'The Inventor' Makes Tesla a Pop Culture Hero
Nikola Tesla appears as a side character played by David Bowie in the 2006 film The Prestige.
CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures | Touchstone Pictures
Nikola Tesla may have died alone and penniless in a New York City hotel, but the 19th-century U.S. inventor has received his growing share of postmortem fame in Silicon Valley and pop culture. The latest spotlight comes from an upcoming 150-page comic book called "The Inventor" that could eventually lead to a video game and movie.
Tesla beat out rival inventor Thomas Edison with his alternating current (AC) system to create the world's modern power grid, and worked on an unfulfilled vision for wireless power stations. The "Inventor" comic book will feature a "more adult tale" that highlights the Tesla-Edison rivalry and the role of financier J.P. Morgan, according to VentureBeat.
The comic book idea comes from Ravé Mehta, chief executive of Helios Interactive. Mehta pointed out in the VentureBeat interview that Tesla has more than 2.75 million Google searches a month, compared to 3.25 million for Justin Timberlake.
Tesla has increasingly gained favor among both entrepreneurs and engineers. His life and work has inspired the name of Tesla Motors, an electric car company founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk. The inventor has also lent his name to NVIDIA's Tesla graphics card division — a group that created the technology powering three of the world's five fastest supercomputers.
Modern pop culture has also treated Tesla very well compared to his biggest rival inventor. Thomas Edison may still have a bigger name — he won the "greatest innovator of all time" title in an MIT survey of young Americans — but he has also been cast as a villainous, greedy businessman out to stop Tesla in the Hollywood film "The Prestige."
Similarly, the popular Web video series "Drunk History" vilifies Edison in its depiction of Tesla's life, and The Oatmeal online comic alternates between praising Tesla and calling Edison a "CEO" and a "douchebag."
Casting Edison as a fulltime villain opposed to Tesla's good works may be a slight stretch — Edison's business sensibilities arguably laid the foundations for the modern innovation system that dominates in the U.S. and the world. But Tesla surely deserves as much fame and credit for ushering in the modern age of electricity and working on wilder ideas that modern science has only recently begun to grasp.
If the "Inventor" comic book proves successful, let's hope a full-on Hollywood film about Tesla is not far behind.