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Artist Spotlight Jerry Craft

Shout Out to Jerry Craft

Jerry Craft with a few of his young fans.

Spotlight on writer/illustrator Jerry Craft!
Jerry is an African American Literary Award winner (five times no less) and cofounder of the Schomburg Center’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival.

Jerry Craft at one of his many school lectures.

In addition to his numerous graphic novels and books he’s illustrated, Jerry is also the creator of the acclaimed comic strip Mama’s Boyz.

My daughter Tessa with the many Mama’s Boyz book collections we have that are dogeared from repeated viewings.

Jerry and I go back a ways. We met at King Features Syndicate back in the 1990s when we both worked in the King Features Comic Art Department.

Jerry and I commuting to work before the turn of the last century.
Jerry and I with the Production Supervisor of the KFS Comics Art Department, Frank Chillino, at the 1993 King Features Christmas party.

And here’s a more recent pic. Jerry is one of those friends where even if you don’t see them for awhile you can just pick up from where you left off the last time you met.


Jerry has put Easter Eggs in his books for my family (like naming a character in one of his graphic novels after my daughter Tessa). And here’s me returning the favor in the July 8, 2018 Sally Forth Sunday page where the Forth family is at a comic convention.

Note the Mama’s Boyz banner on the back wall in panel 5.


And last but not least an unabashed plug for Jerry Craft’s latest graphic novel, New Kid.

It’s the story of seventh grader, Jordan Banks. He’s the new kid in school at a prestigious private school far from the neighborhood he grew up in. And as if navigating a new school isn’t tough enough, Jordan also just happens to be one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

June 2020 Update:
Since my original post, Jerry’s book New Kid has gone on to win the prestigious Coretta Scott King Book Award and The John Newbery Medal! The award ceremonies with Jerry’s acceptance speeches are linked to below.


Jerry Craft wins the Coretta Scott King
Book Award for New Kid!

Jerry Craft’s Acceptance Speech starts at the 50 minutes and 57 seconds mark.

Jerry Craft’s graphic novel New Kid
wins 2020 Newbery Medal!

From The Comics Beat.

“The major award in libraries is the John Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year”. This year, Jerry Craft won for his graphic novel New Kid. Other graphic novels had previously received honor citations in this category, but this is the first time a graphic novel has won the medal outright, awarded for the best literary work, as a book, not as a graphic novel or illustrated work. It won because of the story presented, which just happened to be told in words and pictures.”

Jerry Craft’s Acceptance Speech starts at the 47 minutes and 28 seconds mark.

Congrats to Jerry!

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Artist Spotlight

Tom Gianni 1960-2020

C2E2 2017

Tom Gianni was a fantastic illustrator. He was also a courtroom artist for WGN, NBC, and WTTW in Chicago.

I knew Tom through C2E2 and I made sure to stop by his table every year I went back. He was always up for talking shop.

Here’s a quick video from 2011 where he let me take a little video of a commission he was working on. (Sorry for the sound quality, but Artist Alley gets kinda noisy).

And here’s a few pics from over the years…

C2E2 2011
C2E2 2012
C2E2 2016
C2E2 2018

My favorite work of Tom’s was his illustrations of pulp fiction heroes like the Shadow and from Robert E. Howard stories.

©Lars Leonhard Drachmann

Fun side note – His work was awarded the Rankin Award for Artistic Achievement from the Robert E. Howard Foundation.

Best of all, his self-published Mechanic Anna.

An original Tom Gianni sketch on the Title page.

The last time I saw him at C2E2 in Chicago he had to leave abruptly as he was called to do some courtroom sketches. To see him take off harkened back to newsmen of the 1940s racing off to catch a story. And that’s how I’ll remember him…

He’ll be sorely missed…

My business card holder – purchased from Tom.
Categories
Artist Spotlight Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson – Inspiration

Back in the mid 1980s I tried out classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a semester. Currently at MCAD you can major in Comic Art, but back then comic art was not a thing. In fact it was generally frowned upon.

I was in a film class, and the assignment was to bring in something of interest to us and then talk about it while being filmed (something about getting comfortable in front of a camera I guess). I brought in the recently released Cycle of the Werewolf novella by Stephen King – with beautiful illustrations by the one and only Bernie Wrightson​.

