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Jerry Craft Speaks in Chapel

On March 1st, acclaimed author, illustrator, and cartoonist Jerry Craft visited Belmont Hill as a part of the Jeffrey A. Fast Speaker Series, delivering a powerful speech about the successes, failures, and work that shaped his career. His stories draw inspiration from his time growing up in Washington Heights, New York. In the Chapel, Craft said, “I realized early on what my passion was, and my passion was drawing comics.” He often drew on school books, creating his own stories of superheroes before he formally pursued arts and storytelling by attending the School of Visual Arts in New York. Currently, he resides in Florida and continues to release books, with his most recent being School Trip, published in 2023.

Known for his Mama’s Boyz comics and New Kid book series, Craft has accumulated numerous accolades throughout his career. New Kid is the only book in history to win the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, and the Coretta Scott King Author Award for the most outstanding work by an African American writer. Both New Kid and its companion book Class Act are New York Times bestsellers. 

On the stage of the Hamilton Chapel, Craft gave a detailed overview of his career and what led him to where he is today. He showed off his earliest comic strips, highlighting the lengthy process spanning from sketching ideas to coloring in line art. Craft often drew inspiration from his daily life, claiming that he would take in sights from his world, and then transfer them onto his computer by drawing when he got home. One such example was a comic strip based on his experience at a fast food restaurant. Instead of giving the customer a milkshake, the cashier literally shook the customer, creating a humorous short story. In the discussion following the Chapel, Craft claimed that he has around 12-14 story ideas in his head simultaneously. 

When discussing his idea process and brainstorming, Craft showed numerous iterations of covers for his book The Offenders, a superhero story about bullying at school. He explained why his original ideas were unsatisfactory, and the workshopping it took to arrive at a final version he could submit to a publisher. For his graphic novels, he worked the majority of each day for a year straight, having to color in each panel after gaining approval from his publisher. After Craft’s talk, Mrs. Hamilton noted, “Every time he draws a character – they need to look the same… imagine how many times Jordan Banks (the main character in New Kid) shows up on a page? That takes talent!”

Craft concluded his Chapel talk with an easel pad and marker, emphasizing the simplicity of drawing. With quick strokes, he sketched crude shapes, labeling them with names like circles, letter Cs, and lightning bolts. These simple figures quickly assembled into larger forms, resembling notable cartoon characters such as Charlie Brown and Snoopy the Dog. 

Craft continued speaking in smaller discussion groups consisting of English teachers, Form I students, and other interested individuals. During the conversation, he talked about how he includes a variety of characters from different backgrounds to show various perspectives and to demonstrate that there are multiple ways to be courageous and learn lessons. As the discussion ended, Jerry Craft took the time to autograph everyone’s books, with not only his signature but also a complementary drawing. Both students and teachers were thrilled to have the opportunity to have their books signed. When recounting this experience, Finn Davis ’29 said, “It was really insightful and we learned a lot about his writing process. He drew in front of us and signed our books!”

Following the meeting, multiple students of all ages were seen trying to draw their own versions of these characters using his basic steps across campus on whiteboards.

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