Clay Doran is drawn to the dark side. Well, that might be extreme, but his contribution to the comics scene surely leans more toward S. Clay Wilson than Superman. Under his visual arts alias Squid Dust, Doran creates phantasmagoric pieces that are tripped out, like a chimerical blend of sharp graphic design and black metal album covers. In recent years, he’s aimed his creative energies toward creating and producing the comic Grim Times, which places his skills at blending weirdness with a savvy visual style square on the page.
Doran’s release party this week at rain dogs., for the second issue of Grim Times, features a DJ “spinning old sad soul dance hits,” a display of original drawings from the comics, free stickers, exclusive release party shirts and cookies from Sweet Theory Baking Co. Doran will be signing and selling both issues of Grim Times.
Folio Weekly zapped Doran some questions via email about his comic work; he was kind enough to zip us back his answers.
Folio Weekly: What was the impetus behind creating Grim Times?
Clay Doran: Long story short, Grim Times was born out of being dumped. I have always loved drawing cartoons and creating characters but never really felt like I had a story to tell … until I was dumped. Then it all seemed to pour out. With a lot more time on my hands and a need to keep my mind busy, I began fleshing out a bunch of ideas and actually creating cohesive comics. Some of these dealt with the breakup and some just social observations or politics. Soon I ended up with about 30 pages.
To what does the title Grim Times allude?
A friend and I had always toyed around with the idea of creating a ‘zine-style newspaper that focused on the grimmest stories in the news. Like a “grim” New York “Times,” focused on the “grim times” in which we live. While that never came to be, the name always stuck with me. So when I ended up with a stack of comics and was mulling over an umbrella title to place them all under, Grim Times just seemed to fit.
Is there a continuing narrative or storyline from first issue to the latest?
No. Each issue comprises about 10 short comics all under their own title. Sort of how an old Harvey comic may have two pages of Casper, then three of Hot Stuff, followed by a crossword puzzle — all similar in style but self-contained stories.
In each issue, is there one long story or is it more episodic, with separate, shorter stories?
While there isn’t a single story continuing through the whole issue, I do think that each issue has a certain mood to it. The first was dealing with breakup stuff, so it has a very heartbroken, somber feel, while the second [upcoming] issue was created in the months after the breakup, as my feelings started to shift to bitterness and betrayal. So I do think that the arc of my feelings could be tracked if the issues are read in succession; punches you in the gut — a rollercoaster of all that is grim.
Are there recurring characters?
Yes. Grim Times has several recurring characters. First of all, Skunk & Badger are (you guessed it) a skunk and a badger, though they live like humans in suburban USA. Skunk is a punk girl who still believes in the power of punk music and that the youth will change the world, while Badger is a jaded, lazy, older punk that loves to shoot down Skunk’s optimism with misanthropy.
GreyNeck is a redneck that I swear I could’ve met a hundred times growing up in Middleburg. He’s a hateful bigot who thinks he’s got all the answers to society’s problems.
Saatchi the Suicidal Bat is a naïve bat that can’t seem to escape the horror of everyday life and by the end of every strip, he just can’t take it anymore.
And then there are the “Tragix” — these are sad stories told through an ever-changing cast of heartbroken cute animals.
When did you start drawing comics? Were there certain artists you liked in particular that you may have emulated when you were starting out?
I had a comic in fourth grade called Bugman; he was basically a bargain bin version of The Tick. He would try to solve crimes but was too clumsy and dumb to ever get his act together. As far as Grim Times, I am specifically emulating the Harvey and Dell comics of the ’40s and ’50s, maybe with a little ZAP-era R. Crumb and the rough-around-the-edges aesthetic of DIY ‘zine comix like Ben SnakePit or Johnny Ryan.
You also create visual art as Squid Dust; do you think there’s an overlap or a kind of interplay between your visual art pieces and creating the comic?
I think that Grim Times would never have existed without Squid Dust. I had always used Squid Dust as a kind of “lowbrow” illustration pseudonym. I designed shirts for bands like Evergreen Terrace and Dead Tank Records in a very similar style to the drawings I do in Grim Times. Also, the Kids with Trails story Shaun Thurston and I created in 2012 got me thinking a lot about writing a comic. If you look closely in the comics, you can see some “SQD DST” hidden in there from time to time.
Since you’re working in this framework of panels, do you feel that the comic form can be a bit constrictive? Or do you like having these kinds of parameters in place?
So far, I think comics are a really fun way to tell a story. I enjoy the “architecture” of stacking panels and creating interesting and appealing compositions. Making design decisions in conjunction with a story is challenging and I enjoy figuring it all out. I feel like I’m still fairly new to the comics game and therefore have a lot to learn. I haven’t had a chance to feel constrained yet. When there are cartoonists like Chris Ware and Jesse Jacobs out there, it’s hard to feel like there is anything you can’t do.
Do you think there’s a decent local scene of comic artists?
I think Ryan Black, Ed Dansart, Jim Ward and Andre Gruber are great, and I’m always interested in what they are creating.