Wrightson’s magnum opus Frankenstein had been released just prior and he was (and still is) a god of illustration to me.

While I talked about my admiration for Wrightson’s work, fellow students off camera started talking within earshot. The gist of it was, a hack writer hired a hack comic book artist – and it’ll be an instant hit to the mindless masses – but it was far from ART.

Hearing this I started talking into the camera a little louder how great an artist Wrightson was and how he was not the “hack” some people thought.

This bias against comic book art was mirrored by the teachers in those years, and as the vibe at MCAD wasn’t right for me I left. Within a year I had found out about and enrolled at the Joe Kubert​ School, so a win-win for me. Suffice it to say most of my new classmates were big fans of Wrightson as well.

In my experience, animation and cartooning has always been looked down on by the fine arts community, or at best given a condescending pat on the back. To me, sequential art is the best way to tell a story – and the artists who excel in the field are Masters. With the rise in popularity of “graphic novels” here in the US there’s been more mainstream acceptance of sequential art, but for the rank and file in the arts community I don’t see that much has changed.

That said, I don’t care. I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years now and am surrounded by people that have the same love of cartooning/comics/anime/manga that I have. Ends up there’s no need to waste time banging heads with people who unfortunately are limited in their thinking of what constitutes Art.

And that’s my two cents.


That said… Here’s to Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). A master of pen and ink who’s work still remains an inspiration to me. The gold standard to shoot for every time you pick up a Series 7 Winsor & Newton brush.


Here’s a quick video of Bernie Wrightson from 1987, with an intro by Harlan Ellison. Wrightson talks about his work on Swamp Thing and Frankenstein among other highlights – Enjoy!


Last but not least, a poignant tweet from Neil Gaiman from when Wrightson died…


Addendum: Bernie Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein has since toured Art museums across the country as part of the Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibit. They are truly breathtaking to see in person.

To see so many different comic book artists on display in this show was just phenomenal. A shout out to Guillermo del Toro for providing a worthy showcase of these extraordinary masters of comic art – Vive la résistance!

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Artist Spotlight

Jim Keefe

A graduate of the Kubert School, Jim Keefe started his career as the head colorist in the King Features Syndicate comic art department, coloring such world-renowned strips as Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible.

From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of Flash Gordon for King Features Syndicate – currently available online at Comics Kingdom.

Teaching and speaking engagements include the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs in Long Island, New York, the University of Minnesota – and most recently as an Adjunct Teacher at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Keefe currently is the artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, written by Francesco Marciuliano. Sally Forth is syndicated worldwide by King Features and appears in nearly 700 newspapers.

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Artist Spotlight Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast (1840-1902)

Thomas Nast – circa 1870s

Thomas Nast was an illustrator and cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. In his 30 year career with the magazine (1857-1887) Nast drew approximately 2,250 cartoons.

From 1863 through 1886 he contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harper’s Weekly. In those drawings he created and popularized the modern image of Santa Claus.

Merry Old Santa Claus by Thomas Nast
Harper’s Weekly January 1, 1881

Nast is also widely credited for exposing the corruption of William M. Tweed who ran New York City’s Democratic political machine at Tammany Hall. When Nast died in 1902 the New York Times eulogized him as the Father of the American Political Cartoon.

Harper’s Weekly, January 6, 1872

Harper’s Weekly, August 19, 1981

Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1981

The following video from Ric Burns’ epic documentary of New York spotlights how Thomas Nast’s pen took down Boss Tweed.


Thomas Nast drawings were printed using wood engravings. Here’s a short video of artisan Chris Wormell showing how it’s done.


Thomas Nast at his Desk circa 1880 – From the Museum of the City of New York. 

Portrait of Thomas Nast, 1902.
Pirie MacDonald Photograph Collection New York Historical Society.

For more on Thomas Nast I recommend the following links.

ThomasNastCartoons.com

A Salute to the Man Who Created Santa

Thomas Nast Takes Down Tammany

Thomas Nast: Father of the American Political Cartoon

Macculloch Hall Historical Museum