Jul 10 2013 12:30pm

“I am trying to invent electricity and you are being an asshole.” Our Favorite Tesla Pop Culture

Nikola Tesla John C. Reilly

Today marks the 157th birthday of mad and maddening scientist Nikola Tesla, a man that science fiction writers and fans have practically taken to heart as a patron saint. There are a myriad of reasons why: his ingenuity. The fact that history proved him correct in matters concerning ideas about electricity that his rivals tried to bury. That sly moustache.

Tesla’s intriguing nature lends itself naturally to high-spirited tales of fiction, internet memes, and some high class strutting from David Bowie. Below, the staff lists some of their favorite instances of Tesla pop culture.


1.) Our Favorite Tesla-Inspired Fiction & ArtKate Beaton’s “Tesla: The Celibate Scientist” comic strip

Ladies always be standing in the way of Tesla’s science! (More bloomers in the machine?) This six-panel strip is such a perfect mixture of Nikola Tesla’s current fandom with his actual scientific and stage efforts. He truly was the Justin Bieber of his time.

Beaton did a follow-up Tesla strip featuring his, ah, “adventures” with Edison and Marconi but it just makes us kind of sad. - Chris, Sarah, Carl...pretty much everyone in the office.


2.) Nikola Tesla turns out to be David Bowie in the film version of The Prestige

Our Favorite Tesla-Inspired Fiction & Art

My first choice would have to be Tesla as portrayed in Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, which is a fantastic book, and of course the fact that David Bowie was cast in the movie version turns the awesomeness factor up to eleven. - Bridget


Our Favorite Tesla-Inspired Fiction & Art3.) The end of Tesla’s life as chronicled in The Invention of Everything Else

This short literary novel by Samantha Hunt tells a possible tale of Tesla at the end of his life, post-World War II, cooped up with pigeons in the New Yorker Hotel with only just-hired hotel maid Louisa as regular company. The story is mostly concerned with the maid, who has two relatives who are absolutely certain they’ve constructed a time machine. The maid and her family are poor, but constantly striving for bigger things and the parallels between her family and Tesla are striking (and eventually, tragic.)

The novel takes pity on Tesla and the subdued nature in which it deals with Tesla stayed with me long after I read the book. Nikola is often imagined as larger than life, part of an encroaching whiz-bang science fiction future, and it’s refreshing to read a story where that pretense falls away.

In a larger sense, the story speaks to fans of science fiction, as well. You can strive and you can build the world you wish existed, but don’t ever forget that you also need to make the best of the world you’ve been given. Even if it ruins you. - Chris


4.) Drunk History relates the rivalry between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison

Our Favorite Tesla-Inspired Fiction & Art

It wasn’t until I was 22 years old when I found out that Thomas Edison was a total jerk and did everything in his power to screw over Nikola Tesla. I know a lot of people get this information in history class much younger, but for some reason, I didn’t. So, when it became apparent to me that Tesla was the true genius of electricity and not Edison it rocked my world. Then, years later I saw Drunk History’s very helpful video on Tesla in which I learned he was the “electric Jesus.”

If you haven’t seen this, you should watch it right away, mostly for John C. Reilly’s brilliant lip-sync portrayal of Tesla, but mostly for Crispin Glover’s sadistic and evil Thomas Edison. The part where Edison/Glover starts electrocuting animals is terrible/hilarious. I really like the part when Edison says “Fuck. This. Alternating current is bad...” - Ryan


5.) Tesla Becomes Besties with Superman

Superman and Tesla

In 2003 two-issue Elseworlds comic JLA: The Age of Wonder, Superman crashes on Earth in the 1850s instead of in the 20th century. The comic is zippy and interesting in the way that it kicks off the DC superhero universe pre-atomic-age, but perhaps the best part is how Clark Kent becomes Tesla’s devoted lab assistant. The two form a mutually beneficial relationship. Clark blooms in his power via Tesla’s (sometimes unwitting) guidance and Tesla’s research goes further than it ever did in real life now that he has a Superman assisting him.

Perhaps it’s best that history unfolded the way it did, though. Tesla ends up deploying a death ray during World War I and Clark, well, Clark seems kind of dim. - Chris and Sarah


6.) American gothic folk duo The Handsome Family sings a dirge to send Tesla on his way.

The always-jovial Handsome Family celebrated Tesla as a doomed genius in their song “Tesla’s Hotel Room.” He lovingly nurses sick pigeons and pets their feathers in his half-darkened room—which creates a sweet, sad picture, until they pull back the curtain on his fantasy of creating a death-ray. They imagine him as one of the last guardians of a period of wonder in American life, and his death, after he wanders in front of a cab while daydreaming of an X-ray god, leaves the world a colder, less magical place, where a man who feels a kinship with birds is replaced by evil, elephant-murdering Edison and oyster-sucking Westinghouse. Listen to the song at the above link. - Leah


Tesla Corner in Manhattan

7.) Tesla Corner in Manhattan

New Yorkers can visit Tesla Corner, the intersection of West 40th St. and 6th Ave. if they feel like being Tesla for a little bit. The intersection, at the southwest corner of Bryant Park, was commemorated in 1994 and evokes the scientist’s idle pigeon-tending activities in the park as he entered his twilight years.

