News Column

Graphic Novels On Business May Overtake Textbooks

May 4, 2012

Kyle Arnold

Business textbooks just weren't exciting enough for University of Oklahoma professor Jeremy Short.

They were filled with pages of text, repetitious graphics and drab advice, and he thought he could do better.

Introduce Garcon, an international man of adventure and commerce who flies through the pages of Short's new graphic novel, trying to grow his family's hotel and educate students and entrepreneurs about the lessons of franchising and other business strategies.

"I've yet to meet a student that can recite a line from a textbook," Short said. "But I'm amazed at some of the minutia and facts that students remember from the graphic novels."

"Tales of Garcon: The Franchise Players" is an attempt by Short and co-author David Ketchen to keep students more interested in a rather dry subject.

"Our goal was that we wanted to be able to use it as a textbook, but we wanted to make it on a level that everyone could understand and be interested in," Short said. "So many important elements of franchising are not just the facts, but pitfalls and story-line issues. The story gives you time to digest all of that."

Graphic novels have been gaining popularity as a type of novel-length comic book.

Hollywood blockbusters "V for Vendetta" and "Sin City" were based on popular graphic novels, and many bookstores now have full graphic novel sections.

Every popular traditional comic book from "Spider-Man" to "Superman" has graphic novel editions.

"Tales of Garcon" is actually the fourth textbook-turned-graphic novel for the 40-year-old Short, a Dallas native who started teaching at OU in Norman last year. He has been the lead author of the "Atlas Black" series of books, which follows a student nearing graduation as he attempts to start his own business.

The books are published by a boutique textbook publisher in New York. For the four graphic novels that Short and Ketchen have published, they used illustrator Will Terrell, who spent about a year drawing and illustrating hundreds of frames and organizing the book into the format.

The "Atlas Black" and "Tales of Garcon" books, registering at 200 to 300 pages each, examine the major challenges to business owners. The newest book deals with the pitfalls of expanding a popular boutique hotel and choosing an heir to the business.

"We really tried to go into each character involved," said Ketchen, who teaches management and franchising courses to undergraduates and graduate-level students at Auburn University in Alabama. "Actually depicting those relationships has a bigger impact on the reader."

Both Short and Ketchen said it was a challenge to translate a textbook into a narrative fiction format. They had to find ways to sneak in statistics and other facts, such as the characters themselves reading information out of a textbook.

The graphic novels are also an attempt to subvert the highly lucrative and controversial textbook publishing world.

"Tales of Garcon" retails on for just under $20. The standard textbook for franchising courses sell for well over $100, Ketchen said.

Short said he often tries to assign cheaper source material from his classes, such as free online courses or library resources. However, those texts are often incomplete or difficult to come by.

A graphic novel, on the other hand, is cheap enough to assign to students and to sell to the general public.

The graphic novels haven't become a commercial success yet, but Short and Ketchen said they are catching on in the academic world. Recently a teacher from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., told Ketchen he would employ the graphic novels in his business courses. Other professors from the University of Tennessee, the University of South Carolina and Portland State University are also using them.

"Really the hardest thing is convincing the academic world that this is a viable way to teach classes," Short said. "Students seem to love it. Now we just need professors on board."

Source: (c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

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