The Zen of Steve Jobs: graphic novel

[Video Link] The Zen of Steve Jobs is an 80-page graphic novel by Caleb Melby and Jess3 that "imagines the part of his life when he was fired from Apple in the mid-80s... He turned to Buddhism, which he familiarized himself with both in high school and college."
The Zen of Steve Jobs tells the story of Jobs' relationship with one such person: Kobun Chino Otogawa.

Kobun was a Zen Buddhist priest who emigrated to the U.S. from Japan in the early 1970s. He was an innovator, lacked appreciation for rules and was passionate about art and design. Kobun was to Buddhism as Jobs was to the computer business: a renegade and maverick. It wasn't long before the two became friends--a relationship that was not built to last.

This graphic book is a reimagining of that friendship. The story moves back and forward in time, from the 1970s to 2011, but centers on the period after Jobs' exile from Apple in 1985 when he took up intensive study with Kobun. Their time together was integral to the big leaps that Apple took later on with its product design and business strategy.

Told using stripped down dialogue and bold calligraphic panels, The Zen of Steve Jobs explores how Jobs might have honed his design aesthetic via Eastern religion before choosing to identify only what he needs and leave the rest behind.

Buy The Zen of Steve Jobs on Amazon


  1. This is opportunistic and the idea is boring. I know nothing about the execution.

    That said, I hope the author doesn’t face a trademark suit.

  2. This would’ve been impossible to publish while the guy was still alive. It’s like the Marquis de Rollebon on fast forward.

    Also, when they don’t give Otogawa’s given name a long vowel they sound like they are saying this.

  3. “honed his design aesthetic via Eastern religion before choosing to identify only what he needs and leave the rest behind.” … or possibly just read The Design of Everyday Things…

  4. Steve Jobs comic books, action figures… I’m wondering when the Steve Jobs air freshener will be released.

  5. I read it and liked it a great deal, with the caveat that I also started meditating ~6 months ago, so the subject matter interested me. 

    The temporal jump between pages 15 and 16, and page 16’s haunting portrait of Steve at the Cupertino city council meeting the summer before he died made it get a little dusty in the room for me.

  6. “Take what you want and leave the rest.”  Orientalist cultural appropriation at its best. 

    As Coco Fusco put it, “That sense of entitlement to choose, change, and redefine one’s identity is fundamental to understanding the history of how white America has formed ideas about itself, and how those ideas are linked first to a colonial enterprise, and, in the postwar period, to the operations of decentralized mass culture.”

    “The invectives against political correctness mask what motivates white attraction to cultures and peoples designated as Other, and diverts our attention from looking at how ‘difference’ acts as an antidote to a perceived absence of spirituality, vitality, or erotic pleasure in the dominant culture.”

    From “Who’s Doin’ the Twist? Notes toward a politics of appropriation,” in _English is Broken Here_.

    1. Yeah, I felt like I was entitled to change my identity partly through learning about cultures designated as Other, because… why wouldn’t I be entitled to do that? Didn’t end up colonizing anyone, though I have glommed quite a bit of cash off foreign governments I guess.

      The lack in my particular dominant culture would probably fall under the category of “spirituality” if you forced me to choose between the three words, though as an atheist it’s not an unproblematic word for me. Really it’s kind of just stuffing me into one of three boxes, fine if you like that sort of thing. What I responded to was texts, mostly. If you think I could’ve found equivalencies to those texts in my dominant culture you’re having a laugh.

    2. The Buddha actually taught that if there is a part of his teaching you cannot accept (because of your mental conditioning) then leave that part out and use the rest until such a time that the whole teaching becomes acceptable to you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water is a common enough expression in a similar vain.

  7. And was Jobs that much of a rarity (in this context) in the ’80s?  Zen was all the rage among execs looking to capitalize on any form of spirituality (or even watered-down repurposed pop-spirituality) as long as it didn’t affect their ethics in the slightest.

    1. True, it was a big thing in the 80s. And Zen got misappropriated and misunderstood in Western culture. But! That doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about how Jobs experienced Zen. I could write you an essay about how Zen was misappropriated and misunderstood by the Japanese in the middle ages, and yet they’re the main source for how we in the West understand it. And that still wouldn’t entitle me to dump on some random Japanese guy who is into Zen without knowing anything more about him.

      The main point here (in my opinion) is that this treatment is extremely speculative. If Jobs himself was alive, he could comment. As it is, many will probably treat this as definitive.

    2. How many execs walked around India in the robes of a sadu in their early twenties seeking Truth and the path to enlightenment. Yeah, didn’t think you knew that about SJ. 

      1. Sadhus are lifetime renunciates. Walking around in their robes for a year or two is like taking the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland and claiming to be an expert on the Alps.

        1. I’ll happily walk around in anything you want, anywhere you want, for 2 years. If you give me a $16M jet in the future. ;-)

  8. “.. what we call a “re-imagining” Also known as “made up”. Why are we re-imagining the history of someone so recently deceased? Not saying I wouldn’t find it an interesting read, but to fill in the blanks on someone’s life like this, when the “blanks” are some of the most important parts of his life, seems kind of absurd to me. 

  9. this would be a whole lot better if the author also grabbed his casio or dx7 and ‘re-imagined’ some music from Michael Jackson

  10. Steve Jobs is a Buddhist the way Newt Gingrich is a Christian. It’s so heartwarming to see all the apple zealots proactively creating a mythical Steve Jobs for future generations, one who will capture the hearts and minds of children everywhere in 2112. Let’s hope someone will remember that apple did nothing to improve this world, and a hell of a lot to clutter and distress it.

  11. Well, whoever this “Jobs” guy is he’s clearly unemployable: he’s got a Gap In His Resume!  Only those who do exactly the same thing for their entire working life are “professionals”, dont’cha know!?

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