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Spotlight Comic Relief A professor at Texas Tech Univer- sity in Lubbock is challenging the idea that a textbook can't be both academically challenging and fun to read. With the help of colleagues, he has written Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed, a graphic novel—yes, a comic book—about the challenges of starting a business. Jeremy Short, associate professor of management at the school's Rawls College of Business Admin- istration, led the project. Ironically, when he first thought of the idea, Short admits he wasn't a big comic book fan. "I was passionate about teaching management, but available textbooks were less than engaging," he says. "I noticed that students really respond- ed to storylines in television shows like 'The Office' and in movies like 'Office Space.' So I started to think about how I could make this topic more engaging." Short co-authored the book, released in 2009, with Talya Bauer, the Cameron Professor of Manage- ment at Portland State University in Oregon, and Dave Ketchen, the Lowder Eminent Scholar in Entre- preneurship at Auburn University in Alabama. Len Simon provided illus- trations. Their goal was to produce a textbook that combined academic rigor with a compelling storyline and lively visuals. Their protagonist, Atlas Black, is a fifth-year undergraduate about to graduate and face the demands of life 72 BizEd NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2010 Critics ask us if this format 'dumbs down' the content. No, it allows us to take it to a higher level. —Jeremy Short after college. He sets out to secure funding to start his own business, while juggling the demands of his personal life, with the help of a pro- fessor and mentor. Atlas Black is now required read- ing for undergraduate and MBA stu- dents who take Short's management course; it also has gained a following at other business schools. In July, the co-authors released a sequel, Atlas Black: Management Guru? Short, Ketchen, and Jim Combs of Florida State University in Tallahassee are now working on a graphic novel about a family business trying to sur- vive the recession. While the graphic novel isn't common in the classroom, Atlas Black has its predecessors, says Short. For example, Bound by Law is a graphic novel about public domain law by Duke Law School professor James Boyle. Short him- self was assigned The Cartoon Guide to Statistics in graduate school. Short has written a paper with Terrie Reeves at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, about the use of this format in the class- room. Published in the December 2009 issue of Business Communica- tion Quarterly, "The Graphic Novel: A 'Cool' Format for Communicating to Generation Y" cites past research focused on techniques that enhance learning and improve recall, such as the use of visual presentation, story- telling, and metaphor. Graphic novels are powerful teach- ing tools because they employ these same techniques, says Short, who adds that his own students respond very positively to the storytelling for- mat. "One thing that's surprised me is the positive feedback we've gotten even from older MBA students. They really get into the story," he says. Critics might argue that educa- tional comic books aren't serious enough for higher education, but Short emphatically disagrees. "Some critics ask if this format 'dumbs down' the content," he says. "No, it allows us to take it to a higher level." Both books are currently available at for $14.95 or from ■ z

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