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Jessie Hartland's "Insanely Great" tells Steve Jobs' life story as a graphic novel

Andrew Hayward | Aug. 11, 2015
Despite being cut short, Steve Jobs' life was legendarily full and accomplished--and the recollections of it are expectedly lengthy and robust. Walter Isaacson's eponymous biography, issued weeks after Jobs' death, weighs in at 657 pages, while the more recent Becoming Steve Jobs is still hearty at 464 pages. Even 2013's rough Jobs film starring Ashton Kutcher dragged on for more than two agonizing hours.

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Despite being cut short, Steve Jobs' life was legendarily full and accomplished--and the recollections of it are expectedly lengthy and robust. Walter Isaacson's eponymous biography, issued weeks after Jobs' death, weighs in at 657 pages, while the more recent Becoming Steve Jobs is still hearty at 464 pages. Even 2013's rough Jobs film starring Ashton Kutcher dragged on for more than two agonizing hours. 

By contrast, the newly released Steve Jobs: Insanely Great embraces brevity--it's a quick read at about 225 pages. Also important to note: It's a graphic novel, translating the Apple co-founder's upbringing, storied career, and personal life into a series of black-and-white, pencil-drawn panels. 

Insanely Great is written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, a commercial artist and author whose work has spanned an array of topics and formats. She's had illustrations published in The New York Times and Vogue Japan, done corporate work for the likes of Swatch and Target, and published several previous books for children--notably 2012's acclaimed Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, another biography that got the graphic novel treatment.

Hartland began the project in early 2012 after turning in Bon Appetit!, not long after Jobs' death. A longtime Mac user herself, she realized that she knew some basics of Jobs' life and career, but wanted a more complete picture.

"I had heard he was a rebel, an iconoclast, and that he'd started a little business in his parents' garage and it became the world's most valuable company," she explains. "I wanted to know more. Who wouldn't want to know more?"

It's that spark that eventually led to Insanely Great. Random House took her pitch, and she dove into a diverse heap of research. The book's bibliography is extensive, including Isaacson's biography and other books, numerous magazine interviews from across Jobs' career, and even his memorable Stanford commencement address found on YouTube. 

But that was just the start: Hartland, based in New York City, ventured out to California to check out Silicon Valley for herself, tour the Pixar studios, see Jobs' childhood home, and visit other locations where his story actually unfolded. It was a lot to process and try to present in a relatively compact fashion--even though that seems to be one of her specialties, if the Julia Child book is any indication. 

"I'm drawn to simplifying complicated material using pictures and words, but this book was a real challenge," she concedes. "Steve Jobs died relatively young, yet he did 10 times more than most people do in a long lifetime. To piece the story together, understand it completely, winnow it down, and get it all in the right order took some time."

 

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