Welcome back to Part Two, the Question & Answer portion of our interview with illustrator and exotic beard cultivator, Jerry Bennett. (To catch up with the goodies you missed in Part One, click here.)
Valerie Lawson: Thanks for stopping by on your busy schedule, Jerry. Welcome back from the New Orleans Comic Con. I hope you enjoyed your time in The Big Easy.
Let’s get right to the questions, shall we? You’ve recently been appointed to the position of Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Illustrator Coordinator; tell us about the role you play in Oklahoma SCBWI. How do you see that changing?
Jerry Bennett: That’s a good question, as I am still trying to get a feel for the position, since Oklahoma’s never had one before. It’s a tough pair of shoes to fill when the few and gifted group of illustrators we have are spread out across the state. My ultimate goal would be create a united group of Oklahoma illustrators that are able to encourage and fellowship together in our like-minded goals. I have a feeling the best way will be to do that through social media, so I’m in the process of building the best forms of internet communication for the illustrators to share what they are doing, and can help critique and promote each other’s work to strengthen and enable them to be the very best at what they do…I’m in the process of getting some events going that can be done for little expense and can yield valuable time of camaraderie and skill-building. One will be a sketchcrawl, where the artists will meet, whether it be a zoo, a mall or other scenic spot, and draw on location for skill-building, for reference researching or simply for fun. It can be a great chance to get to know the other illustrators and critique and encourage one another.
VL: That’s fantastic. Even though the full title of SCBWI is Society of Book Writers and Illustrators the focus seems to have been more on writers than illustrators in the past. Since you’ve become involved, there have already been exciting opportunities for illustrators at our annual spring conferences, including working with an art director on an art piece prior to the conference, just like one would for a book project. The feedback on that one in particular had to be amazing. How many novices get that kind of interaction? You’ve really helped to energize the illustrator portion of our group. I really look forward to seeing what great things you bring next.
Let’s go back to the beginning of your illustrious career. When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator? When did you start pursuing that seriously?
JB: I’ve always loved to draw. Always. It was in eighth grade, after trying to impress a girl by drawing a portrait of her, and all the gushing from everyone who saw it, made me realize that I could possibly do this as a career. [After the girl saw and loved the portrait, I chanced a request to a school dance with her. She said no.]
VL: I love getting to know someone better by probing into their childhood for embarrassing stories – what can I say, my father was a therapist and I have issues. So, here they come:
Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?
JB: I see what you did there; ‘Drew’ you to them?
I was very heavy into knowing who made all my favorite movies. I was ‘drawn’ to the process of animation and special effects for the Star Wars movies as far back as elementary school! The power to bring anything, any creature, any ship, to life astounded me.
VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?
JB: I wanted to be a comic book artist! (All this time and nothing has changed!) Star Wars and Marvel Comics was my main source of influence. Still is.
VL: Are you saying you haven’t grown up, yet? Never mind.
As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?
JB: Me? I never got into trouble.
The worst I can think of was when my brother and I decided to spray graffiti with graphite on our neighbor’s wall. Our mom caught us, and told to clean it up and go next door to apologize. (We pretended we apologized, and quickly cleaned it up!)
VL: Even when you were getting into trouble you were drawing. Nice.
Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?
JB: I think I was, but I also remember waking up under the bed often, so was I afraid of myself?
VL: Bah ha ha! Maybe you were battling monsters in your sleep.
Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.
JB: When I was with my high school choir in Hawaii, my best friend was having issues with his girlfriend, and he wanted me to fix things with her, and had locked me on our seventh floor balcony until I promised I’d help. I would do no such thing, and climbed over to the next balcony and escaped. Yes, that was crazy and dumb. I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip after that, when he realized I wanted nothing to do with their problems.
VL: Hawaii??!!! I don’t know what kind of budget your school had, but my only band trips were to…oh, wait, I quit band in my sophomore year. Man, I hope they didn’t go to Hawaii. Maybe I should have joined the choir. And that was some crazy spidey stunt climbing over the balcony, if I say so myself. Crazy. Peter Parker wold have been proud.
Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?
JB: My brother and I made forts out of our beds with blankets. Does that count? (Yes, it does!)
VL: Oh! Love blanket forts! Definitely counts.
VL: Did you ever have to deal with a bully? How did you handle it?
JB: Ugh. I remember when I rode the bus, two kids wanted to look at my Swatch, and I was naive enough to show them. They never gave it back, as they got off the bus and pretended they didn’t have it. When I pressed, one got in my face, while the other got behind me on his knees to trip me as I was pushed over. Days passed as I fantasized what I wanted to do, but eventually resigned that my Swatch was gone, and I went on with life, thinking that they will end up in prison one day while I lived a better life than them.
VL: Wow, that was pretty was a pretty mature attitude. I probably would have made an ineffective voodoo doll or something.
Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?
JB: I was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and at the time, found nothing interesting about living here. It may be why I
drew and played video games all the time: to get away from such a boring world I lived in. But now I can look with grown up eyes at all the awesomeness we have here now. The culture, the diversity, the friendliness that is a trademark for Okies.
VL: What was the worst job you ever had while going to school? Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?
JB: In high school, I worked at Foleys (which is now Macys) as a sales associate, and I loved it! Friends did come by, but it was never embarrassing, though I was glad they never came by when I worked in handbags. I had always worked in the men’s and young men’s departments, then soon started working in all these women’s departments, housewares, and Godiva. I think they thought I was gay and better suited to work in ladies’ clothing. I didn’t mind it one bit.
VL: Ha! I can so see you selling the heck out of some ladies’ clothing. Best way to meet girls, too.
What is the most embarrassing thing one of your friends ever did to you?
JB: I remember in sixth grade, while stuttering and getting the nerve up to ask a girl to be my girlfriend, my brother, who was waiting impatiently to walk home with me, piped up and asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend. She politely refused, citing she already had a boyfriend.
VL: Who was your childhood best friend? Are you still friends today?
JB: Honestly, I think my brother was my best friend. He was killed in a plane crash over 17 years ago now. It was understandably difficult.
VL: Very understandably. He must have been a great guy.
What would be your dream illustrating assignment?
JB: I’ve always wanted to draw a Spider-Man or Superman story, but now I’d throw in a Star Wars story into that mix, since Star Wars is a huge comic book property now, too! It would be amazing if I was approached by Scholastic to do a graphic novel series based on the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins!
VL: Oh! Gregor the Overlander, that would be very cool as a graphic novel.
What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?
JB: I have really enjoyed the graphic novels of Doug TenNapel. I’ve discovered and read several this year, with Cardboard being my favorite, but they all have such heart, humor and action, all packed in very well flowing panels. Check ‘em out!
VL: Speaking of graphic novels, what are you currently working on?
JB: I’m multi-tasking, creating a sci-fi comic book, Nadir’s Zenith, creating several tee designs, selling prints of my work at comic book conventions, and deciding if I want to do another picture book for a local author. Something I’m very excited about is I’m writing, or more accurately, learning to write a graphic novel I will illustrate.
VL: I hear that you and your lovely wife are working on writing every week. If you’re putting in the work, then you ARE writing it! I am really looking forward to the graphic novel, Jerry. It sounds exciting. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by!
Check out more of Jerry’s artwork here.
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