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Graphic Biography Review: Steve Jobs: Genius By Design by Jason Quinn and Amit Tayal (illustrator)

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Steve Jobs: Genius By Design is the latest publication in the Campfire Graphic Novels Heroes Series. The graphic biography joins previous Campfire studies of the lives of ‘heroes’ like Harry Houdini, Muhammud Ali, Nelson Mandela, and the Wright Brothers. Now while the selection of subjects may suggest a fairly broad definition of hero, Jobs is clearly quite a significant figure, perhaps the most significant figure in the development of the computer age, in his case ‘hero’ might be a stretch. The idea of the hero as billionaire business man raises all sorts of ideological political issues, none of which I would imagine were intended by the book’s writer, Jason Quinn.

He does after all take a warts and all look at his subject. The Steve Jobs he describes is driven by his desire for control and perfection. He is self centered, opinionated and uncompromising. He is insensitive to the people he works with. The only thing that saves him from being a total jerk is that he is usually right. The book spends a good portion of time on his life from his birth, his adoption by a couple with a limited educational background, his early passion for mechanical tinkering and his unhappiness with school. It concentrates on the kinds of things that should appeal to the book’s target audience, the older child.

Even when he goes on to deal with Jobs’ later career, Quinn keeps that audience in mind pointing to details sure to titillate the young reader. Jobs’ peculiar eating habits come up over and over again, as do his personal hygiene problems. His conflicts with fellow workers are always in the forefront. His career at Pixar is highlighted, as well as his early development of Apple and his successful return after his ouster. Parents should note, however, that the book does deal with his relationship with Chrisann Brennan and the birth and initial rejection of his illegitimate daughter, as well as his own illegitimate birth. It notes his early problem with religion. It also points out his failure to get adequate medical attention later in life. There are lessons in his life; what those lessons might be is open to interpretation.

Amit Tayal’s illustrations are not quite as dark and gritty as I have found the norm in previous Campfire Graphics. In general the whole look is much brighter. Indeed much of the series’ usual format has been changed for this issue. The book itself is larger in size, and the cardboard covers are stiffer. The black and white front cover is unlike any of elaborate color of their other books. Although it’s ingenious replication of an iPad with an interesting caricature of Jobs is about as clever an idea for a cover as any they have previously come up with.

While I doubt that Steve Jobs would have been my choice as a subject for the adolescent audience, he is clearly a topical figure worth reading about, perhaps even more so with the recent emergence of Apple as the world’s most valuable company. Back in Victorian England, the historian Thomas Carlyle published a book based on a series of lectures he called On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Each lecture created a category of hero—”The Hero as Divinity,” “The Hero as Prophet,” “The Hero as Poet.” With Steve Jobs, we can add a new category—the hero as businessman.

About Jack Goodstein