After introducing the college world to graphic textbooks with his Atlas Black management series, Texas Tech University management professor Jeremy Short returns with two new textbook/comics titles: Tales of Garcon: the Franchise Players and University Life: A College Survival Story, his latest efforts using comics to create textbooks for college level students. Both books as well as the Atlas Black series are published by Flat World Knowledge, a new media, open source textbook publisher that posts its textbooks online for free while selling a variety of low-cost digital content based on them.
Tales of Garcon: The Franchise Players by professors Dave Ketchen (Auburn), Short and Jim Combs (Univ. of Alabama) and illustrated by Will Terrell, looks at the world of franchising and family businesses, “which are about 80% of businesses worldwide,” Short said in a phone interview. Much like the textbooks Short coauthored in the Atlas Black management series, Tales of Garcon is a fictionalized case study that dramatizes, in this instance, the business and family issues around a comical family-owned hotel and the possibility that the hotel brand will be franchised.
Franchising is the practice of licensing the rights to a business model as well as brands and trademarks associated with it. Very often franchises start out as family businesses and offer a particular set of problems and legal issues. “We all respond to family businesses and most people are interested in franchising and have their favorite franchise businesses” Short said while emphasizing that his coauthors specialize in research on the subject. Short said while books like Franchising for Dummies are popular, franchising is a topic “that doesn’t have a lot of textbook literature on it,” and what is available is, well, dry and academic. Not so, for Tales of Garcon, which features a lively cast of characters: Garcon, the patriarch; exotic adventurer and founder of the Hotel Garcon; Ramon, his oldest son; heir apparent and family goofball who stands to inherit the Hotel Garcon; Isabel, Ramon’s younger sister; smart, studying for an MBA but continually overlooked in favor of her ridiculous older brother.
The book has even more distinctive characters and Short said the textbook details such issues as contract terms and other legal issues around setting up franchises while also “building a story around the dynamics of family businesses considering franchising,” such as transferring wealth and, very often, gender issues.
University Life: A College Survival Story by professors Tyge Payne, Short, Rob Austin and illustrated by Rachael Simmons, is a bit different. More of an orientation manual for college freshman, the book gives young students info on dealing with the litany of problems—from drugs and DUIs to dealing with weight problems, credit card issues, stress and depression—contemporary college students are likely to face. Short said he believes the book will have a wider appeal beyond college to high school seniors preparing for college.
Both books are available through Flat World Knowledge in the next few weeks. Although Short said his graphic textbooks are popular with his students, getting school adoptions remains a challenge. “My students love the books, but it’s the longterm professors who don’t always quite get it; and attach a negative stigma to comics,” he said. “We have to educate faculty about the ways that comics are revitalizing publishing and education.”
While Jeff Shelstad, CEO of Flat World Knowledge, agreed that barriers remain to getting veteran college professors to use a comics textbook, he said FWK is committed to the series. “It’s a unique and fun product and we don’t have any competitors,” he said. Short’s comics textbooks also don’t quite follow the model of FWK prose textbooks, which are published under a creative commons license that allows professors to customize and add or delete content. The graphic textbooks are sold as complete PDFs; are not customizable and are not offered for free like the prose textbooks. However, Shelstad said FWK is considering allowing the comics textbooks to be sold by chapter as well as allowing chapters to be moved or deleted. In addition he said FWK has looked at allowing the graphic textbooks “to be integrated into other books,” to be mixed and matched with FWK’s other prose textbooks—but this functionality is under consideration and currently not available.
FWK just secured a round of investment funding from Random House Inc. and we asked if the investment might lead to some general trade distribution of FWK titles by Random House Publisher Services, RH’s distribution unit. Shelstad said, “both of these books might have a life outside the traditional comics market. Who knows? We’ll talk with our friends over at Random House and see what they think, but there’s no commitment from them to do it.”