James Kehoe, Head of Product and Comic Writer

My name is James Kehoe and I’m Head of Product for a successful Irish SME, Compliance & Risks Ltd. I joined this company 5 years ago as their first Product Manager and since then the company has become increasingly profitable, and are now growing at 30%. I’ve always lived in Cork, but most of my roles have required regular travel to the US and within the EU.

My interest in comics began at a young age – whenever my father travelled with work, he’d always bring back a Tintin or Asterix book. I then took a 30-year break from comics, as I was never interested in the superhero stuff. But two years ago, my wife got me a present of “Making Comics by Scott McCloud”, and I’ve loved the roller-(ballpoint) coaster ride since then.

The comic book influences that shape my writing have been, of course, Tintin and Asterix, but I really like Scott McCloud’s own work “The Sculptor”, “Attack on Titan” by Hajime Isayama, and most work about Deadpool. With my own comic books that I created, I saw that they helped people grasp complex concepts really quickly; I figured maybe this could be done for maths subjects too. Unfortunately, a lot of people label themselves as “not a Maths person” – this belief is not only inaccurate, it holds them back from realising their potential. And I wanted to do something about it. Currently, I’m working on a comic instruction book for Applied Maths, and a comic to help explain to company managers/owners what “Product Management” is and how it works.

My comic books are less about the stories (so far) and more about short observations and analysis. In a way, my stories write themselves, in that there is a concept I need to communicate and I iterate ideas until I find one that works. As an example, I had a friend who was struggling to update his CV, so I offered to do it as a comic to help him realise just what amazing experience he had – my friend ultimately got the job he wanted!

I quite enjoyed testing my own CV as a comic too, mostly because I really dislike working on my traditional CV, and approaching it as a comic made it fun. One short story I did at work was actually converted into a 10ft by 10ft poster stand and brought to conferences & seminars. But my favourite was probably a birthday gift for my wife summarising some of our adventures to date. When it comes to writing these comics, I have some very talented, honest, and supportive work colleagues who give me very useful feedback and support. And my wife, whom I also work with, is my best supporter and editor. I wouldn’t consider myself artistic and my drawing skills are rudimentary – my focus is on communication, and I often outsource the final drawings to real artists. If something I do is going to be client-facing, then I use an external agency for final artwork.

Comics are an incredibly efficient way of communicating huge amounts of complex information; unfortunately, they are often seen as the remit of children’s stories. Instead, business relies on imprecise and ambiguous words. I hope to be part of the wave to change this bias. I think new technologies have helped this and sped up the process of comic writing, as drawings that are done directly on a computer screen are easily corrected and work can be quickly shared. But I still prefer to do my roughs with pen & paper. This comic writing has definitely helped my communications and has had a disproportionate impact on sales, feature decisions, and team alignment.

My advice to those looking to create their own comics is to read Scott McCloud’s book on making comics and realise that creating comics is not about artistic ability or being a Marvel fan, it’s about having an important message or concept to communicate. Comics are an incredibly efficient form of communication – use them to your advantage.

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