His actual labs are downtown. The first, on the fourth floor of 33-35 West Broadway, was lost to fire on March 13th, 1895 and the second, at East 46th Houston St, is now a nondescript residential building just off of the Broadway-Lafayette stop. (Do you think Tesla pronounced it “how-ston” or “hew-ston”?)


We barely scratched the surface, of course. What about his role in steampunk fiction, for example? Let us know what your favorite fiction and art involving Tesla is! Like you did here, last year.

Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of and saw Mark Twain there, crying.

Scott S.
1. Scott S.
What, no reference to Tesla's role in creating Atomic Robo? If you guys aren't familiar with the Greatest Comic Book in the History of Everything, I'm gonna have to make sad clucking noises at you.
Brendan Rose-Silverberg
2. Balesirion
My personal favorite is egotistical immortal vampire Tesla from the TV show Sanctuary.
Scott S.
4. Indi
What?! No "Edison's Medicine" by, well, the BAND Tesla? =)

Here is the video =)
Chris Lough
5. TorChris
@Scott S. Guilty as charged! That was the first suggestion in last year's post, which means we had a whole year to read it and never did. Curse these handsome and numerous fictions!

Of course, that shouldn't stop anyone else here from expounding on why Atomic Robo is the best. ;)
Keith DeCandido
7. krad
I'm with Balesirion, Jonathon Young's portrayal of immortal vampire Tesla on Sanctuary was magnificent.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Chris Lough
8. TorChris
For those interested: A contributor on Twitter also pointed out Bjork's ENORMOUS TESLA COIL SYNTH. Demonstrated here:

And now everything is sunshine jelly.
Scott S.
9. Scott S.
@TorChris: Okay, let's see if I can sell it.

"Atomic Robo" is about an atomic-powered robot created by Nikola Tesla and surviving to the present day. Robo owns a corporation called Tesladyne, which specializes in SCIENCE! and employs many people who are ACTION SCIENTISTS! They go around the world doing good and doing SCIENCE and sometimes fighting Egyptian cyber-mummies and Lovecraftian (literally, like it pops out of poor Lovecraft's brain) quad-time monsters and the evil ghost of Thomas Edison and renegade WWII Japanese soldiers who want to drop an Earthquake Bomb on North America.

Also, there is Dr. Dinosaur, who is a mad-science raptor who is simultaneously a lunatic, a genius, and a moron, and who is always hilarious. He and Robo are not friends.

The guys who create Atomic Robo are dedicated to making comics that are fun and good -- but that are also not insulting, not stupid, and not an embarrassment Their promise to readers is worth reading. And emulating, but most other comics publishers don't want to do that, unfortunately.

If you need a sample to hook you in, click on the tab on their site labeled "Free Comics" for free Atomic Robo comics you can read online. FREE, FREE, FREE, NO MORE EXCUSES @TORCHRIS! :)
Scott S.
10. Scott S.
Foo, my link didn't take. Here's the URL for the Atomic Robo guys' promise to readers:
Marie Veek
11. SlackerSpice
And of course, there's his part in the Assassin's Creed-verse as temporary owner of Apple of Eden #4 and the man who helped the Assassins destroy one of the Staves of Eden by setting off the Tunguska Blast.
Liz J
12. Ellisande
David Bowie > everyone and Tesla > everyone, thus David Bowie Tesla > everything ever. Sorry, it's MATH. :P

I was disappointed in Stargate SG-1 for being set in Colorado Springs and never utilizing Tesla's time there for some kind of time travel story. The two could've gone together in several fun ways.
Scott S.
13. dwndrgn
He also plays a role as himself in Spider Robinson's Callahan series.
Allana Schneidmuller
14. blutnocheinmal
Atomic Robo is now on my wishlist. Read a few of the comics, it's super fun. BTW they've got a Kickstarter up, check it out. :)
Scott S.
15. Tumas
Too bad Atomic Robo wasn't on the list, but it's really great to see such a brilliant comic get recognition in the comments.
Scott S.
16. SueQ
I realize many U.S. tv stations don't carry the series Murdoch Mysteries' but if you are in Canada check it out on CBC (or go to Amazon and purchase the DVDs). The very first episode of the very first season (6 years ago) was titled 'Power' and featured Tesla in a competion with the Edison company. Tesla was a 'bit of a hero' to the male lead Detective William Murdoch, and became embroiled in the ensuing murder mystery. It's a great show.
Scott S.
17. Salabra
There is also the excellent Serbian series "Nicola Tesla - The Man Who Lit The World" - though I suspect that this is not "pop culture" :O
Scott S.
18. Ace Hamilton
How can you leave out Five Fists of Science?

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