National Public Radio, and one of my favorite NPR programs, due both to the subject matter it covers and to the way said subject matter is presented by hosts Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone, is On The Media. (Though, due to the fact that my local NPR station no longer carries OTM, I have to keep up with it by subscribing to the podcast.) Combine all of that and you get a book that I just knew from the moment that I learned of its existence that I absolutely had to read: The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld. A couple of weeks ago, I finally aquired a copy and have read it through from cover to cover twice now, partly to prepare to write this review, but mostly because it is a fun, engaging, and informative book that I absolutely love, as I knew I would.
In the world of graphic nonfiction, dominated mostly by self-indulgent autobiographical comics, the only thing comparable to The Influencing Machine is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which also seeks to translate complex ideas and theories into sequential art form. However, while, in retrospect at least, the idea of doing a book on comics theory in comics form seems something of a no-brainer, The Influencing Machine, which distills Gladstone's quarter century of writing about media into an examination of the media's past, present and future and our relationship to it then and now, seems a slightly riskier proposition to attempt as a comic. It is, however, a gamble that pays off.
In interviews at the time of the book's release a few months ago, Gladstone stated that she chose to present what she calls her "media manifesto" in comics form in order to foster the same kind of intimate relationship with readers that she feels she attains with her radio audience. In this regard she succeeds even more fully than she might have hoped, due to the nature of comics, which is what Marshall McLuhan termed a "cool" medium, which more fully engages the reader's mind than the "hot" medium of radio and and creates an even more intimate connection between author and audience.
This is my first time seeing Josh Neufeld's art, but whoever brought him and Gladstone together should get a bonus as he seems the perfect choice to convey Gladstone's message and create that intimate connection with the reader which she sought.
It goes without saying by this point that I highly and heartily recommend this book to one and all. To whet your appetite, here is an animated version of the book's intro from YouTube: