From Lunch Ladies to Wookies: Jarrett J. Krosoczka | A2CAF



Jarrett J. Krosoczka sits at the desk where all the magic happens.

Like many illustrators, Jarrett J. Krosoczka set course on making his dreams come true at a very young age. His maternal grandparents, who had been raising Krosoczka since he was three, saw a desire in him to create, so they enrolled him in art classes at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. In elementary school he wrote his first books, and as he got older his work began to be influenced by comic books, leading to him writing a comic strip for the school newspaper, and eventually being accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduation.

While still working on his degree at RISD, Krosoczka started submitting picture books to publishers, and after two years of rejection letters, Random House published Good Night, Monkey Boy in 2001. Over the past 16 years, Krosoczka has published numerous picture books, created the Lunch Lady and Platypus Police Squad comic series, and was recently tapped to replace Jeffrey Brown on Star Wars: Jedi Academy with his second book in that series, The Force Oversleeps, set to be released next month.

Krosoczka’s plate always seems to be full, but he still finds time to visit schools to promote literacy and creativity. He has also established the School Lunch Hero Day, which annually asks students to recognize the work done by their school’s nutrition staff, and the Platypus Police Academy, a community read-aloud program for police officers at their local libraries.

As the keynote presenter for this weekend’s Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF) at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown, Krosoczka will continue to be busy. On Saturday, June 17, from 3-4 pm he’ll demonstrate his story-making process, followed by a Lunch Lady event and signing. On Sunday, June 18, he’ll be making an appearance from 12:30-1:30 pm at Vault of Midnight on Main Street, and will have a signing later at 4 pm at the downtown library.

Krosoczka was nice enough to answer some questions via e-mail for Pulp before this weekend’s A2CAF.

Q: A2CAF is a celebration of all-ages comics. What are some of your favorite all-ages comics?
A: We devour kids’ comics in my home. One of my recent favorites is the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. Those books make us laugh right out loud, Dav is such a comedic genius. Raina Telgemeier is another favorite. Sisters was was a breakthrough book for my eldest daughter. I read aloud the present-tense scenes, and she read aloud the flashbacks. It was the first time she read aloud that much text, and it filled her with so much confidence. After that, she started ripping through books independently. I can’t keep up with her now.

Q: You’re a big advocate for using graphic novels and picture books to help promote childhood literacy. What is it about these books that you believe helps them connect with children?
A: Graphic novels are like magic. When kids are emerging readers that picture-to-text connection is key for building them up and helping them grasp the understanding of words that they might not be familiar with. The illustrations draw them in and excite them to dive into the story.

Q: What would you say to parents and educators who may look down on graphic novels?
A: I tell them that it isn’t productive for us to prejudge the reading material in our children’s reading lives. I share a story about how I kept getting tweets of young readers enjoying Lunch Lady on electronic devices. At first, I was a bit crestfallen. But then I saw that these kids were reading voraciously and I had to check myself. I was judging how these kids were reading because that isn’t how the information was delivered to me when I was a kid.

Oftentimes, librarians will be faced with teachers or parents who instruct their children to only check out “real books,” not comics. There is this librarian that I met in Houston who tells those adults that when we take our children to the playground, we let them gravitate to the piece of playground equipment that they are most comfortable with. Those kids might be terrified of the monkey bars, but maybe they really like the swings. So, for now, let them enjoy swinging. They’ll eventually get up onto those monkey bars and there is nothing wrong for them to continue enjoying that swingset, too.

Q: You started writing and drawing books at a very young age. What advice do you have for your young fans who want to create comics?
A: I tell young writers and young artists to just create, and create whenever they can! If you’re passionate about making comics, you’ll make comics in your free time. Whether you want this to be your vocation or not, it is a wonderful way to spend your time, and it can even help you process, or escape, whatever you may have going on in your life.

Q: What has it been like working on Star Wars: Jedi Academy? Were you a Star Wars fan growing up?
A: It has been a tremendous amount of fun. Sometimes, I just feel like I am making fan art, but then I remind myself that I have entries on Wookieepedia with characters that I invented. I actually didn’t see any of the Star Wars movies until my freshman year of college. My grandparents, who raised me, took me to a showing of E.T. when I was four, and I left the theater in tears because I was so spooked by the alien. As that movie was released a year before Return of the Jedi, they weren’t about to make a return to the theater for Episode VI. My grandparents weren’t pop-culture aficionados or early adopters of the VCR, so I missed out. But I did have C-3P0s and was obsessed with the droids toys. And I loved the Return of the Jedi arcade game. While I didn’t get to enjoy Star Wars when I was a kid, I’m definitely making up for lost time now!

Q: Can you give us any updates on your titles that have been optioned for movies?
A: Lunch Lady, Punk Farm, and Platypus Police Squad have all been in various stages of development since 2006. I’ve been close to having something go to green light, but then tides shift, and the studio changes its mind. However, I’m lucky that other studios have then picked up the books for option, and that is about all I can reveal for now. Fingers are continually crossed!

Q: The series Platypus Police Squad takes place in the fictional Kalamazoo City. Have you ever been to Kalamazoo? And is the series finished, or will there be more monotreme adventures in the future?
A: I have flown in and out of Kalamazoo, but I have never visited. With the word “zoo” in an actual city name, it struck the perfect balance of seeming real and fantastical for these books. The Platypus Police Squad series is indeed over. I always imagined the story would have a concrete beginning and ending over the course of four books. Perhaps I’ll revisit that world, but I don’t have any plans to at this moment.

Q: You always seem to be busy, what are you currently working on?
A: I do keep myself busy! Aside from all of my deadlines, we have three kids at home -- aged 8, 5, and 11 months. On top of all that busy family life, I am often found visiting schools leading assemblies. And then there are the deadlines, all the deadlines. ... Wait. I’m starting to stress myself out! AGH! OK, book-wise, right now, I am writing the third book in Victor Starspeeder’s story in the Jedi Academy series, and I am readying a whole slew of new book ideas.

Jeremy Klumpp is a freelance writer based in Ypsilanti.

The Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF) is at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch from Friday, June 16, to Sunday, June 18. Krosoczka will demonstrate his story-making process followed by a "Lunch Lady" event and signing on Saturday, June 17, from 3-4 pm. On Sunday, June 18, he’ll be making an appearance from 12:30-1:30 pm at Vault of Midnight on Main Street, and will have a signing at the downtown library at 4 pm.Click here for the full A2CAF schedule of activities and guests, including Carolyn Nowak ("Lumberjanes"; read our interview with her here), Raina Telgemeier ("Smile", "Sisters"), and Ben Hatke ("Zita the Spacegirl"), who has an exhibition of his artwork on the third floor of the library's downtown branch; a reception will be held there on Friday, June 16, from 6-8 pm.