Apr
14

Two Books, plus Shoes, Raves, Life, and Business

 

 

For this blog I thought I would try something a bit different: a joint book review.  As some of you may know, I am a rainy-day reader of business advice books. Why? Because they are empowering. Art criticism books, though fun to read, are rarely empowering.

Don’t get me wrong: nothing is more hopeful than the enterprise of art.

Writing about art, well, that is a bit different. And though there are a few great art history books, it’s hard to find the same kind of empowerment as in business books. This is odd to me, because art and entrepreneurship are often about the same thing: making it happen.

 

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Art and Fear outsells all for education

 

 

While the art world has classics with titles like “Art and Fear,” the world of entrepreneurship has books with these titles: “Start Something That Matters” and “Delivering Happiness.” You tell me which books of those three that YOU would like to review. That’s right, the latter two. So here we go!

 

 

Both books take the reader on a personal journey as well as a journey through a corporate history. Each book suggests that one cannot be extricated from the other, that life and enterprise must weave together as neatly or as messily as they must. These lessons combine to produce a company culture, core values, and a core competency or mission.

 

We will start with the TOMS book  (which has since launched a movement)

 

Start Something!

 

A key lesson to learn from Start Something That Matters is contained in this excerpt:

 

“When I started TOMS, people thought I was crazy. In particular, longtime veterans of the footwear industry (shoe dogs, as they’re called) argued that the model was unsustainable or at least untested – that combining a for-profit company with a social mission would complicate and undermine both. What we’ve found is that TOMS has succeeded preciselybecause we have created a new model.”

 

The famous TOMS model of one-for-one, though innovative and expected to fail during its inception,  is it’s key success point. Buy a pair of TOMS shoes, and a child in need gets a pair of shoes. Even if you buy the Start Something That Matters book, a book is donated. That’s how TOMS works, and always has.

 

The model of Corporate Social Responsibility is old news by now. Everyone knows that it’s good to have your company volunteer, limit waste, use green products, ect, ect.

But what is new news is that companies that work social responsibility into their business plans also succeed financially in addition to, well, doing all-around good.

This seminal article reveals the depth of links betwen CSR and financial performance. A touchstone here is Reputation – which TOMS thrives upon both by word of mouth and by its one-for-one policy.

The last sentence in the conclusion of this article reads:

“Corporate virtue in the form of social and, to a lesser extent, environmental responsibility is rewarding in more ways than one.”

 

If you grew up in the 90s or if you pay attention to any kind of manufacturing activism, you probably have your own imagining of a Nike factory in China emblazoned on your memory.  Non-socially responsible business practices call to mind a small Chinese child slaving for 3.20$ a week, sewing until her fingers bleed, eating only government provided meals at her school (if she does go to school). Beautiful and status-endowing shoes, it would seem, emerge from the most humble of hands.

 

TOMS shoes are still made overseas. The company is transparent about its practices, and this is more transparent than just about any other shoe company out there.

 

The below graphic reflects a spectrum of corporate social responsibility, where some corporations ‘just get by,’ while others not only get by but give back.

Bare —- Good —- Better

 

 

What makes TOMS a particularly revolutionary company is that it skipped a step before anyone even thought about there being a ‘good’ step. It transcended the oh-so-typical shoe business model of doing the bare minimum to doing better, which means that it also does good. There might be a fourth category here, a corporation which follows a Best model for CSR. But you can visualize the Better category as a Better/Best category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zappos book, Delivering Happiness, overflows with lovable biographical anecdotes from the life of Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh. In one memorable episode, a child Tony Hsieh builds a dirt box of earthworms as a business.  The worms, after just a few weeks, seem to disappear, much to young Tony’s dismay.

 

Images in this blog are excerpted from the comic book version of Delivering Happiness, available from Round Table Comics

 

^^The worm box: Tony Hsieh’s only failed business?

 

 

 

The utter failure of his worm box, strangely enough, seems like the only disheartening failure in the book; as Tony Hsieh grows up and continues to rock at high school, college, young professionalism, and life in general. The saddest thing that happens to him is a depressing period where he hates waking up in the morning. Who hasn’t been here? You can’t help but feel for him. What distinguishes Hsieh from the crowd is that he uses this experience to change his life. And he never forgets it.

 

None of Tony Hsieh’s failures seem like failures, because he is A) Positive about failure and B) Learns from everything that happens to him.

 

 

Throughout this book, Tony Hsieh reveals himself to be a positive-attitude leader as well as a business leader. Thus the title, Delivering Happiness, which, like TOMS, has become a movement in addition to a company outlook.

