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  • Translator: Thu-Huong Ha Reviewer: Morton Bast

  • Hello. My name is Jarrett Krosoczka,

  • and I write and illustrate books for children for a living.

  • So I use my imagination as my full-time job.

  • But well before my imagination was my vocation,

  • my imagination saved my life.

  • When I was a kid, I loved to draw,

  • and the most talented artist I knew

  • was my mother,

  • but my mother was addicted to heroin.

  • And when your parent is a drug addict,

  • it's kind of like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football,

  • 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.

  • So throughout my childhood, my mother was incarcerated

  • and I didn't have my father because

  • I didn't even learn his first name until I was in the sixth grade.

  • But I had my grandparents,

  • my maternal grandparents Joseph and Shirley,

  • who adopted me just before my third birthday

  • and took me in as their own,

  • after they had already raised five children.

  • So two people who grew up in the Great Depression,

  • there in the very, very early '80s took on a new kid.

  • I was the Cousin Oliver of the sitcom

  • of the Krosoczka family,

  • the new kid who came out of nowhere.

  • And I would like to say that life was totally easy with them.

  • They each smoked two packs a day, each, nonfiltered,

  • and by the time I was six,

  • I could order a Southern Comfort Manhattan,

  • dry with a twist, rocks on the side,

  • the ice on the side so you could fit more liquor in the drink.

  • But they loved the hell out of me. They loved me so much.

  • And they supported my creative efforts,

  • because my grandfather was a self-made man.

  • He ran and worked in a factory.

  • My grandmother was a homemaker.

  • But here was this kid who loved Transformers

  • and Snoopy and the Ninja Turtles,

  • and the characters that I read about, I fell in love with,

  • and they became my friends.

  • So my best friends in life were the characters

  • I read about in books.

  • I went to Gates Lane Elementary School in Worcester, Massachusetts,

  • and I had wonderful teachers there,

  • most notably in first grade Mrs. Alisch.

  • And I just, I can just remember the love that she offered

  • us as her students.

  • When I was in the third grade,

  • a monumental event happened.

  • An author visited our school, Jack Gantos.

  • A published author of books came to talk to us

  • about what he did for a living.

  • And afterwards, we all went back to our classrooms

  • and we drew our own renditions of his main character,

  • Rotten Ralph.

  • And suddenly the author appeared in our doorway,

  • and I remember him sort of sauntering down the aisles,

  • going from kid to kid looking at the desks, not saying a word.

  • But he stopped next to my desk,

  • and he tapped on my desk, and he said,

  • "Nice cat." (Laughter)

  • And he wandered away.

  • Two words that made a colossal difference in my life.

  • When I was in the third grade, I wrote a book for the first time,

  • "The Owl Who Thought He Was The Best Flyer." (Laughter)

  • We had to write our own Greek myth,

  • our own creation story, so I wrote a story about an owl

  • who challenged Hermes to a flying race,

  • and the owl cheated,

  • and Hermes, being a Greek god, grew angry and bitter,

  • and turned the owl into a moon,

  • so the owl had to live the rest of his life as a moon

  • while he watched his family and friends play at night.

  • Yeah. (Laughter)

  • My book had a title page.

  • I was clearly worried about my intellectual property when I was eight.

  • (Laughter)

  • And it was a story that was told with words and pictures,

  • exactly what I do now for a living,

  • and I sometimes let the words have the stage on their own,

  • and sometimes I allowed the pictures to work on their own

  • to tell the story.

  • My favorite page is the "About the author" page.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I learned to write about myself in third person

  • at a young age.

  • So I love that last sentence: "He liked making this book."

  • And I liked making that book because I loved using my imagination,

  • and that's what writing is.

  • Writing is using your imagination on paper,

  • and I do get so scared because I travel to so many schools now

  • and that seems like such a foreign concept to kids,

  • that writing would be using your imagination on paper,

  • if they're allowed to even write now within the school hours.

  • So I loved writing so much that I'd come home from school,

  • and I would take out pieces of paper,

  • and I would staple them together,

  • and I would fill those blank pages with words and pictures

  • just because I loved using my imagination.

  • And so these characters would become my friends.

  • There was an egg, a tomato, a head of lettuce and a pumpkin,

  • and they all lived in this refrigerator city,

  • and in one of their adventures they went to a haunted house

  • that was filled with so many dangers

  • like an evil blender who tried to chop them up,

  • an evil toaster who tried to kidnap the bread couple,

  • and an evil microwave who tried to melt their friend

  • who was a stick of butter. (Laughter)

  • And I'd make my own comics too,

  • and this was another way for me to tell stories,

  • through words and through pictures.

  • Now when I was in sixth grade,

  • the public funding all but eliminated the arts budgets

  • in the Worcester public school system.

  • I went from having art once a week

  • to twice a month

  • to once a month to not at all.

  • And my grandfather, he was a wise man,

  • and he saw that as a problem, because he knew

  • that was, like, the one thing I had. I didn't play sports.

  • I had art.

