Jerry Costello was born on December 25, 1897 in the Bellevue section of West Scranton, Pennsylvania, the son of renowned engrosser Patrick W. (P. W.) Costello and Mary Agnes Mahon. In 1925, he married Lola M. Huntington in Albany, New York. They had two daughters, Patricia A. Smith and Lola M. Costello.
During his junior year at Central High School in Scranton, Jerry completed the C. N. Landon School's mail-order Correspondence Course of Cartooning and Illustrating (based in Cleveland, Ohio). His first cartoon was published in the Scranton Daily News in 1913. He was hired at the Philadelphia Press in 1916, and briefly attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
In 1918, at the age of 21, he returned to Scranton to work in the art department of the Scranton Republican, where he had the opportunity to learn from popular staff cartoonist Bill Steinke.
Very early in his career, Jerry Costello was creating superbly drawn portraits of prominent Scranton businessmen and politicians, and caricatures of local figures at various social and cultural events, a regular feature on page three of the Scranton Republican. Like his father, his illustrations showed a keen eye for detail. His early portraits were cross-hatched, also reflecting his father's influence, but gradually Jerry developed his own distinctive style. His political cartoons are characterized by bold pen strokes and lucid commentary conveyed through humor and satire. They were easily recognizable on any paper's op-ed pages. Foreign threats to America's freedom, government waste, escalating taxes, and traffic safety were some of his favorite targets.
Following brief stops at the Binghamton Press (1919), the Buffalo Courier and Enquirer (1920), and the Newark Star-Eagle (1921), he became the editorial cartoonist for the Albany Evening News (later called the Knickerbocker News), where he remained from 1922 until his retirement in 1962. His cartoons were syndicated in 75 Gannett and General Features Corp. newspapers nationally.
Jerry Costello was a pioneer in animated movie cartooning. He did work for Walt Disney Studios and sold his first animated cartoon to Wm. Bray Studios in New York in 1918. He created three comic strips in the 1920s and 1930s, including Hawkeye, Jr., Cosmo, and The Topsy Turveys, published in the New York Herald's Sunday colored comic section.
In 1928, Mr. Costello published The Life of Al Smith, a pictorial book that helped promote the presidential candidacy of the former Governor of New York.
Jerry Costello was listed in Who's Who in America in 1956. His cartoons won numerous awards, including: first prize in Commercial Investment Trust Safety Foundation awards for editorial cartoons in interest of traffic safety (1939); Grand Award winner, National Safety Council annual cartoon contest (1947); first prize, Disabled American Veterans newspaper editorial cartoon contest (1948); Freedoms Foundation Gold Medal award (1950, 1951, and 1952); Distinguished Service award (1952, 1954, and 1955); and Crusade for Freedom citation (1956).
Costello's editorial cartoon originals have been exhibited or preserved at the Library of Congress, Princeton University Library, Huntington Library and Art Gallery, Columbia University Libraries, University of Washington (Seattle), Boston University, and Suffolk University.
Jerry Costello retired from editorial cartooning on December 15, 1962 and was honored in cartoons by many of his peers in the profession, including Bill Maudlin and Hy Rosen, his successor. He died on July 12, 1971 at his home in Albany. He was 73.