By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Publisher turns successful business books into graphic novels
'Art of War,' 'Mi Barrio' among many meant to teach, inspire, motivate
“All men can see these tactics by which I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which the victory is evolved.”
Sun Tzu wrote those words about 1,500 years ago as part of a general martial philosophy which modern publishers have collected as The Art of War. As much about winning in general as warring in specific, The Art of War has long since conquered the business book market – and now, thanks to Corey Blake, it’s doing the same in graphic novels.
Blake, president of The Round Table Companies, once said on a radio interview, “Some day a business leader is going to have the cajones to put out a business graphic novel. Now that would be the way to really reach a new audience.” Naturally, that guy turned out to be Blake.
Blake’s Round Table Companies packages business books as graphic novels for SmarterComics, which launched its line this month. Blake serves as writer or editor on most of the books, and also turns to veterans like writer Cullen Bunn, author of The Sixth Gun at Oni Press, and children’s illustrator Shane Clester.
The first five books are How to Master the Art of Selling, by Tom Hopkins; The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson; Mi Barrio, based on From the Barrio to the Boardroom by Robert Renteria; Overachievement, by Dr. John Eliot; and Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life, by Larry Winget. “The Art of War” will quickly follow, and Blake is already working on titles to be released under his own Round Table Comics banner, including Machiavelli’s The Prince, Alesia Shute’s Everything’s OK: My Journey Surviving Childhood Cancer and Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
Most of these books are already successful in prose.
“Initially we had chosen a list of 20 authors that we thought highly of their books,” Blake said. “And the majority of them had a good sales track record. Not all of them necessarily were best sellers. But four of them had sold in large quantities – Larry Winget, Tom Hopkins, Chris Anderson and obviously The Art of War over the years has done very well.”
But it’s not always about sales. “Doc Eliot we chose because we believed in his message, and we thought his first book was sensational and didn’t get the reception it deserved,” Blake said.
Then there’s Mi Barrio, which is both inspirational and a big seller. It’s the true story of a Hispanic boy who did everything wrong – drugs, gangs, the works. But after learning self-discipline in the military, Robert Renteria turned it all around and rose to the top of the business world. It reads like fiction, but Blake’s adaptation and Clester’s illustrations make it real and immediate. And it’s just the sort of story Blake loves to tell.
“We said ‘well, if we do this as a comic book we can reach more people’ and just have a huger impact in pulling kids out of the barrios and ghettos – what a great cause,” he said. “Wow, that book is powerful.”
But even great stories require distribution, and Blake is thinking big. He’s already being distributed by National Book Network (chain and independent booksellers, libraries and schools) and Hudson News (airport bookstores). Many of the early releases are available as e-books for a free 90-day trial, and Round Table now has a full-time salesman reaching out to traditional comic-book retailers – with “surprising” results.
“I didn’t think [comics retailers] would gravitate to this,” Blake said. “They certainly don’t gravitate to every book, but The Art of War, the Larry Winget title, the ‘Mi Barrio’ title – we hear time after time that people are going to be stocking it, and we’re starting to get pre-orders from traditional comic-book stores. We’re super-excited to reach that demographic.”
Another target audience, Blake says, is “the busy professional who is more pressed for time than ever, [who] wishes they could make the six-to-eight hour commitment to these book [in prose] but just can’t do it. … It’s 45 minutes to burn through the majority of these, and what a great vehicle.”
The quick read time should appeal to younger readers, Blake says, to “this Twitter generation that likes things in short pieces, and likes to be entertained while they’re being educated. We think they’re a niche worth reaching.”
It’s a plan that would make Sun Tzu proud.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.