www.exceptionalmag.com November-December 2012
Extraordinary Profiles 62
Julie Ziglar Norman—Growing Up the Ziglar Way—The Blessings and the Struggles
Jerry Craft—Cartoon Extraordinaire Educates and Entertains Through Humor
Look For the Good in Others and Expect to Find It
The Lighter Side
Mooching and Other Ways to Save Money
Puzzles and Funnies
Recipe—Tangy Pork Tenderloin
Writers and Contributors
Take time to enjoy this holiday season with family and friends and appreciate all the good things life has to offer.
Publisher’s Letter Be Thankful and Pass It On Dear Friends:
We are each blessed every day with the gifts of life, knowledge, talent, sight, hearing, and more. The list is much too long to mention. We’re also recipients of gifts from others such as friends and colleagues who give us ideas we didn’t have before. They may give us an encouraging word when we least expect it, or they may lend a helping hand during hard times. These are all forms of gifts, and we must learn to recognize and appreciate them. It is never the size of the gift that matters, but the spirit in which it is given. Accept each and every gift with gratitude. It is not enough to receive and be thankful for life’s gifts, but you must pass them on so that others may experience joy in their lives. There is no gift too small. Small blessings often mean a lot. I encourage you to be a blessing to someone every day. Recognize and develop the talents you have as an individual and as a business owner and share them with others. Each of the individuals in this issue not only share their experiences but they talk about their appreciation for the hard work and effort it took to achieve such success and they are thankful for the their challenges and successes. Woven into each interview is a powerful story of faith, vision, perseverance and commitment. P.S. Send us your letters at www.exceptionalmag.com/contact.html. Tell us how you are using Exceptional People Magazine to improve your life. With every good wish for great achievements,
Exceptional People Magazine is not just a magazine. It is a life-changing experience. November-December 2012 | Exceptional People Magazine | 3
Cartoon Extraordinaire Educates and Entertains Through Humor
Craft’s ability to make children laugh
has helped him create a special niche for himself. As the long-time creator of Mama’s Boyz, an award-winning comic strip, Craft has used his artistic ability and creativity to change communities around the country. In addition to other awards, Craft has won three African American Literary Awards for best comic strip in 2004, 2009 and 2011 and has received nominations from the National Cartoonists Society and the Glyph Awards. He’s published three Mama’s Boyz books, as well as worked with other authors. His illustrations have appeared in national publications such as Essence Magazine and Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, as well as comic books, greeting cards, book covers and board games. His talents are amazing and endless, and he has the distinct ability to adapt his creativity in ways that lend a voice to those who want to educate the public on personal and social issues affecting us today. Craft is known as one of the few African American syndicated comic strip writers whose work has had a major impact on how we see ourselves and how we deal with various issues affecting our lives. “In May of 1987, I sold my first comic strip, The Outside View, to a couple of local newspapers,” says Craft, and he hasn’t looked back since. His passion for his work and desire to use his gift has also changed his life in many ways. Dedicated to his craft, Craft is using his comic strip as a vehicle for educating the public on issues such as diabetes, childhood obesity and organ donation. He is an award-winning artistic mastermind who knows how to merge truth and reality with humor, making his readers laugh and learn. Craft graciously talked with the founder of Exceptional People Magazine about his journey to becoming a creative cartoon whiz. Monica: You are one of a few African American cartoonists in the country who are syndicated. That is a very special accomplishment. What does that mean to you?
