Rat Park, Stuart McMillen, 2013.
Stuart McMillen has a clear vision of what he wants to do this year – he’s going to draw his first full length comic book. The 2014 JUMP Mentoring recipient will write and draw Thermoeconomics, a comic which celebrates the achievements of five underrated scientists, which at 400 pages is ten times as long as his longest completed work so far. He’s currently immersed in the drawing phase of the project, having spent the first quarter of the year developing storyboards, researching reference material and editing drafts, in consultation with his mentor. ‘Sometimes it feels daunting to approach this large task,’ Stuart says, ‘but mostly I feel like the ‘hard’ parts of this project were tackled in the planning stages.’ Stuart’s mentor is First Dog on the Moon, who is cartoonist for The Guardian. Over the year, First Dog will be a sounding board for Stuart, in his words to, ‘advise me if I’m taking the easy way out or if I can be pushing myself further artistically… and to give me feedback to help release my potential.’
In February this year, the 2014 recipients of JUMP gathered in Melbourne for an induction facilitated by industry partner Next Wave. Mentees were lead through orientation exercises to get them thinking about how to make the most of their mentorships, and workshops to enhance their professional development. On the third day of the intensive, mentors joined their mentees to further set the groundwork for their relationships over the year. For Stuart, this was a valuable exercise in getting to know First Dog, and discussing how they’re able to support each other throughout the mentorship. He says, ‘One of my favourite tasks was the ‘mix tape’ exercise, where we spent an hour discussing the art and ideas that inspire our respective practices. This format meant that our conversation touched upon topics that we might not have otherwise discussed. We both gained a deeper understanding of the ambitions that we hope to achieve within the artform of comics.’
Stuart’s path to comics was not informed by formal study or training, but driven by the feeling that he had ideas he ‘just wanted to get out of [his] head’. He gradually replaced his full time office job with his artistic practice, spurred by commissions and encouragement, and the desire to explain the science of climate and sustainability. As his practice evolved from three panel comics to long form narratives, so too has his approach, shifting from a direct expression to one of indirect suggestion, ‘to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions – for the ideas to come from within the reader rather than force them’.
He initially approached his mentor when he saw that he was coming to his home town of Canberra to do a lecture on his comics, and emailed him a draft of a comic he was working on. First Dog liked his work, and gave suggestions on how to improve the draft. Now the JUMP mentorship program is giving Stuart the opportunity to formalise their feedback sessions and provide structure to their relationship. In Stuart’s words, the mentorship will take his ‘relatively embryonic ideas and getting them out there, and making the book the best it can be.’
JUMP Mentoring aims to make a positive impact on the early stages of a creative practitioner’s career, helping them gain networks, be inspired and exchange ideas while working on an applied mentorship with a mentor who helps them jump to the next level. In 2014, 40 recipients will work with their mentors to develop projects, strengthen industry networks, and undertake professional development activity. We’re checking in with five of them over the course of the year for updates and reflections on the program.