Seriously Persuasive Comic Books:
6 Questions for Dan Pink about
Johnny Bunko

Johnny Bunko

I’ve been a fan of Daniel Pink since the article “Free Agent Nation” appeared in the 12th issue of Fast Company in December of 1997. Somehow, we ended up chatting over email, which led to a meeting over steaming plates of migas at the Magnolia Café in Austin. Next thing you know, my story (at the time) is featured in Free Agent Nation, the book.

Next, Pink released the New York Times Bestseller A Whole New Mind, a book that heavily influenced me and my Lateral Action co-conspirators. Dan rightly identified creativity and innovation as the key to economic survival in the “Conceptual Age,” and set the stage for the shift in the types of people and thinking that lead to continued business success in mature economies.

But then he did something really interesting.

Dan released a career guide that reveals the six essential lessons for thriving in the world of work. Oddly enough, this celebrated bestselling author titled his new book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.

Actually, the title isn’t that odd when you consider that Johnny Bunko is America’s first business book in the Japanese comic format known as manga. The odd thing is… it totally works.

Here are the six questions I asked Dan Pink about the persuasive storytelling possibilities of manga and the graphic novel format in general:

1. Tell us a bit about Johnny Bunko and what inspired you to do this project.

Johnny Bunko is the first American business book in manga — a 160-page graphic novel career guide that outlines the six key principles of satisfying, productive careers through the story of bumbling Everyman named Johnny Bunko.

There were two inspirations for it.

First, over the last several years, I became extremely interested in manga — so much so that I went to Japan for a couple of months in 2007 to study the manga industry. There I discovered that manga played a very different role than comics played in the U.S. In Japan, comics are truly a mass medium — a bit like television. You can tell any kind of story, convey any kind of idea, advance any kind of argument using this powerful form. It seemed odd — to me, at least — that America’s view of what comics could do was so limited.

Second, I began to think about the role of books themselves in a world of Google. Take something like career information. *Tactical*career information — what keywords to put in a resume, what a company does, etc — is available online instantly and for free. It seemed ludicrous to memorialize that sort of information on the pages of a book and try to sell it. Books simply are no longer valuable ways to convey that sort of material. But that got me wondering what books can do that Google cannot. And I still think books are better at providing strategic, big picture information — especially in narrative form.

So combining these two ideas, in a fit of irrational exuberance, I decided to do America’s first business book in manga.

2. That’s the fascinating part… manga as a teaching and persuasion format. Will it catch on in the US beyond the Bunko?

I think it’s inevitable. It’s just a matter of when. What’s interesting, though, is how much this is taking off overseas, where there are legions of young people entering white-collar work for the first time. We did nearly as many foreign deals for BUNKO in the first two months as we did for A WHOLE NEW MIND in the first two years.

3. You’re a self-confessed “prose guy.” How hard was it for you to write Johnny Bunko?

It was challenging. Telling stories with pictures wasn’t at my fingertips. That’s why I was so lucky to have a collaborator like Rob Ten Pas, the insanely talented guy who did the art for the book. My tendency was to explain everything. But Rob showed me just how much narrative freight the pictures carry. As I moved along in the process, I found myself somewhat maniacally trying to cut as many words as I could to make the story move even faster.

4. When we first chatted about this project before Bunko came out, you touted the format as effective for persuasion. After reading it for myself, I agree. Why do you think that is?

Speed. Ezra Pound once said that great poetry achieved “maximum efficiency of expression.” I think that’s true of manga. It’s more than simply words adorned with pictures or pictures adorned with words. It’s an entirely different medium in which the words and images achieve something of a multiplier effect. And because it’s also a narrative, it has an incredible power both to absorb the reader and to make its message stick.

5. I just picked up the award-winning Watchmen graphic novel to become better acquainted with this form of storytelling. Any recommendations that helped you?

UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud is one of the best books I’ve ever read. For me, it demystified comics and — odd as it sounds — made them even more fascinating. From Japan, I love the KOSAKU SHIMA series as well as the amazing (and sometimes, amazingly weird) work of Osamu Tezuka. Among American and other non-Japanese graphic works I like are: FUN HOME, PYONGYANG, PERSEPOLIS, and, of course, MAUS.

6. What’s next from Dan Pink?

I’m hard at work on a book about the science and economics of human motivation. I’m looking at why what we think motivates people is just plain wrong. And I’ll show, based on 30 years of amazing psychological research, how readers can unlock their own true inner motivation as a pathway to better performance.
___
Thanks to Dan for becoming Copyblogger’s first ever interview subject. I’ll hopefully be doing more of these, perhaps in a variety of media formats.

In the meantime… pick up Johnny Bunko. It may spark some great ideas for projects. Or, just buy it for your favorite confused, aimless soul stuck in a dead-end job as a holiday gift. It really is the last career guide anyone ever needs.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founding editor of Copyblogger, and co-founder of DIY Themes and Lateral Action. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Brian, this is one of the single coolest interviews I’ve ever read.

    I’m not a bit surprised that manga works as persuasion — they’ve been using (non-manga style0 comic strips to sell everything from body-building potions and gadgets to “how to pick up women” type products in comic books back in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s.

