How to Attract a Mentor (Part 1)


lora_seanWhen you’re at a convention, every minute behind your table counts.

People want to meet the creator. They prefer to buy from them, and love to have the creators sign their books.

So if you aren’t there, a potential customer will often leave without buying.

Despite knowing this, why did I leave my booth for over two hours on the busiest day of Otakon (the largest Anime convention on the east coast) to take a young man I had never met out to coffee?

Because Sean had done everything right.

For most of us, we’d love to have a mentor to pull the curtain back and show us the inner workings of the industry, teach us new techniques and open doors that would have otherwise remained closed for much longer.

Especially if they are the type of person who answers the phone every time you call and responds to multi-page, anxiety ridden, 2 AM emails that can usually be summed up simply as  “Should I just give up?!”

But how do you find someone like that?

It seems elusive and we don’t know how to go about cultivating that sort of relationship with someone a few steps ahead of us. So instead we either don’t try or we approach our idols awkwardly or presumptuously, and neither approach will help us attract a mentor.

Of course an unofficial mentor/mentee relationship is elusive and let me spoil the surprise: there is no formula for creating one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to attract a mentor.

I had never left a show to hang out with a fan before I met Sean. But he knew how to attract a mentor. Here are the first three of six things I learned from him.

Tip #1: Talk.

lora innes and her mentor beau smithWhen I was trying to break into comics there was no Facebook or Twitter giving me direct access to the people I admired. Today, we have so much more access to professionals than even ten years ago. The world is changing fast, and thanks to the digital age, walls are coming down.

But that doesn’t mean we can be weird about it.

The internet offers an artificial sense of familiarity: just because you read someone’s blog and feel like you know them doesn’t mean that you actually know them. So walking up to someone you admire at a show and acting like you’re buddies probably isn’t the right approach.

If you have permission to act this way, believe me, you’ll know. And if you don’t know whether or not you do, trust me, you don’t.

This means don’t be a stalker. Don’t follow them around the show. Don’t hover at their table for inappropriate amounts of time. Don’t respond to every tweet they send out as if their Twitter feed exists exclusively for the two of you to stay in touch. And don’t ask for favors.

Essentially I’m saying be a Winger—and that means be engaging, memorable, excited but also professional. Gage their body language and interest and respond appropriately.

But don’t fall into the other trap as well: no one will know you exist if you only lurk on websites without ever participating.

You don’t FIND mentors, you ATTRACT them.
-Tweet This Quote

Take the time to write an insightful, grateful email to the pros who have created content that has inspired or helped you. Don’t feel entitled to a reply back, but let them know who you are and that their work has impacted your life.

Participate on their forums, engage them on social media, and do it all in an appropriate manner. Become one of the community members without joining the forum just in the hopes that your idol will befriend you. Become a contributor for the value that participation in such a community brings you and believe me, professionals will take note.

What Sean Did Right: Sean began by engaging me on Twitter. He would respond to my tweets and retweet me regularly. At first I didn’t remember him, he was one of many people I talked to. But then came a day when I needed some help…

Tip #2: Offer to help.

Lora Innes and her mentor Jim Theodore.Offer your services, and don’t look for anything in return.

A lot of times the, “Can I help in any way” question will either go unanswered, or be answered with a “not right now.”  But every so often the answer will be “yes.”

Have you heard your favorite creator say something like, “One of these days, we’d love to have a forum” but that day never seems to come? Offer to set one up for them. Then offer to moderate it.

And then do a good job running it.

Is your favorite creator going through a big life change, “I’m moving,” “Getting married,” “Baby on the way”? See if there is anything you can do. Offer to write a fan article or draw a guest strip as filler content. Offer to keep the forum or their Fan Page active.  Offer to flat a page of their comic for colors.

Whatever it is, if you see an opportunity, jump on it. Don’t be pushy, but put the offer out there and see what comes back to you.

And if they do respond positively, follow through.

I hope that needs no further explanation. Take the initiative then do what you promise.

