How Steve Jobs Left His Mark on Comics

Fri, October 7th, 2011 at 5:58am PDT | Updated: October 7th, 2011 at 6:12am

Comic Books
Stephen Gerding, Senior Editor
9

Love Apple or loathe it, there's no logical way to deny the company's influence on everything, from personal computing to the gadgets we use in our day to day lives to the overall aesthetic and terminology of pop culture. There's also no way to deny that Apple is synonymous with the man who is widely recognized as the impetus behind the company's output for the last 16 years: Steve Jobs. And while Jobs' influence on Apple and technology as a whole is well documented, his legacy is one that left massive marks on the comic book industry, whether most fans are aware of them or not.

Steve Jobs is responsible for the digital comics movement

Jobs has passed away, but his impressive legacy remains

The iPad, a creation which has been touted by pundits and colleagues alike as being the culmination of Jobs' vision for personal computing, has moved digital comics forward far faster than desktop machines alone could have. Yes, there were tablet computers released in the past, and someone would have eventually made a stab at the platform again if Apple hadn't. But it's an inarguable fact that the iPad was -- and depending on who you talk to, remains -- the first successful tablet PC. Not only is its form factor just about perfect for reading comics, but highlighting the Marvel Comics app on the day the machine debuted not only pushed the industry forward into the digital realm, it also catapulted the art form into the minds of millions of people worldwide.

While Marvel and other publishers were already offering partial catalogs for sale on the iPod Touch and iPhone, it is the iPad platform that has dragged even the most stubborn publisher into the future. As of September, DC Comics began offering their entire monthly publishing slate on the device, with new releases being available for download the same day the print versions hit store shelves, with the digital versions dropping in price a month after initial release. Marvel has quietly stepped up their "day and date" offerings and Image Comics has followed suit. As of today, the lead digital distributor, comiXology, through which the majority of publishers offer their titles, now boasts access to a full 40% of the weekly comic book releases on the same day their printed counterparts go on sale.

Steve Jobs is responsible for modern comics' production values

While graphic designers and digital artists are now able to work easily and effectively on the platform of their choice, there was a time, in the early days of desktop publishing when the only real option was to own a Mac. Prior to the days of cross-platform compatibility -- before you could even say "cross-platform compatibility" without someone laughing in your face -- the Mac was the sole operating system for printing presses. This meant if you wanted to get the latest issue of your magazine out, your design department had to be outfitted with machines and software that could generate files the printer could work with. Adobe PageMaker, Adobe FreeHand, Adobe Illustrator, Quark Xpress were all created solely for Apple's platform, and remain the design industry standard.

Although Jobs wasn't a physical presence at Apple from 1986 until the late-'90s, the reason the Mac was the de facto publishing platform during this time was due to his initial vision for the company. The graphic design community of the '80s had a love-hate relationship with Jobs and Apple due to desktop publishing making jobs like typesetting, color correction, and other skilled occupations obsolete. On the other hand, publishing companies were able to maximize their workflow and cut costs while pushing the envelope of what graphic designers could do with layouts, illustrations, photographs, and more.

Perhaps the first way this became obvious in the comics industry was with the advent of digital coloring. Gone were the days of having to maintain an arsenal of X-acto blades, paintbrushes, Dr. Martin's watercolor dyes and sheets of rubylith and Zip-A-Tone. While it didn't happen overnight, computer colors are now the industry standard, and while the earliest examples now look dated -- even gaudy by today's standards -- it was genuinely revolutionary at the time. Computer coloring was so big, in fact, that Marvel famously bought the bankrupt Malibu Comics as much for its state of the art coloring department as for any potential publishing or movie rights from its characters.

Now, comics are almost completely reliant on computers, with scripting, lettering, coloring, layouts and, in some cases, art being created and/or managed digitally, from start to finish, something Jobs himself surely appreciated as he always saw the Mac, whatever iteration it may be, as an instrument for creation.

Steve Jobs is responsible for the increase in independent comics

The Marvel Comics app on an iPad

Personal computers have made self-publishing in both online and print far more accessible, opening the doors to many creators who might have otherwise never had an opportunity to get their work seen. And while it can hardly be said Jobs was solely responsible for every advancement in the world of personal computing that led to this environment, it's entirely reasonable to argue that if Jobs hadn’t seen personal computing as the future, dozens if not hundreds of creators may never have seen the opportunities they've been presented with over the course of their careers.

