JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

Scott has been writing and drawing comics since 1984. He has also written several books about comics as a medium. His first book in 1993,Understanding Comics, explains how comics work as communication, with a blend of text and images to tell a story in time. He followed withReinventing Comics in 2000, in which he advocates strongly for moving comics to the web. Making Comics in 2006 instructs in those key methods to create comics by developing actions, characters, and words that build a world for the reader.

Why, you might ask, have we invited a comic artist to give the Keynote Address at CMS? Part of my answer is that we know that words and images must work together effectively in the new media available to information developers. With CIDM members already creating iPhone and Droid Apps for technical content, we need to consider the potential of more graphic-focused art forms to communicate concepts and help people perform procedures successfully.

Scott McCloud has brought his ideas to other forums that encompass information developers, including Harvard, Princeton, Google, Adobe, eBay, and MIT. He teaches workshops and has delivered a bullet-point free talk at the TED conference. He’s also consulted with organizations like The National Cancer Institute, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

In 2008, McCloud worked with the developers at Google to produce a comic introduction to the concepts behind Google Chrome browser. You can review that comic at Think about how the combination of narrative, character, and graphic design helps communicate a complicated subject in a way that is compelling and easy to understand.

I’m also interested in learning about comics from McCloud because I have long been an advocate of using comics to communicate technical concepts to end-users. In the early 90s, we recommended to Perkin-Elmer that they use a comic to introduce the gas chromatography system to a new brand of customers. Hewlett-Packard created a comic to explain the workings of the HP oscilloscope. We heard from the sales team that the comic was so popular they had a hard time keeping it in print. The engineers thought that no one would be interested in such a “light” presentation of technical content.

Beth Barrow worked with a talented colleague to develop a comic at Nortel Networks. The intent was to use the comic presentation to demonstrate to and convince senior management that it was important to invest in a content management strategy for technical publications. It’s a favorite of mine.

A few years ago, I built a comic-based slide presentation using clip art (since I’m not much of an artist) to help convince the information developers at Lucent that single-sourcing and information reuse was not as forbidding as they were making it appear. Recently, Mysti Berry mentioned in a Best Practices article that Salesforce had created a comic for the users of its software product.

My bookcase contains the Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick. I found that guide remarkably helpful when I was taking first year physics at university. Larry Gonick has long been one of my comic artist heroes. He’s published the History of the Universe, the History of the United States, cartoon guides to chemistry, physics, genetics, sex, the environment, and many others, all in comic form.

Here’s the editorial review that appears on

“It’s been said that before physics students can fly with Feynman they need to walk with Halliday and Resnick. Those of us who are still toddling along, however, need Larry Gonick. Gonick’s characteristically quirky drawings are teamed with physicist Art Huffman’s prose to produce lessons like this: picture Sir Isaac Newton driving a Mack truck labeled “Big Inertia.” Ike is talking into a CB radio, saying: “Breaker one nine: force overcomes inertia and produces acceleration. Do you read?” As the jacket copy says, “If you think a negative charge is something that shows up on your credit-card bill—if you imagine that Ohm’s law dictates how long to meditate—if you believe that Newtonian mechanics will fix your car,” here’s the book for you.”

Even experienced physicists like the cartoon guides to serious subject matter.

Japanese writers have a long tradition of presenting serious subjects in cartoon form.The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology by Masaharu Takemura explains RNA and DNA to students. Manga, which is translated as “whimsical drawings,” uses story with characters, words, and an action line to teach complex subjects and to provide instructions to perform tasks. I bought a Manga cookbook last year so that we could build interesting lunches for one of my grandchildren. William Pollack, founder of No Starch Press, publishes Manga titles like A Manga Guide to Statistics or A Manga Guide to Calculus.

I hope you’re convinced by now that comic art is a serious subject for information developers. Because we need to find better ways to keep readers engaged with product-related information, we should look to the comic as an opportunity that we can no longer ignore.

Register today for the April 4-6 conference in Baltimore, MD. Get to the Monday morning keynote on time to hear Scott McCloud introduce us to this important communication tool.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.