Friday, September 12, 2008

NM bound

This weekend I'll be on the road heading to Santa Fe, NM to attend the upcoming CIDM Best Practices conference.

I'm looking forward to the conference, meeting up with some old friends, and hopefully learning a few new ideas and concepts about the art of Corporate Publishing.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Instructional Comics - Google Weren't The First

As part of the on-going online discussion about the impact and usability of the Google Chrome comic, fellow blogger Tom Johnson asked me if I had more samples and references for comic book style documentation.

As I mentioned before the "technical comics" I've done to date have been more like illustrated white papers than "how to" instruction manuals, but over the years I have come across a few examples of instructional comics.

Perhaps the best known among the comics creative community is the work done by pioneering graphic novelist Will Eisner for the US Army. Between 1951 and 1972 Eisner produced the P.S. Magazine - The Preventative Maintenance Monthly for the army, which combined comics, instructions and some great artwork covering a whole range of army equipment and procedures.

(The Virginia Commonwealth University has a complete digital library of PSM available online.) He also wrote and illustrated an document known to the US army as "DA-Pam 750-30 - The M16A1 Rifle - Operation and Preventive Maintenance" - but generally referred to as "Treat Your Rifle Like A Lady."

Other examples I've come across include:
- Emergency Roofing
- Playing the accordion.

And there are things like aircraft safety instruction cards (the ones in the seat backs) and numerous instructional notices (like this one about using your cell phone on the subway) that use comics iconography and techniques.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wanna Be A Tech Writer..

As someone who has more than a passing interest in both The Beatles and the world of Technical Writing - I just had to share this...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Google Chrome comic - why it didn't work.

Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time talking with a prospective client about a project involving the use of sequential art to convey some very technical information.

In short, he wants to use the medium of comics to tell prospective engineers why it would be cool to work on the projects his organization is responsible for. (And having heard what projects they are – I can confirm it would be VERY COOL to be involved in almost any capacity).

I walked him through the process I use to develop and produce promotional comics and various options for delivery etc. based on budgets, audience and so on.

During the conversation the “technical comic” produced by comics guru Scott McCloud in support of the launch of the new Google Chrome browser was discussed.

My client had loved the idea, checked out the links, started out to read the McCloud comic and after about six pages he had glazed over, skim read a few more pages and not actually finished it.

His concern was that he was not alone in this reaction, and because of this was wary of citing the Google comic to his budget holders as a way to justify his own project.

Even with the added incentive of professional interest, I must also admit that I found the Google Chrome comic difficult to finish. No one else I have spoken to since has actually read it the whole way through.

Why? Because despite the “novelty” of the method of presentation, they didn’t stay engaged in the subject matter.

Today I came across the following quote from Scott McCloud in an FAQ.

Who wrote the script?
The engineers, for the most part! I helped conduct interviews with about 20 engineers who worked on the project, then adapted what they said into comics form. Some paraphrasing, lots of condensation, and one or two late drop ins, but basically it was a very organic adaptation and I had a lot of latitude.

And perhaps there lies the problem.

There is no single voice and no narrative.

Let me say that I greatly admire McCloud. He knows more about comics storytelling and structure than I ever will. I constantly reference his classic work “Understanding Comics” in producing my own work, and in various papers I write, or presentations I give, on communicating.

But I’m amazed with the Google project, because the lack of narrative seems like a basic omission from such a high profile project.

Whenever I produce a promotional comic I always try and include a central character that the reader can empathize with, along with a story (more often than not something light and fun to off set the heavy technical jargon) to guide the reader through the points being made.

As I’ve often said before, all communication is a story and technical communication needs it just as much as fiction.

I’m not sure what audience the Google Chrome comic was aimed at. While it was great to see comics used in such a high profile way, did anyone consider the implications and impact of the fact that the very use of the comics medium would expose it to a wider audience than first intended?