In a 2010 interview with Cult of Mac, former Apple CEO John Sculley recalled what Jobs told him when the Apple founder was courting Sculley nearly three decades ago:

"I didn’t know really anything about computers nor did any other people in the world at that time. This was at the beginning of the personal computer revolution, but we both believed in beautiful design and Steve in particular felt that you had to begin design from the vantage point of the experience of the user.

He said, 'How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before.' He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap.

Steve had this perspective that always started with the user’s experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression. And [Jobs] recruited me to Apple because he believed that the computer was eventually going to become a consumer product. That was an outrageous idea back in the early 1980s because people thought that personal computers were just smaller versions of bigger computers."

Jobs' vision of a computer in every home not only led Apple in those early years, it ultimately led the entire computing industry in a direction that was once thought insane and has now become impossible to conceive of differently, and comics have directly benefitted. From the ability to create comics and get them in front of a potential audience to creating websites to promote and/or publish their work online to having access to message boards and forums to interact with fans and potential fans. All of these aspects of the comic book industry we take for granted now, utilized to great effect by creators ranging from "PvP's" Scott Kurtz to Warren Ellis, owe a debt to Jobs' initial vision when founding Apple. Indeed, it's entirely conceivable that none of it would have happened if Jobs hadn't pursued his dream of the personal computer becoming a household appliance.

4. Steve Jobs is responsible for stimulating the imaginations of a generation of animators and comic book creators

Through Pixar Animation Studios, Steve Jobs has influenced and inspired an entire generation of animation and comic book creators. Though not founded by Jobs, he bought the virtually unknown animation studio from LucasFilms in 1986, one year after Apple voted him out of the company. With John Lasseter at the helm, the company spent several years producing computer-animated commercials for companies ranging from Tropicana to Listerine. In 1990, Jobs revamped the entire company even as he contemplated selling it. In 1995, "Toy Story" was released through a distribution deal with Disney and the world of feature animation was forever changed.

The original Apple logo

Though Pixar's relationship with Disney was incredibly rocky, to the point of nearly disintegrating on several occasions, the two studios never went their separate ways, though the partnership was on hiatus for nearly a year from 2004-05. In early 2006, Disney announced an agreement to acquire Pixar, placing Jobs, Pixar's majority stockholder, on the Disney board of directors as the company's largest stockholder.

While Jobs' position at Pixar and Disney was well known, what has always been less clear is how involved he was in the actual filmmaking process as he seemed perfectly content to have Lasseter fill the role of the face of the company. However, the words of Lasseter and Ed Catmull, President, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, in the wake of Jobs' death illustrate the level of Jobs' influence and direction on what is one of the world's most respected and beloved movie studios:

"Steve Jobs was an extraordinary visionary, our very dear friend and the guiding light of the Pixar family. He saw the potential of what Pixar could be before the rest of us, and beyond what anyone ever imagined. Steve took a chance on us and believed in our crazy dream of making computer animated films; the one thing he always said was to simply 'make it great.' He is why Pixar turned out the way we did and his strength, integrity and love of life has made us all better people. He will forever be a part of Pixar's DNA."

This sentiment is shared by the current President and CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, who offered the following upon hearing of Jobs' death:

"Steve Jobs was a great friend as well as a trusted advisor. His legacy will extend far beyond the products he created or the businesses he built. It will be the millions of people he inspired, the lives he changed, and the culture he defined. Steve was such an 'original,' with a thoroughly creative, imaginative mind that defined an era. Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started. With his passing the world has lost a rare original, Disney has lost a member of our family, and I have lost a great friend."

Pixar's influence on the world of comics is one that is not often felt directly, but it is undeniable. BOOM! Studios' line of Pixar-licensed titles was a critical success, proving to be an excellent gateway offering to draw young readers into the world of comics, and the anthologies "Who is Rocket Johnson?" and "What Is Torch Tiger?" released exclusively at Comic-Con International to critical acclaim illustrates the love Pixar and Disney artists have for the medium. The success of "The Incredibles" prior to the current explosion of comic book movies at the box office may or may not be a coincidence, though it certainly showed non-comics readers the potential of super heroes that previous movies had not managed to achieve.

It is unquestionable whether or not the legacy and impact of Steve Jobs will continue to have a lasting effect the world not only of comics, but of science, movies, art and more, not unlike the great visionaries who passed on before him, people such as Edison, Henson, Einstein and others. The only real question is where the next great idea will come from and who will have it.

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TAGS:  steve jobs, apple, ipad, pixar

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