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Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

Some kids baby-sit to earn a little extra spending money. Some mow lawns. Olivia Clingman-White colors a nationally syndicated comic strip.

It's pretty much a dream gig, the 15-year-old South Eugene High School sophomore said.

"I had always enjoyed "Stone Soup," Olivia said of the strip drawn by her longtime mentor, cartoonist Jan Eliot. "When I was younger, I liked the Alix character, but now I'm more like the Holly character. I talk constantly to Jan when I'm over there, and what I say usually ends up in the paper."

Take the time Alix started cutting into her sister's allowance stream by undercutting Holly's rate for certain chores.

"I iron my dad's work shirts for him, and my sister said she was willing to do them for less," Olivia said. "I told her, 'What are you, China?' Jan thought that was so funny, she wrote it into the strip.

It's an understatement to say Eliot was under impressed when Olivia first sought a mentorship five years ago.

"I was doing a book-signing at the Bethel branch of the Eugene Public Library," the Eugene cartoonist said. "Even though I was sitting down, she was barely eye level with me. I said, 'How old are you?' '

Olivia, who is still petite, was then just 10 years old.

"I turned her down - and I wasn't even particularly warm and fuzzy about it," Eliot said. "I was kind of burned out on mentorships. I was being inundated with requests."

Even the middle school students she'd mentored seemed too young to get much out of the experience.

"I think their parents thought it was a good idea more so than the kids," the Eugene cartoonist said.

Olivia, however, was not taking no for an answer.

"She came back about 20 minutes later," Eliot said. "She had this little handwritten resume - a stapled, notebook paper booklet with samples of her work."

Again, Eliot turned her down. But she took the stapled booklet home.

"I couldn't quite throw it away," she said. "Over the next few weeks, it kept getting buried and resurfacing on my desk. And I thought, 'Maybe this is the kid I was supposed to mentor.' "

Eliot phoned the number on the resume and learned it wasn't too late to help Olivia with the mentorship project, which was an assignment for her fourth-grade Family School class. The commitment was for six hours.

Nearly six years later, Eliot continues to mentor Olivia, who now spends several hours a week using a computer stylus to apply color to Eliot's Sunday strips.

Wally's red sweater? Val's green sofa? The red, skull-and-crossbones thought bubble above jealous, new big brother Max?

All Olivia.

For all her early reluctance, Eliot quickly clicked with her self-possessed protege.

"There was just something about her," the cartoonist said. "It was really hard to remember that she was 10. I had to keep reminding myself not to swear in front of her."

After the formal mentorship ended, Olivia kept coming over, watching and learning. (Eliot and Olivia decline to discuss their financial arrangement.)

Olivia entered Spencer Butte Middle School - just blocks from Eliot's home studio - about the time Eliot began electronically coloring the Sunday strips.

"I taught her how, but she picked it up so quickly, I soon stopped giving her advice," Eliot said. "Now I trust her totally."

"Only after you taught me things like the importance of using the same color more than once, because it helps your eye bring the strip together," Olivia said.

Before long, she was something of a collaborator.

"We had a lot of discussions about fashion, especially about what (adolescent) Holly should wear," Eliot said.

And Olivia's real-life interactions with her younger sister, Camille, proved fertile fodder for story lines about cartoon sisters Holly and Alix.

"I came up with the whole 'Holly gets her period while camping' thing," Olivia said proudly. "That was right after I got mine. It was fun to be able to find humor in it."

But she's also watched Eliot enough to see that even cartooning is not all fun and games.

"I didn't realize about deadlines," Olivia said. "It's hard, having to be funny every single day. Even if you're having a bad day, you still have to be funny. But I'm lucky. It feels more like she's a friend than a boss."

Olivia has no aspirations to take over the strip from Eliot someday.

"I've always been interested in acting," she said. "I'd love to be able to make a living in theater. I'm also interested in journalism as a back-up. No offense."


Claim to fame: Colors Sunday "Stone Soup" comic strips for mentor Jan Eliot

Family: Father Bill Clingman, mother Regina White, sister Camille Clingman-White, dog Migo

Second-favorite comic strip: Calvin and Hobbes

Second-favorite mentor: Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy (also Olivia's pre-school teacher)

In her iPod: OzoMatli, KT Tunstall, John Mayer

Just read: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

Favorite class: Literature

Post-high school plans: A year off to travel the world, then study journalism or acting

Weirdest coincidence: Came home as a newborn to the same Eugene rental house once occupied by Eliot
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Title Annotation:General News; Besides coloring Sunday's comic strip, Jan Eliot's assistant even shares story line ideas, which end up in print
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 30, 2007
Previous Article:Mayor's passing touches many.

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