Jerry Craft credits his two sons, both in college, with helping him to write a better graphic novel.
He had shown his boys the early draft of a tense scene in “New Kid.” But when he saw their disappointed faces, he knew he had to “do better,” he said.
Craft wanted to get the scene right because the main character, Jordan Banks, is a lot like his sons and himself as a boy. As an African American kid, Jordan has to figure out how to fit in at a ritzy private school where most of the students are wealthy and white.
That was Craft’s experience, too. Like the character he created, he switched to a posh school very different from the school close to his Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City.
Being the new kid isn’t easy, as many kids know. You have to get used to a new school, learn from new teachers and make new friends.
But Craft gave his character a trait that had helped him as a kid: a love of drawing. It’s an important part of Jordan’s identity — and Craft’s, too.
“I can’t remember a time I wasn’t drawing,” he told KidsPost by phone from his home in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
As a kid, Craft preferred Spider-Man comic books to the serious novels that won awards. With “New Kid,” he decided to create the kind of book he wanted to read as a boy.
Craft wanted his work to be funny, like the Wimpy Kid series, but he wanted to explore serious stuff, too, including stereotypes related to race and family income.
Fitting in while staying true to oneself isn’t easy for Jordan and his friends at his new school. When he takes the city bus in the morning, Jordan starts out looking tough in a hoodie and shades and gradually removes them as the bus gets closer to school — a routine Craft based on his own experience. Jordan’s quiet friend Liam downplays his family’s wealth, and Drew gets tired of being called another black student’s name by a white teacher. Alexandra is seen as so odd that many classmates avoid her.
Craft’s characters connect with people of all ages.
“Kids write to me, but so do teachers and principals,” he said. “They tell me the book has helped them to become more aware of how they might type students without even realizing it.”
Craft uses close-ups, long-shots, bird’s-eye view and other angles to make his art dynamic. Reading his book is
like watching a movie on the page.
He learned these skills over time, through college classes and jobs in advertising and with Marvel Comics. He also illustrated picture books and novels and created a popular comic strip called “Mama’s Boyz.”
Because he likes to think about the visual impact of words — not just their meaning but their shape and size — Craft created the unique font seen in “New Kid.” And he named it after his main character.
Craft is now working hard on the sequel, to be published in fall of 2020.
Creating dynamic art for hundreds of panels is a challenge, Craft said. But one thing really helps: a comfortable chair. Craft knows he’ll be sitting in his black swivel chair for about 18 hours a day, for many months, drawing directly on the computer.
It also helps to have a good friend who’s going through some of the same challenges. Craft and Eric Velasquez, a popular author and illustrator, often trade short phone calls when they’re working long hours.
“Those late-night calls keep us going,” he said with a laugh.
That, and the knowledge that readers eagerly await the next tale about Jordan.