The story behind Bloomberg Businessweek’s cartoon strip
Bloomberg Businessweek published a cartoon story earlier this week about Kubernetes, an open-sourced cloud application from Google.
We asked Dimitra Kessenides, a news editor who oversees Businessweek’s special Focus On section, to explain how it came about.
Here is what she said:
Where’d the idea come from?
We publish special sections covering the cloud a few times a year, and last spring, as I was looking for ideas to assign, Kubernetes kept popping up in my research and various articles I was reading. There were K8s talks and events, videos, webinars! But I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what it was. So I sent around an unofficial poll here in the office, and asked a random sample of people — ones I thought might know, because they cover tech and are more immersed in it day to day: “Do you know what Kubernetes is?” I got a lot of puzzled responses. “Not until I Googled it” and “LOL! No.” I think people thought I just made up this word that sounded vaguely Greek — turns out, it is. I figured we needed more time to figure it all out.
Kubernetes kept coming up in our reporting, and in late summer, Max Chafkin, a senior tech writer here and one of my early poll targets, came over and said, “We should do something about Kubernetes.” Max — who has great, creative ideas always, so when he has them, you listen — had a bigger idea about the cloud and taking stock of what’s going on right now with the public cloud, and this was a piece of it.
Businessweek had also recently run a graphic story about Lyft, and that was in the back of Max’s mind. We had a meeting with a handful of people, including Bloomberg reporter Mark Bergen, who covers Google for Bloomberg and also had been hearing more about K8s. It was clear right away that the only way to try and explain Kubernetes was through a comic story.
“There’s nothing we love more than to take an impossibly, comically arcane topic and help our readers understand why it matters,” Max says. Especially anything about the cloud! Because though it might not seem it, the cloud — in what it does, what it contains, who’s in it, and more — is visual.
How long did it take?
The only reason we could consider this and pull it off, I think, is because of the amazingly talented animator/graphics editor, Dorothy Gambrell. Not to minimize the story itself, knowledge of this system, and of what’s happening in the cloud — but at the end of the day, you need somebody who can draw this and ideally, they’re on staff. Businessweek is lucky to have someone who brings inspired ideas to this — like the bugs, or the octopii, or the whole idea of the sea as the cloud.
The timing was tricky. We did start planning early enough, mid-September, but there are lots of projects going on simultaneously around here. Ultimately, from start to finish — meaning the very first outline, tackling what this comic should say, all the way through to animating the files — took nearly four weeks (that doesn’t include Mark’s reporting).
We had to pin down all the words, and finalize those, pushing them through production as a story, without the images. The challenge there was making it understandable and accessible. A handful of people weighed in early with great advice and feedback — like copy editors who also have a background in things like theatre and dialogue, and who came at it in a way that helped to both simplify the explanation, and make it more fun.
Dorothy explains that it’s two to three weeks of work to get a comic together after the text has been finalized. “Before pencil is put to paper — before the text is broken up into panels, and those panels are laid out on the page —we have to figure out the most abstract, ridiculous metaphor we can get away with. Animals are always good. Roaches? Octopuses? A box of octopus? Let’s do all three. Good. Let’s start drawing.”