Comic Books for Complex Issues

NY Fed Made a Comic Book on Monetary Policy. Here Are 10 More Comic-Book Topic Ideas

Aug 09, 2019

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Sometimes, maybe the best way to explain a complex issue is to make it come alive as a comic book, set in outer space. At least that's the approach taken by the New York Fed, which recently published "The Story of Monetary Policy" in comic book format.

It had us wondering at Smith Brain Trust, what other important complex business or money-related issues would be helpful to see in simplified, narrative, comic book fashion? We reached out to Maryland Smith faculty, asking for recommendations. Here’s what they said:

Captain Startup: “This is a cool way of thinking about a new audience. How about looking at entrepreneurship and the lean startup methodology, which uses hypothesis testing and customer discovery? It could feature the proverbial lemonade stand or some other business and talk about how experimentation and hypothesis testing leads to learning and pivoting.” Joseph P. Bailey, associate professor of decision, operations and information technologies, and executive director of the QUEST Honors Program

Trade War and Peace: “For me, the ideal topic would be global trade and the actual impact of trade barriers. Global trade has had a massive positive impact on the lives of people around the world, in both advanced and developing economies. Protectionism and other trade barriers carry with them a range of intended and unintended consequences – most of them negative.” Gary Cohen, clinical professor of supply chain management and director of the Supply Chain Management Center

The Blunder Trap: “I love this idea. I would love to have a comic book that deals with bias and error in decision making. It's so, so easy to fall prey to the errors we can make in decisions, and so easy to think that we're immune! It would be great to have the comic book walk through a few large mistakes in organizations, such as the decision-making errors behind major ethical issues such as the Volkswagen scandal, and then perhaps walk them through a scenario that shows them how easy it is for them to make errors in decision making. A comic book would make it fun and accessible. Now, who is going to make these comic books?” Nicole M. Coomber, associate clinical professor of management and organization

Dressed for the Landfill: “Awhile back, I read a book called 'Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion.' It tries to explain what happens to all of the cheap clothes we purchase and the negative effects fast-fashion companies such as H&M and Zara have on our environment. I teach operations at Smith, and I believe young adults do not understand the costs of 'disposable fashion,' the supply chains and business processes that go into creating and disposing of garments, and the net effect on the environment. Most importantly, I don't believe young adults understand what they can do to help change this.” Wedad J. Elmaghraby, professor of management science and operations management

Dr. Death and Taxes: “I think we have all seen where teaching the topic of physics has shown up in comic book form. Since Albert Einstein said that the most difficult topic to understand is the income tax, we might apply this logic. If you need a comic book format to teach physics, all the more so to teach income tax. So that's my vote: the income tax.” Samuel Handwerger, lecturer in the accounting and information and assurance department

Fiscal Smoke and Mirrors: “Following on ‘The Story of Monetary Policy,’ I would suggest a comic book explaining ‘The Story of Fiscal Policy,’ explaining the workings of the federal government with taxes being collected and money being spent on various programs. Budget deficits are covered by borrowing and paying interest.” David Kass, clinical professor of finance

The Bubble: “Using our book as the foundation, I think the idea of a tech bubble fueled by multiple entrepreneurial narratives could lend itself to an animated, comic book-style output. We could pick almost any recent or current bubble (autonomous vehicles, scooters, blockchain, boba tea, et cetera) and show how a bright, shiny idea that isn't clothed in any real-world constraints encourages lots of entrepreneurs to generate their own particular visions of how that idea will be commercialized. Each idea then becomes its own venture, with unpredictable outcomes that usually lead to failure and, sometimes, the bursting of the bubble.” David A. Kirsch, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship, and Brent Goldfarb, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship

Bank Panic Attack: “The FDIC has a video that explains FDIC insurance. When I worked at the Resolution Trust Corporation, I found that many bank customers did not understand deposit insurance. Some thought that insurance covered all deposits (deposits are insured up to $250,000 per depositor – not per account), and others thought that if a bank failed or a similar bank failed, they would need to withdraw their money before the ‘next guy took out his’ – hence the long lines for people trying to pull out their deposits from IndyMac when it failed in 2008 and from Washington Mutual Savings Bank (who would not have failed if depositors had not withdrawn funds).” Elinda F. Kiss, associate clinical professor of finance

Hackers in the Night: “One of the most serious and maybe least understood issues of the day is cybersecurity, from ransomware to election hacking. A comic book about practicing ‘safe computing’ might be a contribution to our understanding and awareness of the issue in all of its forms.” Henry Lucas, the Robert H. Smith Chair of Information Systems

Journey to Tomorow World: “Having spent most of my life before Maryland Smith (and then some) as a futurist, I could imagine a comic book that explores the concept of scenario planning and forecasting the future. Its characters could also explore trendwatching, spotting early warning signs, creative problem solving, and strategic planning for people who don’t think strategically. It would be a meaningful narrative for kids; exploring the notion that while the future may be uncertain, there are always ways to get more certainty.” Oliver Schlake, clinical professor of management and organization



About the Expert(s)

Joseph P. Bailey's research and teaching interests span issues in telecommunications, economics, and public policy with an emphasis on the economics of the Internet. This area includes an identification of the existing public policies, technologies, and market opportunities that promote the benefits of interoperability. Bailey is currently studying issues related to the economics of electronic commerce and how the Internet changes competition and supply chain management.