What Sean Did Right: The protagonist of my comic The Dreamer is a teenager in drama club who wants to be a Broadway actress one day. Theater is not an area of my personal expertise and one day I was looking for the name of a production that would fit the bill for a joke I had set up. I needed the name of a production that used notoriously outrageous hats. The only thing I could come up with was My Fair Lady, and I didn’t think it was strong enough to make the gag funny so I turned to Twitter. Sean, a young man with the same aspirations as my protagonist, jumped on my question and sent me suggestions throughout the day as new ideas came to him.

He wound up giving me the winning idea, and it was something spot on that I never could have come up with myself.

I’ll tell you this: I didn’t forget Sean after that.

Tip #3: Be professional. Always.


Lora Innes and her mentor Sam Forman
Thanks to the digital age, being professional means a lot more than just putting on dress pants for a job interview.

Today, unless you are very careful about your privacy settings, everything you post online can be seen by anyone.

This is true even if you believe that no one is paying attention. The moment you do have an opportunity someone will follow a link to your blog, see your twitter feed—and not just the @ replies you send them—read your FB wall or tumbler feed. Everything you have ever posted is frighteningly public and searchable.

So whether a client treats you like crap, a friend betrays your trust, or you get dumped, keep it off the internet.

If you can’t resist the temptation of posting a slew of emotionally needy tweets or an expletive-ridden rant, keep yourself off the internet until you find better self control.

In these “life sucks” moments call a friend instead, watch a movie in your PJs or shoot an email to your Circle of Trust. Whatever you do, don’t blast your drama in a public place. (And yes, your Facebook Wall is a public place.)

If I’m interested in working with someone the first thing I do after I look at their work is to check out their social media. This tells me volumes about what kind of person they are and if I would ever want to work with them.

What Sean Did Right: Sean was still in his teens when I met him online. Despite his youth, I never saw him posting anything inappropriate, mean-spirited, foul-mouthed or emotionally needy. He was positive, excitable, and all around charming. The kid never let anything get under his skin.

Even on the few times when he had the right to vent, I saw him respond evenly and with charity.

I started to admire him.

And people you admire are people you want to spend time with. Sean McGuire turned our relationship on its head when he made me take notice of him.

COMMENT AND SHARE:

Have you ever seen doors open for yourself or someone else as a result of one of these mentor-attracting tips? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

And come back next week for three more tips in Part 2!

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Wiser

Awesome article, Lora. Reminds me of how I met my friend Chris Oatley. I think mentors are absolutely necessary for progress as an artist, and I hope to engage with more great people using your tips. I’ve noticed though that some desirable “mentors” aren’t as receptive to these approaches as others, but I wonder whether receptivity is a necessary attribute of a great mentor or if receptivity can be unlocked with quiet, patient persistence. Whichever the case may be, I’m a fan of these relationships developing naturally.

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Lora

I think we often look at our most ultimate hero and dream about mentoring under them. The truth is, some of the folks who are the best at guiding your steps and helping you on your way are people who aren’t quite as visible or flashy. A lot of times people who are great at mentoring are those who lift others up and put them forward, and that kind of person is sometimes reluctant to be in the limelight themselves.

Take for instance the 90’s Image comics boom. Remember that? Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of *those* guys had taken you under their wing? They were freaking rock stars. You know what? My mentor Beau was in the room for all of that. Nope, he wasn’t one of the guys who launched any of those original titles, he was the business man in the group. Out of the limelight, behind the scenes. He knows everyone in this industry. And they all love him.

He taught me his marketing and networking secrets and philosophies and that has been more valuable to me than just about anything I could’ve learned from one those other guys. Maybe they would’ve taught me to draw like them. Maybe they would’ve let me do a pinup for them. But being Beau’s friend has opened more doors than a silly pinup or “how to draw more pockets on a belt” tutorial ever would have.

So don’t always go knocking on the most obvious door. A thousand other people are probably knocking there too and that creator is probably hiding in the corner letting an intern answer his fan mail for him.

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Scott Wiser

Exactly what I’ve been thinking. Awesome story, Lora … gave me so much more insight on the matter!

