Inside the Illustrator’s Cranium: Jerry Craft



It’s a real delight to start 2016 off with the multi-talented, funny, and all around nice guy, Jerry Craft. He has illustrated and/or written close to two dozen children’s books. One of his favorites is a middle grade novel co-written with his two teenage sons, Jaylen & Aren Craft called: “The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!” — an action / adventure story designed to teach kids about the negative effects of bullying. It’s the story of 5 school bullies who get superpowers, but instead of turning into cool heroes, they take on the characteristics of the kids they pick on. Jerry is also the creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award-winning comic strip that was syndicated by King Features for more than 15 years. His work has appeared in national publications such as Essence Magazine, Ebony, and two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Jerry has won five African American Literary Awards. In 2014 he illustrated his first book for Scholastic called “The Zero Degree Zombie Zone,” written by Patrik Henry Bass. He is currently working on a graphic novel for Andrews McMeel. Jerry is also one of the co-founders of the Schomburg’s Research Center’s annual Black Comic Book Festival, which in January 2016, drew an estimated 6,000 fans! Don’t forget to check out his short video at the end of this interview. Now here is Jerry in his own words:

What’s your favorite word? Daddy, because raising my sons has been one of the best experiences of my life.

What’s your least favorite word? Fear. That’s what holds so many of us back.

Describe your “artist statement”:  I write and illustrate books, games, comic books, comic strips…that feature kids of color doing positive things. I create the type of books that I wish I had when I was a kid and probably would have liked to read before I was an adult.

Describe your work ethic in regards to your art: Constantly working. Not only on current projects, but figuring out my next project, AND trying to always get better. If I’m not with my family, then I’m usually at the computer or the drawing table. Also, I can almost never shut my mind off, so sometimes an idea will hit me at 3 A.M. and I’ll get up and work for a few hours.

What is your favorite medium and why? It used to be pen and ink, but then I got a Wacom tablet, now almost everything I create is done digitally. I absolutely LOVE it. Way more than I ever thought I would.

Any tips on using that medium? The same advice for anything, practice.

Any tips on illustrating? Don’t be afraid to look at other artists’ work for inspiration. I used to never do that because I felt as if it was cheating or something. But it’s not. I may like how someone does hands, or hair, and try to incorporate that into my style.

What inspires you to create your art? Everything. I’ve always liked to get out of the house and do things. And just by looking around and interacting with people, ideas pop into my head. I don’t think I could ever be one of those people who live in a secluded cabin in the woods, or by a lake. I like to work off the energy of my surroundings.

Who are your favorite painters and/or composers? One of the first that really inspired me was Norman Rockwell, because of how he exaggerated poses. If someone was tired, you KNEW they were tired. Then there were a few Marvel Comics artists such as John Buscema. Then comic strip artists such as Bud Blake and Walt Kelly. Now peers such as Jim Keefe, Eric Velasquez, M’shindo Kuumba and Dawud Anyabwile keep me pushing myself to get better.

Who are your real life heroes? My father. He was an amazing man. Strong, but there was no one kinder. And anyone who overcomes major obstacles to bring their vision to life. When I was younger, I loved how Robert Townsend, Spike Lee and Tim Reid did what they did in order to make the movies that THEY wanted to make. It was extremely inspiring. I still respect them tremendously.

What intrigues you? Race relations. I love it when it works. When folks want to actually talk to you and learn about you and your culture. And vice versa.

What annoys you? When it doesn’t work. I’m constantly annoyed by people who think that their views are the only ones that matter and won’t take a single second to hear what you have to say and think about it from anyone else’s point of view but their own.

What profession/job other than illustrating would you like to try? I think I would have made a good psychologist. I love how the brain works. I also used to be an advertising copywriter. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had stayed on that path.

What profession/job would you never try? Most of them. Besides the psychology thing, I would need something where I was creating something. I’d even be a chef. But I wouldn’t want to be an accountant or something like that. No offense. Some of my best friends are accountants J

What natural talents have you been gifted with? Drawing. Sense of humor. Being able to process things quickly. Common sense. And one that I absolutely LOVE having is the ability to speak in front of large crowds without getting nervous.

Assuming there will be an afterlife, who would you like to meet and why? Well, in THIS life, I’d still like to meet Barak Obama and Will Smith. I’m not sure how easy Prince would be to talk to. Some childhood favorites like Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson. And historically, maybe the older Malcolm X or someone such as George Washington Carver. They all seem to have come from fairly humble beginnings but their desire fueled them to change their industries. I’m always amazed by people like that. But mostly, I’d probably just hang out with my Dad.

What is your favorite work motto/mantra? The old School of Visual Arts poster was “To be good is not enough when you dream of being great!” AND George Bernard Shaw’s, “You see things; and you say ”Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why Not?”

Any advice about handling rejections? I’ve always had an “I’ll-show-you” type of personality. When I was younger, my work was rejected by tons of publishers such as Scholastic and Andrews McMeel, so I started my own publishing company. To date, I’ve help to produce nearly two dozen books. Then Scholastic approached ME! And I’m currently working on a graphic novel for Andrews McMeel that I couldn’t be more excited about. So I never allowed for anyone to validate me.

Describe your studio/office space. Right now it’s in shambles because we had a flood in our house on New Year’s Day. I know, “Happy New Year!” But when it’s operational, the main command center is my computer with two screens; small TV and my drawing table. Everything else is in a file case that holds everything from contracts to reference material. Then I have two big cabinets that house my 5,000+ comic books. Two large bookcases with graphic novels and other art related books, and two flat files for art projects and my Mama’s Boyz comic strips. I’m also extremely sentimental, so I have a really hard time parting with things that people have given me over the years: mugs, post cards, figurines…so my space is usually cluttered. But warm.


For more info about his books, his work, or school visits, go to his website at


Or watch one of his TV interviews at:

About Linda Boyden

Teacher. Author. Artist. Storyteller. Poet. I write a poem a day. A picture book each month. I write novels for kids. I color in and out of the lines. I help young children love words and stories. I believe laughter comes straight from the Creator who put us on this fine Earth so we can help one another do our best.

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