The Future of Sydney Meetups

The Sydney mentor/mentee meetup hosted by Jozef Szekeres

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The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby matt g on Tue Sep 09, 2008 11:18 pm

So, tonight we had two people at the meeting, myself and Red. In light of last month not happening (IIRC), We got to talking about where we think the meetup is heading, the turnout, goals, directions etc.

Given the size of Sydney, we should hope to have more than the 5-7 or so people we get to these meetings. At the moment, our core group is so small that one or two absences and the meeting really becomes non-viable. We also have (as I see it) a problem of people who come to meeting after meeting having made no progress on their projects, and I'm not guiltless in this regard, or who aren't working within comics as a medium.

Melbourne seems to have no problem getting quite large groups, if the reports on PF are accurate. geography and population demographics may account for that. When they're up, the OzTaku crew can always be counted on for a good evening. Why? I'm not sure, though I'm sure the personalities involved are a part of it.

So, what is it that's problematic about our Sydney meetups (given there are other Sydney based groups), why do we not get the numbers, and what do we do to fix this?

My thoughts:

Perhaps the focus of the meetup needs to shift away from being strictly work based. I think that perceived intensity of focus may be somewhat intimidating for people who just want to check things out, or who haven't got any work to show from the last month, and look to a more social get-together sort of thing. For myself, I would rather see the event shift to Newtown, which is on a train line only a stop or two from Central / Redfern (and as Red commented, convenient to her studies which have been keeping her from meetings). The area it's in at the moment is pretty much dead of a weeknight evening. Shifting it somewhere that is actually alive at night, where we could possibly change pub every month, with the option of lots of restaurants / food to choose from (all a minute walk from each other). Speaking of food, the menu at the current venue really isn't that good, or that well priced.

The other thing about the current venue - it's really quite tacky and uninteresting. Faux British empire Singapore decor, and filled with city workers - hardly an interesting arts environment. Also, do we consider a different night of the week, or a day on a weekend, etc etc.

Possibly nitpicking, but I don't like the "official" name of the current thing - "mentor / mentee". I'm not sure if it needs a name or not, but that name just doesn't sit well with me.

What is seeming more and more clear to me is that the current arrangement isn't very tenable, and indeed, is somewhat moribund. I'd like to hear from other Sydneysiders, what would it take for you to be interested in meetups. I'd like to hear from people in other cities, what is it that makes your meetups work. I'd also like to hear from the current Sydney meetup crew, what your thoughts on it are.

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Re: The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby Jozef on Wed Sep 10, 2008 4:29 pm

Tonight was I think the 2nd or 3rd night I've not been available in about 3 years, to go to the Mentor/Mentee meetings held at The Royal Exhibition Hotel on the 2nd Tuesday of every month.

Certainly, it would be an added interest if the numbers that went to the meeting were higher, or the movement of personalities that came and went were somewhat diverse, but more often the same 5-7 people do turn up each month to the meeting. I've never felt this level of attendance as a dissatisfaction.

The meetings have been a very informal support group for those that have come to it month after month to showcase their work with a focus on the comic medium. Nothing was really structured beyond the location, general starting time and dates. Sometimes it covers other artistic or written endeavors that each participant has been working on, even outside the comics medium. Comics though the focus of the group are not always what has been artistically progressed within a given month.

Sydney I believe has several groups that meet on a regular or semi-regular basis, I once went to one in Newtown which was fun and very social, much like the gatherings after a comic convention. Though it was fun, it was really just a place to show and tell and move on. No real opportunities existed to discuss at length the development nor seek guidance of an emerging work. I hear there is also a group that gathers at Paramatta as well. I'm sure that's a fine group, but it's somewhat beyond my nighttime travel comfort zone.

At the time that I initiated the Mentor/Mentee group I did so because there was no group meeting in the centre of the city, and Central Station is as central to the city as any travel point could be. There are members that come from some distance to the meeting, (Julie comes in from the Macarthur area, and some have come from as far as Newcastle) and Central Station is a trustworthy location to travel to and from. Newtown is not central to the majority of the attendees.

The current location has recently been renovated, and is clean and not too busy on a Tuesday night. It avails that we have a table that can seat all attendants in the dining room for a meeting, and we never have to raise our voices to be heard, and we're never been interfered with by other patrons of the bar. The table is large and clean allowing the artwork that is shown to be presented cleanly and with good clear lighting. The food choices are those of a pub diner, and on a Tuesday night the food is discounted with a free drink on purchase. Not everyone eats there at every meeting, but the food choices have been tried by everyone at least several times each.

