Rice student uses comics for serious purpose
Entrepreneur, author, publisher. Ruchir Shah has covered a lot of ground in his 19 years.
The Brown College sophomore has written and edited four comic books dealing with elements of American history and published them to national — and international — acclaim. His most recent effort focuses on former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, the honorary chair of the Baker Institute for Public Policy. Titled “James A. Baker III: Public Servant Through Six Presidents,” it is described as the authorized comic book biography.
Baker gave his blessing to the project and provided input on the text. Asked about Baker’s reaction when first approached, Shah said Baker told him: “You know you’ve really made it when they make a comic book about you.”
The project, EZ Comics, began as part of a business plan competition back in high school in Barrington, R.I. “I liked history,” Shah said, and comics seemed like a good way to expose reluctant readers to historical figures and events. He wrote and edited books on Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr. and the U.S. Civil War before he came to Rice. He altered his business model, and EZ Comics is now a nonprofit that operates under the slogan “Education made easy.”
The art is produced and the books are published in Mumbai. “It costs about a dollar to get each book published in India,” Shah said, “compared to about 20 dollars at a Kinko’s.”
After sending out mailings to individual U.S. embassies around the world, he received hundreds of orders from diplomatic outposts in Islamabad; Bangkok; Luanda, Angola; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The embassies are interested in explaining U.S. history to people whose first language may not be English. “My goal is to get them out there,” Shah said. The books are also available at Amazon.com.
Rice is also working on a plan to provide the Houston Independent School District with copies of the Martin Luther King Jr. book for school libraries.
The Baker book, which came out in early 2010, took Shah about a year, he said. He took an individual study course last fall with Douglas Brinkley, professor of history and a fellow in the Baker Institute, that helped him pull together all the elements for the project.
Looking back, Shah said, “It was fantastic that I could have the opportunity to meet with James Baker,” who encouraged him — in addition to providing details about his life. In the foreword, Baker wrote to the book’s readers: “I hope this book might inspire you to enter the important world of public service. Now, more than ever, we need dedicated public servants to continue to advance our American ideals.”
Shah also expressed his appreciation for the assistance he received from Françoise Djerejian, wife of Edward Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute, and Joe Barnes, the Bonner Means Baker Fellow at the Baker Institute.
Shah has big plans for EZ Comics. The Web site, ezcomics.com, currently has Flash presentations, games and links to historical background material. Shah hopes to incorporate interactive videos and quizzes soon. Possible future subjects include Mahatma Gandhi, Jimmy Carter and Hu Jintao.
Shah, an energy studies major, will serve as president of the Baker Institute Student Forum next year.
This James Baker Comic Book Review by Franz Brotzen, Rice University News staff, can also be read from here