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Review: ‘Steve Jobs: Insanely Great’

cover of insanely greatSteve Jobs: Insanely Great
By Jessie Hartland
Schwartz & Wade; $23

The sub-title to cartoonist Jessie Hartland’s comics-format biography of Steve Jobs refers not to his mental health but to his commonly employed catch phrase. “Insanely great!” is how he expressed his approval of something, particularly his various creations that had finally met his own extremely demanding standards.

There has been a lot written about the late Jobs, whose life story is essentially that of the birth of the personal computer and the gradual but quickening omnipresence of technology in our daily lives. That is, of course, because of the central role that Jobs played in that development, and he is a genuinely fascinating character whose influence on the modern world is kind of hard to overstate.

But for all the words written about Jobs, for all the different ways one can be told his life’s story at this point, it’s hard to think of a more intuitive and user-friendly way than Hartland’s book. And that is certainly something Jobs himself would appreciate (although the control-freak perfectionist would almost certainly find things to object to in the presentation).

Hartland’s black-and-white artwork is in a style that is deceptively child-like and primitive-looking; at a glance, you might mistake individual images for the work of a kid, but the closer you look, the more clear it is how much energy and emotion is invested in the expressions of the characters. Similarly, Hartland hand-writes all of the narration and dialogue–what would the one-time calligraphy enthusiast Jobs think of her lettering, I wonder?–and the result is a rather homemade-feeling biography with a precocious, zine-like, almost rock and roll vibe to it.

Incredibly thorough, it follows Jobs from birth to death, cataloging the likely influences that made him who he is and helped formulate his design aesthetic and business philosophy, recording each of his major accomplishments and few failures, briefly delving into his family life and illness (but with a respectful deference) and not shying away from what a difficult person he could be to work with or, worse, work for.

In other words, it’s as well-rounded as it is thorough, but Hartland boils the story down to the barest of essentials, so that the book is a fleet, fun, one-sitting read.

Mostly eschewing rigid grids, the book consists largely of splash pages and two-panel pages, with lots of chart, map and diagram-like pages, little details packed in, with marginal notes identifying particular minor characters.

I don’t know I’d go so far as to call it insanely great, but it’s pretty great, and a perfect place for anyone interested in Jobs, regardless of their age or sophistication, to start learning about the pivotal figure.

J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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