SmarterComics/Round Table Turn Business Books Into Comics

SmarterComics has adapted summaries of several well-known business and inspirational books into quick-reading comics. Their market is clearly go-getters (or wannabes), those who are looking for a shortcut to secret knowledge, or as the site has it, “Have fun while getting smarter!
” (Update: I have since been told that these books were put out by Round Table Companies in collaboration with SmarterComics, and future books will appear under the name of Round Table Comics.)

The presentation is attractive. In print, the volumes resemble the kind of booklets you get at a training seminar. They’re comfortable to hold and read, more magazine-like than graphic novel-sized. Although listed as 80 pages, the comic content is only 50 pages each. (Additional pages are dedicated to ads for the author, his seminars, the prose book, and the other SmarterComics books. A plus to them for including “About the Artist” information, not just information on the original writer.) This is an afternoon’s read, not a commitment, an illustrated CliffsNotes for entrepreneurs or those seeking motivational encouragement. Or maybe the better comparison is Reader’s Digest Condensed Books for a visual generation.

The eye-catching covers focus on the personalities behind the advice, often with copy promoting the (prose) book’s bestseller status or promising the reader success and self-improvement. The line launched with six volumes — The Art of War, Overachievement: The Real Story Behind What it Takes to be Exceptional, Mi Barrio (also in Spanish), Shut Up, Stop Whining & Get a Life, How to Master the Art of Selling, and The Long Tail — of which I sampled the last two.

How to Master the Art of Selling

Tom Hopkins’ book was adapted by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Bob Byrne (2000 AD).

As expected, this comic is extremely text-driven. The pictures aren’t necessary to understanding the content, although they may make the images or metaphors more memorable. Much of Hopkins’ advice comes in the form of lists: six advantages of selling or seven basics or 12 champion personality traits. I would have found those easier to comprehend if presented as bulleted lists instead of separate comic panels, sometimes spreading over a page turn. With them so spread out, it was hard to keep them all in mind at once. It also makes it difficult to flip back for reference or to find them easily to refer to later. In that way, this is no substitute for the original book.

Due to the summary nature of the text, there’s little flow through this comic book. It’s just sets of lists or tips or advice one after another. Still, the pictures can be quite entertaining, as when the advice to concentrate on emotions, not logic, is accompanied by references to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. I can imagine various comic creators and small publishers enjoying the format and finding useful information from the content, especially when it comes to the section on closing sales and defeating objections.

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More

Chris Anderson’s book about media and commerce online was adapted by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Shane Clester (Round Table Companies staff artist).

I knew more about this book going in, which made it a less satisfying read for me. Because I was already familiar with many of the points about the rise of niche markets, I found my attention wandering from the lengthy captions and word balloons. It felt more like an illustrated lecture. Also, since the original text was published in 2006, some of the stats and examples (such as watching The West Wing on TV) are outdated.

I found myself wondering why so many of the problems related to the cost of reaching niche markets weren’t addressed. That may be because we’ve been living in a “long tail” world for five years now, and instead of a revolutionary positive change, it now resembles more of a mixed blessing, with unforeseen detriments in terms of quality, costs of distribution, the failure of word-of-mouth marketing (Snakes on a Plane), unexpected obstacles (such as the new tendency of internet providers to no longer offer unlimited bandwidth), and the time and effort it takes to find entertainment we love when there’s so much more stuff available. Anderson’s faith in filters hasn’t lived up to his glowing promises, in my opinion.

I was most surprised not to see the famous graph that gave the book its name not shown in any of the illustrations. Instead, we get a dinosaur (what used to be called a brontosaurus, although I’m told that’s changed now) in a more literal, less informative presentation of “long tail”. But cute.

The Line Overall

I’m not sure the personality-based marketing and presentation will play in the comic market, but in the business world, these will likely be seen as attractive, entertaining novelties. Through the end of this month, the ebook editions are available for free — in exchange for registering at their site. More titles will be coming in October.

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2 Responses to “SmarterComics/Round Table Turn Business Books Into Comics”

  1. Joshua Says:

    The long tail seems like an unmixed blessing to me. For every project that you can think of that has difficulty because of the costs of reaching the niche; well, that’s a project that couldn’t conceivably have gone anywhere in the world where you had your choice of three networks, the local radio stations, or the local bookstore if you were lucky enough to have one. I suppose you could say the chance the creators have to reach an audience now where there was none before encourages some people to waste their time when they should have just given up creating, but I have trouble thinking that way.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by unforeseen detriments in terms of quality?

  2. Johanna Says:

    One example: “well, it’s not as good as I want it to be, but they’re getting it for free, so I’ll go ahead and release it and improve it later/someday/when I get some attention”. Which may never come.

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