The 2nd Tuesday of the month I felt was a good time to meet as Tuesdays generally are days that don't often compete with event nights like a Friday, Saturday or Sunday can. The fact that it's a "dead" night Tuesday for other pub goers that attend this pub I feel is a positive for the meetings, as this again helps that we can freely show our works in the dining room without interference.

The name Mentor/Mentee for the meeting was one that I coined for the group at its conception, as I felt it truly reflected the intent and reason for the meetings. It would allow that each member could present in a safe creative group, new emerging works for show and tell, but also for continued support from the various talents within the group. Often there is group discussion on a new work, sometimes it can be one on one with the more experienced creatives. There has been times each member has been a mentor to others in the craft of art and storytelling in the comics medium, and times when they have been a mentee of that knowledge.

There have been attendees that are particularly driven in their comics creating pursuit and have either released, published, or self-published short stories and/or whole comic books, and there are some attendees that are still slowly working on their evolving work, or taking what they have learned and channelling that into an entirely new work. The speed at which the work is created isn't the focus, more that the group is there to view and if asked give comment that could possible help shape the emerging work to a better final result. Considering that the meetings are monthly, the attendee then has some personal investment to bring something new each month to show that they have progressed their comic work, or to show what has taken their artistic focus for the passing month.

I must say it surprises me that Matt G feels that this group in its current arrangement is untenable and/or moribund, for I know that he has brought his work to the meeting to be commented on with mentors within the group both artistically and with story. Julie Ditrich who is an often attendee has even taken Matt G's work home to read, to bring back notes and comments on a one to one basis. I have also given artistic suggestions and done some drawing suggestions to either panels or figures when asked or invited to mentor. I also know that Julie has mentored another Mentor/Mentee group participant outside of the auspices of the group in the role of an editor on a new comic work, meeting several times to discuss the work beyond the meeting times, also exhanging many emails on the work till the work was at publication standard.

I've been the mentee as well with my own short story, which helped greatly. The experience of presenting the draft to the group and listening to their varied and valued suggestions actually retooling it into a longer one issue story that might now fill a one-off issue (Although that does take the back seat to a new comics series that Julie Ditrich and I are currently creating called Elf-fin).

I believe that what has been availed at the meetings is I think something unique. It's not a pub crawl of comics enthusiast, it's not entirely just a social gathering of comics creators (though over the 3 years friendships have been forged). It is a support group that truly supports the members that trust in sharing their work for constructive feedback with the goal of bettering their works. A forum where faces are familiar month after month, so that the laborious experience of comics creating can be shared progressively.

The arrangement of the meetings I think have reached their original goal, but if additional elements are required to see a more structured version of future meetings, I'm open to reinvention. It's understood that this format may not fit everyones needs. If the individual wants to set up accountability to their work they bring, they could.

If a more social pub-crawl type of group in the city is wanted or needed, then by all means create such a group, I'm sure to attend when I can. I will keep supporting those that continue to meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month for the Mentor/Mentee nights, for I by and large over 3 fabulously creative years of meetings, have been supported by them.

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Re: The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby Red on Wed Sep 10, 2008 6:03 pm

I am a semi regular attendee at these meets, I'd say semi because I haven't gone in many months and even when I am less busy and have the time to attend I still miss lots not because I haven't got anything to show more that I end up feeling very guilty that I don't. I understand that the meet was created to help people along with their projects but the whole mentor/mentee thing really (for me anyway) is too much like just another class to attend. The rigid structure of everyone go around the circle and show what you've done in the last month is just like another college class, one that's optional and I really have to pull myself to attend sometimes.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy these meetings. I really like seeing peoples work and how they got there. But so few of us actually have real projects running that there isn't often alot to see. The fact is, for most of us, comics are a hobby, not how we make our money. So such a rigid format to the meetings often doesn't sit so well. Perhaps if we tone down to a more casual meeting people would feel more comfortable and more inclined to come back.

