Julia Evans

Why cute drawings?

Every day in November, I’ve been making small drawings about Linux. You can find them all at https://drawings.jvns.ca.

Someone commented today on a tech news site:

I don’t understand why these, frankly, childish drawings of things you can learn from reading a wikipedia article have reached this level of popularity.

this comment was a bit inflammatory, but I think it’s actually an interesting question: why are these pretty simple drawings so popular?

Here’s a reply:

I’d be the first to point out that I’m not a particularly talented artist. So why do I spend my time drawing comics, when I’m not even that good at drawing?

it’s because I’ve found they’re, in some situations, such a great way to communicate that I feel silly not taking advantage of it A few reasons:

  • Comics are great for summarizing. I wrote a blog post at work about how we do service discovery. I started out with just writing 1200 words, and trying to be as informative as possible. I thought it was pretty good. But then I drew a comic summarizing a main ideas! A really common reaction was “wow, the blog post took me 15 minutes to understand, but after reading the comic I understood the main ideas in 30 seconds”. This is awesome because somebody can see the main ideas and decide whether they want to continue reading.

  • I can trick people into reading about useful concepts that they might otherwise think are too hard or not useful or not fun. I wrote a zine called “linux debugging tools you’ll love” (here). This zine discusses a lot of tools which are traditionally considered a little bit advanced. Because of that, a lot of people don’t even know those tools exist, or might not consider trying them! All kinds of people have told me “julia, i read your zine, and the next day I used a tool in it to fix a bug at work”.

  • They’re an awesome way to introduce people to new ideas. Anyone can learn about /proc! It is not that complicated. But a lot of people don’t even know /proc is interesting. This drawing about /proc took me maybe 15 minutes to draw. I posted it on twitter and it got 180,000 impressions. A lot of people replied to me “wow, that’s so useful, I didn’t even know that that existed, I’m going to go learn more about that now!!”. They will probably learn more about it by reading the man page or Wikipedia or some more traditional means. But they learned about it from a small drawing :)

I started drawing things because my wrists hurt a lot and I was too stressed out about it to use my computer after work.

But these days I draw things because I love telling people things about computers that help them (“omg julia, i had no idea about this, this, this is so useful”), and simple drawings turn out to be a pretty effective way to do that. I don’t do it because I’m a visual thinker or because I’m a good artist or because I think comics are always the best way to learn. I just do it because it works, and it’s fun.

Let’s keep experimenting with different ways to talk about technology to each other! Lin Clark has a site Code Cartoons mostly about web development and it is great.