November 1, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

“There's more than one way to skin a cat.” 

I have frequently said that one of the best parts of working with a trade association is the people I meet and get to know. That's especially true of our members who serve as volunteer leaders at the Metals Service Center Institute.

What you hold in your hand (or view on the computer screen) today results from an idea generated by one of our vice chairmen, Michael Hoffman, the president and CEO of Macsteel USA. Among his many MSCI services, Hoffman is chairman of the Forward magazine Editorial Board, a group of clever, experienced and inquisitive member executives who advise us about subjects to pursue with this magazine.

About a year ago, during a discussion of ways to build interest in the future of North American manufacturing, Hoffman suggested that we consider a graphic novel—a comic book for adults, essentially—to demonstrate what the United States and Canada might be like if their manufacturing base continued to erode under pressure from offshore factories and mercantilist foreign trade policies.

What an interesting idea! We all remember the power that comic books and their superheroes held for us as children. They were exciting stories, with Good confronting and overcoming Evil forthrightly, honestly, directly. It may not be the world as we live it, but it is the world as we often wish it could be.

Graphic novels, though, are rarely quite so simplistic. Some of the stylized art is familiar, some of the conflicts similar. But in these morality tales for adults, there's a lot more to talk about, understand and ponder than the simplest concepts of right and wrong.

In that spirit, and thanks to Hoffman's idea, we, in this issue of Forward, offer you a graphic novella—shorter than a full novel—that we call Tinkerers. The story is set in the near future. Our hero is a young man who is among the very few members of his high school class who see the nobility and importance of making things. He is capable, smart, heroic and dedicated to learning the reasons why many people in his community have forgotten the critical importance of manufacturing.

Our story was written by celebrated science fiction writer David Brin, author of dozens of novels, graphic novels, essays and more, including “The Postman,” a story that served as the basis for a 1997 Kevin Costner movie. Brin holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, San Diego, as well as degrees in optics and astrophysics. He was a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a frequent lecturer at conferences and seminars and frequently appears on television. Our artist is Jan Feindt, a German illustrator with a large portfolio of outstanding and beautiful work.

I have no doubt that many of our readers will wonder whether a graphic novella is the best way to spread understanding of manufacturing. To them I say, “There's more than one way to skin a cat.” We are not always successful talking up metals and manufacturing using staid, traditional communications forms. Let's try something fresh, energetic and eye-catching. Let's demonstrate the need for better public policies that fit today's global economic environment.

I also encourage all of our subscribers to read this inspiring story for the insights it provides and sense of wonderment it conveys. All of us in this industry are part of many long chains of innovation and achievement. We offer Tinkerers instead of the regular Forward magazine in the same spirit and with the same hopes for a long and prosperous future for us all.