 

Throughout the book he  about life and community as a 90s raver, even adopting the acronym PLUR as a sort of life/business model – perhaps the best use of the term outside the grounds of a mega-rave.

the Plur connection

 

Tony Hsieh was a party-maker – he created experiences.  He went from a semi-skeptical rave-goer who barely understood electronic music to an enlightened Plur kid who rustled up smoke machines for his penthouse apartment parties.  Like any good party person, he gathered awesome people around him. Like any good businessman, he made things happen.

 

^^Even though the fire department gets called on Tony Hsieh's club BIO, it's still all cool

 

 

The too-popular image of a burnout or a party monster refuses to cloud the spirit of this book, and surely Tony’s life.  The ghost of guilt tries to conjure itself a few times, such as when a fire department must investigate Hsieh’s ‘smoking’ apartment, but it disappears as fast as it assembles.

 

 

Tony Hsieh, in the book’s mythos, is too much of a winner for such things to trouble him. And though the book must skip over some of the possible negative consequences of partying (it just has to, or these are the purest parties on the planet), one feels that this editing choice isn’t done out of fear, just out of a resolute positive attitude.

 

 

There’s no Lion King moment where Tony decides to cast aside his party-happy life and assume austere responsibility – no, the element of celebration is there up until the end of the book, where his overjoyed employees remind him of peace-loving ravers, dancing in sync to a refreshed corporate beat. The drop, in this case, was Amazon’s acquiring of Zappos.

 

The key is personal balance, understanding, and true respect for his workers. Without these qualities, the company and the celebration would fall apart. Party’s over.

 

 

Zappos as a company is rife with eyebrow-raising corporate policies: newly-hired employees can accept a 2,000$ check after two weeks of work if they choose to quit. This policy may seem extreme and abusable, as some (or many) employees could squeeze into Zappos, quit, and walk out with an instant 2,000$. The philosophy behind this practice is that anyone who takes the mini-buyout is not the kind of person Zappos is looking for.

 

 

It makes sense, and it even makes sense in the frame of party philosophy. Would you want to party with buyout-snatching person like that for years on end? It doesn’t seem like much a good time.

 

 

Unlike TOMS, there is little CSR that is mentioned in the Zappos book, though this keeps in line with each shoe company’s particular mission statement. All notions of responsibility, in Zappos, are geared toward the Zappos customer and the Zappos employee. Everyone involved in a Zappos transaction is happy.

 

Now, if shoe manufacturers took a page, just a page, from Tony Hsieh’s book, the shoe world overall would be a much happier place.

 

 


Apr
01

Interview With Brazilian Artist/Writer Estevão Ribeiro

This comic strip bio, found on Estevão Ribeiro’s Facebook page, is perhaps the best introduction for him:

 

Estevao Ribeiro Bio

Translation: Estevão Ribeiro was born in April of 1979. He has spent most of his life writing stories and comics. He is the author of the comic anthology Little Heroes, which came out in the EUA in 2012, and also is the author of A Corrente, which will be published in Italy in October of 2012.

Here is an interview I conducted with him. This interview has been long in the works, both of us working to translate from English to Portuguese and back again.

——————-

 

Jewell:  Your comic strip, Hector and Alfonse, is very cute, but also full of truth. How did you come to invent Hector?

 

Ribeiro: Hector and Alfonse were invented when I was waiting for a script meeting for an animated series that I was testing out.

 

I was trying to draw a bird about to take off from the paper. On my third try, Hector was created. After that, I thought that I’d like to draw a friend for Hector. He needed to be simple like Alfonse, yet different and distinct. Alfonse was more difficult to create.

^ Alfonse is a bit more brusque than the loving Hector

 

 

 

J:  At graphicly, we first encountered your work in the book “Little Heroes.” Did you enjoy working on this project? Can you tell us a bit about your process for creating and curating this comic book?

Little Heroes

 

 

Ribeiro: Little Heroes was a big project and I’m very proud with how it turned out. At it’s core, it is about kids and teenagers, who, at in some point in the story, do something heroic which makes them into big heroes. I hadn’t the money to give the contract artists, but they wanted participate this project because they liked it. If you had the chance to honor your favorite hero, why not?

I wrote the whole script, and all of the stories happen without speech balloons. I wanted the book to be ‘silent’ like this because I could show this collection to a person from any other country and this person would be able to understand the story and also appreciate the art.

