When we visited Jessie Hartland’s home and studio a little over 2 years ago, she was working on a picture book biography of Steve Jobs. Well that book just came out a few months ago, not as a picture book but as an accessible and engaging 240-page graphic novel for adults and teens called Steve Jobs: Insanely Great. We met up again recently to discuss the process.
Robin: When did you decide to write a biography of Steve Jobs?
Jessie: Two and a half years ago. I was trying to think of who I wanted to write about and then he died. I just decided right then and there. I went out to the newsstand and picked up everything about him that I could. I got the Isaacson book which of course I’ve used. It’s a great book. There’s this one chapter about Silicon Valley, growing up in the 60’s, and the whole music of the era and it’s so great.
Robin: Did you pitch the idea to your editor first or did you show her a dummy?
Jessie: I just pitched the idea to Schwartz & Wade and they went for it. I think they pictured it as being like the Julia Child book, in color and much shorter. They wanted me to end at the Apple 1. I was struggling with that because that’s not what he’s famous for. I really looked into it and found out in detail everything he had done. He had like five careers in one relatively short lifetime. There was some back and forth and I said, you know, I really want to write about his whole life.
We decided to do a graphic novel for teenagers but the book just kept growing and growing. An editor at Pantheon, which is also part of Random House, suggested it should be for adults and that it would trickle down to teenagers and middle graders.
Schwartz & Wade is a children’s imprint and this is the first adult book that they have ever published because it started as a children’s book but turned into an adult book. I like that we’re aiming for adults actually. I’m hoping this book will be for people who are interested in Steve Jobs but don’t want to read a 600-page book.
Robin: Did you have to rewrite much of the text to change the voice from middle grade to adult?
Jessie: Not that much changed. I wasn’t dumbing it down so much. Some definitions came out, like defining “CEO” and “bootleg.”
Robin: So this is a complete biography?
Jessie: Yes, from beginning to end. It’s been licensed in 13 foreign markets.
Robin: That’s fantastic. The book is all hand-lettered. Do they have artists who are redrawing your words in different languages?
Jessie: No, they had a typeface of my handwriting created. John Martz did it and he did a really good job. He had me do many versions of each letter. Originally I had offered to handwrite all of [the different language editions] actually but they thought I was nuts.
Robin: Did you start with a manuscript and then do the drawings?
Jessie: I hear about how other people write first but that’s not the way that I think. I think in pictures and words at the same time because I want to also think about what makes the best image. It definitely goes hand in hand.Read More