2018-07-26 / News

World famous cartoonist to visit city library

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Jarrett J. Krosoczka Jarrett J. Krosoczka SOUTH PORTLAND — Author appearances are par for the course for local libraries. So, when even the librarian goes a little ga-ga for the guest of honor, it’s a pretty good indication that particular event is no ordinary outing.

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, New York Times bestselling author and cartoonist Jarrett J. Krosoczka will appear at the main branch of the South Portland Public Library. Krosoczka (pronounced crosause KA) has produced 33 picture books and graphic novels, including multiple volumes in the “Lunch Lady,” “Punk Farm,” “Platypus Police Squad,” and “Star Wars Jedi Academy” series.

Krosoczka, 41, is a two-time winner of the Third-to-Fourth Grade Book of the Year in the Children’s Choice Book Awards and has been nominated for the Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Award. His work has been featured on the front page of The Boston Globe and on NPR’s All Things Considered. His books have also been recommended by national publications such as The New York Times and USA Today, while his two TED Talks have racked up more than 2 million views.

“He’s a very big deal, with so many best selling books I can’t even keep track,” said Teen Librarian Molly Ladd, who characterized the upcoming appearance as “a really incredible visit.”

“We’ve never actually had such a bigname person here before. I’m a little bit star struck,” she said.

Not only is the visit itself a get for the library, it’s a special occasion. Not by accident, July 31 is the day of publication of Krosoczka newest book, “Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Principal Strikes Back!”

To celebrate, Krosoczka will give drawing demonstrations and lead young artists through the steps he takes to create one of his celebrated graphic novels. Attendees will create one big collaborative comic book.

The drawing demo will last about one hour, and will be followed by a more traditional reading and book signing. According to Ladd, fans young and old are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite “Star Wars” character.

Apart from his celebrity, Krosoczka has something else to recommend an evening with him to aspiring artists. His personal story is all about perseverance – a lesson for any young person, whether or not they intend to follow in Krosoczka’s cartooning footsteps.

An aficionado of both comics and Saturday morning cartoons, Krosoczka starting drawing from a young age in his native Worcester, Massachusetts. By the time he was in elementary school he was creating his own books, some of which he kept to show young artists discouraged at their own results just how far he has come with practice. And that practice did more than just develop the skills Krosoczka needed to make it as a professional writer and illustrator.

“Well before my imagination was my vocation, my imagination saved my life,” Krosoczka said in a 2012 TED talk at Hampshire College. “As a kid I loved to draw, and the most talented artist I knew was my mother. But my mother was addicted to heroin.

“When your parent is a drug addict, it’s kind of like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football,” he said. “Because, as much as you want to love on that person, as much as you want to receive love from that person, every time you open your heart you end up on your back.”

With his mother in and out of prison and his father out of the picture, Krosoczka was taken in by his grandparents, Joseph and Shirley Krosoczka.

His grandparents smoked and drank, but they loved him and supported his interests in cartoons. When Krosoczka was in sixth grade, they enrolled him in art classes at Worcester Art Museum. When he was 14 they gave him the drafting table he still uses to this day.

Before those classes Krosoczka got started on his path, with a visit in third grade from Jack Gantos, author of the “Rotten Ralph” books. As students sat at their desks drawing characters, Gantos wandered the room silently, observing, until he got to Krosoczka’s desk, whereupon he stopped, tapped the youngsters desk, and intoned two words that would stay with Krosoczka forever – “Nice cat.”

It wasn’t much, to be sure, but it was everything to the uncertain schoolboy, and he was filled with the confidence to believe that, someday, he, too, could write and draw for a living.

The path was not an easy one. Krosoczka created his first book that year, “The Owl Who Thought He Was the Best Flyer.”

Krosoczka continued to hone his skill every day, but the first time he applied to The Rhode Island School of Design he was not accepted. It took two tries to get in. In the interim, he worked at Camp Sunshine in Casco. His work with terminally ill children turned him on to picture books. By his junior year Krosoczka was submitting to publishers. Sometimes he’d get a polite rejection letter. More often there would be no response at all. But the early encouragement he’d received from his grandparents, and from various teachers along the way, helped him to keep plugging away.

After graduation, Krosoczka took to circulating monthly postcards – 50 to 80 at a time – to editors and art directors. Again, no answer.

During this time, Krosoczka worked at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, in Ashford, Connecticut, a facility for sick children similar to Camp Sunshine in Maine. If editors were not responding to Krosoczka’s work, camp kids, at least, were. He’d read them the books he’d submitted and their eyes would come alive.

While at the Hole in the Wall, Krosoczka befriended one especially hyperactive kid he came to affectionately call “Monkey Boy.”

Krosoczka ended writing and illustrating a book called, “Good Night, Monkey Boy,” and sent out what he called “one last batch of post cards” based on it. That piece clicked, and six months after graduating, he had a contract with Random House.

He’s published at least one book every year ever since. After his grandparents died, Krosoczka created a scholarship at Worcester Art Museum in their memory. These days, he travels the country, meeting school children, looking at their art, and telling then, “Nice cat.”

But Krosoczka says doling out that encouragement to the next generation of authors is becoming harder all the time.

“Writing is just using you imagination in paper. But I get so scared because I travel to so many schools and that seems like such a foreign concept to kids,” he said in one of his TED Talks.

The visit to the South Portland library will give him a change to interact directly and at length with local youngsters.

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