This first chapter honors the DC Comics characters. The next three chapters honor the Marvel heroes, and classic heroes (like Dick Tracy, Tarzan, Flash Gordon and others), and the last chapter in the comic book honors the villains.

The collection won the Troféu HQMIX as the best comic book for kids and teenagers in 2011. The Troféu HQMIX has been established for 21 years, and is like the Eisner award in Brazil.

 

 

^  A stunning tribute to Wonder Woman.

 

—————

J: How do you balance your family life and your life as an artist ?

Ribeiro:  My wife Ana Cristina is a writer too, so she understands my job responsibilities. I work as an art editor in a journal in Rio de Janeiro, and so I have only a few hours each day to write some project or to draw my comic strips. My wife knows that all I do is for her and my stepson Miguel.

They are a present force in my work as well. Miguel reads my comic strips and books for children (he’s 9 years old) and she read my books and helps me in some translations. We are a good team.

——————-

J: You are doing work with the emmy-nominated Kiyash Monsef. Can you 
tell us anything about this project?

 

Ribeiro: The project involves production work on the second season from graphic novel online Urgent Evoke, part of a big innovative social game created by Kiyash for the World Bank Institute.

Since this graphic novel is about Brazil, Kiyash needed a Brazilian writer to help him.

I heard about this project through you, Becky. So I sent Kiyash some links about my job experience, including Little Heroes, and I was hired.

Kiyash is a successful artist and has welcomed me into his world.

Six episodes are currently in the works for this project. I can’t talk more about this project, but I can say that you’ll see a different kind of game at work for me.

——————-

 

J:  What is your artistic process? How do you come up with ideas, and
 how do you get these ideas into comic book form?

Ribeiro: I’m always working. I’m always thinking about a new comic strip, or coming up with ideas for my new novel or thinking about writing projects for TV, but I don’t have time to dedicate to all of these ideas, because I’m not able to live 100% on my comicbook-related income. So, for the most part, I transform my ideas into comic strips or short stories.

I write the scripts in a word doc and let it settle until I find time to draw it.

I don’t like to write in the streets or send myself idea reminder e-mails. I like to keep an idea in my head until I can write it down on my computer. If the idea is good, I will remember it.

The comic strip “Hector and Alfonse” is drawn with a tablet. I don’t do sketches, I draw directly into Photoshop with a brush.

 

——–

J:  Have you always wanted to be a comic book artist? When did you
 start to do art?

Ribeiro: I was born in 1979 and I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters. My brothers liked comics and so I learned to like them too. But we were a very poor family, and art production in Brazil is costly. I always wanted to work with comic books, but before I started my first job as a newspaper writer in 2000, I worked in the graphic design industry. I’d wanted to understand why it was so expensive to do a comic book in Brazil. When I finally understood the market a bit more, I began to publish my own works.

 

J: What can you tell us about life as a comic book artist in Brazil?

Ribeiro: It’s very hard, but it’s better than it was 20 years ago. The big years for Brazilian comics were in the 1940s, when the war interrupted the circulation of foreign comics in Brazil. So, our local artists needed to do their own stories or create new stories about well-known characters, like Buster Brown.

In the 1960s , there was “Monica’s Gang”,  a comic created by Mauricio de Sousa. Shortly after it came out, Mauricio de Sousa Produções became a big studio in Brazil. Mauricio is our Disney or Stan Lee.

For many years some of Disney’s comics were created in Brazil, especially Zé Carioca. In the 1970s, the most famous artist to draw Zé Carioca was Renato Canini. He is to Ze Carioca what Don Rosa is to Scrooge McDuck.

 ^ American folks might recognize this Disney character from “The Three Caballeros”

 

 

In 70s and 80s, comic and cartoon artists in Brazil would work in Mauricio de Sousa Produções and the Brazil Disney studio. Artists could also go into work with erotic & horror comics, celebrity comics, and of course they could make their own characters. In cartooning, an important group was formed by Angeli, Laerte, Glauco. These artists created the Chiclete com Banana, an underground comic book with a big influence across two generations of Brazil artists.

 

 

 

In the 1990s and into the 2000s,  the market in Brazil was a very complicated place for comic book writers. Almost all of the American studios want just artists, while comics writers must live in Brazil doing basic industry comics or write for Mauricio de Sousa Produções. The idea of creating Brazilian stories AND publishing them in Brazil is still mostly a dream.

Yet, more and more Brazilian artists are printing their own works and bringing them to Comic Cons in Brazil and the USA. We are exporting authors, artists and stories. It is an exciting time.