Jerry: To be syndicated and having a company such as King Features or Universal Press distribute your work is pretty rare. It definitely is an honor. They have distributed my strip for more than 15 years. I have been in the trenches for quite a long time, and even before I did that, I illustrated comic books. I did some New Kids on the Block comic books and other things awhile back. To be able to say that Mama’s Boyz goes to papers all over the country is quite amazing. Monica: Did you ever think you would get to the point where you are now? Jerry: I’m still not really where I want to be, because there is much more effort involved when you’re doing a strip about people of color. Unfortunately, when you look at how we judge our level of success, lots of times it's not on par with the mainstream cartoonists. You look at what Peanuts and Garfield and some of those comic strips have achieved, it’s been remarkable. Unfortunately, I would say somebody like Morrie Turner, who to a lot of African American cartoonists is like an icon, I don’t think that he has quite gotten the recognition he deserves. Monica: What are some obstacles or experiences that you had to overcome in order to become successful from an African American standpoint? Jerry: I think one of the biggest things is that still in a lot of cases things that feature African American characters are seen as being exclusively for the African American market. When I do book fairs, a lot of times white kids will say, “Oh, I want that book,” and a lot of times the parents will say, “Oh, put that down. Let’s see what else is here.” There’s still a level of discomfort that some of the parents feel about their kids reading books that feature characters of color. It’s not something that they would necessarily admit or maybe are even aware of, but that does happen quite a bit. I did a book fair a short while ago and a little white girl was begging for one of my books, and the father almost yelled at her, “Put that down. You know, maybe we’ll come back here later.” Jerry: I think one huge obstacle is there are limitations on who my audience is a lot of times. Monica: I would imagine you have broken through some of those barriers?
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Jerry: Yes. What has helped is when I have schools, libraries or reading groups see the value in my books and when they purchase the books and give them to the kids. I’ve had parents come up to me afterwards and say, “You know, to be honest, this is not the kind of book I would have ever given to my daughter, but she loves it.” They’re stunned. That has happened to me quite a lot. Kids like what they like. Monica: I’m wondering, if the parents actually see the educational value in it. Jerry: They do once the kids share it with them and they take the time to look at it. When I’m at a book fair and there are 30 other authors and illustrators and I’m one of only three African Americans, a lot of times they will look at their watches as they walk by so they don’t make eye contact. Once they’re past me, they’ll stop at another table. Monica: Your comic strip Mama’s Boyz has been syndicated since 1995, and it followed the lives of a widow raising her two teenage sons while running a family bookstore. Did that idea come about through a real life situation or was it your original idea? Jerry: When I was growing up, I was one of the few kids that had their mom and dad living at home. Most of my friends were raised either by their mom or their grandmother. It definitely wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, but in my circle of friends it was like that. So I wanted to do a strip that was sort of loosely based on that. It’s so prevalent now that if I were creating a strip today, I’m not sure I would do it the same way. Monica: What would you change about it? Jerry: I think if I started today, I would probably have the dad in the strip just because I think it is
necessary to show the positive family unit. All of the projects that I do now, I make sure that there is a dad. Monica: What is the overall essence of Mama’s Boyz? Jerry: It’s definitely a family strip. It’s nothing that is intimidating. These are two teenagers, but they’ve got a pretty good relationship with their mom. They’re not the moody teenagers, and they’re not really getting into trouble. You know where the clashes are -- the mom owns a bookstore and of course the kids would rather play XBox, and she tries to eat healthy because the dad passed away from diabetes. I have a health theme in the book and a literacy theme, and different things like that to really teach kids. I remember as a kid growing up with Fat Albert. I don’t necessarily think that I was aware of how many positive messages they were teaching, but it seemed like between Fat Albert and Schoolhouse Rock every opportunity was taken to teach kids. I don’t see that anymore. It’s become more important for me. One of the most popular stories I ever did was about a mom and her 16-year old son, Yusef. She had him take care of a baby for a weekend just because she figured she couldn’t tell him how hard it was. She had to show him. For three days he was responsible for changing the diapers and the 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. feedings. He had to buy baby food with his allowance, and he could see how expensive it was. It was really a lesson about the responsibility of raising a kid. I wanted to speak not only to the girls, but mainly the guys because a lot of times the young men get off the hook. The young girls get reprimanded and chastised and the guys kind of do what they want. Obviously, it takes two to become involved in that predicament. I must have gotten 500 e-mails from parents, grandparents, clergy, teachers, saying “Oh my God, I’m going to share this with my kids.” One mom I’ll always remember said that she had never had the nerve to bring up the conversation of sex with her 16 year-old, so she got the book for him and she had him read the strips. After he read them, she felt more comfortable talking to him about sex. Monica: Your book is serving as a conversation starter as well.
