NORMAN — University of Oklahoma professor Jeremy Short wanted to express to his students that management is inherently interesting. But he found many of the textbooks boring.
Students are interested in business decisions, he said, as featured in shows such as “Shark Tank” and “The Office.” He wondered how to capture that interest in a textbook.
His solution was to create graphic novels to explore business concepts. His first graphic novel, “Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed,” followed two guys starting their own business. “Managing to Succeed” was written by Black with co-authors Dave Ketchen and Talya Bauer with illustrator Len Simon.
“Our books cover key research content … but they have the drama and fun of more accessible formats,” he said. “And they cost around $20, so they are priced more like other graphic novels and less like $100-plus textbooks.”
Short is the Rath Chair in Strategic Management at OU’s Price College of Business. He also co-authored the first Harvard business case in graphic novel format. Following “Managing to Succeed,” Short wrote the sequel, “Atlas Black: Management Guru,” with the same team. He also co-authored “Tales of Garcon: The Franchise Players” and “University Life: A College Survival Story.”
“I think the essential process is to select the most important material — what we would really want and expect students to know and remember — and then write a story and plot around this material with memorable characters, drama, humor and all the other things that lead us to be able to memorize hundreds of movie quotes while struggling to remember facts from textbooks,” he said. “Then, find an artist that can meet deadlines and has a style that works with the more grown-up nature of the content.”
Short said there was some resistance inside academia to using graphic novels initially.
“I think the most difficult group to win over is professors that have used this or that text for years,” he said. “Many of these folks don’t realize that Google, ESPN and many other companies are embracing the graphic novel format. For example, one of the books that inspired me was the graphic novel adaptation of the 9/11 commission report. So, educating this group on the educational value of these books is a must. I do think professors are convinced once they read the first chapter. Fortunately, the publisher (Flat World Knowledge) puts the first chapter of each book online for free viewing.”
Short thinks the results are even better than those from a college textbook. Short said several student evaluations have said one of his graphic novels is the best book they’ve had in their college careers. But not only students are interested — general audiences have been picking up the books as well, judging from some of the sales and reviews of the book.
“Providing guidance valued by this general audience is really one of the goals I had in mind when I set out to create this kind of book,” Short said. “For example, Dave Ketchen and I have written over 150 academic pieces collectively, but the graphic novels are the only works we can convince our wives to read — and they can’t put them down.”
- By Matthew Price
From Friday’s The Oklahoman