Saving the Tesla Tower, One Comic at a Time: Interview with The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman

Nikola Tesla—does that name ring a bell? Or to be more fitting—spark an alternating current, perhaps? If you’re not too familiar with Tesla, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise, considering many people view him as an unsung hero...
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Nikola Tesla—does that name ring a bell? Or to be more fitting—spark an alternating current, perhaps? If you’re not too familiar with Tesla, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise, considering many people view him as an unsung hero...

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Nikola Tesla—does that name ring a bell? Or to be more fitting—spark an alternating current, perhaps? If you’re not too familiar with Tesla, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise, considering many people view him as an unsung hero of the world’s greatest inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Serbian-American, who once worked with Thomas Edison, is getting a lot of buzz lately since Wardenclyffe Tower (a.k.a. Tesla Tower), located on Long Island, New York, is under threat to become a retail space. It is here where Tesla worked his last bit of genius, envisioning the tower to secure wireless electrical transmission across the Atlantic.

Once self-proclaimed “Tesla nerd” Matthew Inman, founder of The Oatmeal, discovered fundraising efforts were being made to save the tower, he joined forces with the Tesla Science Center to help save the legacy of “the greatest geek who ever lived.”

Inman's Tesla comic, which hysterically sings the praises of the inventor (while seriously dissing Thomas Edison), has garnered a lot of attention and has helped bring in major fund-age for the cause, but like anything that becomes popular, it has also encountered the scorn of Edison sympathizers who are rebutting some of its claims.

We caught up with Inman to see how the campaign was going, what he thinks of those who are refuting his Tesla claims, and why he thinks this guy is such a badass.

So how is the fundraising going so far? Can you reveal any numbers? The fundraiser is going amazingly well. We've raised $750K of our $850K goal in just under five days.

What made you want to get involved in this project? A few things. First off, I'm a huge Tesla nerd and I consider him one of my heroes. I created a comic about him earlier this year called "Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived," and due to the popularity of this comic, I amassed a large following of Tesla fans. Furthermore, I recently had success with a lawsuit that I turned into a charity, and I tried to raise $20K but instead ended up raising over $200K. Combine these things and I thought I was ideally situated to make a difference in Tesla's legacy.

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Wardenclyffe Tower today Did you read Alex Knapp's post in Forbes that rebutted some of your statements about Tesla and Edison? How do you feel about his claims? I posted a public rebuttal a few days after the Forbes article came out: http://theoatmeal.com/blog/tesla_response. But in short: I don't care who wins the Tesla vs. Edison debate; I'm just happy to see the Internet taking a break from debating things like [Twilight's] Team Edward vs. Jacob and instead debating turn-of-the-century inventors.

Total hypothetical, but if the worst case scenario came to pass and a retail space was actually built in place of Wardenclyffe Tower, which one would you think would be the least offensive one to Tesla? Maybe a cat rescue/shelter. Tesla loved cats and his childhood cat zapping him with electricity was what inspired him to get into that particular field in the first place. Plus, it'd be funny to see kitties running all over Wardenclyffe.

What in your mind is Tesla's greatest achievement? What makes him so badass? I think Tesla's work with the polyphase electrical system (AC) is undoubtedly his greatest achievement, in terms of something practical that the whole world could use.

In terms of something impractical, I'd say accidentally creating an earthquake machine in his NYC apartment, meanwhile discovering the resonant frequency of the earth is one of his most badass achievements.

Since Christian Bale is reportedly in talks to portray Tesla in an upcoming film, do you have an opinion on how you think he'd do? Better yet, how about Nicolas Cage as Thomas Edison? Christian Bale: YES. Nicolas Cage: Oh god, no...Pairing those two together is either the beginning of Christian Bale's downfall or a comeback for Nicolas Cage, but it can't be both.

Despite his love affair with a laser-eyed white pigeon and being celibate his entire life, if Tesla could've had more balance between ingenious electrical tinkering and romance, whom do you think would've been a good lady match for him? There was a woman with whom Tesla exchanged flirtatious letters for many years named Katharine Johnson, but she was married and I think Tesla may have just been flirting for the fun of it. If we could jump around in time, I'd suggest Tesla date Ada Lovelace. She was the world's first computer programmer and she was from the 1850s! I'd guess her brilliant, obsessive geek brain is one of the very few that could have kept up with Tesla, or at the very least been understanding when he cooped himself up in his laboratory for weeks, months, or years at a time.

As of Tuesday, Inman has raised almost $900K, going beyond his $850K fundraising goal.