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Jerry: It’s funny you use that term because I received an award from the DC Campaign to Prevent Pregnancy. It’s called the Conversation Starter Award. Monica: In addition to teen pregnancy, you’ve also used the strip to educate people on other things such as obesity and diabetes, as well as organ donation. What inspired you to use something that was meant to be funny for serious issues such as those? Jerry: It started with the American Diabetes Association (ADA), probably about 12 years ago, I contacted them because I read a newsletter that discussed how diabetes was rampant in the black and Latino communities. I introduced myself as a syndicated cartoonist and offered my support. I asked them if they wanted to use my strip characters as a vehicle to get their message out to the masses. Probably an hour later, I get a phone call, “Yes! Yes!” The strip was probably about five years old at the time. I never explained why there was no dad in the strip. I didn’t want it to be like a dad that abandoned his family or anything like that. Once I started working with the ADA, I thought, “Oh, I’m going to have it that he passed away due to complications from diabetes.” That really cemented why mom tried to cook healthy, why she tried to get the boys to exercise instead of sitting around and playing videos all day. The grandfather in the strip is a retired chef. He’s a chef in Harlem from back in the day, so everything he cooks is fried or it’s pork. There’s a famous Ohio Pork Cake. That actually added some tension to the strip, and from tension you get the humor. I felt like that was the cement that really made it a solid comic strip. Monica: Those serious issues that you targeted through your strip, didn’t occur by happenstance. Were they intentional? Jerry: Yes, it was definitely intentional. The meeting with the ADA sort of fell into my lap and then it was a concerted effort. The New York Daily News used to have special supplements and they had me do some strips for their Black History Month supplement, and they had me do some things for their West Indian Day Parade. One day they called and said, “We want you to do some comic strips for our AIDS supplement,” and I thought,
“How in the world am I going to do comic strips on AIDS?” I did it and it got a really great response, and I think I did three more of their supplements. Once I did that, I thought I could do a comic strip on anything. Then people started approaching me about organ and tissue donations. I did a project with the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition about childhood obesity. I actually have a 24-page comic book about leukemia – a Mama’s Boyz comic book where I created a character who was diagnosed with leukemia. This was for an organization that wanted to teach their readers about leukemia. Now I’m working on a comic book with the Washington, D.C., Public School System about truancy. I’ve been able to make those subjects a little more engaging and palatable. Now I get approached by organizations that want me to develop something using humor to talk about a serious message and I really enjoy doing that. Monica: You originally started your career in advertising as a copywriter. How did you transition from being a copywriter into the amazing cartoonist that you are today? Jerry: I had always wanted to be a cartoonist, and when it was time to go to high school, I had taken the test for a few of the popular art high schools in New York. I was accepted and my parents were thinking, “Oh, my God, he wants to be an artist. That boy is going to be living in our basement until he’s 30.” They didn’t really know anything about it. All they knew at the time was what they saw on TV. They made me go to an academic high school, but when it was time to go to college, I decided that I was going to go to the School for Visual Arts. While I was there, I had the hardest time getting into any of the classes because they were packed. They filled up so quickly. I was never able to take any of those cartooning
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classes and was forced into taking an elective, so I considered copywriting. It was all about writing radio commercials and newspaper ads and things like that, and I thought, “Wow, this is really cool.” I really loved it, so it became the way I marketed myself. There were some really talented artists at the School of Visual Arts, so I could say I would be an art director who could write or if I repositioned myself, I could be a copywriter who was also a really good artist. I thought that would get me more notoriety because then I would really stand out. Monica: What is the special thing you have that helped you establish your foundation? Jerry: I think the biggest thing is consistency. Not only has the strip been out for 15 years, my website has been the same, my e-mail has been the same, so people know where to reach me, where to find the strip, that's one. As far as the writing, I think what sets me apart is that I’m fair to all of the generations. Monica: Have you been approached by anyone to do anything outside of your realm of thinking? Jerry: I get approached quite often by people who want me to do other things but I only produce projects that my kids can read, because I use my kids as a sounding board. If I don’t want to show my kids this, I don’t want anyone else’s kids to see it either. I have definitely turned down a few offers. Monica: You have also written three books? Jerry: I’ve done three that are based on the Mama’s Boyz comic strip, and then I’ve probably illustrated about 10 other books for other authors. I work with people who have an idea about something and either they can’t get an agent or a publisher, or they just really want to do it themselves. They may say, “I want to do this book about what it
