The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, By the Author Who Did: Mark Pett
My guest for Episode #66 is Mark Pett, an “authorstrator”– he's the author (and illustrator) of children's books including the incredibly delightful and meaningful book The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.
In the episode, Mark shares his “favorite mistake” story about his early days as a political cartoonist, trying to find work and mistakenly submitting a cartoon that was too close to another artist's cartoon that was already published. A Pulitzer Prize cartoonist warned him about “borrowing” ideas from his influences — it was an honest inadvertent mistake, but he was “mortified” and he learned from it. Here is a blog post of mine that I mentioned, about “imitate, integrate, and innovate.”
We also talk about his book, which was powerful reading for me as an adult. I've dubbed it “the official book of the podcast” and I've been giving away copies to guests and friends of the show. We talk about perfectionism, growth mindset, and more.
Scroll down to find:
- Enter to win a signed copy of Mark's book
- How to subscribe
- Full transcript
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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)
Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 66 Mark Pett, author of The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.
Mark Pett (7s):
I had not just been influenced by them, but I was borrowing some of their ideas.
Mark Graban (19s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, yu'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistakepodcast.com. For Show notes, links, and a chance to enter, to win a signed copy of Mark's book, go to MarkGraban.com/mistake66, please follow rate and review.
Mark Graban (59s):
And now on with the show Mark Pett, and he is the author of a book that I was really happy to find. It's called the girl who never made mistakes. And so before I introduce Mark a little bit more detail, thank you for being here as a guest on the podcast.
Mark Pett (1m 20s):
My pleasure Mark. Thanks for having me.
Mark Graban (1m 23s):
So Mark is a writer and an illustrator. He makes books, he calls himself an authorstrater, so that tells you he's got multiple skill sets that he's bringing to these books. The books are, I'm not Millie. This is my book, lizard from the park, the boy and the airplane, the girl and the bicycle, and the girl who never made mistakes. Before books, he created the syndicated comic strips. Mr. Lowe and Lucky Cow. So Mark, we're gonna, we're going to call you in advance the, the guest ho never made mistakes.
Mark Pett (2m 1s):
I think that is definitely not the case.
Mark Graban (2m 3s):
Oh, that's fine. You're in the right place. I am, I am the host who makes mistakes all the time. So that's all right. So, you know, before we talk about the book and you know, it's really, it's, it's a delightful book, the girl who never made mistakes, we're gonna start on a first, as we usually do here on the podcast, Mark, what would you say is your favorite mistake? Perfect.
Mark Pett (2m 28s):
So this is a story that goes back to early on in my career. So my first job out of college was as a political cartoonist in Prague of all places in the Czech Republic. And I just happened upon the job. And then I, I tried to get started in political cartooning in the United States, after that a few years after. And this was back in the nineties, you know, Bill Clinton was president, you know, so lots of you could imagine the kinds of editorial cartoons doing back in those days.
Mark Pett (3m 8s):
And I I'd always had this idea that I wanted to be this like young phenom, this great cartoon, you know, who was, so I stopped in order to do that. I studied all of the, the great political cartoonists of the time. Jeff McNelly, Pat Oliphant, Jim Boardman, which these were all really great editorial. Cartoon is back in the nineties and even submitted my work. At one point I was only, I was just doing freelance political cartoons at the time for various publications, including a weekly, you know, just an alternative weekly.
Mark Pett (3m 54s):
And I submitted them, but in my, in my brashness submitted them for the Pulitzer prize and they released the finalists for the Pulitzer, right. And lo and behold, one of the finalists was pet that's my last name as pets and another guy who was exactly my age named Steve Breen. And it turned out the pet they were referring to was not me. I got all excited, but it was, it turns out there was another political cartoonist, maybe pet lessons in Herald Leader, Joe Pett. And anyway, so that was, you know, dejecting and meanwhile, this guy, Steve Breen, who was my age, exactly won the Pulitzer prize.
