What most Americans know of manga, those stylized Japanese comics, is that the stories are fantastical, edgy, and defiantly indifferent to most anyone past a certain age. Now, though, comes word that manga is starting to go all adult and practical on us: The first business comic book is on its way. It's called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, and it's written by Daniel H. Pink, the author of two trend-setting books about the workplace, Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind.
Yes, Pink's career guide is intended for those in their 20s and presumably familiar with manga, but if it catches on, expect many business publishers to look for their own Johnny Bunkos. In Japan, no subject is too serious or too pedestrian for manga. Comic books about financial management are popular. The True Life of Carlos Ghosn, a series about the head of Nissan Motor (NSANY), sold well. And a two-volume manga account of the country's economic development has become a classic.
The Johnny Bunko experiment arrives at a time when business-book publishers, like many others, are contending with readers who have less time to gather information from the printed page. Already, business books have become smaller, designed to fit in a coat pocket and be read completely during a two-hour plane ride. Even Harvard Business Press, renowned for its 300-page tomes on management, has launched a series of books called Memo to the CEO, none of which runs more than 125 pages. And "everyone has had conversations about how to use the graphic novel to convey a business idea," says Hollis Heimbouch, publisher at Collins Business. (Johnny Bunko is being put out by Riverhead Trade Paperback, a Penguin Group imprint.)
After a two-month fellowship in Japan to research manga, Pink set out to create a fully illustrated book that would impart, if you will, big-picture career advice. (American Rob Ten Pas drew the panels.) "College students are making all kinds of assumptions about their careers that are just wrong," Pink says.
So he came up with six lessons: There is no plan. Think strengths, not weaknesses. It's not about you. Persistence trumps talent. Make excellent mistakes. Leave an imprint. Johnny Bunko doesn't get more specific than that. The book has no suggestions about networking, writing a résumé, or finding an internship. Such information, says Pink, is available on any number of Web sites.
Bunko is an office jockey at Boggs Corp., a bumbling Everyman trapped in a job he loathes, wondering how he got there. Enter a supernatural career adviser, Diana, who emerges from Bunko's chopsticks late one soulless night at the office. She is sarcastic, tough, and wise. All the boys fall for her.
When it comes to marketing the 160-page book, which is due out in April, the message will be simple: Here's useful information in an entertaining format that can be read in an hour. "We'll have online strategies, social networking, video," says the publisher, Geoffrey Kloske. "We're not doing anything we haven't done before. But there will be a shift in emphasis." Pink's own Web site will be built around contests: Readers will be asked to send in photos of the Johnny Bunkos in their offices, suggestions for the seventh lesson, and narration to accompany drawings.
As for those who are still dubious about the, uh, value proposition of a business comic book, Pink offers this pitch for manga: It provides maximum efficiency of expression.