    Ben

    P.S. Watchmen is an amazing graphic novel — I’ve read it probably 10 times over the years and each time there’s some little detail that stands out I missed on all the previous readings.

  2. Ben, good point. I remember those Charles Atlas “bully kicks sand in the face of the 98-pound weakling” ads. Definitely effective!

  3. Ha… exactly that one. :-)

  4. Great interview.

    My first thoughts were about Japanese cars that conquered US only because of the kaizen philosophy, 40 years ago. It seems it’s the US turn to pick something really valuable from the Japanese culture and – by harvesting traditional experience and talent – to grow something inspiring and effective.

    A great read.

  5. Way cool. Myths work. Pictures work. Touchstone book. Can’t wait to read it.
    Comic books have always been the hero’s journey…fabulous idea.

  6. Love Dan Pink. Thanks for the interview. I remember reading FREE AGENT NATION and thinking this guy is out in front of business and communication trends. And he still is.

  7. I believe digital book formats, and readers like Kindle, will dominate the future. Most books will probably follow the Bunko model of presentation with a nice “text only” feature that old school people can click on and see actual text fill the screen (kind of like the “click here for a printer friendly page” links on websites currently do).

  8. Wow! This sure brings back memories!
    When I first started reading comic books, just after the Ark floated, I often thought that these were the most influencing material around. “The more things change the more they stay the same!”
    Very interesting interview and very appropriate at this time too.
    Thanks for making this available to all of us.

  9. That looks awesome – I might check him out, once I get some more cash.

  10. Manga is definitely more popular in Japan, but it’s making its way over to the states – slowly but surely. Hollywood has turned to comic books for inspiration for so many movies over the last few years. I think these movies are really helping comics become more mainstream.

    As a college student about to begin the great job hunt, I’m going to have to check this book out.

  11. As a technical writer I have to tell you that this format has been being used in training manuals and propaganda pieces since WWII – and before. It isn’t really new, just sort of lost. I would strongly suggest reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud if you want to understand all the different ways the comic/manga format (and they really are the same) can be used in conveying information.

  12. I’m reeling at the potential manga presents us to convey a multitude of messages related to self-development.

    Traditional learning methods have fortunately just been very seriously augmented by the power of this medium to convey a message.

    MangaShakespeare is an example. The plays are now published in comic format and I bet my last quid that the children at school will relate to these classics so much better than we did in the traditional way. Grades could become so much better on average.

    There are simply millions of people out there who use different VAKOG cocktails to learn. As for the dyslexic children and adults among us – this medium has to have some serious potential to impart knowledge and make it stick.

    Needless to say that as a V/A learner, magna style could have saved my exam butt so many times all those years ago! All the C+ grades might have been A+.

  13. I like the Manga approach. I think it’s similar to Disney’s story-boarding. I like the idea of chunking information down into scenes.

    > books are better at providing strategic, big picture information
    Hell yeah!

    > the format as effective for persuasion
    You can’t beat pics that stick. Combining visuals with text is great reinforcement.

    I’ve noticed this with blog posts too. It’s easier to remember the ones where the pics reinforce the message.

  14. Great interview and it really looks like a great book. I will definitely be stopping by B&N during lunch. Thanks for the recommendation.

  15. Very interesting interview–now I think I’m a little closer to understanding why my son spends $50 a month on manga–it is apparently a compelling mass medium to millions of people. I’ll have to check out the book.

  16. Brian,

    Just a few months ago we have also seen an impact of Google’s Chrome browser launching in Graphic Strips. It became a viral on the net and rest is history.

    Truly nice and niche concept…say….Redeveloped.

  17. I’m going to have to break down and read Understanding Comics, aren’t I? I’ve avoided it for years. Ex-husband issues, not the book’s fault.

    Can’t wait to pick this up, thanks for the pointer & the interview. Good stuff.

  18. Sonia, Understanding Comics is excellent and elucidating… past baggage notwithstanding. :-)

    Related, here’s a Wired article about how comics are being used to explain genetics and other scientific topics.

  19. Great interview. I picked up Johnny Bunko earlier this year and was definitely one of the best, not to mention career oriented, books I’ve read.

  20. Teresa Raines :

    I read Dan Pink’s “Whole New Mind,” this year for a class in management. The book is tremendous. Pink also did an interview with Oprah for radio broadcast that was very good. Thanks for the interview about his new book. I can’t wait to check it out.

  21. I actually saw his book at Borders in the career section and was so drawn to the claim of “The last career guide you’ll never need” that I had to be dragged out of the store before putting it down.

    Great book and great post.

  22. I absolutely love Daniel Pink. His book, “A Whole new mind” changed my life. I was an attorney practicing law for 18 years, very frustrated and depressed. Then I read his book and realized that I had lost my creativity. For left brained professionals like I used to be, being reminded that my right brain needed to be focused on and developed and integrated with all this wonderful knowledge in my left brain was exactly what I needed.

    I shut down my law practice and became a life coach and I absolutely love it! It is the best thing that happened to me. My ability to synthesize information and present information as a symphony is a joy to me. I literally gave my mind the freedom to do that with the information I gleaned from Daniel Pink’s book.

    Thanks for this great review. Us in the cyberworld need this information.