REVIEW: The Zen Of Steve Jobs

The Zen of Steve Jobs

Written by Caleb Melby
Drawn by Jess3

$19.95 /  80 pages / Color

Published by Wiley and Forbes

Every once in a while a publisher not typically associated with comics will put out a graphic novel. It’s always interesting to see how they do it but one thing that I find puzzling is that they rarely seem to reach out to the comic’s press for publicity. I remember working in a comic shop the week The 9/11 Commission Report graphic adaptation came out. The guy who owned the shop was mightily peeved because he first heard about the book the Tuesday before it’s release on NPR. All day folks were coming in to the shop asking for the book of which we had zero copies. This is similar to what happened with The Zen of Steve Jobs. The book was published by Wiley, which is typically a scientific publishing house and thus I heard about this book from a fellow scientist who knew I was into comics and sent me a link. I felt bad not knowing about the book before it came out because I think this is the kind of book that would really be embraced by the comics community, which may be jumping ahead a bit so let me talk about the book itself.

The Zen of Steve Jobs is a graphic novella focusing on the late Steve Jobs relationship with the Buddhist monk Kobun. Steve dabbled with Buddhism in an on-again off-again way, but the aesthic of eastern philosophy clearly influenced his own sense of design, which is what this book attempts to explore. I think it’s an inherent risk to do a comic about design, it’s a McCloud-ian gambit fraught with the potential for hyper-critical failure, but it works. Much like Apple products themselves, everything is kept as simple as possible while still being pleasing and functional.

Usually comics reviews talk about story then art, but if there ever a book to try and integrate the two as one, this might be it. The art was done by JESS3, a data visualization creative agency. I have no idea what their process was like, but it certainly doesn’t read like a book made by committee. This could of course be due to the writer, Caleb Melby, whom, to my knowledge, has never written a comic before. Often first-time writers are heavy handed with the text but so much of Buddhism is silence, solitutde, and contemplation that this book deftly misteps that novice tendency.

The book is short enough that I don’t want to spend much time covering the story for fear of giving it all away, but I will say it jumps around in time showing the different periods of Jobs’ relationship with Buddhism and his teacher Kobun, while commenting on how his experiences informed his ideas at Apple. The time jumps are handled well, with characters looking older or younger while still being recognizable and shifts in the color palette providing an overt visual cue that the reader is seeing a different time and place. The book ends with some nice text pieces providing the broad strokes missing from this more focused narrative, as well as some remberences of Steve which should read familiar to anyone near the internet at the time of his death and saw the outpouring of emotion from all everyone he touched in his life.

Ultimately, I’d say this book is an amazing success from a writer, art team, and publisher seemingly unfamiliar with the comic format. It’s a shame it didn’t make a bigger splash in the comics community since we’re a group that seems to have an almost unnatural obsession with podcasting, so hopefully this review serves as the call to arms to go learn a little more about the man behind the Apple, and the philosophy that shaped his work.

Story: 4 / Art: 4 / Overall: 4

(Out of 5)


  1. Interesting.

    Too bad Jobs’ interest in Zen didn’t prevent him from running the sort of factories that literally cause poor Chinese people to commit suicide.

    • You want to have that conversation, have it somewhere else. This is to talk about the comic book.

    • @flappjax – Do you dance in front of people in wheelchairs, too? Geez.

      @Caleb – Thanks for this write up. I remember when this was announced, but never saw it in the LCS. Seems like a unique angle on his life and worth checking out.

  2. I’ve been thinking about picking this book up, thanks for the review! Pretty sure I’m gonna get it now.

  3. I never heard of this book until this review, but it sounds really interesting. I might pick this up.

  4. Am I the only one that finds it ironic that this was published on paper and not exclusively digital?