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Jake Ekiss

Ha! I read through the entire article and now I want to meet Sean. Sounds like a cool dude, and yeah, did everything right. I can vouch that becoming part of a community is a very good way to make friends and attract mentors in the industry. That was the same tack I took with the Gaijin Studios guys when I was in high school and college and those are friendships I still maintain to this day. In fact, this past weekend one of the pros I’ve managed to make a friendship with came into town, and I’ve grown enough of a peer to him that we’re actually trying to put a book together as collaborators. Tick that in the “ten things Jake never thought he’d get to do” column.

I think a lot of getting a mentor is being the type of person you’d want as a friend, and the one thing a lot of fans don’t realize is the guy constantly beating down your door for approval and validation isn’t usually the guy you want to be friends with.

Another thing that impresses me the few times I’ve been sought as a mentor (most recently by a fantastic artist name Devin Kraft who had all the work but had never set up for a convention) is when somebody really shows they’re hungry to do the work. Devin’s a hungry artist. The man has an almost unflagging work ethic, and it shows immediately in his portfolio, so when he asked for some convention tips, I gave him as much info as I could, because I want the dude to succeed, I want to see other people be as impressed by his work as I was. There is no faster way to set yourself apart from a fan than to show that you can finish tasks like a pro.

I can vouch for this one from the other side as well. When my studio mates and I put together our first anthology, we were hyper diligent that it be very slickly put together, and FULL of content. It took about 4 months and a lot of working and cat-wrangling to put together, but in the end we had a very nice 140 some odd page book. We dropped a bit of cash to make decent proofs and took it to a show. While we didn’t get the attention of many editors ( mainly due to poor show selection) we did meet a lot of working creators, and to the very last one they all took notice. If you put the time in to do the work, people will recognize the effort.

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Lora

You’re so right, Jake. I always want to help the folks who are already going after it full steam. In fact, when it comes to me picking apprentices or interns, it’s less about the person with the best portfolio and more about the person who is already doing the work, putting themselves on the line, using social media smartly, and trying their hardest to make it.

I want to invest in someone who has the determination without me. I know that you can teach someone a lot of things, but you can’t teach them to be motivated. Who’s the person with that internal drive? That’s the sort of person I want to help out and see succeed. Again, it all comes back to “projects are the new portfolios.” DO THE WORK. PEOPLE WILL NOTICE.

The golden rule of Paper Wings, “Do great work and be great to work with.”

We could stop writing blogs because every topic can be summarized like this. ;)

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Scott Wiser

Love it : “Projects are the new portfolios!” I was thinking about this every step of the way while making my currently-being-published Misfit Supers!

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Michael Dambold

I can’t wait to read it, Scott!

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Michael Mayne

Jake, I made the acquaintance of a guy like Devin just a week ago. It was quite flattering, and while I worked away on commissions, I think we actually conversed for about two hours. It was quite an exhilarating discourse, as I tried to show him some of my process as he eagerly asked a ton of questions. He even brought some of his own work by later for me to critique. It was great seeing someone who’s so eager to improve himself! Dunno how much I had to offer, but I humbly offered what I could. Great acquainting experience!

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Susan DeVito

Sean is all of those things you mentioned. He has a fine mind and a fine spirit and to be near him is to be uplifted by his spirit.

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Scott Wiser

Boy, you’re making all of us want to meet this Sean!

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Sean McGuire

Aw, thanks Mrs. DeVito! That means so much coming from you. Thank you.

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Lora Innes

I suspected all of that from meeting him online. He confirmed it when I finally met him in person. :)

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Michael Mayne

First off, glad to have a new Paperwings post! Great material, Lora!

I don’t know who’s to say whether I’m a definitive mentor to somebody or not, but I have felt on the “mentoring” side before, even quite recently. I question my credibility as a mentor largely because a lot of the time I eventually just end up referring people back here to the Paperwings braintrust to discover ideas and methods that are way more tried and true than mine. =)

But it’s still both flattering and humbling to have convention attendees approach me, already familiar with my work and eager to engage in mutually educational discussions over creating stories and artwork. Some are just one-off acquaintances, but others I do feel have more of a lasting effect on both me and the other party.