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was like when I was growing up.” That wouldn’t necessarily be a huge seller for Disney or Simon & Schuster, but I will work with them. I’ll edit it and I’ll make suggestions for the story, and then I illustrate it and design it, and we select a printer and they decide how many copies they want. They get the church behind it or people at their job or their family, and they become published authors. Monica: There are many young men who would love to do what you’re doing but they’re apprehensive and unsure about their ability to be successful at it. Can you offer them some encouragement in terms of how they can start? Jerry: Sure. I think the first thing is we’ve got to start telling our own stories. We have to stop letting other people who don’t really know our people and our community tell the world who we are and what we’re like. Find what’s unique, what your voice is, don’t just write to copy someone else or write what’s popular now, because you think you’ll make money. There are so many other stories out there that you don’t always have to just jump on the bandwagon. Stay true to yourself and work at it. Don’t just put something out in a week. I’m working on two projects now; one of them is about a black teenager superhero. He and his father are living in Harlem trying to come up with a way to save their little community. It’s a superhero book, but it’s a lot different -– it’s not just about beating people down. It’s about changing how people perceive themselves because you can’t continue to beat down people who already feel beaten down. It’s a lot of action but it’s also a psychological approach, and it’s a father and his son that are teaming up to do this. You may need a publisher sometimes but other times you may have to publish yourself. Monica: Speaking of that, you have self-published your own material. Would you recommend that to other authors with whom you work? Jerry: There are a couple of schools of thought with that. One is the reason I published myself is when I first started sending things out to publishers, I got a response that was just so negative. Yes, it was one thing getting form letters, but one person took the time to write, “Oh,
we’re not interested in this type of ‘Good Times’ style of humor.” That really offended me because on the show “Good Times” there really weren’t that many good times there. They were always having the worst luck. I felt just to be grouped in with that, I would never really be able to convince people that wasn’t my approach, especially if that’s how they perceived my material without ever reading it. Monica: It sounded as if he didn’t get it or he didn’t appreciate the deeper meaning. Jerry: Oh, absolutely. Then there was another person who said, “Well, I think that it would be kind of depressing, and I don’t think that it would sell to the mainstream because the kids live in such a bad neighborhood and I think that people would feel bad for them.” I thought, “Bad neighborhood?” I went through page-by-page of what I had submitted, and everything, with the exception of maybe two comic strips, took place either in their living room or in the family bookstore. So where did they get the tough neighborhood from when I never actually showed the neighborhood? How do you overcome that, where the characters are viewed to be in a neighborhood with drive-bys and crack and this kind of stuff? I never showed that. Monica: How many publishers did you go to before you decided to start publishing on your own? Jerry: I think I might have sent out about five or ten, and after receiving the “Good Times” letter, that was when I realized what I was up against. I also looked at some of my peers. I looked at people like Ray Billingsley who had been doing Curtis even longer than I had been doing Mama’s Boyz. There’s 50 Blondie books, 100 Peanuts books, 1,000 Garfield books but I don’t see one Curtis book. Why doesn’t Herb & Jamaal have a book? I just became inspired to publish my own book. I went to the library -- this was in 1997 so it was preinternet -- and I found a book on how to self publish. I already knew page layout and Photoshop so design was not a problem. I needed help with the ISBN number, how to secure it, and how to copyright my book. I found a printer and ordered about 5,000 copies, and just started selling them. That was it really.
