New textbook trend uses comic book styles

Some classes are using graphic novels as required reading.

As students across the nation purchase textbooks for the fall semester, a new format is gaining momentum.

Jeremy Short, a professor at Texas Tech University, is teaching his management classes using the graphic textbook he co-authored with two other professors: Tayla Bauer of Portland State University and Dave Ketchen of Auburn University.

"A lot of my role was trying to make things more entertaining, as well as making sure we were covering concepts correctly," Ketchen said. "If you can entertain folks as they’re learning, they’ll retain more of the information.”

Ketchen said shows like “Deadliest Catch,” “Planet Earth,” and “MythBusters” inspired the books with their ability to combine education and entertainment.

The book, “Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed,” teaches management skills through the eyes of its title character, a college student named Atlas Black.

Black decides to start a small business during his senior year of college, and the book details his successes and failures in a format traditionally reserved for graphic novels and comic books.

"Some folks assume I have a huge comic collection in my mom's basement, and that's not the case at all," Short said.

Short said he became interested in comics through his older siblings. He wanted to create an affordable, entertaining and “college-age” alternative to black-and-white textbooks.

“(After the first book) students would say, ‘What happens in the next book?’” Short said. “No one ever before had said, ‘What comes next in the textbook?’”

He said the characters help students remember information.

“They get into the personalities,” he said. “They tend to remember the names of the characters."

MU Student and Auxiliary Services spokeswoman Michelle Froese said she was aware of two graphic novels being used at MU this semester. A section of American Art and Architecture is reading “Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi, and an Introduction to World Literatures course is using “Maus II,” by Art Spiegelman.

“The Bookstore orders what faculty request, so it’s really a matter of what instructors choose to use to support classroom learning,” Froese said in an e-mail Monday.

Froese said it would be difficult to determine the total number of graphic novels and textbooks available at MU because professors order them specifically for their sections.

Short said 86 percent of students agreed the book compared favorably to other management textbooks in a survey presented at the Academy of Management’s annual meeting in Montreal.

"I do think this format can be adapted across a lot of disciplines,” Short said. “Certain disciplines lend themselves to storytelling, but really any discipline where visual learning can be appropriate as a learning tool could leverage this medium as well.”

Ketchen said he would be using the Atlas Black books for his own MBA and undergraduate courses in the spring.

"Anyone who gives Atlas Black a try will read through to the end, in my opinion,” Ketchen said. “My 70 year-old father read the books and loved them.”

The second “Atlas Black” book, “Atlas Black: Management Guru?,” was released July 1. Short said he is currently working on a graphic novel about a family business considering franchising and a graphic novel for first semester college freshmen. Both are due to be released next year.

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