There are a number of people I’ve first met at conventions whom I do tend to keep tabs on, as they have an eager creativity and desire to improve themselves FOR themselves. Sometimes they have particular questions about storytelling, sometimes just about illustration, and sometimes just about conventions. I’m always glad to offer reflections on my own experiences, but it’s a bit extra rewarding to see them acting on those musings and progressing to new heights.

At this point, I still feel as though I’m merely offering objective advice to anyone who’s driven enough to seek out diverse knowledge. Just as ATTRACTING a mentor is a journey, I think it also works the other way around. I can offer my opinion and experiences to anybody all day, but only a rare few are ever going to truly click with me (or any mentor) and become part of a real dynamic duo. There’s got to be a special something on either side. And it can’t be forced; it’ll just come from a natural place.

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Lora Innes

“There are a number of people I’ve first met at conventions whom I do tend to keep tabs on, as they have an eager creativity and desire to improve themselves FOR themselves.”

One word, Michael: YES.

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Sean McGuire

I’ve no idea how to even express what I feel over this. It’s really exciting and humbling at the same time. Thank you so much, Lora! I’m still surprised that this article even exists, but it’s great to know that you actually thought it worthwhile to take your time to do this article and include me in it so much. I’m extremely flattered.

(All of the above can also be summed up as, “DEXHFTFJHSZZRDUBHbgjvtxrscybIUCTDCBUYFVU!!!!!!!!!!!” due to excitement, but I thought a nice paragraph would be much better.) ;)

But again, THANK YOU Lora! This is… wow. Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me. You’re fantastic.

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Lora Innes

Is there a thumbs up emoticon? I would give you one. Or an e-hug if that weren’t creepy.

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Sean McGuire

If you were a total stranger, I’d raise an eyebrow to an e-hug… but people on the Internet do much creepier things than e-hugs, so I would accept it and return it. :D

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Chris Oatley

Sean, you’re FAMOUS!

And I want an e-hug.

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Sean McGuire

Apparently so! It’s a bit weird seeing so many replies about me apparently being awesome. O.o

You get an e-hug, free of charge, because you work at Disney. Lucky!

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Takara Beech

( y ) = the thumbs up emoticon. Great article Laura, I’m really enjoying what you guys are doing at Paperwings. Thanks for investing your time and experience into sharing with others (y)

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Takara Beech

Haha, thumbs up didn’t work :)

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Scott Wiser

Hey Sean, great to meet you and thanks SO MUCH for inspiring this post. Hope to keep seeing you around paper wings, I think you’ll find many kindred spirits around here. By the way, I saw you work at one of my favorite places in the world – Barnes & Noble! Good luck with everything you are working on and keep us updated!

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Sean McGuire

Oh, wow, thanks! I’m glad to have helped in any small way. :) The community here at Paper Wings is so unique and amazing. I love it!
And Barnes & Noble is great. Actually, I’m currently working at the Nook booth and we’re listening to Ellie Goulding. That plus Paper Wings? It’s a pretty great combo tof awesome things.

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Annamarie

Great post! The Internet is really a tricky thing. Although it allows us to interact with people anywhere in the world, it does have the danger of creating sort of “pseudo friendships”–where you think you may REALLY know someone, when in fact you don’t. It’s easy to feel very close to someone after not much time when you’ve just met on the Internet.

So how to know that you’re forging real friendships and connections with someone? That’s always a huge question, especially when it comes to the topic of attracting a mentor or even BEING a mentor!

From my experience, I’ve found that yes, being professional and mature on the Internet, on any website you go on, is obviously wise.

Some other tips I would give:

1) Always be genuine. I’ve personally found that this can actually be really difficult when you’re typing as opposed to talking to someone. Typing doesn’t take much effort and it can be very easy to just ramble on. That’s why when I’m typing emails (or a post like this!), I’ll often read it several times, weighing everything I say, before posting/sending it. I want everything I type to really reflect ME. I don’t want it to be too overbearing or overly sentimental, which is really easy to do with written words. (I tend to be an emotional person, so it’s far, FAR too easy for me to abuse the Internet in that way, through emails, tumblr, FB, etc. It takes a lot of self-control that I’m still learning, but I think I’ve done fairly well so far.)

