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Ride the Lightning: Interview with “Tesla Stormborn” Creator Anthony Smith Jr.

Nikola Tesla can be a polarizing figure. Or maybe he himself was just polarized. While his patents were of critical importance in alternating current’s defeat of Thomas Edison’s direct current, when determining how power would be transmitted throughout the United States, his later work strayed from the beaten path and ended rather fruitlessly.

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But interest in the life and times of Tesla has had a resurgence in recent years, due in large part to his peculiar personal habits and reputation, in both life and death, as something of a “mad scientist.” First-time comic writer Anthony Smith Jr. is adding his take on the mythos with Tesla Stormborn #1, now on Kickstarter. We spoke to Smith to see why Tesla fascinates him and and just how “mad” he might get in the upcoming book.

AiPT!: First of all, why the title Stormborn? What does that mean?

Smith: Tesla was born during an electrical storm during the summer in Croatia. At the stroke of midnight he was born. A lightning bolt, apparently, struck at the moment he was born, from what I was reading in history.

AiPT!: That’s a good story. There’s a lot of mythology about Tesla. Is that why you’re interested in him, or do you think some of that is kind of overblown?

Smith: There is a lot of mythology. Our tagline has been, “When the legend become fact, print the legend.” So I would say definitely. [Editor’s note: Historians seem to agree that Tesla was indeed born around midnight during a storm. The part about the lightning bolt, however, is likely apocryphal. But hey, like the man said ….]

AiPT!: What first attracted you to Tesla as a person and as a researcher?

Smith: I always found it kind of interesting how he kind of got screwed over in the history books. I dove into it more, and [found] out about how Thomas Edison tried to shut him down.

AiPT!: What can we expect in the first issue? Does it start when Tesla is young? Is he already – has he already started his career? What’s going on?

Smith: I would say, in the first issue, we go through his childhood, and we get up to the point where Edison finally shows his true colors. And then we end it there in the first issue.

AiPT!: Because Tesla worked for Edison originally, right?

Smith: Yes.

AiPT!: And so in the first issue, we’re kind of seeing that dynamic, and it kind of turns in the end, I would guess.

Smith: Right. In the beginning, Tesla kind of like worshipped him – Edison – in a way. Then, as Tesla kept trying to push his AC current, and Edison kept turning him down, their relationship kind of got more in trouble there.

AiPT!: And this is just the first issue. If this [Kickstarter] is successful, there will be more to come, right?

Smith: Yes. I originally envisioned it as a three-part series, so I was thinking, if I do a second Kickstarter – I’m thinking about combining the second and third issue into the same Kickstarter, and then doing it as a full, 64-page graphic novel.

AiPT!: So for this Kickstarter, in particular, what do you get for pledging? Say, the standard $10 pledge?

Smith: You’re going to get the standard comic book, and you’ll also be able to get the digital download, as well as a wallpaper for your iPhone and computer and tablet.

AiPT!: Tell me about the art on the book. Who are you working with? How would you describe their style?

Smith: The artist is Brenda Salazar. I met her on reddit … so basically I posted there. And I pitched the book there, to try to find an artist for the project, and I got a bunch of emails – about 20 people emailed me with their portfolios. I really liked Brenda’s style. I felt like she had a lot of diversity in her artwork.

AiPT!: And you think it matches Tesla’s story well?

: Yes, I would say so.

AiPT!: You’ve mentioned earlier the legend of Tesla – realistically, we all kind of know how it ends. What’s there to look forward to in the last two potential issues? Do we know how it ends, or might you take a little bit of license?

Smith: I would say it’s going to stick to the facts. I’m going to introduce Mark Twain, who was actually friends with Tesla in real life. That’s going to be fun to write, for Mark Twain. And Edison gets more and more evil as it goes along.

AiPT!: And does Tesla get crazier as it goes along? Are there any death rays coming?

Smith: Yeah, I think we’re going to slowly get into that. I might dabble with that toward the end of the story. We’ll see.

Tesla Stormborn #1 has reached its funding goal on Kickstarter, but you can still pledge to receive the book and extras (including T-shirts) until the stroke of midnight (EDT) on Friday, July 10.

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