Sunday, February 21, 2021

Keynote Conversation - Jerry Craft and Victoria Jamieson: The Graphic Novel and Visual Storytelling

Now that, my friends, was a compelling session. If you missed out, well, you really missed out. Victoria Jamieson and Jerry Craft spoke on their personal journeys to creating graphic novels—with stories, visuals, tips and process. 

Vicky, as she referred to herself during the session, got her start in children’s publishing, in part, with the SCBWI. She began her career in picture books—designing them for Harper Collins, before illustrating for other author’s books. She became inspired to parlay her picture book skills to graphic novels after reading Raina Telgemeier’s SMILE, which first published in 2010.

Jerry’s love of drawing comics started in middle school. He wasn’t a reader as a kid—at least, not reading for enjoyment. And when he did, it was comics. As he got older, he wanted to do comics for a living. When his lovingly protective parents learned about his career aspirations, he was sent to a mostly white private school out of his neighborhood. That experience experience is what inspired his best-selling NEW KID.

On the topic of creating characters outside of their own lived experience.

It has always been Jerry’s goal to portray African American protagonists as regular kids—beyond topics of slavery, civil rights, and entanglements with the police. When he started doing school visits, some kids would ask: “How come you don't have a kid like me (say, from India). So with CLASS ACT, Jerry became more focused on including other kinds of kids—including a child with alopecia, vitiligo, where he could so so and still be honest to the script—and not overdoing it. Authenticity is key.

With WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED, Victoria seriously questioned if it was her story to tell. She had not lived the refugee experience, and so she worried about if she has a place in the story. Victoria got her answer from the character, Omar, who spoke to her by saying, “I welcome you into my story.” 

Victoria’s advice on that topic is to be honest with your publishing team about concerns, and if what you're trying to represent a good idea in the first place. “Get out into the community, listen to people. Don’t talk.

On creating layouts and storyboards? 

When creating graphic novels, Victoria feels like a film-maker. She considered the script, the costumes, she even goes location scouting. Then she begins to write a script, which she had no background in before creating graphic novels. She simply Googled: How to write a movie script.

The key, she says, it to play the film in your head. 

Jerry works digitally using a Wacom Intus Pro. He begins by drawing a story arc to determine the time period of the story, and plotting evens along the arc. With each book, he worked a bit differently. With NEW KID, he sketched the entire book, and submitted a finished pdf to his editor. With CLASS ACT, he drew on note paper in a three-ring binder.

Victoria begins her graphic novels with thumbnails, then, as with creating picture books, she determine’s the story’s arc.

Tools used

Victoria loves her woodless grapite pencils—which she often begins with non-photo blue (Progresso). Then she inks with a brand called Black Sumin. Jerry also uses a non-photo blue pencil both natural media and digital.

A highlight was when Jerry live sketched his Jordan character, showing various angles and composition—mixing things up so they don’t get boring or redundant for his readers. When considering costumes, Jerry considers what has been historically stereotypical, and works to counter negative images.  For instance, he intentionally created his Jordan character to wear a hoodie, to counter that negative image.

Both artists create character pages, and even plan out the environments in which characters will live—including blueprints, map of neighborhoods, bedrooms, what might on the wall of a character’s room. “I imagine every single inch of a character's house,” says Victoria. 

For reference, Jerry takes a lot of photos—something learned from his picture book buddy Eric Velasquez.  

There were almost 2000 people in this live session, followed by a lively Q&A. 

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