Mark Pett (4m 41s):
And I was so jealous of this, Steve. So anyway, yeah, I start thinking if I'm going to be a political cartoonist, I have to be a staff cartoon is to add a newspaper, not a, a, a freelancer as I was. So I may have had an objective of, of sex sending out my portfolio far and wide to any newspaper in the country with a circulation over 50,000 readers, which was about 200 newspapers at that time. So I sent out my portfolio far and wide, and I got a, a S just a slew of rejects from that, but I got one letter particular and it came from lo and behold.
Mark Pett (5m 35s):
It came from Steve Breen, the guy that had won the Pulitzer, who was my exact age. And it was a very nice letter. He gave me some advice, but then he also pointed out that in my admiration of these cartoonists of Jeff McNelly and Jim Boardman and Pat Oliphant, I had not just been influenced by them, but I was borrowing some of their ideas. You might say generously, and he even pointed out, and I'm going to hold up a piece of paper for those who are watching a video, I've found the letter that Steve Breen wrote to me back back then.
Mark Pett (6m 19s):
And he showed me, I mean, a cartoon that I had done, this was a cartoon that I had done. And then he pointed out these similarities to a cartoon that Boardman had done. And you can see that I had pretty much plagiarized Jim Boardman. I mean, it's a different a joke, but it was, I mean, it was, he was calling me out on borrowing extremely heavily from these cartoonists that I was influenced by. And I received that letter from him. I was mortified.
Mark Pett (6m 60s):
And, and it was from this guy who I was so already had, like envy about. And, you know, he hit it, achieve the kind of status that I had wanted to have. And at that time, and I just, just wanted to crawl into a hole. I felt so embarrassed that someone had noticed, and I realized as I looked back at my cartoons, I mean, that was an egregious example, but I was in my desire for greatness. You might say, I was clearly the trying to be something I was not.
Mark Pett (7m 44s):
And I was clearly trying to, I was clearly cheating at it. And so I decided to use that op that, that letter as a real look in the mirror at the approach that I was taking to my work, and it turned out to be a real gift to me that he had done, I writing that letter and pointing it out to me and he had done it very nicely. He did not do it in a, you know, he didn't rub my nose in it or yeah.
Mark Pett (8m 26s):
You know, but it was, it turned out to be such a gift for me. And I used that to, to start working on mine, I own style. And on my own really kind of taking a more organic approach to my work has paid off in dividends. The end, I actually ended up running into Steve brain. I was going to ask
Mark Graban (8m 56s):
If you ever talked to him again. Yeah.
Mark Pett (8m 59s):
I ran into him at a cartoonist convention years and years later. And I, I went up to him. I don't think he even remembered the writing the letter, but I went up to reminded him of it and thanked him for doing that for me. Yeah. Because it was such a gift at the time, but it was at the one and a half and it was just mortified. And fortunately for me, it was never, you know, this is, that could be a career killer, you know, if it had happened perhaps today, you know, it could really,
Mark Graban (9m 34s):
Wow, good. When you, when you were telling that story, you used the word gift, but I was thinking of, you know, the expression, you know, feedback is a gift and you know, that feedback doesn't, you know, it might not always feel like a great gift, but, you know, you can think back what would have happened if you hadn't sent that letter, you know, how many other people might have noticed the similarity in the work, and then didn't say anything and know, and then you w you know, and, and what that might have led to. So it's, it's really interesting that you do view that as a gift. That that was an opportunity to course correct.
Mark Graban (10m 14s):
Well, I had a,
Mark Pett (10m 15s):
At the time I could have used it and I could have denied it, you know, as we often do and faced with are, are, are less attractive parts of ourselves, you know, or are, are shady or sides. We can deny it. I could have crawled in a hole. I could have liked, never drawn a cartoon again, but I made a choice at that time to view it as a gift and as an opportunity to really examine myself and what I was doing
Mark Graban (10m 54s):
Well. And I'm glad you shared that story. I mean, cause you're, you're you're right. I mean, looking at, having looked at the picture and seeing two bill Clinton's, you, you could have rationalized and said, well, look, bill Clinton has a certain number of features. There was his nose. And he was a little hefty at times. And while you could say, why is this exaggerated? The obvious things, and some odd other cartoon is exaggerated the same thing, but those drawings were pretty similar.
