Interview: Dr. Jeremy Short on Atlas Black, a Business Management Graphic Novel

Dr. Jeremy Short is a business professor who has won awards for his teaching and has published more than fifty academic articles. He is an associate editor for the...

Dr. Jeremy Short is a business professor who has won awards for his teaching and has published more than fifty academic articles. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Management and Family Business Review and serves on the editorial board of Organizational Research Methods. He also coauthored the first Harvard Business School case in graphic novel format. His University of Oklahoma bio can be found here.

In addition these accomplishments, Short has also co-created the a business education graphic novel called Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed and Atlas Black: Management Guru? These graphic novels follow Atlas Black, a college student majoring in business attempting to get his life in order. The official synopsis for the series can be found here. While Atlas Black is not the typical story we’d cover on scifipulse.net, its humor and constant references to Nerd-Culture place this book in world of Geek Chic (think Big Bang Theory); meaning these books are a must read for scifi fans who want to learn more about business.

Nicholas Yanes: There are tons of science fiction, fantasy, and comic book references in Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed. How long have you been a comic book fan?

Dr. Jeremy Short: I guess I’ve always been a fan of superheroes but most of my exposure was through movies and cartoons such as Spider-man and The Hulk. I read an occasional comic book as a kid but read a lot more illustrated classics of books such as Moby Dick and The Invisible Man and the like. Then, many years later, I really enjoyed graphic novels such as Fables and The Watchman. In terms of references, we worked a Star Wars reference into every chapter of Atlas Black so I’m pleased to see you picked up on that element of the book. There is really a lot of interesting management application evidenced in the Star Wars series such as the centralized decision making of The Empire versus the decentralized approach of the Old Republic….but I digress.

Yanes: There have probably been hundreds of different business textbooks written. What do you think the graphic novel format offers that traditional textbooks can’t?

Short: I think the ability to keep people awake is the main selling point. Folks can quote endless lines from movies, but I’ve yet to encounter anyone who can quote a textbook. What has been really rewarding for the Atlas Black books is that students have actually asked me about what comes next – I don’t think that’s ever happened before in the history of textbooks.

Yanes: On this note, what type of classes do you think the Atlas Black books would work in? Where you aiming for a specific college level course, or is this a text you feel can work in a wide variety of classes?

Short: They were designed for management classes at the college level, and our research has found that they do well with both undergraduates and graduates. But we’ve had friends and family with no business background (as well as Amazon reviewers) who’ve commented favorably on the books so I think they can be of interest to anyone and work well in a wide-variety of classes. I think art majors who tend to be entrepreneurial would especially benefit, and since most everyone works in some sort of organization it’s the kind of material that many folks can enjoy and relate to – much live movies such as Office Space and TV shows like The Office. This kind of broad interest was our goal from the get-go so really anyone that is tempted to buy a business book at Barnes and Noble is likely to find our books compelling – especially if they like this kind of graphic format.

Yanes: Atlas Black covers a lot of business and economic material. What was the hardest concept to translate to this story?

Short: Honestly, I think most of it was pretty easy to translate since the frameworks used in management tend to be very practical and application oriented. And, the material is in general fairly interesting. Probably creating a coherent storyline was the most challenging element but having the material as a basis actually made this task easier in my experience.

Yanes: Atlas Black has a superhero-like character named Black, who seems to be styled after Batman. What was your motivation for including this character?

Short: We wanted to include an element of mystery that took the book beyond just students starting their own business. This allowed us to evolve into a more elaborate plotline that could engage the reader and keep them guessing as we moved forward with the material.

Yanes: As the title implies, Atlas is the star of the story. What sources did you draw from to create Atlas?

Short: Certainly my own personality and experiences with a lot of different jobs played a role. My wife also helped a lot in terms of ideas and jokes and plotline. And, seeing many different individuals that I would encounter in different jobs growing up and also living in college towns and in Portland, Oregon inspired me to create something of an anti-hero since most students can most relate to a character with less than a 4.0 grade point average.

Yanes: A significant component of any graphic novel is the visual component. How did you come to decide on the visual style that would make up Atlas Black?

Short: We wanted to make sure the art had a more grown-up flavor since our target was a college (or older) audience so we looked as graphic novels such as Fables and movies such as Titan A.E. for inspiration as to the kind of look we might have. We were extremely fortunate to find outstanding illustrators for all the graphic novels.

Yanes: You so far have two Atlas Black graphic novels out. Are there any plans for a third volume, or at least another graphic novel like volume 1 and 2 of Atlas Black?

Short: We’ve recently published two more graphic novels. The first, Tales of Garcón: The Franchise Players focuses on a family business considering franchising. The patriarch of the family, named Garcón, is something of a cross between the J. Peterman character in Seinfeld and the guy in those Dos Equis ads. Will Terrell did a great job with that book and we’re hoping to do a sequel.

The other book – University Life: A College Survival Story – is something of a breakfast club approach to getting at issues relevant to students in their first year of college. Rachael Simmons – who illustrated the Harvard Business School case we did in graphic novel format – was the artist for that book. I’ve really enjoyed writing these books so I hope there will be many more to come.

To learn more about Atlas Black and where you can buy a copy yourself, click here.

Remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes

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