2) Be patient. Take your time. The Internet is instantaneous, so it’s easy to think that friendships and connections can be formed as quickly, but that’s not at all true. It will take time to really form a bond of trust with Internet friends and mentors. My best friends that I’ve met through the Internet I have now known for up to a decade now and I can confidently say that they ARE real and true friends, but it’s taken years for that to really be true and not just sentiment. So don’t rush these things! Take it slowly and eventually you’ll find that a real bond has formed. (It sounds like I’m giving relationship advice, haha!)

Anyhow, those are two big tips I’d give for using the Internet to form bonds of trust with mentors and fellow peers. Hope they help!

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Lora Innes

Yup! so true. Like I said, I met Sean when he was a teenager. He’s 20 now.

I met Beau when I was a teenager. I’m uh… not anymore. ;)

All relationships take time to build and go deep. But the internet is an amazing tool to help likeminded people connect from far away places. Especially if you live somewhere that isn’t readily connected to the larger industry. We need to take full advantage of it.

As always, I say take the other person’s cue. If you’re writing five page emails that get no response, or a very brief one, two weeks later, you probably have a distorted view of the friendship. But if they pick up the phone when you call, you probably have it right.

Part of it is not abusing the relationship. A mentor isn’t a parent. They aren’t there to hold your hand every step of the way. I call Beau when it’s big and important—when I’m really at a crossroads or crisis, or, when I have something exciting to celebrate.

I’m basically saying don’t exhaust someone. Try to keep it balanced and mutual, and pay attention to the messages they are sending, even when they aren’t saying anything at all.

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J. Kevin Carrier

“Be genuine” is an important one. I suspect most pros learn pretty quickly to distinguish between the people who are truly interested in them and their work, and the ones who are just buttering them up because they want something.

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Lora

People in general have a pretty good BS radar. When I feel like someone is trying to use me it turns me off right away.

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Annamarie

Hopefully I’ve never made anyone feel like that! I don’t even think you have to be a pro to recognize it. I think most of us can recognize a “faker” when we see one. I’ve never been able to stand people like that–much like you, I suppose, Lora! I think a lot of it can come from low self-esteem and the need to be validated by others (Robin actually addressed this in an above post), but that validation ultimately has to come from yourself, and it’s not until you’re confident with yourself that you can genuinely interact with other people.

Oops that got a bit long-winded and preachy. :< Though I do think it's true.

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Michael Dambold

I don’t have enough thumbs to give this the proper amount of thumbs up!

“So whether a client treats you like crap, a friend betrays your trust, or you get dumped, keep it off the internet.”

Oh my goodness. I see so many comic artists who frequently tweet about their anger, misgivings, life events and such and don’t realize that it hurts them so much!

I had a conversation recently with a few other illustrators, and many of us have two twitter accounts: one for public consumption, and one that is both private, and only connected with those we personally trust. The same goes for Facebook.

I made the unfortunate mistake of temporarily allowing my Facebook account to connect with other professionals and allowing them to see my status updates. I was reported a total of three times by people who simply did not like what they read (which was not controversial, as I make that a point in my updates, but they just didn’t like it, I guess.)

I do connect with professionals on my profile, but only a select few can actually see the content on my profile. The rest see my Facebook presence, but that is it.

I’ve also had other comic artists go after me in a ‘wry’ sense of humor (I can only assume such) and somehow it deteriorated within a few tweets into direct rudeness.

I love connecting with other artists, but I would never make direct accusations or inappropriate tweets to or about them.

Lora, I think you said this in a previous post, (I may be paraphrasing) and I completely agree: “You can’t control someone else’s comfort level with you.”

Thumbs way up.

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Lora

Reported…? I’m so tempted to ask but I won’t. ;)

Yup, I keep separate accounts because frankly there are things the whole world doesn’t need to know. Like what my grandma got me for Christmas. I think it’s professional to separate the two, even, like you said, if your private account isn’t controversial or inappropriate.

You just never know. I mean, if someone saw my private account all they’d get was vacation photos and pictures of me eating ice cream. Not that scandalous.