Mark Pett (11m 20s):
Yeah. They were really similar. And, and I, when I looked through my portfolio, I realized there were other examples as well, where I had, had been influenced very generously by, by other cartoonists. And, and I'm pleased to say it has affected the way I've done my work. I think I find myself now at the time I had a lot of envy for other cartoonists who were having more success than I was having. And, and nowadays I don't feel that same kind of envy.
Mark Pett (11m 60s):
I feel a kind of joy when I read something or see something really great that another author or illustrator or cartoonist has done. And I think it's because I don't, I don't tie my success to what others think of my work necessarily. I mean, it's, you know, I'm an author, it's about communication. So it does matter how my work is reaches other people, but I don't view it in the same, in the same way. It's not about winning Pulitzer prizes so much as it is about reaching readers some,
Mark Graban (12m 44s):
So then, as you continued with your work, did, did you try to, you know, sort of try not to take in as much work of others? Cause I, I think of, you know, somebody, you know, there, there, there are times where like, you know, unsub on solicited, manuscripts will get rejected or like, you know, creative say, well, I, I don't want to even look at it because even if I inadvertently influenced by it, I don't want to be sued. I mean, do you try to limit exposure first
Mark Pett (13m 16s):
Limited myself to a lot of different published work as well as unpublished work, just because I needed a, some space to, to figure out what I was about, what I was trying to communicate and what style I was going to do that in. So at first I did just kind of shut myself off from a lot of different stuff. I don't do that anymore. I find inspiration in other people's work, but not in a, not in the same way that I would have found inspiration back then. I think it's a different kind. It's more of a joy of creation.
Mark Pett (13m 60s):
However, if someone were to send me, I'm, I'm somewhat load to look at unpublished stuff. For the reason you suggest that, because it happens all the time that we get influenced by other ideas. And if, if I were to do something very similar to someone's unpublished work, that could be a problem. So,
Mark Graban (14m 29s):
But do you feel like at this point, I mean, this is 20, some years later, you've developed a style and you feel more calm, confident in that style where it's, it's more defined than it might've been earlier in your career when you were trying to find your voice as an artist or as a writer.
Mark Pett (14m 46s):
I think the best thing I ever did was to do a daily syndicated comic strip because in doing that, and I did that for about six or seven years, and that was my proverbial 10,000 hours, you know, that was it. Malcolm Gladwell, I think suggested that in order to really master something, you needed to do it for 10,000 hours. And when you have to produce a S a published piece of work every single day of the year with no vacation for six or seven years, that it forces you to find your way, you know, you invariably, it also enforces you to address your own issues of perfectionism, which it turned out that was really what was at play as well, was my own desire for greatness was rooted in this idea that I needed to be some very scrubbed and polished version of myself that wasn't even a version of myself.
Mark Pett (16m 3s):
It was just an image I was trying to, to create. And so when, and doing a comic strip every single day for seven years, it forced me to let go of that idea of perfectionism, because when you do it, then often you're going to produce a lot of mediocre work, you know, and it's inevitable. It's really, it just comes with the territory. And so you have to start viewing it like baseball, where you're trying to have a good batting average, you know, you're not going to hit a home run every time. You're just trying to like produce a decent body of work for that period of time.
Mark Pett (16m 44s):
And that was, that was a hard thing to reckon with personally. And it also in time, I found that my style emerged and my voice emerged and my, and all sorts of things happened very slowly in imperceptible ways. And at the end, I felt like I knew who I was creatively, which has then allowed me to go into books and do something that, you know, with, with a voice that felt much more authentic and true to who I was.
