Huddled in a corner of the Valley Library, Ryan Mason goes unnoticed as he scribbles furiously on his Wacom tablet. Thousands of Oregon State students see Mason’s work every day in the student newspaper, The Daily Barometer, but few know the man behind At Random Comics.
Mason has been drawing his whole life. He says he never excelled at sports, and he didn’t do well in front of an audience.
“Drawing allowed me to express myself creatively and make people laugh without actually having to talk to them,” he says.
Despite his natural passion and talent, after earning an associate’s degree from Lane Community College in 2007 Mason found himself stuck in an unfulfilling job for several years before he came to visit his brother in Corvallis. He had no plans to attend Oregon State at the time, but the appeal of the campus was undeniable.
“I just felt really at home here,” he says. “I ended up looking at the graphic design program at Oregon State, and it seemed really good and competitive. The department was welcoming and encouraging that it would be easy for me to transfer in.”
Mason found a home in the College of Business graphic design program with supportive professors and a close cohort of classmates. Mason even met his fiancée through the graphic design program. He and Taylor Howard plan to marry in September.
Throughout his Oregon State career, Mason has balanced his school work with a graphic design internship at the Valley Library where he works with on- and off-campus clients to create posters, illustrations and pamphlets. And since 2011, he’s produced a daily comic for The Daily Barometer. His work has racked up several awards: first place for best cartooning in the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association’s Collegiate Paper Contest in 2015 and 2014, as well as a second-place showing in 2012. Mason also won a regional Mark of Excellence award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2014.
Mason says the comics name, “At Random,” is a reference to the lack of constraint on characters or situations in the comics themselves.
“I like to approach comicing with no limitations,” Mason explains. “I can give human characteristics to a block of cheese if I want to. Anything is on the table.”
His sources of inspiration are also unlimited. Sometimes, Mason gets ideas from a real-life situation or from thoughts that pop into his head during conversations that he would never say out loud. Friends occasionally accuse him of writing himself or others into the comic.
“I always deny it,” Mason says. “Even if the situation did come from my real life, it’s just easier to deny them all. It keeps me from feeling guarded.”
Mason posts his comics online on Facebook and at his website, AtRandomComics.com. He says the feedback is usually positive, but when it is negative, it doesn’t bother him.
Mason may be too busy to take things personally. For the past year, he’s been focused on his graphic design capstone project, which he’s named Just One More. The idea is to purchase an extra food or toiletry item every time you grocery shop. Eventually, items add up and create a sizable collection for donation to local nonprofit and charity organizations.
Mason hopes to use graphic design to help people and improve lives as well as to continue to fulfill himself creatively.
He says even though At Random won’t be appearing in The Daily Barometer after he graduates, he will still continue to produce comics for his website, and he’s hopeful fans of his work will support him in his efforts so he can keep drawing.
“Drawing and making comics flexes me in ways I’m not usually challenged,” Mason says. “My goal after graduation is to continue making comics and to find a creative job that utilizes the great skills I’ve learned here at Oregon State.”