Mystery, Romance and Franchising: Culverhouse Professor Co-authors Graphic-Novel Textbook
August 27th, 2012 - Filed under: Cover Story
By Kerie Kerstetter
University of Alabama professor James Combs took everything he knew about college textbooks and threw it out the window when he agreed to co-author a graphic novel on franchising last year.
Published in June 2011, “Tales of Garcón: The Franchise Players” is one of the most current textbooks on the subject of franchising and family business, yet its gripping story line and illustrations resemble that of a comic book. Combs, a professor of management and marketing in the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, is pioneering a new approach to learning about business through his work with the graphic novel literature.
“The whole idea is that if you’re engaged, you’re paying attention to what you’re reading,” Combs said. “It’s great when you can put education and entertainment together.”
The book is about a charismatic hotel owner named Garcón, who has a knack for entertaining guests with his stories of adventure. His family business has seen limited growth, yet a possible solution emerges when a mysterious investor offers to become the hotel’s first franchisee. Garcón has two children, Ramón and Isabel, who help run the family business, and they each have different ideas about whether the hotel should be franchised.
“The book really looks at how to best grow your business without losing that personal service aspect,” Combs said.
The authors describe the plot as one of mystery, romance and adventure, as the family explores the options of franchising.
Combs collaborated with Dave Ketchen (Auburn University) and Jeremy Short (University of Oklahoma), both professors of management and veterans of the graphic novel genre. Ketchen and Short authored the two-part, graphic-novel series “Atlas Black in 2010” that focused on the subject of business management. The three met through their doctoral study at LSU, where Combs and Short were each students of Ketchen’s.
“We were all chatting at dinner one night when they said, ‘Why don’t we do a book on franchising?’” Combs said about the origins of “Tales of Garcón.”
Short said the relevance of franchising in today’s business, as well as Comb’s expertise on the subject, made him a logical partner for their next graphic novel.
“Franchising is an important form of entrepreneurship in the U.S. and worldwide,” Short said. “Jim is an expert in the area of franchising research, so he was a natural fit to be part of the project.”
Short and Ketchen were the storytellers, responsible for generating the book’s characters and plot, while Combs worked to weave the franchising concepts into the story line. The creative process for their graphic novels is quite simple.
“We think of a general plot that has ties to the content we want to cover and then create memorable characters,” Short said. “In this case, we built the book around the larger-than-life patriarch, Garcón, who is a mixture of J. Peterman from Seinfeld and ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World.’”
Short said the actual writing of the book then becomes pretty easy since the material they cover — business, management, entrepreneurship — has so many applications to everyday life.
“Our basic idea is to build on the concept of storytelling and the concept that individuals learn and convey more information naturally through memorable stories,” Short said.
The book has received a favorable response since its release.
“We’ve received positive feedback from professors who have used the book in their classes,” Combs said. “Their students have seemed to really enjoy it.”
However, Short said that they also wrote the book with other audiences in mind — namely, current practitioners and business owners.
“(For these audiences) most of the popular books on the subject seem to have ‘idiots’ or ‘dummies’ as their target market,” Short said. “We felt we could do better by offering a book with an engaging plot that builds off cutting-edge research. (With “Tales of Garcón”), we want to make the content engaging and entertaining while making it clear we aren’t dumbing down the material.”
The book is available through Flat World Knowledge, an online publishing platform for textbooks. The first chapter is viewable for free, and the remaining chapters are available in PDF for $20. Hard copies of the book are also available for purchase on Amazon.
Combs said he plans to start using the book in his classroom. Combs is new to C&BA, having arrived from Florida State University.
“I came to the business school last fall, and it’s growing really fast,” Combs said. “We’re really moving forward as a business school, adding a lot of programs, and it’s really exciting.”
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