Mark Graban (17m 28s):
So when you bring up the theme of perfectionism or the illusion or image of that, I mean, you know, that that's one reason, the girl who never made mistakes resonated with me, I think I was a perfectionist as a kid. I try to be a recovering perfectionist as an, and the irony is like, I'm a sloppy perfectionist, so right. I make that perfectionism doesn't lead to sometimes I'm being overly cautious. It just leads to me being hard on myself about the mistakes I do make. Yeah. So, but I, I want to hear your story behind, you know, the, the inspiration to write the girl who never made mistakes.
Mark Pett (18m 13s):
This was the first book I did. And there's a, as my first children's book that I, that I wrote and illustrated was this. And I co-wrote it with a friend of mine, Gary Rubinstein. And there's a reason it was the first one because I wrote it when I first had a child of my own. And I was reading a lot of books to my kids. And, and I realized, wait a minute, these, these picture books, these are basically really long, Sunday comic strips. You know, like the Sunday comics are always a little longer than the daily comics and in color and stuff.
Mark Pett (18m 53s):
And these picture books just feel like long Sunday comic strips. I could do this. I've been doing it for years. So that's what, what motivated me. And I wanted to do something. And I, and I thought about, what's the kind of book that would have resonated with me as a kid and a book about perfectionism struck me. But, but one that, wasn't one that also indulged the fantasy of perfectionism, which is that you never make a mistake. That you're always perfect. Right. And I see kids, I see a lot of anxious kids in the world today, as I was, when I was a kid who just are terrified of making mistakes or who, you know, when they draw something, it needs to be just right.
Mark Pett (19m 46s):
It needs to be perfect. And I could relate to that. And so when the book opens it, it opens to the fantasy of perfectionism, which is this girl who was famous in her town because she's never made a mistake. I mean, this is the fantasy of every perfectionist kid, right. That they're just, they're flawless and they're perfect. And they never make a mistake. And people recognize that and they, you know, love them for it. And so I liked, I wanted to start with that fantasy because it was an acknowledgement, I've read criticism of that book of this book where it's like, that's, you know, you shouldn't open it that way.
Mark Pett (20m 30s):
Cause it makes it seem like perfectionism is a good thing, but I wanted to open it that way. Because as a kid, that's the, that's the, you know, it's like, it's any kid who dreams of being Superman, you know, it's same kind of fantasy, you know, of being perfect.
Mark Graban (20m 52s):
Well, but it, it tees up the book and the point you ended up getting to like, you know, she has fans and photographers and maybe it's not aggressive paparazzi, but
Mark Pett (21m 1s):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And then I wanted to deconstruct it from there, you know, just so as a kid, I think it's a book that I would have responded to. And so I think that's why that's why I wrote it that way and, and, and, and illustrated it. And I think that's the reason it was my first book was just cause it was one that I, I mean, as I observed, I was new to fatherhood at the time, but as I observed parenting and helicopter parenting and, and, and was reflecting on the kind of parent I wanted to be, this was what spoke to them, was wanting to be the kind of father who celebrated my children, you know, no matter who they were and that they would, you know, I wanted them to feel like they could try and explore and make mistakes and discover.
Mark Pett (22m 15s):
Mark Graban (22m 16s):
Yeah. And it's, you know, you know, I hope people will go and buy the book and read it. And I won't give away spoilers of the cute story along the way, but, you know, the way, the way it resolves with the girl, the interests, you know, kind of becoming comfortable with the idea of we make mistakes. Life goes on, she's still, her, her life is not defined by perfection or defined by her mistakes. Her family still loves her and people are still gonna be friends with her at school. And, you know, there's, there's really, to me, you know, a really nice message from the book that way.
Mark Pett (22m 59s):
Well, thank you. Thanks for the plug.
Mark Graban (23m 3s):
As in reading it as an adult, you know, it, it made a little impact on me. So I've, I've told a lot of other adults about the book. That's not your, your core audience, I'm sure, but it resonated with me.