  • So he walked into my room one evening,

  • and he sat on the edge of my bed,

  • and he said, "Jarrett, it's up to you, but if you'd like to,

  • we'd like to send you to the classes at the Worcester Art Museum."

  • And I was so thrilled.

  • So from sixth through 12th grade,

  • once, twice, sometimes three times a week,

  • I would take classes at the art museum,

  • and I was surrounded by other kids who loved to draw,

  • other kids who shared a similar passion.

  • Now my publishing career began when I designed the cover

  • for my eighth grade yearbook,

  • and if you're wondering about the style of dress I put our mascot in,

  • I was really into Bell Biv DeVoe and MC Hammer

  • and Vanilla Ice at the time. (Laughter)

  • And to this day, I still can do karaoke to "Ice, Ice Baby"

  • without looking at the screen.

  • Don't tempt me, because I will do it.

  • So I get shipped off to private school,

  • K through eight, public schools, but for some reason

  • my grandfather was upset that somebody

  • at the local high school had been stabbed and killed,

  • so he didn't want me to go there.

  • He wanted me to go to a private school, and he gave me an option.

  • You can go to Holy Name, which is coed,

  • or St. John's, which is all boys.

  • Very wise man, because he knew I would,

  • I felt like I was making the decision on my own,

  • and he knew I wouldn't choose St. John's,

  • so I went to Holy Name High School,

  • which was a tough transition because, like I said,

  • I didn't play sports,

  • and it was very focused on sports,

  • but I took solace in Mr. Shilale's art room.

  • And I just flourished here.

  • I just couldn't wait to get to that classroom every day.

  • So how did I make friends?

  • I drew funny pictures of my teachers -- (Laughter) --

  • and I passed them around.

  • Well, in English class, in ninth grade,

  • my friend John, who was sitting next to me,

  • laughed a little bit too hard.

  • Mr. Greenwood was not pleased.

  • (Laughter)

  • He instantly saw that I was the cause of the commotion,

  • and for the first time in my life, I was sent to the hall,

  • and I thought, "Oh no, I'm doomed.

  • My grandfather's just going to kill me."

  • And he came out to the hallway and he said,

  • "Let me see the paper."

  • And I thought, "Oh no. He thinks it's a note."

  • And so I took this picture, and I handed it to him.

  • And we sat in silence for that brief moment,

  • and he said to me,

  • "You're really talented." (Laughter)

  • "You're really good. You know, the school newspaper

  • needs a new cartoonist, and you should be the cartoonist.

  • Just stop drawing in my class."

  • So my parents never found out about it.

  • I didn't get in trouble. I was introduced to Mrs. Casey,

  • who ran the school newspaper,

  • and I was for three and a half years

  • the cartoonist for my school paper,

  • handling such heavy issues as,

  • seniors are mean,

  • freshmen are nerds,

  • the prom bill is so expensive. I can't believe how much it costs to go to the prom.

  • And I took the headmaster to task

  • and then I also wrote an ongoing story about a boy named Wesley

  • who was unlucky in love, and I just swore up and down

  • that this wasn't about me,

  • but all these years later it was totally me.

  • But it was so cool because I could write these stories,

  • I could come up with these ideas,

  • and they'd be published in the school paper,

  • and people who I didn't know could read them.

  • And I loved that thought, of being able to share my ideas

  • through the printed page.

  • On my 14th birthday, my grandfather and my grandmother

  • gave me the best birthday present ever:

  • a drafting table that I have worked on ever since.

  • Here I am, 20 years later,

  • and I still work on this table every day.

  • On the evening of my 14th birthday,

  • I was given this table, and we had Chinese food.

  • And this was my fortune:

  • "You will be successful in your work."

  • I taped it to the top left hand of my table,

  • and as you can see, it's still there.

  • Now I never really asked my grandparents for anything.

  • Well, two things: Rusty, who was a great hamster

  • and lived a great long life when I was in fourth grade.

  • (Laughter)

  • And a video camera.

  • I just wanted a video camera.

  • And after begging and pleading for Christmas,

  • I got a second-hand video camera,

  • and I instantly started making my own animations

  • on my own,

  • and all throughout high school I made my own animations.

  • I convinced my 10th grade English teacher to allow me

  • to do my book report on Stephen King's "Misery"

  • as an animated short. (Laughter)

  • And I kept making comics.

  • I kept making comics, and at the Worcester Art Museum,

  • I was given the greatest piece of advice by any educator I was ever given.

  • Mark Lynch, he's an amazing teacher

  • and he's still a dear friend of mine,

  • and I was 14 or 15,

  • and I walked into his comic book class halfway through the course,

  • and I was so excited, I was beaming.

  • I had this book that was how to draw comics in the Marvel way,

  • and it taught me how to draw superheroes,

  • how to draw a woman, how to draw muscles

  • just the way they were supposed to be

  • if I were to ever draw for X-Men or Spiderman.

  • And all the color just drained from his face,

  • and he looked at me, and he said,

  • "Forget everything you learned."

  • And I didn't understand. He said, "You have a great style.

  • Celebrate your own style. Don't draw the way you're being told to draw.

  • Draw the way you're drawing and keep at it,