is Ryan’s largest, most ambitious and most elaborate publication to-date, and to promote it Ryan has embarked on a month-long tour. However, unlike some of his previous tours of comic stores and book shops, this time he is eschewing a month on the road in favour of an on-line tour of assorted media outlets including, of course, Pinball News.

Ryan's on-line tour schedule
Ryan’s on-line tour schedule

Rather than selling directly to the public or through comic stores, the book is being made available through a Kickstarter project. It has a $9,000 funding target and had a successful launch on 1st November, achieving 80% funding after just one day and becoming fully-funded a mere four days into the month-long campaign.

To find out more about One Bite At A Time, Pinball News spoke to Ryan shortly before the Kickstarter launched.

We started by asking him, given his diverse range of projects from neon to watches, from pinball to comics, who would be the target market for this new book?

He told us, “Curious folks are a prime audience. The book has many different types of artwork I’ve produced over the past 20 years, all of it with a healthy amount of behind-the-scenes imagery as there is an overarching theme of ‘process’ that runs throughout. So, if you’ve ever wanted to better understand how I design a neon sign, what goes into making an illustrated watch, or even how a bunch of my pinball illustrations came to be, it’s all in here.

He also thinks, given the high production values and the nature of a significant proportion of the content, it will have a pretty broad appeal.

Ryan said, “This book is also a tour de force in terms of format design, so anyone who appreciates books as art objects and being surprised by unexpected additions to the book form is sure to enjoy it, too. Not to mention, I’d estimate about 25% of the 250+ pages showcase pinball-focused artwork, so I have a hunch pinball people will like it, too.

The launch of the Kickstarter is timed to mark twenty years of Elephant Eater Comics and to make amends for missing out on previous anniversaries. Ryan told us how the launch and subsequent promotion of Coin-Op Carnival caused him to miss one such landmark date.

We toured Coin-Op Carnival to 17 stops in 10 different states across the U.S. and it wasn’t until the end of that busy year that I realized I’d completely overlooked the fact that it was my 15th anniversary of making comics! I vowed at that time to make a bigger deal about my next milestone anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than with the most ambitiously designed book of my 20 year career in comics?

The Kickstarter model began as a way to finance fledgling projects in order to help creators who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to develop their product and bring it to market. Now though, and particularly in the sphere of publishing, it has become more of a direct marketing and advance sales channel.

Ryan says he’s already completed all the content for One Bite At A Time, so we asked why he’s using Kickstarter fundraiser model rather than more traditional direct sales channels.

He said, “I’m quite aware of the stigma attached to pre-order models in the pinball community. With that said, the pre-order model means something very different in the comics community. Within Kickstarter, there’s a healthy ecosystem of independent creators all bolstering one another by backing projects and spreading the word of worthwhile publications. It’s really quite an exciting time to be in that company of creators. Logistically speaking, though, it sure helps to know if I should print 500 or 5,000 of these books based on the number of readers who show interest via this campaign, rather than wildly guess and be left in a lurch with way too much or too little product. Those kinds of miscalculations can be a real blow to an indie publisher, like myself.

The $9,000 Kickstarter target is calculated as the break-even point for publication, given the unavoidable costs for printing, packaging, shipping plus the Kickstarter fees, with a little extra contingency for unexpected additional expenses.

Ryan has run many such Kickstarters before, so is reasonably confident he has pitched the target at an achievable level. He told us, “In order to judge my confidence with respect to the funding goal being met, one needs only to visit the campaign and monitor its progress. I think that’ll probably be a pretty good indicator of how I’m feeling on any given day.

We asked Ryan, if a potential buyer should miss out on the Kickstarter or choose not to pre-order through the campaign, would they be able to purchase the book another way? He points out that there needs to be enough initial support through the Kickstarter for the project to launch in the first place, and there are significant incentives to those who support it from the outset.

He said, “It all depends on whether or not the Kickstarter campaign is successful. If it’s not, then the book will not exist. However, if the campaign is successful, I’d likely overprint, but not by a huge margin, and the price of entry will not be as favorable as it is during the campaign. I’m really trying to present a compelling offer with an entry point to the physical book at a 17% discount off the cover price and free US shipping. That discount and shipping incentive will not be available after the campaign.

The Kickstarter offers many tier of support for different versions of the book and also numerous add-on items to customise your copy of the book or purchase additional promotional items.

Some of the pledge options on the Kickstarter campaign page
Some of the pledge options on the Kickstarter campaign page

We asked Ryan whether providing so many options made it far more complicated for him to fulfil individual orders, with potentially every customer having a bespoke purchase.

Based on his past experience running similar campaigns, he appears confidently sanguine about the fulfilment process.

It’s true, the more options offered, the more complex fulfilment becomes. However, a couple points I’d like to make are:
1) I want to allow backers the option to tailor their rewards to their interests, and
2) this is not my first fulfilment rodeo.
I’ve successfully fulfilled every crowd-funding I’ve launched dating back ten years and have personally fulfilled orders for my creator-owned comics for twenty years at this point. I understand the power of batch processing, wherein I group like reward tiers in order to expedite my work flow, and I create modular assembly line structures that allow me to pack portions of orders prior to the arrival of products that might require a bit more production time. All this to say, I’ve turned around 400+ order Kickstarter campaigns and at the same time handled national distribution of my books, all in the same month before. My plan is to do the same for this project.

To garner support for the project, Ryan is undertaking the online promotion tour of which this article is a part.

He told us how it is planned to work. “Well, first, thank you for being a part of it, Pinball News. Essentially, this ‘online tour’ I organized is a series of interviews with me discussing this project on a number of different media outlets. I organized something similar for my crowd-funding campaign last year for A Hunter’s Tale and it really seems to have made a difference in terms of outreach and project recognition. My hope is that speaking with more people about this new publication will get it onto the radar of more readers, artists, and curious folks.

Although all pricing on the Kickstarter campaign page is quoted in US dollars and physical purchases include free US domestic shipping, international purchases are also available with shipping calculated on the Kickstarter page (typically an extra $30 per copy).

Alternatively, there is the option to avoid all shipping costs by purchasing and downloading a digital copy of One Bite At A Time instead.

Although he has reached his $9,000 funding target, the Kickstarter campaign continues to run until the end of November. If you want a copy, be sure to make your pledge through the Kickstarter page to avoid missing out.

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