Mark Pett (23m 17s):
Well, it, you know, it is, I think just as much, I mean, when I, I've gotten a lot of lovely letters from readers who are adults who appreciated probably more than their child does even I think their child or appreciate some of the humor in it, you know, but I think for the adults, it speaks to this like inner child, I guess who, with whom it really resonates. So I appreciate that.
Mark Graban (23m 46s):
Well, I recently saw the, the Tom Hanks film about Mr. Rogers and there's that reminder there, you know, Mr. Rogers says we were all children. Once that child is still there in a way or influencing who we are as an adult. But, you know, there's, there's a very, you know, you know, adult head, heady workplace concept of growth mindset, Carol Dweck, who I'm hoping, she's kind of, you know, she's on my dream list of guests here on the podcast of, you know, growth mindset versus fixed mindset.
Mark Graban (24m 26s):
And, you know, to me, I guess my, my paraphrasing of it is, you know, fixed mindset says you have certain gifts. You either have them, or you don't, you're either a great artist or like I can't draw to save my life. Didn't put in 10,000 hours because that wouldn't probably lead to anything as opposed to growth mindset that says we can develop skills and we can grow. We don't have to be quote unquote, born with it. I'm, I'm curious what some of your thoughts are on this idea of, you know, kind of, you know, talent and what is there versus what we can develop.
Mark Pett (25m 1s):
I'm thrilled to see this concept of growth mindset becoming a real theme in the business plays in schools. A lot of, I know a lot of teachers have been using this book, the girl who never made mistakes to kick off their school year because they're really making growth mindset, a, a theme and a focus in classrooms, which is really great to see, because I think it begins with the adults. I think one of the more pernicious things about perfectionism is that it has a lot of silent allies and adults who celebrate the kids who are perfect, you know, who do things perfect.
Mark Pett (25m 56s):
You in schools back in my day, if you've got a hundred on a test, sometimes you wish they would change the seating order in a class based on who got a hundred on a test, they would sit in the front of the class for everyone to see, you know, it was kind of, you were celebrated for, for perfectionism for, or for, for, for perfection. And, and I don't think that a lot of adults realize that the ways in which they kind of give strength to perfectionism through that kind of celebration of perfection.
Mark Pett (26m 38s):
So it's great to see a different idea taking roots, this idea that it's, it's about growth, not about some sort of attainment or, or as you say fit, you know, a fixed set of skills that you were kind of born with a talent, or, you know, it's a shame to me, you know, I read somewhere that most adults can draw about as well as they could in fifth grade, because that's when they stopped drawing, unless you were identified as a child of talent, you stopped drawing when you're in fifth grade.
Mark Pett (27m 26s):
And so you're, you had this kind of arrested development in your art skills, and it's great to see adult art classes taking root as well. You know, ones who, whether you drink and wine and painting or whatever, or adult coloring books, whatever. I mean, as a, as a, an artist myself, I like to see that, I think it's a shame that we don't do, like have drawing continue as we do writing for instance, into high school. And because I think it's, it's, it's an important skill.
Mark Pett (28m 13s):
It's an important skill to learn how to sketch the sketch process is a process of discovery and of trying things and seeing what you like and what you don't like, what works and, you know, and just in general, I think creating art is, is antithetical to perfectionism, really, although that was where I kind of drifted in my own. But, but
Mark Graban (28m 45s):
Another question for you, Mark, I mean, I can think back, I'm drawing my own memory, you know, back to elementary school and, you know, there's always one kid or a couple of kids who are new known as like the really talented drawing artists was was, was that you, or w w how much of that was talent versus interest and practice and development? Well,
Mark Pett (29m 15s):
I'm gonna, I will say I'm, I, I was definitely known as an artist back then when I was in grade school, but I, looking back, I was an accomplished mimicker. I think like, again, my art style just would drift radically at the time. I was a big fan of Mad Magazine. And if you look at my art style at the time, it would drift from, there'd be one Mad artist I would draw like, and then I would draw like another Mad Magazine artists for a while. And then I would draw like another one for a while. And I think I was just, it was my way of learning and there's nothing wrong with learning that way.
