Sunday Mailbag: Mentors?

April 7th, 2017 | Posted in General

Q: Did you have a mentor? Where you a mentor?

A: I guess that depends on your definition of “mentor”. To me, that means someone who has actively helped teach you and guide you in your career and goals, as opposed to just being an inspiration with their own work and career. The latter are more “influences” than mentors. I have been lucky to have had (and have) a few people in my life that I would say fit the mentor mold.

The first would have to be Steve Fasen and his brother Gary, who gave me my first job in art as a caricaturist at a theme park near Chicago IL. They taught me a great deal about not just drawing caricatures, but about business and professionalism. I worked as an artist and then manager with them for many years, and they became surrogate big brothers to me. Gary sadly passed away suddenly about ten years ago, but I am still in touch with Steve.

On the MAD end of things, both longtime MAD editor Nick Meglin and illustrator and art director Sam Viviano I would consider mentors of  a kind. Both offered me valuable advice and guidance with my work when I was trying to break into MAD, as well as taking me under their wing and helping me to improve and refine my art and storytelling skills with every job I did for them. Sam even gave me a lesson on inking and hand painting inked linework way back when I was first submitting work for them. I am lucky to be able to call them good friends as well.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a real mentor to anyone. I’ve given a lot of advice and guidance to a lot of people, but mentorship involves an ongoing teacher/pupil kind of relationship and that is asking a lot. I have made it a point with people like Steve, Nick and Sam not to be too needy with them as far as their time and effort, because I’ve had that happen to me and it’s an uncomfortable situation. I used to have this aspiring cartoonist who got my phone number and would call me one or twice a month and want to meet to show me his work. I had him stop by the studio twice. The first time he showed me a pile of bad comics and I did my best to give him some direction and pointers to improve. The second time he showed me the same pile of bad comics with a few new ones on top. Zero improvement and worse yet, not really much effort. Somehow he thought the more he talked and met with me the more he’d improve despite my simple giving him the same basic advice each time, keep drawing and studying comic storytelling, which he was not doing very diligently. I finally had to tell him to stop calling me. I was not helping him and he was becoming an annoyance. I felt bad but I could not really help him beyond what I’d already given, and he was not helping himself by working as hard as he ought.

My best advice when it comes to finding a mentor is don’t go looking specifically for one thinking you need an Obi-Wan if you want to be a Jedi. You don’t. Most cartoonists and illustrators need hard work at the drawing board and hours and hours of sketching and study much more than they need advice from another artist, sage or not. There are resources out there, and the internet makes finding it easy. If and when you do find someone who you would consider to be a mentor to you, don’t wear them out with a lot of needy or redundant communication. Take their advice and guidance to heart, and most importantly put it to use. Nothing motivates a teacher to continue to teach more than seeing the student working hard to put into practice the knowledge the teacher has shared.

Thanks to Michael Klen for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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