Cartoonist draws a crowd

Jerry Craft explains the craft of illustrated storytelling

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  • Photos by John Church Jerry Craft points out details on a paper sketch.

  • Melissa Marchionda (left) and Renee Rizzo practice drawing Tuesday morning.

  • Craft adds hair and a neck.

  • Syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft checks Katherine Andrews' drawing.

By John Church

Syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft visited the Ogdensburg School Tuesday morning to explain the craft of illustrated storytelling. Craft started with a presentation to the fifth through eighth graders and later held two sessions with the sixth graders.

“Today I'm going to show the kids how I write my children's books,” said Craft. “How I do both the writing and illustration.”

After earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the School of Visual Fine Arts in New York, he worked in advertising until he started illustrating books and creating cartoons.

“For the last seven year it has been full-time,” said Craft. “Before this, I was the editorial director at the Sports Illustrated for Kids website. It was a great job but I have two sons, who are 15 and 13, so to be able to be home the last eight years has been really good.”

Craft has a syndicated comic strip, “Mama’s Boyz”, that teaches as well as entertains.

“I like the old Fat Albert school of thought where it is life lessons humorously done,” said Craft. “That is the kind of stuff I like to do the most.” He has also illustrated books for other authors.


“I still do it the old-fashioned way,” explained Craft of his drawing process. “I set it down with paper and pencil.”

He uses a light blue pencil until he gets the image just right, and then he darkens the lines with ink. “Sometimes I even use a dip pen. It gives a nicer line.”

Only then does he start using technology. “I will scan it into my computer.” The scanner does not pick-up the light blue lines and only sees the ink lines.

He does not add color by hand. “I do all my coloring in Photoshop.” The software allows him to make changes easily. If he added color to a paper drawing he would have to start from scratch to make color changes.

Drawing lesson

“Don't be afraid to make mistakes,” said Craft to the students gathered in the school’s gymnasium. “Don't say, 'I can’t’.”

He explained the first feature of a character is the shape of the head — circular, oval, heart-shaped or pie slice. Keeping things simple, Craft uses the letters G, J, L, O, U, V, or W for noses. Ears and hair complete the image.

When a comic strip character has dialogue, the trouble starts.

“Younger artists tend to want to do the fun stuff, which is the drawing, first,” explained Craft. “Then they realize they do not have room for the words.”

The artist will try to cram in the text, making them too small to read easily. The problem gets worse when an editor shrinks the comic strip to fit a small space.

“When I start, I will do my lettering first," Craft said. "Then I know how much room I will have for the drawing.”

Craft explained that artists can assign the way a particular character speaks. Ma rather than Mom, wanna versus want to, and yea rather than yes, give a character personality.

A character’s speaking volume can be used to stress the dialogue. A dotted voice balloon represents a whisper, a cloud shaped voice balloon is an unspoken thought, and a jagged voice balloon is screaming. Putting certain words in a bold font further stresses a particular point.

Working step by step, the students produced their own customized characters. “The younger kids have more confidence,” said Craft. “By the time they get to be 13 or 14 they are already like ‘I can't, I can't.' When they are younger they just tackle everything. The adults have given up.”

Work in progress

Craft is working on a book that will pull from the bully's point of view. The bully takes on the characteristics of the bullied victim and then has to face taunts.

For more information about Jerry Craft and his work visit

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