I hate to say it but I have passed giving folks opportunities once I really started to look at their social media feeds. I despise drama. In my personal life, but even more so in a work environment. And when I see people cannot keep it off the internet I don’t want to work with them.

Now some people, it’s their schtick. But I think you should really think through the implications of being a jerk as your online-persona before you decide to adapt that one. Some people do pull it off, but they are exceptions not rule.

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Michael Dambold

Actually I’m not sure what made them report me. My status updates that week consisted of professing love for coffee and talking about laundry cycles. That was pretty much it.

I’ve never been one for drama, and I’m increasingly unfollowing those who do. I do make comments with a very dry sense of humor, and if someone doesn’t know me, might take it the wrong way, but I always try to self-edit before I hit the enter button so that I don’t come across as offensive.

I completely agree about working with people. I’ve had a few opportunities I’ve passed up because the people in question seemed so volatile. I felt that even if I did complete a successful project with them, I would be linked to them and any future problems he/she would create could create problems for me.

I think it’s doubly important when dealing in politics, but I’ll just leave that for another day.

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Khalid Birdsong

Awesome post, Lora! I learned a lot! I’m a Winger that usually doesn’t comment but this post pulled me out. Also, meeting you in person at APE helped me to confirm what a wonderful person you are. I’m still out there looking for someone that could be my mentor. There are plenty of people I admire but I wasn’t even thinking that it would be possible for any of them to be someone that would willingly help and guide me. Looks like I have some new goals! Thanks for all that you do!

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Lora

Hi, Khalid! I’m glad to see you here. :) APE was amazing and it was the first show I attended where more Wingerz than Dreamers came to say hello to me.

Hopefully we’ll see more of you in these parts in the future!

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Chris Oatley

This post is SOOOO GOOOD!

Great job, Lora.

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Beep Club

I suppose one way of putting it is always keep your pep up whether your being ignored or if the world’s going to purgatory, and simply be nice to people.

Very insightful tip indeed! Gotta stay tuned for more.

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Jesse

Perhaps the most interesting thing one of my heroes ever said to me was at a poorly organized, under-attended and obviously one-year only convention in Los Angeles. William Stout walked up to my table (in an odd turn) and loosely quoted scripture (in his best faux pastor fervor) “The Prophet is seldom heard in his own land,” referring to the fact that even the “big shots” in the business can end up eating their table costs. The fact is it was very comforting that he walked up to me and my table buddy, and felt so sorry for us sitting there alone and toughing it out in the artist alley.

In a business like comics, the chances your mentors and heroes ended up with sore feet, coffee breath and wrecked vocal chords at the end of the day is good news – were all in the same game, it’s fun, hard, and thankless sometimes. And we’re all human. Except for Alex Ross who can glow in the dark and really fly. I KEED!

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Lora

Those “Oh this happens to everyone” discoveries have been like a breath of fresh air to me. Just knowing I’m not alone and what is happening to me is normal… Having someone pull back the curtain is invaluable.

We try to do that here at Paper Wings!

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RobinofLeyLines

I can definitely relate to this post — time and time again, I’ve fallen prey to the mistake of feeling a greater level of familiarity on the internet than actually exists. I’m slowly starting to recognize that I’m doing it…but usually only after the error is made. (I apologize if I’ve ever over-stepped my bounds in this regard. I do try not to, but old habits die hard.)

I have noticed that as I grow more confident in my own work, these bad habits show up less and less. I’m not making (quite) so many mistakes, as I learn more how it is on the other side of the table. I used to do pretty much everything Lora put in her list of things to avoid — I’d feel heartbroken if someone didn’t reply to an email, I’d be crushed to discover a comic creator I had spoken with hadn’t read my work in depth, and I don’t even want to TALK about the disaster that was meeting one of my heroes in person when I was 19.

Thinking back on it, the purpose of these behaviors was to perpetuate tearing myself down. When you look for validation outside of yourself, you’re almost always going to be disappointed. Especially when being validated starts to matter more than doing work you enjoy. In a past PWP post you discussed the dangers of tying your self-worth to comments & feedback and I believe this issue and that one are related.

