How Steve Jobs Ruined Comics

How Steve Jobs Ruined Comics

Before the iPhone, “This image would clearly be understood without the voice balloon, or the character’s open mouth,” says cartoonist Tom Pappalardo, who jokes that Steve Jobs ruined comics.

It’s kind of cool to read comics on the iPad, but Apple’s shiny gadgets have wreaked havoc on how the people who create those comics tell their stories. Just ask Tom Pappalardo.

After the cartoonist realised that drawing newfangled devices presented new problems for explaining what was happening in comics panels, he grabbed a sketchpad and started to collect his thoughts. What resulted was a series of panels (above) he put in a blog post titled “Cartooning vs. Technology: How Steve Jobs Ruined Comics.”

It’s a smart and funny read (seriously, go check it out), but the 37-year-old graphic designer and author of weekly web comic The Optimist said he hopes it’s understood he meant no disrespect to Jobs himself or Apple’s products.

“As devices get smaller and feature less exterior detail, more overt context and visual cues need to be provided by the artist/writer to explain what the device is,” Pappalardo said in an e-mail to “I think Steve Jobs is responsible for the creation of beautiful, wonderfully refined objects (the title of my blog post is hopefully read with tongue firmly in cheek).”

Pappalardo’s panels don’t target just Apple devices – Bluetooth headsets and giant flat-screen TVs are also up for discussion. Throughout, he addresses an interesting problem. In a medium built entirely around flat visuals, it is pretty hard to figure out how one square slab (an iPhone) can be differentiated from another (an electric shaver).

But don’t mistake Pappalardo for a Luddite. Even though he may prefer paper comics to iPad versions, he still loves his devices.

“I think it’s interesting how certain interactions with technology are now extinct,” Pappalardo said, referring to the bygone days of VHS and answering machines. “As a joke-teller, I might miss them a little due to their uniqueness. As a human being who likes cool new tech gadgets, screw ’em.”

Check out Pappalardo’s comic ruminations on the intersection of technology and visual arts in the gallery above. Follow the rest of his antics on his blog.

“This image is slightly less clear, since the handheld device is now as small or smaller than the hand that’s holding it,” Pappalardo says. “It requires a bit more context.”

“In-ear headsets make [cartooning]a little trickier,” Pappalardo says. “More clues need to be dropped to communicate what’s going on.”

“A clear example of a person reacting to reading a news item,” Pappalardo says. It’s not so easy to depict when the medium is an iPhone.

“A multipurpose device needs more context to explain how the person is using it,” Pappalardo says. “He could be angry at a news item, an e-mail, a video or a pile of cartoon pigs wearing helmets.”

“Televisions used to be pieces of furniture,” Pappalardo says. “You could draw them from any angle and they would be immediately recognised for what they are.”

“Televisions are now flat, black-rimmed rectangles,” Pappalardo says. “A television mounted on a wall becomes less clearly understood in a static comic panel. It requires additional information from the author to distinguish it from other, similar-looking objects.”

“Interacting with multipurpose devices requires more information from the author/artist to explain what the character is doing,” Pappalardo says.

Comics: Wired