Monica: Earlier we talked about kids and young people following their dreams and having a plan. In addition to writing comic strips and books that kids can read, how are you working with them? Jerry: I do cartoon workshops at schools and afterschool programs, and libraries will bring me in. Although it is mainly about drawing -- because I do have kids draw with me, it’s also about following your passion, the whole idea that if you can make a career out of something that you love, it doesn’t seem like work. With the cartoon characters, I quiz the kids and let them know that little details matter. I showed the girls at one workshop all of the different sketches that went in before I prepared the finished product and how I did one page in a book maybe five different times until it was how I wanted it. I wanted to let them know that it is not about getting it done quickly. I wanted them to know that when they are doing their homework, double check it. Reread it and rework it. Monica: Absolutely. You want it to be the best product that it can be. Jerry: Right, because once my book leaves my hand, I can’t come to you and say, “Oh, well, you know what Monica, what I meant to do was this or what I should have done was that.” When you see my work you’re either going to say, “I’m going to buy this book or I’m not going to buy it.” I can’t stand over everyone and say, “Well, I knew I drew the thumb on the wrong side of the hand, but don’t hold that against me.” Monica: What do you believe is your true calling in life? Jerry: It’s always something about kids because when I worked at Kings Features, we did a lot of things with kids. When I got a job at Sports Illustrated for Kids, I ended up becoming the guy who answered the kids’
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e-mails and conducted tours. Now, I’m doing the kids’ workshops. I’m working with Allan Houston next to do a curriculum for his fatherhood campaign, so everything has some kind of kid/fatherhood component to it, and I find that very fulfilling. Monica: You mentioned specific barriers earlier. What do you think are barriers from an African American viewpoint that cartoonists need to overcome to take their work to the next level? Jerry: When I go to conferences like George Fraser’s PowerNetworking Conference and he talks about the buying power that we have as African Americans, I guess one of my biggest obstacles is that I get lots of pats on the back and, “Hey brother, love what you’re doing for the kids. You’ve got my support,” but there really is no support, like purchasing one of the books, because I recycle those dollars into new products. People don’t realize that when you have an author that you like, asking for a free copy really doesn’t do that author much good. If you like the book, you should not only purchase it, but don’t keep it a secret. Spread the word. I’ve had friends I’ve known for 20 years and to this day they will call me up and say something like, “Hey Jerry, I’ve got a 13 yearold nephew and it’s his birthday. What do you think I should get? Do you know any video games and or something that’s good?” And I think, “You could buy them one of my books.” It’s like pulling teeth to get support sometimes. That’s one of the biggest barriers. Monica: I’m glad you’re encouraging young kids to stick with their dreams and inspiring them to be persistent and consistent. What advice can you offer parents who have children with potential talent? Of course all talent and skills can be improved upon, but what advice can you offer parents to have them encourage their kids?
Jerry: That’s the first thing -- encourage the talent. I always did well in school, but I was also the kid who was drawing on his homework and told to stop. Until this day, I’ll go to a restaurant and if they’ve got a paper tablecloth and crayons, my kids will be eating while I’m sketching on tablecloths. Offer alternatives, rather than saying, “That’s stupid, you’ll never make any money.” You can say, “I know you like to draw, but, don’t forget about your math because you’ll need math skills to read and understand a contract.” Or you could say, “You need to learn how to write well or speak well, so that when you get interviewed, you won’t embarrass yourself.” Instead of saying, “Don’t do art, do math,” you can say, “You can do your art, but here’s how math and English can support that because you’ll be able to take your skills twice as far.” If kids decide later on that they don’t want to become an artist, then at least they have the foundation to become successful at something else. One of my saddest conversations has been with people who are 50 and 60 years old who say something like, “I always wanted to be a nurse when I was a kid, but my dad wanted me to be something else.” They go through life resenting it. When kids are young, expose them to as much as you can. There are little things you can do such as buy your kid a sketchbook. You could say, “Instead of playing X-Box all day, let’s go to the park and you can sketch something. Let’s see what you’ve got and tell me about it. What were you thinking?” Be engaging and be part of it. I think that’s one of the best things that you can do for your kids.
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Thank you...Founder, Monica Davis
â€œService to others is the first step to being remembered by them. Always seek to add value to the lives of others.â€?
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