As a sixth grader, Jarrett J. Krosoczka remembers enrolling in private art classes because the public school budget for art instruction was slashed in his Worcester, Massachusetts elementary school. He experimented with cartooning, animation and comic books. “Every week, I so looked forward to going to class,” Krosoczka says (pronounced crow-ZAUS-ka). In ninth grade, his grandparents gave him a video camera. “I put together skits with friends. When we had to do a report for school, I almost always convinced my teacher to let me do a video.” In a high school English class, Krosoczka and a group of classmates created an animated cartoon of Stephen King’s Misery. “I drew the pictures, and other kids colored them in and did the voices,” he says.
Early on Krosoczka realized that his comics, animations and videos had a narrative quality. When one of his high school teachers introduced him to picture books, Krosoczka saw their potential permanence as an art form. “My interest in picture books grew and grew until it took over,” he says.
At Rhode Island School of Design Krosoczka studied all facets of illustration and design, but also enrolled in creative writing classes each semester, remembering his goal to create picture books. In his junior year, he began submitting manuscripts and post cards with samples of his art to publishers. After two years of rejection, an editor expressed interest in meeting him. A short time later, he received his first picture book contract for Good Night, Monkey Boy.
Although Good Night, Monkey Boy was Krosoczka’s first published book, My Buddy, Slugwas the first book he created and submitted for publication. “I reread my early version ofSlug,” he says. “It’s no wonder why it wasn’t published.” After revising, he pitched the story to his editor and it sold.
“Baghead kick-started my career,” Krosoczka says. “It received so much attention in publications like Newsweek and the New York Times.” The initial concept for the book came from a still life that he drew as a junior in high school. “We had to draw a paper bag as an academic study,” he says. Allowed to use only white chalk and charcoal, Krosoczka included his trademark humor and drew a face cut into his paper bag.
Krosoczka’s books are a blend of circumstances that intrude onto his psyche. Punk Farmbegan as a series of farm animal sketches. “When I shared the story idea with my editor, she wasn’t into it,” he says, so he detoured to other book ideas. “I always wanted to be a rock star when I was a kid,” he says, “I had a book about rock stardom in mind for about a year.” The farm animals and the rock star idea merged at the Hole in the Wall Gang summer camp where Krosoczka volunteered. To motivate his campers, Krosoczka played loud rock music every day. The kids formed a lip sync band that, in one week, experienced all the turmoil of bruised egos that real bands experience. “A band is so much funnier than a rock star,” he remembers thinking to himself at the time and if the band members were animals, he knew he could play their personalities off one another to make his story funny and fresh. Although Krosoczka pitched Punk Farm as a single title, he says, “When I finished the last painting, I knew I wasn’t finished with the story.” Punk Farm on Tourdebuted in 2007, but Krosoczka expects that he will write at least one more Punk Farm story.
Krosoczka uses acrylic paints when illustrating his picture books, but in his new Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, he reverts to the comic book style of his youth and a limited color palette that he viewed as a challenge. He immediately knew “lunch lady glove yellow” would accompany shades of black and white. The series developed from a blend of different circumstances. He visited his former elementary school during a school visit forGood Night, Monkey Boy, and saw the same lunch lady that served him more than ten years ago. “She told me about her grandkids,” he says. “It never crossed my mind that she had a life outside of the lunch room.” Krosoczka’s first version of Lunch Lady was a picture book that he later revised as a chapter book and then a script for a television series. “The script helped me realize how the characters would exist over a longer period of time,” he says. During this time, Krosoczka submitted a piece for Jon Scieszka’s Guys Write for Guys Read and he began to reflect on his art and writing as a child. “I went through my mother’s attic,” he says, “and I remembered how much fun I had making comic books.”
Krosoczka works from his home outside of Northampton, Massachusetts in his studio that was once a garage. A disciplined worker, he keeps regular hours, but takes some family time in the late morning for his wife and baby. His dog, Ralph Maccio (named for his wife’s first crush) keeps him company. He says, “I’m a boy who loved to draw who made a career out of it.”