What I’ve found is that when I started focusing on the work, what I wanted to do, and began to decouple my value as a human being from the popularity of my art, I lost the need to go looking for someone to prop me up.

Oddly enough, this is when I started receiving support.

People can unite with me when I’m going in a direction. They can push me forward when I already have a little momentum. Spending all my time looking for someone else to provide that energy for me meant I was never able to find it. I had to give myself my own start.

Thanks, as always, for giving me so much to think about!

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Annamarie

Aw man, what a great post, Robin! I definitely needed to hear that right now. It’s so true. You are ultimately the first person who needs to give yourself that push, that first “momentum” as you wrote. Another reason why building a good reputation on-line is a wise decision!

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J. Kevin Carrier

I think I have the opposite problem…I’m super paranoid about coming across as pushy or presumptuous to folks higher up on the comics “food chain”, to the point that I’ve probably missed genuine opportunities. I remember at one con, I ended up chatting with the spouse of a well-known Big Two creator. I gave them some books, and they said, “Oh, I’ll make sure [famous spouse] gives you a plug!” Instead of just saying “thanks”, I kind of panicked and started blathering, “Oh no, that’s not why I gave them to you, don’t feel obligated” etc. etc. I’m sure they were thinking, “What a dork!” :-

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Drezz

It’s very typical of the artist to self-sabotage the value of their work and talents for fear that they may appear too cocky and arrogant. It’s almost like being overly humble and demure is seen as a necessary character trait for artists. Setting yourself up for failure is a sure-fire way of attracting it.

I absolutely believe that separation of self from your created works is needed in certain instances – mainly when you’re looking for objective evaluations from others. That emotional tie will kill you if you’re expecting that your work is good (and it needs improvement) or you are lured into a trap by some sadistic troll.

Mentors are great for helping you push through all of that – their experience is what you need to embrace your confidence, grow thicker skin and detach yourself emotionally at the right opportunity.

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Tong

Welcome back!!

I’ve been under the impression by other people that having a mentor was considered old-fashioned these days BECAUSE of the digital age, but after seeing the possibility of having multiple mentors, it gets me excited to be someone of eclectic interests instead of feeling like I put too much on my own plate! It’s like Avatar:TLA for comic elements! xD But one thing I’ve always had trouble with is emitting the right balance between ascertiveness and humility. Too much of either, I’ve experienced, can deliver mixed or even wrong messages. Now I gotta work on those people skills too. Thanks for the informative post as always, Lora! It was nice meeting you at APE!

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Annamarie

If anything, I’d say the digital age only increases the possibilities for mentorships! Thanks to things like Skype and streaming, not only can people talk to each other from across great distances, but we can even see each other and the things we’re working on in real time! Now’s really the ripe time for mentorship to step up and renew itself, I think.

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Lora

Yes, the digital age has brought a wealth of information to our fingertips at all times. But even the best tutorials are one sided: the person giving them can’t look back at you and see what you’re doing so you can fix your mistakes.

My first boss Jim Theodore (who, click on the link on his picture above- he is incredible!) would draw over EVERYTHING I gave him the entire time I worked for him. But something I would struggle with for half a day, I’d bring down to his office, he’d put a piece of tracing paper over it and redraw it in 30 seconds—and it would be perfect. I learned more about drawing from this hands-on correction than I did in my entire four years of art school.

My mentors have been invaluable to me at different points of my career, but I still am in touch with each one of them.

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Rachel

Wow, this post was really helpful! In the past few years, I’ve also been realizing the need for artistic mentors in my own life. I am trying to go to more conventions, but I always feel super awkward approaching anyone whose work I admire. I always felt like I never really knew what to say to them or even what sort of questions to ask.

I’m in college currently, so it’s been easier for me to reach out to my art professors and get their feedback on my work. This year especially I’ve been trying to be intentional at forming those mentor-relationships.

Even what you said about writing appreciative emails to pros who have impacted your work was an encouragement. My friend told me the same thing a few years ago after she emailed one of her animation idols and actually got a response. I wrote a similar email to Sarah Mensinga, not expecting that she would respond, but she did! So awesome! Just goes to show that you have to put yourself out there.

