Move over, Thor!
Skedaddle, Spider-Woman! And take your psionic energy with you!
There’s a new duo of superheroes in town, ready to battle the Forces of Evil, and they come from a long line of geniuses – one of them, quite conveniently, is 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 book with superheroes who are engineers.
Dedicated fittingly to “All engineers – and all engineers to come,” The Slate Twins: Caught in the Currents was created with several audiences in mind. According to Georgia Stelluto, IEEE-USA Publishing Manager and Manager/Editor, IEEE-USA E-BOOKS, “Getting kids – young and old – excited about engineering is our main goal. But we also wanted to put the fun back into engineering for Young Professionals, as well as for more experienced engineers.”
While seeking new approaches to meet the vital need for attracting more youngsters to STEM studies, Stelluto recognized a powerful medium to reach them – today’s wildly popular superhero comic books. She saw that offering role models for younger readers – a comic book with superheroes, who are engineers, would also be very appropriate. The characters are intelligent and highly educated, yet amazingly cool. This is because their alter egos are often scientists, doctors and journalists. Knowledge is a very important part of a superhero’s character, since their intelligence and powers of reasoning usually tend to rescue the situation – not their brute strength.
Stelluto’s comic-book brainchild required nearly two years of planning and hard work to execute – with support and feedback from the entire IEEE-USA Communications team.
Unlike Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, the Slate Twins are neither 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 in his desk. This project was an actual effort, during the Second World War, to use an electromagnetically charged invisibility cloak. 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.
All this technology – real and fantasy – is designed to help fuel imaginations and to stimulate readers’ creativity, no matter their ages. Much like other superhero comic books, The Slate Twins: Caught in the Currents, also offers the benefits of stress reduction, social representation and intellectual stimulation – for all age groups.
To help bring this first-ever IEEE-USA digital and print 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 Publishing – one for adults, and another for children.
“I’m not the biggest follower of comic books, per se,” he admits, “but I watch a lot of superhero movies and TV shows.”
He’s also been to 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, as well as the creative costumes you see at these events,” he says.
In addition, 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 throughout 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.”
Moreover, two recent films involving Tesla – the factually based The Current War (2017), and the thriller The Prestige (2006) – provided the illustrator-inventor with new insights and ideas about the often-enigmatic genius.
But Knurek says that he is not a comic-book creator by trade – and in the early stages of the project, 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 ran my initial pencil drawings past him,” 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.”
IEEE-USA is promoting its first-ever superhero comic book through InSight, as well as elsewhere in other internal and external news outlets. A limited quantity of full-color, print copies are available for IEEE members to take to local elementary, middle and high schools, as well as colleges and universities. To obtain copies, contact Georgia Stelluto (email@example.com) and Marnie James (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Slate Twins: Caught in The Currents is available as an e-book at https://ieeeusa.org/shop/fun/the-slate-twins-caught-in-the-currents for $2.99 for members and $4.99 for non-members.
A final word of caution to comic book fans: This one ends with a real cliffhanger that will leave you yearning to know what happens next. It’s safe to predict that we haven’t seen the last of those “Slate” kids!
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.