Whether your warm-weather plans call for the beach or the backyard, IEEE-USA’s new comic-audiobook can be the perfect complement to summertime pleasures. And if there are children around, then The Slate Twins: Caught in the Currents, IEEE-USA’s first digital comic-audiobook (based on its first e-comic book), can be a welcome, instructive treat.
Who are The Slate Twins? They’re the latest duo of superheroes, ready to battle the Forces of Evil. They also come from a long line of geniuses — one of them, quite conveniently, one of the most prolific inventors and futurists in the history of engineering.
His identity — and how the present generation of his imaginary descendants manages to save the day — is just one of the compelling and action-packed aspects of the first IEEE-USA e-comic audiobook — with superheroes who are engineers.
Dedicated to “All engineers — and all engineers to come,” the audiobook was created with several audiences in mind. According to Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA Publishing Manager and Manager/Editor IEEE-USA E-BOOKS, “Getting kids of all ages excited about engineering is our main goal. But we also wanted to put the fun back into engineering for Young Professionals, as well as more experienced engineers.”
IEEE-USA is now offering this new audiobook free to members at https://ieeeusa.org/shop/audiobooks/.
While seeking new approaches to meet the need for attracting more youngsters to STEM studies, Stelluto recognized a powerful medium to reach them — today’s wildly popular superhero comic books. A comic book with superheroes who are engineers would be appropriate. The characters are intelligent and highly educated, yet amazingly cool — because their alter egos are often scientists, doctors and journalists — so why not engineers? Knowledge is a very important part of a superhero’s character, since their intelligence and powers of reasoning usually tend to save the day — not their brute strength.
Unlike Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, the Slate Twins are nether billionaires nor geniuses who invented their own electromechanical suits of iron. But Nick and Tess Slate are bright, curious kids attracted to their engineer grandfather’s home inventions, including an electronic arm he controls with his thoughts. By chance, the siblings discover the plans for Nikola Tesla’s Philadelphia Experiment. Tesla actually attempted such an experiment during World War II, to use an electromagnetically charged invisibility clock. If it had been successful, the result would have made ships invisible to radar.
The Slate kids’ story takes off from there — complete with death rays, circuit boards, miniaturization, bionic prosthetics, time travel — and much more.
Both the audiobook and the companion e-book include all this technology — both real and fantasy — to help fuel imaginations and stimulate readers’ creativity, no matter their ages. Much like other superhero audiobooks and comic books, The Slate Twins also offers the benefits of stress reduction, social representation and intellectual stimulation for all ages.
To help bring this first-ever IEEE-USA digital comic book to reality, Stelluto enlisted the talents of Jeff Knurek, a nationally known graphic artist and award-winning toy and game inventor. Knurek, who illustrates the widely syndicated Jumble puzzle, had previously created two engineering-themed coloring e-books for IEEE-USA — one for adults, and another for children.
Although he is not a comic book collector, Knurek enjoys watching superhero movies and TV shows. He’s also attended several comic cons, the hugely popular comic book conventions for fans held in many cities.
“These events blew me away as I watched people’s devotion and enthusiasm for the parallel fantasy worlds depicted in comic books, said the creator.
Knurek’s longtime interest in Nikola Tesla was a big advantage for IEEE-USA’s digital comic book project. “Tesla was a genius who was ignored through much of history,” says Knurek, who has a degree in industrial design from the University of Michigan. “He was more a visionary than an engineer, and most people don’t realize how much he pushed the envelope.”
In addition, two films involving Tesla — the factually-based The Current War (2017) and the thriller The Prestige (2006) — provided the illustrator with new insights and ideas about the often-enigmatic genius.
Knurek emphasizes that he is not a comic-book creator by trade, and initially he felt totally out of his comfort zone. He says that when Stelluto asked him to make the heroes look more like super heroes, he turned to Chad Frye, a fellow cartoonist and illustrator, who has worked at Walt Disney Animation Studios on many films.
“Chad has an amazing talent for giving characters personality and traits, and I showed him my initial pencil drawings,” he says. “He was brutally honest, and gave me great insights that helped me to enlarge and rewrite the story toward what we eventually achieved.”
The Slate Twins: Caught in the Currents audiobook can be downloaded at the top of this article, and the companion e-book is available from the IEEE-USA shop. Both are free to IEEE members, so be sure to download them for fun summer reading and listening!
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.