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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.

For being a streamlined look at an impressively packed life, Insanely Great is a complete and multifaceted story. It begins with his childhood, painting him as a mischievous kid who finds purpose in tinkering, yet also one who struggles with the knowledge that he was given up for adoption. His spiritual life isn't lost amidst the focus on his career accomplishments with Apple, Pixar, and NeXT, nor does the book skip his family life, relationships, and late life illness. And it uses the thrust of that Stanford speech to put an optimistic note on his passing.

The book is nuanced without being sprawling; comprehensive but not exhaustive--or exhausting, for that matter. That meant picking and choosing which aspects of Jobs' life got significant attention, and which were quickly touched on. While his relationship with Bill Gates might get a full chapter in a hulking biography, here it's two pages covering their philosophical differences regarding computing, as well as their shared debt to colleagues and competitors. Both share a word bubble on one page, saying, "You know what they say: Good artists imitate, great artists steal."

Insanely Great has a broader appeal than her earlier children's books, but it never becomes too complex or bogged down in jargon: Computing terms are explained right there on the page, and the book has multiple illustrated spreads that add context to the events. They show the technology of each era--like digital watches and the Sony Walkman in the late 70s--or break down something like the history of computing, or the purpose-driven architectural design Jobs oversaw for Pixar's Emeryville, California studio.

It's the illustrations, of course, that help each page say much more than the words alone can. While they clearly come straight from the pencil--and seemingly not fussed with too much after the fact--the representations of Jobs and the people, gadgets, and places of his life are expressive, despite the oft-sparse approach. Insanely Great deftly balances its whimsical, stirring, and important moments, and the ever-fluid page design keeps things interesting throughout.

"You can say a lot with drawings, of course. A scrap of frustration, some glee, a hint of mania, a giant triumph," explains Hartland. "I absolutely love working in this graphic novel format."

And it shows. Steve Jobs: Insanely Great is available now in hardcover, paperback, and digital formats.


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