This is the second time I have been one of only two attendees and I do think we need to do something. The venue is a bit... "how you going" even with recent renovations.... oh wait, I never saw what it was like before, so not that recent renovations. The food is ordinary, and I'm on a student budget so I usually get some cheap fast food before I go in. I totally agree on the tacky-ness and general blah-ness of the current venue. Central is a great location, just not sure about this particular pub. I'd totally be up for moving the meet someplace around Newtown, since Newtown never seems to sleep. I love Newtown, I go to tafe next door in Enmore. It's a very arty and accepting area. Yes the current location works fine, but it's boring as bat shit. and sitting around that small table is rather confining again supporting the current structure of the meets.

And Matt, I SO agree about the name. When I was but a youngun (lol) and Matt first introduced me to these forums in one of my classes and told me to come along I essentially took one look at that name and didn't want to be a part of it. mentor/mentee really implies (to a student anyway) more of being told what to do. It doesn't promote a friendly group of comics enthusiasts getting together to chat about their craft, industry and current projects.

So in my opinion.... COUCHES! we need couches!! well, perhaps not, but a more laid back environment for a more casual meeting.

I really don't want to ruffle feathers here, but I do think the current arrangement isn't newbie friendly.

and for the record. it takes me an hour to get to the city on a bus to Town Hall and I walk to central from there (when I'm not coming from tafe and even then, I hang around for several hours doing nothing before hand).
and yay.... longest post eva!
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Re: The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby DMH on Thu Sep 11, 2008 7:57 pm

Well, in the interests of discussion. I'm not in Sydney at the moment but maybe next year. I've never gone to a comic group meet-up before and am more interested in writing for comics than drawing them. I feel both sides of the argument being presented. If I was to go to something like this I'd want it to be relatively clean and be able to talk, which kind of discounts most of Newtown doesn't it? But I also really identify with mattg's perceptions, it can't be like school.

So as a potential participant, what is the draw for me? What is the draw for you guys? Perhaps if everyone wrote a few bullet points about what they want to get from such a gathering we might see if there is enough overlap of interests?

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Re: The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby Matt Elder on Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:21 pm

Ok... my 2 cents worth. Matt G I can understand where you are coming from to some degree, the previous month it was just Jozef and I which was still great to catch up and so forth. I guess that is what it is going to come down to ... what does everyone feel the purpose of the meeting is and what do they want to get out of it?

As already commented, comics for most of us are a hobby - although I'm sure we'd love it to be something else. I'll be the first to admit my attendence over the last year in particular has been sporadic at best (life can get in the way sometimes) but I try as much as possible. When I'm working on a story, I'm fully into it and just get it done. Which means at other times, there are long breaks between stories.

I still try to get along at these times and give some sort of feedback on what others are working on. I'm always interested to see what is 'artistically' inspiring others. Matt G I've always been fascinated in what you are doing outside of straight comics and when Jen was around, her burst of landscape painting inspired me in other directions etc.

So Red I was a little surprised when you thought that if you aren't working on comics, then going along might not be appropriate. Or maybe I've got the wrong attitude. But this conversation is probably a good thing then. Lets get the discussion happening and if things require tweaks, by all means.

Changing location away from central I'm not crazy about the idea but that is me personally. I might be pre-empting Julie but it will become a problem for some people. For someone like Julie, it may be a deal breaker and I may be on the selfish side but I don't see that as a good thing. Julie has had tremendous input into the group and I know my stuff is infinitely better because of it. Julie has done so much work with ASA and other things for all of our benefit and something I'll be the first one to say I probably haven't appreciated that as much as I should.

Things like the name, how bland the pub is etc, I see as somewhat incidental. At the end of the day, I think it should be some creatives getting together, able to bounce some ideas off of peers and not be intimidating for new people to join... but that is just me.

Overall, a big thank you to Jozef for the inception of the meetup and everyone who has ever come along :D
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Re: The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby Tom on Sat Sep 13, 2008 3:22 am

God, you guys write so much!
Forgive me but I haven't read everything and so might be suggesting something that has already been said.
The Melbourne meet happens on a Saturday afternoon which I feel is good for 2 reasons: 1) it's generally quiet of an afternoon, people have mostly recovered from their hangovers, they've had lunch, one can be easily heard and 2) it's not a work night so people aren't tired and wanting to go home and crash and people generally keep that day of the month free especially for the event.
I remember my crit sessions from art school as a horrible thing. Some interesting points were made from time to time but I always came away feeling like I'd been beaten up. Having one's work critted amongst a large group of people is really intimidating and if one hasn't done any work it's even more intimidating. Maybe the focus should just be on getting together and chatting and those who want to get critted can talk to the people they feel most comfortable with?
Just my 2 cents but I hope it helps.
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Re: The Future of Sydney Meetups

Postby matt g on Wed Sep 17, 2008 12:33 am

Well, it's been a week so I may as well recontribute to the thread.