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Lora

This sounds encouraging. Keep it up!

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Jules Rivera

I don’t think I’ve ever actively sought a mentor for any of my art creation. I was completely self taught until, well, about four months ago, I was physically isolated from other artists until I left Florida and socially isolated from other artists until the advent of Twitter. I was always adrift and paddled my way out on my own because I never thought to ask for help (an ugly habit of mine).

Nowadays, I find myself on the other side of the equation: the mentor being asked for help. I’m always stunned when anyone asks me for help or advice because I don’t really feel like I’m that far along in my career yet either. The only professional work I’ve ever done was a few freelance gigs for small press that never really lasted. Other than that, all my other artwork has been completely self-published, where it can be argued doesn’t merit the same professional credibility as, say, working for big two or a major studio of some sort. Thus, whenever anybody asks me for help or advice, I’m always taken aback and nervous. What if I give the wrong advice? What if I steer this person in the wrong direction? What if I say something super hurtful when I’m just trying to be honest? (The ice cream sandwich has helped me tremendously avoid this last one.)

It’s a lot of responsibility. For someone who never had any mentorship on how to be a good mentor, it’s honestly kind of scary. I’m not saying I don’t want the responsibility or I don’t think I have anything to offer. However, I am saying that I have a hard time reconciling the fact that I’m not the most well-behaved, well-mannered or even well-liked person in the world who’s stumbled into a mentorship role. All I want to do is not screw it up and make people mad at me.

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Lora

My husband Mike made an observation about me that anytime someone starts to put me on a pedestal, I shy away from the relationship. It was something I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out. But you’re right: I don’t want the responsibility of being someone’s hero, because I know there is no way to keep that up. I’ll let them down sooner or later because I know myself and all of my weaknesses. (Like returning phone calls… and emails… or hanging out more than once a season… I’m really something of a loner.)

But that doesn’t mean that just because we know our weaknesses that we have to tiptoe around a mentorship relationship just waiting for the shoe to drop. I think knowing we’re imperfect is the right place to start, actually. I just try to take myself off the pedestal with a young person every chance I get. If you start working with Chris Oatley, he leads with: these are the problems you’ll run into working with me.

I think that’s so healthy! None of us are perfect but it doesn’t mean we don’t have things to give away. I’m so grateful for the folks who invested in me, so it’s wonderful to be on the other side of it now, though I realize from this perspective that they surely didn’t have it all figured out either! And they let me down along the way, too. But that didn’t mean the relationship ended then and there.

All relationships are imperfect. *I* know that. I just try to make sure my mentees do, too.

For what it’s worth, knowing you online, I think you have a TON to give away to a younger artist. And I’m glad to hear they are seeking you out!

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Christina Major

Thanks for this; good advice all around! I used to be much worse about being professional online. But I learned that a lot of times, writing it out got it out of my system, and I did not actually need to push the “post entry” button. And sometimes, after I get the venom out of my veins, I can come back and build something like a tutorial or analysis to try to make a destructive sentiment into a constructive one.

Also, hello! I found Paper Wings over the summer, so I was a little scared I’d missed the party when no one posted for 2 months. Thanks for coming back! Looking forward to more great stuff!

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Lora

This is totally true, Christina!

I’ve found that even with articles on Paper Wings! Sometimes there is a situation I am upset with and want to address but I don’t ever write outright critiques here. If you dig deeper to what is making you upset you can find more universal things to write about and make something quite informative without all the emotion.

I’m not a diary person, but I think that’s why some people find them so useful: you get it out, but no one has to know!

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Jordan Kotzebue

Great article Lora! I couldn’t agree more on every point.
I was recently at NYCC and the people I enjoyed talking with the most were young folks interested in becoming artists and wanted to learn about process. A lot of them were really shy at first, but once they realized I was willing to engage, they really opened up. I told any one of them if they ever had questions or needed advise I’d be happy to help.
None of them have followed up yet….so I guess they missed that part. But still, if they do, hopefully they’ll read these articles.

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