Faster than a speeding bullet. Able to breeze through the densest business jargon in a single sitting. It's not a bird or a plane but a new concept that has taken best-selling business books and transformed them into fully illustrated comic books. Though you won't find any superheroes in their pages, for entrepreneurs short on time but eager to make a dent in their reading list, these comics may just save the day.
The books are the brainchild of Corey Michael Blake, president of Round Table Companies, a Mundelein, Illinois–based media company. Blake partnered with another business, SmarterComics, to produce a line of comic books based on six popular business titles, including The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson; How to Master the Art of Selling, by Tom Hopkins; and the longtime favorite The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. The comic books will be sold this spring in traditional comic book shops as well as at national retail outlets like Barnes & Noble and Hudson News airport bookstores across the country. Digital versions for iPads, iPhones, and Android devices will also be available.
Almost like illustrated versions of CliffsNotes, the comic books condense each original title to about 50 pages of drawings and dialogue in bubble blurbs. "They're great cocktail party books," says Blake. "For someone who doesn't have the time to commit to reading the original book, these allow them to grasp the main concepts quickly and have an informed conversation."
In the comic book version of The Long Tail, an illustrated Anderson, with the help of a long-tailed brontosaurus, explains the book's thesis—that technology and the Web have transformed the consumer marketplace and created countless niche markets that, when combined, account for a huge amount of business. "I think they did a good job of making the book fun without dumbing it down," says Anderson. "Visual language is a great way to communicate and get complicated ideas across."
That's not to say that Anderson, whose hairline is more Lex Luthor than Superman, doesn't have any complaints about his comic book debut. "I now have to deal with my children mocking me, because I'm not as heroic as they expect their comic book characters to be," he says. "But I can get over that."
With North American sales estimated to be close to $680 million in 2009, the comic book and graphic novel sector is serious business. The concept of a comic book adaptation of a business title is new, but the past 10 years have seen a growth in the popularity of nonfiction graphic novels, according to Milton Griepp, publisher of ICv2, a website that provides analysis of the comic book industry. The burgeoning popularity of the genre was most notably demonstrated in 2006, when a graphic novel version of the 9/11 Commission Report made The New York Times's bestseller's list. "That was a watershed moment for graphic novels in the U.S.," says Griepp.
Traditional stereotypes dictate that comic books are the domain of kids and sci-fi geeks, while business books are of interest only to M.B.A.'s and executives. In fact, the two markets may not be that far apart. "In Manhattan, walk into a Midtown Comics or a Forbidden Planet, and you might be surprised to see the types of people who are shopping there," says Griepp. "The demographic for graphic novels is certainly teens and young adults, but the right side of the curve extends out through adulthood."
Anderson also sees this as an opportunity to lure hard-core comic book fans to the business section of the bookstore. "The whole point of recontextualizing these books in graphic form is to reach an audience that might not otherwise be reading business books," he says. Will that turn a bunch of comic book geeks into entrepreneurs? Perhaps. After all, every good superhero needs a day job.