Like Jozef, I've only missed a few meetings since the meetups began. I always make the effort to come along unless there's exceptional circumstances, even when I've got nothing comic related to show (except once when I was so swamped I completely forgot about it). Something that I guess is a bit of a thing for me is that I also make the effort to let people know when I won't be coming along. My mistake thinking last month didn't happen - myself and a couple of other people had sent through apologies.

What I guess has been a bit of a tipping point for me with this most recent meeting, was the unannounced no-shows that left Red and myself as the only ones there, even though there'd been emails from a couple of people go around our list about it a week earlier, so everyone should have had the opportunity to call in their attendance or no. As we've both pointed out, we're not huge fans of the venue. Had I known the attendance, I would have arranged to meet Red somewhere that was pleasant and more convenient to us - eg newtown.

If the meetings are based around a certain ordered professionalism, as opposed to being a predominantly social, then I'm inclined to think that should extend to all members showing a professional ethic in consideration of others by giving reasonable notice if they're not going to be there. More importantly, I think we need to kick this habit of using email to contact everyone, and show some commitment to using this forum as our primary tool for group communication. It's important to be seen to be an active group, just look at the activity in the melbourne meet forum.

If we're to increase numbers, especially if we decide to shift locations of a month due to differing attendance patterns, this info needs to be publicly visible. If Julie or anyone else who needs to get a long train that only leaves central isn't going to be there for example, I don't see why we should feel anchored to the current location, so a shift can be announced which everyone will see. This of course means all attendees making the effort to use the resource we have here at PF, if only to say "yes I'll be there" or "no I won't".

Jozef - given you live (afaik) closest to the venue and don't have the burden of travel time each month, perhaps you can take responsibility for posting a new message thread the Monday week before every meet so that everyone has the opportunity to chime in to confirm their attendance over the following days, and so potential new attendees can see the group is alive and active.

Anyway, maybe it's just the long dark winter evenings, the prospect of hauling out of home back to the dull venue at night, so it's entirely possible that my concerns are purely subjective. But, I guess as I see it, it comes down to two a few things:

  1. I think our numbers could and should be higher so when there are a few people away, the evening still has a certain critical mass.
  2. I think the structured nature of the night is dissuading to new people, indeed I've tried to sell our meetings at conventions and never really had any positive response. I wonder if perhaps people would rather get acquainted in a social format.
  3. If we are going to move to a more social structure, it should be in a less sterile venue.
  4. The name.. ahh, and this is not a slight at Jozef given he came up with the name, but to me there's something intangibly creepy about it. I don't know what it exactly is. Is it the linguistics that imply a dominant / submissive powerplay that reads as a one way deal? I just don't know, but it's always seemed subtly wrong. I wonder if perhaps people may not want to come to a meeting to be "mentored".

Now - god this is getting long.. jut some quick respones to previous messages...

@DMH: sadly Newtown pubs are nowhere near as scungy (read: possessed of character) as they used to be. But the crowd and vibe is more pleasant than the current one :)

@matt elder: I also like seeing the stuff people bring in from outside comics, but i like to think that the people coming are actually working at something sequential, even if they're distracted by side projects, or engaged in learning something new

@Jozef: You're right, I have received, and contributed very useful feedback, but at the outset it took quite a lot of pushing on my part just to get someone to read my book as it was, and give me the story structure feedback I needed. The biggest piece of feedback i got, which lead to the radical rewrite I engaged in was chatting 1 to 1 with Jennifer at a different pub after a meeting, and I wonder if the current meeting structure discourages 1:1 feedack because of the round robin nature of presentations.

Though you're mentioning someone having significant 1:1 feedback with Julie outside the group - was this a project that the rest of us don't know about, or are you just not naming names?

@Tom: gasbags the lot of us, huh? :) I think the worknight thing is a bigger problem in winter - going out again once you're home, warm, and it's dark outside is so difficult. I think some people thrive on intensive criticism of their work, others don't, and we really are spoiled for choice with so many online options these days.

anyway, please keep the discussion going, hopefully we'll hear from more of the core group attendees, and indeed anyone who has only been once, or would like to attend.

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