Cartoonist Scott McCloud's 1993 graphic non-fiction book, Understanding Comics, was a breakthrough piece of work. It explained the complex insides of comics writing and illustration in a way that was engaging and understandable to outsiders and fans, not writers and illustrators. By contrast, McCloud's marketing collateral for Google's Chrome browser is a crippled, half-assed effort.It's not that the work is too technical in scope. Understanding Comics went pretty deep on the elements and jargon of comics style. But this time around, many of McCloud's panels will be indecipherable except to Web engineers — the very opposite of what made Understanding Comics a hit. I doubt McCloud ran his work, whose words are attributed to "The Google Chrome Team," past a proofreader outside of Google. "Given what's known about mass browser exploits ..." mumbles a cross-armed product manager on the second page. My MSM editorial training kicked into gear: What are "mass browser exploits?" (I Googled the phrase. Zero results.) What about them am I supposed to already know as "given" so I can understand why they matter to Chrome? Any editor at O'Reilly would have thrown the line back for rewrite. By page three, McCloud has lost the entire non-webapp-coding world. "The Gears guys were saying that one of the problems with browsers is they're inherently single-threaded." The majority of misfortunates who try to read this comic on Tuesday will have no idea who the Gears guys are. They'll puzzle at the statement browsers inherently frimble frotz foobar. The rest of the 38-page book reads like the middle of a Neal Stephenson novel. Did you know that taking screenshots and creating a cryptographic hash is an imprecise way to compare layouts? It's true.
I've no idea how much money — or how much of McCloud's time — this effort took. But the result falls far short of the high bar set by Understanding Comics. This isn't Understanding Chrome. It's Wanking About Chrome's Superior Automated QA Harness, a lost opportunity to sell Chrome's most impressive features to an audience larger than Ted Dziuba. Google's own corporate blog post on the topic opens with, "At Google, we have a saying: 'launch early and iterate.'” There's the obvious solution: Hire McCloud again to explain to hundreds of millions of Firefox users why, exactly, they should download and switch to yet another browser. I volunteer to edit him for free.