Cover of Johnny Bunko by Dan Pink

12 October 2008

Comic Relief: Dan Pink Takes On The Crappy-Job Blues With Johnny Bunko

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Guy Who Knows All About Crappy Jobs…

These days, just having a job you can hate is a luxury… “What, you scored a steady gig with health insurance? Hell, if you don’t like it, let me have it and I’ll hate it for you…” So maybe the timing isn’t ideal for a book dealing with career discontentment.

Then again, maybe now is the perfect time for The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, because all these layoffs are giving millions of Americans a moment to consider, what the hell am I doing with my life? If you fall into that category (employed or unemployed), you might want to read on…

Johnny Bunko offers career advice in a manga (Japanese comic book) format. Here’s the trailer. (Yes, thanks to YouTube, even career advice books now have trailers.)

Johnny Bunko is written by Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Free Agent Nation. And I like where Pink is coming from. Under his lesson “There Is No Plan,” he completely repudiates the conservative career path that most people are taught to follow. I shared that sentiment in my post, “Breaking Into The Media Biz: 10 Tips For Aspiring Moguls,” which focuses on marketing and media aspirants. Pink applies his lessons to cubicle dwellers.

Johnny Bunko is a corporate drone who took up accounting because it was “safe” but now longs to work in a creative field. With the aid of a magical mentor, he learns six lessons on how to escape his dead-end job for a passion that taps his true talents. The lessons are smart, and the manga format makes them easy to visualize. The story is moderately entertaining, but it’s no Office Space.

On another note, Johnny Bunko is not terribly realistic — and I’m not referring to the magical levitating girl with the Oxford MBA. In the real world, accountants don’t get to switch to their company’s marketing department (or bring their friends with them) at the snap of a finger (or, in this case, the cracking of wooden chopsticks). To switch from accounting to marketing, you typically have to go back to school to earn the credentials at great expense, or start your own company. So this really isn’t “the last career guide you’ll ever need” — the philosophy is fine, but you’ll need more practical advice to live it.

Indeed, overall the book is rather thin on substance. As the Johnny Bunko website claims, “you can read it in an hour.” And that’s only if you take the time to appreciate Rob Ten Pas’ illustrations. There’s about as much content in Johnny Bunko as you’d find in a magazine article. Hence, I found the price tag of $15 for the paperback a bit steep. (For that much, I want a full-on anime with bonus features — hint, hint.) Couldn’t the publisher have defrayed the price with, say, an ad from

But if you have a steady job and can afford fifteen bucks for an hour of intelligent diversion, go for it: it’s worth it just to reassure yourself that you don’t have to endure a daily lobotomy to make a living. In addition to Johnny Bunko, pick up Career Warfare by David D’Alessandro, which offers practical advice on succeeding after you find that gig you dig. Because if you’re working in corporate America and are relying solely on a comic book for career advice, then forget the lessons — just get up from your cubicle right now, pick a direction, and run until your feet fall off. The corporate life, and this book, are not for you.

For everyone else, Johnny Bunko isn’t “the last,” but it’s a good start.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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