Mark Pett (30m 1s):
But at the same time, I think it was, that was my way was this, this was to mimic. I wasn't, I mean, along the way, I mean, I still came up with original ideas and, and had some good material along the way, but, but yeah, it was known for that back then. I was also interestingly known as a math scholar. And I think I loved the thing I liked about math was that you could be perfect in math. Like there's a right answer, perfect score on a math test for getting all the right answers.
Mark Pett (30m 42s):
And I liked that does one time I competed in a state math contest and I was thrilled. I got the only perfect score in the history of the competition. And that was my crowning achievement. It was like, I finally achieved perfection as you know, and yeah, so I had a,
Mark Graban (31m 5s):
There's no perfect score in art.
Mark Pett (31m 8s):
There is no perfect score in art or life.
Mark Graban (31m 12s):
And I was just gonna throw one other thing at you here, Mark. Cause you reminded me. So my, my art that I had more talent and drive for an accomplishment was music, drums and percussion and ware. And so there was something I ran run across years ago. It's the jazz musician, Clark Terry, who talked about development as an artist at first, you imitate, then you integrate and then you innovate. So I th I, I hear you, I may say don't… If you're being hard on yourself for that imitation even early in your career, it sounds like at least the Clark Terry school of thought is, well, that was just an unnecessary step in your development.
Mark Pett (31m 52s):
And I agree that it was, I think, and I, and as I said, I don't think there's anything wrong with that kind of imitation, but at some point you do need to integrate and then innovate, you know, and, and I had, it took me a while to get to that, that last step I think. And I, and I try every day, I still try every day to do that. But yeah, I think that's a great way to, that's a great way to express it.
Mark Graban (32m 23s):
Well, I'm glad you kept at it. I'm glad you wrote, this is the only one of your books I checked out, but I will, I will thank you for writing the girl who never made mistakes. I've mentioned it to a few guests because it was fresh in my mind after I'd read it and, you know, fits in with the themes of this show. So perfectly. So that's what I'm saying. You know, like this, this is the official book of the podcast. Like I may start giving this book away to guests as a thank you gift because I think it really is a very nice, very nice book. So thank you
Mark Pett (32m 57s):
For that, Mark. My pleasure, my pleasure. And perhaps we'll need to figure out a way for me to sign some books for you or something. So
Mark Graban (33m 5s):
I'll, I'll, I'll buy a big old box of books from me. I think that would be wonderful. So Mark Pett has been our guest again today. The book is I really, I hope you'll go and buy it, whether you have a child to share it with or not The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, because it, it really made an impact on me. And I'm glad, especially that we can talk about it here today and Mark your, your website. I know you have a website as an artist. I don't have it handy. That's my mistake.
Mark Pett (33m 36s):
It is Markpett.com, M A R K P E T T com. I believe authorstrater.com also points there, but
Mark Graban (33m 47s):
I hope people will go check that out as well. I, you know, the, the syndicated strips, they're still out there on the website and you can go and click and pick a random one. And from the ones I flipped through, I think your batting average was pretty good.
Mark Pett (33m 59s):
I appreciate that.
Mark Graban (34m 2s):
So, Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to be a guest with us here.
Mark Pett (34m 6s):
Thanks Mark. I enjoyed it.
Mark Graban (34m 9s):
Well, thanks again to Mark Pett for being such a great guest today. I really appreciate his openness and being forthright about his favorite mistake. And I really want to thank him for talking about his amazing book, the girl who never made mistakes. Again, you can enter to win a signed copy of that. By going to MarkGraban.com/mistake66, please follow rate and review. And if you like this episode or any others, please share it on social media. That'll really help get the word out about this podcast and our great guests. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes and how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work.
Mark Graban (34m 56s):
And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me email@example.com. And again, our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com.