Drawn in a style as dynamic and timeless as its subject, Mind Afire: the Visions of Tesla brings readers deep into Nikola Tesla’s dramatic but ultimately frustrated life.
Despite the seventy years since his death and a century of scientific advancement, the mind and deportment of Nikola Tesla continues to exercise an amazing hold on science-fiction fans. From his various inventions created for Syfy channel’s Warehouse 13 to any number of steampunk scientists sporting his trademark suit and intense stare, it’s hard to imagine the real man being anything but crushed by the weight of his myth. And yet the carefully researched figure brought to life by Abigail Samoun’s storytelling and Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations reveal a true Prometheus, only made more fascinating by his factuality than any of the fiction based upon the person.
Opening with Tesla’s unrealized dreams for a modern world—stratosphereic lighting, interplanetary communication, and abundant wireless energy—Samoun prepares readers for a story of great potential thwarted by the baser aspects of human nature: ignorance, greed, and jealousy. Throughout the inventor’s childhood she reveals the first seeds of Tesla’s passions and sensitivities, giving readers a constant core which the hero evolves around.
A veteran children’s book editor, Abigail Samoun is the founder of Red Fox Literary, and the author of the several children’s books including, What’s in Your Purse? Samoun’s expert handling of Thomas Edison, however, that reveals how well the author understands the complexities of adults as well as children. When dealing with such technological titans, it’s too easy for authors to fall back on the one-dimensional images that make up the tall tales. With a villain who behaves as shockingly as Edison did, it’s even acceptable to show the monstrous side while avoiding anything that might complicate the story. Samoun’s Edison is different. Almost sympathetic, Samoun creates an Edison as passionate and driven as Tesla, made cruel by the struggle for survival in this newly electrified world.
Haidle’s illustrative style in Mind Afire blends so beautifully with Samoun’s storytelling, it’s easy to forget that this book was created by two artists rather than a single person. Her characters’ high cheek bones and expressive eyes are given warmth and nuance by careful cross hatching and some beautiful shading. Haidle combines the best aspects of Fiona Staples (Saga, Mystery Society) and Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret). This isn’t to say that Elizabeth Haidle’s work is derivative by any means. One only has to page through Encyclopedia of the Exquisite or the award winning Elmer the Grump to know that her style is completely her own.
There is an intentional stiffness to many of the scenes as if one were paging through a collection of old time photographs. This adds to the suspense during the darker and more challenging moments of Tesla’s life, giving the characters a cloak and daguerreotype atmosphere.
It needs to be noted that the creation of Mind Afire: the Visions of Tesla could not have happened without broad support from the Kickstarter community. While some Kickstarter campaigns have made the news for their spectacular failures, this graphic novel is the kind of success that makes the crowdfunding organization wonderful.
Merriam Jones, writer of Cards & Stars, regularly reviews random items of interest for Isotropic Fiction.