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Graphic Novel Review: The Zen of Steve Jobs by Caleb Melby, Forbes LLC and JESS3

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The Zen of Steve Jobs is a graphic novel that presents a possible history. It depicts Steve Jobs’s friendship with Zen Buddhist priest Kobun Chino Otogawa in different periods of his life, and how that may have had a direct influence on Apple product design. The comic presents different key moments in both men’s lives, including:

- A teenage Jobs and Kobun meeting in Los Altos, California in 1971;

- Jobs in 1997, after his return to Apple, and his changing its course by simplifying its approach to its products;

- Jobs In 1986, in a one-on-one session with Kobun at the Tassajara Zen Center discussing calligraphy and the space around things;

- Kobun teaching Jobs the walking meditation kinhin, its circular simplicity a direct correlation to Apple design, such as the iPod’s circular navigation.

The design of The Zen of Steve Jobs reflects its subject matter. The drawings are streamlined, sometimes even suggesting calligraphy. The color palette is limited to muted greens, blues and purples, printed in two colors on a cream stock. It’s an attractive piece.

Jobs is presented as both visionary and prickly, two aspects of his personality that the public has become familiar with through biographies and apocryphal accounts. The book has come out posthumously, but it doesn’t eulogize Jobs. It keeps things clean and simple. It packs its most emotional punch in its depiction of Kobun, who, like Jobs was a bit of a rebel, and who tragically, drowned while trying to save his five year-old daughter (who also drowned) in Switzerland in 2002.

There is a nice “making of” section in the back of the book, which includes storyboards and potential cover artwork, as well as short biographical material on Steve Jobs and Kobun Chino Otogawa.

A collaboration between Forbes Publishing and creative agency JESS3The Zen of Steve Jobs will have its biggest appeal for Apple fans, but anyone interested in computers or intellectual and spiritual approaches to deign will also enjoy it. It’s a fitting tribute to Steve Jobs and a nice introduction to a man who may have influenced Jobs (Jobs named Kobun NeXT’s spiritual guru) and the products many of us can’t live without today.

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