<p>Nicole Coomber is on the faculty in the Management &amp; Organization area at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.</p>

Wedad J. Elmaghraby is a Professor of Operations Management and Management Science at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests are at the interface of operations management, economics and behavioral decision making. Her current research includes (1)  online auctions in business-to-business secondary markets, (2) online platforms to promote sustainable business paradigms, (3) the role of returns in learning demand and (4) behavioral factors in business-to-business contract design.

Sam Handwerger, CPA, is a full-time Lecturer in the department, and is a University of Maryland undergraduate accounting alumnus. He also holds a Master of Science in Taxation degree from the University of Baltimore. Handwerger was a Senior Tax Researcher with EY in New York City and later led the Tax Planning and Preparation Departments of the CPA firm Handwerger, Cardegna, Funkhouser & Lurman. In 1996, he was awarded the Governor's Volunteer of the year award in the State of Maryland for financial and management advisement to non-profit organizations. Before joining the Smith School on a full-time basis, Handwerger held adjunct positions at the Johns Hopkins University School of Business and the University of Baltimore Law School.

David Kass

Dr. David Kass has published articles in corporate finance, industrial organization, and health economics. He currently teaches Advanced Financial Management and Business Finance, and is the Faculty Champion for the Sophomore Finance Fellows. Prior to joining the faculty of the Smith School in 2004, he held senior positions with the Federal Government (Federal Trade Commission, General Accounting Office, Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis). Dr. Kass has recently appeared on Bloomberg TV, CNBC, PBS Nightly Business Report, Maryland Public Television, Business News Network TV (Canada), FOX TV, Bloomberg Radio, Wharton Business Radio, KCBS Radio, American Public Media's Marketplace Radio, and WYPR Radio (Baltimore), and has been quoted on numerous occasions by The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, The New York Times and The Washington Post, where he has primarily discussed Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, the economy, and the stock market. 

<p>David A. Kirsch is Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship in the M&amp;O Department at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. From 1996 to 2001, Kirsch held various adjunct and visiting appointments at the Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles. He received his PhD in history from Stanford University in 1996. His research interests include industry emergence, technological choice, technological failure and the role of entrepreneurship in the emergence of new industries.</p>


Professor Elinda F. Kiss' primary areas of research include Bank Regulation, Finance and Banking Crises and Fixed Income Securities. She teaches Corporate Finance, and Banking in both the undergraduate and MBA programs. Prior to teaching at the Smith School Professor Kiss has served as Associate Professor in the Departments of Finance and Accounting at Rutgers University and as Assistant Professor or Lecturer at the Wharton School, Wellesley College, and Temple University.

Henry Lucas

Professor Henry Lucas' research interests include information technology-enabled transformations of organizations, markets, industries and our daily lives. He has conducted research on the impact of information technology on organizations, IT in organization design, electronic commerce, and the value of information technology. Lucas co-produced and co-wrote The Transformation Age: Surviving a Technology Revolution with Robert X. Cringely, a documentary co-developed by Maryland Public Television and the Smith School shown on public television stations around the U.S. He has authored a dozen books as well as monographs and more than 70 articles in professional periodicals on the impact of technology, information technology in organization design, the return on investments in technology, implementation of information technology, expert systems, decision-making for technology, and information technology and corporate strategy.


Dr. Oliver Schlake is a Clinical Professor at Robert H. Smith School of Business, a senior business consultant, entrepreneur and researcher. His publications and research on scenario-based strategic planning and innovation strategy have been featured in leading academic and practitioner journals worldwide. Oliver has been an international management consultant and strategic advisor for leading companies and government agencies in Europe and North-America. Prior to joining the Smith School he was Assistant Professor for E-Business at National University, San Diego and CEO for German based consulting firm Scenario Management International (ScMI AG).

Brent Goldfarb

Dr. Brent Goldfarb is Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship in the M&O Department at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. Goldfarb's research focuses on how the production and exchange of technology differs from more traditional economic goods, with a focus on the implications on the role of startups in the economy. He focuses on such questions as how do markets and employer policies affect incentives to discover new commercially valuable technologies and when is it best to commercialize them through new technology-based firms? Why do radical technologies appear to be the domain of startups? And how big was the boom? Copies of Dr. Goldfarb's publications and working papers have been downloaded over 1200 times.

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