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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 12:53 AM ET, 01/21/2012

STEVE JOBS COMIC: Bio-book’s writer on the sophistication — and simplicity — of distilling a remarkable life

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STEVE JOBS WAS FOND OF invoking the idea that the supreme simplicity lies behind sophistication. Writer CW Cooke took that approach to heart, trying to distill Jobs’s own inspiring life down to the “simplicity” of a 32-page comic.

Bluewater Comics recently announced that its Jobs bio-book — announced last June, prior to the Apple co-founder’s death just four months later — is now available on Amazon, as well as through the Nook and Kindle. Comic Riffs caught up with Cooke — a 28-year-old University of Kansas alum — to hear more of his simple truth for trying to attain such sophistication.

MICHAEL CAVNA: This, obviously, is one challenging assignment, especially given the fullness and fame of the life. What are some elements of Jobs’s biography that particularly attracted you to it?

CW COOKE: I was intrigued by his life story, and I was interested in what his life had to offer the comic book page and the surreal responsibility of telling his life story within the constraints of the comic book page.

MC: Am I wrong in thinking that you were assigned this book PRIOR to Jobs's death?

CC: Not wrong at all. In fact, I wrote this comic pretty much on the cusp of his stepping down from Apple [last summer]. It was assigned to me around that same time, and it kind of hit the boiling point as he stepped down and that’s when the comic got churning. I approached it as if I was telling his life story as it was still happening, open-ended with a tag at the end about how he had other ventures to explore.

Unfortunately, when I finished it, months later he passed on and then it was a question of how do we fix a comic that had already gone to press. I couldn’t fix the large portions of present tense that I had used, telling his story as it was happening, but I did write an “in memoriam page” that I believe will be added later on.

STEVE JOBS IMAGE: When two artists hit upon the same great idea

STEVE JOBS: His 10 Best Quotes about art and creativity

[CLICK BELOW TO CONTINUE READING]

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MC: Jobs reportedly liked to talk about simplicity being the ultimate sophistication — and, similarly, that true simplicity lies beyond sophistication. How did you find that simplicity for "Steve Jobs"?

CC: A lot of the elements had to be distilled, truthfully. His story was very in-depth and complex, and it just was difficult to boil it down to the 32-page comic at first. I mean, [Walter] Isaacson's book is almost 700 pages, so he had a lot more space to play around with the life story. ... I had to section it out, portioning it out to his early life, his work life, his ventures outside of Apple, his personal life, his awards, those sorts of things. I had to gloss over big sections, barely touching on the company of Apple or Pixar or any of the other things he was involved with, just touching on them and jumping into another section headfirst. A lot of the writing was researching, writing, and then rewriting to massage the story to fit within the constraints of the comic-book format.

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MC: Jobs is SUCH an icon, and so many major events of his are very well-known -- yet other significant facets, of course, are little-known or unknown? Can you talk more about your process in distilling such a full life and legacy — and how you balance the well- and little-known to tell an engaging story?

CC: That’s the major issue with writing these short bios. ... It’s tough, especially with someone like Steve Jobs, because you know that if you cut one portion of his life, someone may think you’re cutting it for dubious reasons. That’s not the case. Anything left on the cutting-room floor was left there simply for length reasons. I tried my best to ensure that his whole story was presented on the page, good, bad or ugly, and that all the facts were there. Hopefully the finished product shows that. I approach all bios the same. There is a story to be told and I shouldn’t take an editorial bend on it. I should leave my own prejudices out of the story and write it plainly.

MC: Have you read Isaacson's book? And how did you approach YOUR research for the Jobs comic?

CC: I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I plan to. My research of Jobs involved interviews, other stories and anecdotes that were out there about his life — any reference materials I could find that told any parts of his story. That’s a major chunk of telling these stories, the time I take to research is just about as long as the time it takes to write the thing.

MC: In Isaacson's book and elsewhere, Jobs comes off as a highly polarizing figure, yet seems almost beatified by many people both in life and especially in death. How did you come to feel about him as your profile subject?

CC: I can tell you that I gave the story without any biases and that coming out of it, I can see both sides. I can understand how some would feel angry about him and how some would feel he is a saint of a man. But me? Reading both sides and coming out in the middle was always my goal, and thankfully that’s what happened.

I’m a very opinionated person so I will sometimes write comics about figures I don’t particularly like or agree with ... but I can never let my voice show through. Sometimes it is harder than others, but with Jobs, I had no issues at all.

MC: Jobs had much to say — often so eloquently — about art and creativity? Are there any passages or utterances by Jobs that you especially find inspiring or wise?

CC: I know that I’ll quote this and everyone will say they love this one too: We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it. .... Have the courage to follow your heart is one of the other things he says, and honestly, I want my life to always follow that plan. I want to always follow my heart and listen to what Steve and so many other smarter people have said.

Comics is one of those things. I’m writing comics, and my 8-year-old self is just giddy about it somewhere.

MC: What do you most hope to accomplish with this book — it is offered largely as an educational tool for young readers, perhaps — and what would you like readers to take away from it?

CC: I hope that it’s entertainment for all, but in an educative way. I hope that people look at these comics and understand that I’m not telling his story with rose-colored glasses, but from an unbiased observer’s point of view. I want readers to know all that they can about him and learn how truly remarkable he was. Beyond the turtlenecks and the Apple products, he was a man with an incredible life.

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By  |  12:53 AM ET, 01/21/2012

 
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