Jerry CraftJerry Craft has illustrated and/or written close to three dozen children's books, graphic novels and middle grade novels including his acclaimed anti-bullying book, "The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention!" In 2014, Jerry illustrated "The Zero Degree Zombie Zone," for Scholastic which earned him recognition from the Junior Library Guild. He is the creator of Mama's Boyz, an award-winning comic strip that was distributed by King Features Syndicate from 1995 - 2013. Jerry has won five African American Literary Awards. He is also a co-founder and co-producer of the Schomburg's Annual Black Comic Book Festival which has drawn close to 40,000 fans since its inception in 2013. He is currently working on "New Kid," a middle grade graphic novel for HarperCollins due out in 2019.

The OffendersThe Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! 

A freak accident gives five middle school kids (from very diverse backgrounds) super powers. But instead of being able to transform into cool super-beings, they are forced to take on the characteristics of the kids they pick on. Now they're the ones who are being teased, and by the same kids who they are trying to help! Sure their abilities may be at an all-time high, but do they really have what it takes to save their school when their self-esteem is at an all-time low?

Interview with Jerry Craft

You co-authored The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! with your two teen sons. What is the story behind this collaboration?
I initially started the book on my own, and I would read chapters to my sons, Jaylen and Aren, once they got home from school. One day Jaylen asked me to reread a line. Once I did, he politely told me that “no kid would say that.”  At first I thought, “well how would you know what a kid would say? You’re just a kid.” Then it dawned on me. Who would know how middle grade kids speak more than my two sons who are exactly that age?  So I told them if they would offer their ideas, that I would give them co-author credit and put their photos in the book. They accepted. And that’s one of the reasons why I think the book connects so well with kids. When I was their age, we didn’t have Instagram, we didn’t text, and my only video game was my Atari 2600. Their experience has changed by leaps and bounds! We did a bunch of TV interviews and book signings together and were some of the first authors to ever sign at Jeff Kinney’s “An Unlikely Story,” bookstore. That was a blast!

You handle some pretty serious topics in your work from bullying to leukemia, to childhood obesity, to the importance of education. Do you always have a message in your writing? How do you choose the one you want to write about?
You know, I don’t know if I planned it that way, but you’re right, my work always seems to have a message. In fact, I seem to have become the guy who takes serious topics and makes them okay for kids. I think a lot has to do with when I grew up. Saturday morning cartoons were filled with lessons. Cartoons such as Fat Albert always taught valuable lessons while making you laugh. Then in between the cartoons, we had segments like Schoolhouse Rock that taught kids a little bit of everything. Over all, I try to pick topics that I am passionate about or feel like I can help to spread the word. In fact, I just finished a middle grade graphic novel for HarperCollins called “New Kid” that will be released next January (2019). It’s loosely based on my life growing up in the Washington Heights section of New York City. I wanted to go to art school, but my parents made me go to a prestigious high school in Riverdale. So I went from one of 25 African-American kids in my class, to one of ten out of a class of 110. So there is some talk on race, some on class, and lots of other good stuff mixed in. And I also think it’s one of the funniest stories I’ve written. I am both the author and the illustrator. 256 pages!!! I can’t wait for it to come out.

As a copywriter first and a cartoonist second, do you come up with the storyline and message first, or the characters when you create a graphic novel?
If I had to say that I’m one first, I would say artist. My first job out of School of Visual Arts was as an advertising copywriter, but I’ve been drawing my entire life. But to answer your question, it varies. With “The Offenders,” I came up with the concept and message first. With “New Kid,” since it was loosely based on me, I came up with the character of Jordan Banks before I filled in the rest of the story.

How do you teach kids how to draw a cartoon?
When I do my cartooning workshops and school visits, I always break down characters into simple shapes first. Circles, rectangles… Then slowly we build them until they start to actually look like something.

Why do you think comic strips or graphic novels are important for kids?
As a former reluctant reader, if it wasn’t for comic books and comic strips, I wouldn’t have read at all as a kid. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I read a book that I actually ENJOYED reading. It was “Great Expectations,” by Charles Dickens. I feel like any book that gets kids reading is a good thing. I remember as a kid, our teachers used to take our comics from us. They thought they served no purpose.

Do you need to be funny to write a comic strip?
It helps. The continuity comic strips, meaning the ones that tell a story as opposed to offering a joke each day, don’t really seem to do well anymore.

Who was your favorite author when you were a kid and why?
Well, like I said, there was a HUGE gap between Dr. Seuss and Charles Dickens. I never really saw characters that resembled me in any way, so I just stuck to Spider-Man. I think once I realized the importance of reading, that started to shape my desire to become an author and to inspire kids to read. Whenever I do school visits, I always start by telling kids that I was a reluctant reader.

What is your all time favorite quote and why?
I have two. First is “A rising tide lifts all the boats.” I always think of that as meaning that the better things are, EVERYONE gets uplifted.
The other is: “You see things; you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?”  â€• George Bernard Shaw.  I just love this because it makes me challenge myself creatively to always be better!