Episode 514 – Jim Ottaviani

Virtual Memories Show 514:
Jim Ottaviani

“He was a terrible husband and a terrible father. And maybe only a so-so friend to most people. At the same time, he did fundamentally change the way we look at the universe.”

Writer Jim Ottaviani rejoins the show to celebrate his new graphic biography, EINSTEIN (First Second)! We get into his collaboration with artist Jerel Dye & colorist Alison Acton on telling Einstein’s story, the chutzpah involved in tackling the bio of the man whose name is a synonym for genius, and how he kept from falling into the rabbit hole of Too Much Research. We talk about how Jim used Einstein’s major theories as a way of exploring the man and his times (and why this book is more of a story than a biography), the way 20th century popular culture latched on to Einstein, how he contrasts with some of the other biographical subjects Jim has tackled, and the mystery of what happened to Einstein’s first child. We also discuss the process of working with a new artist, the writing hints that come from the subconscious, the physics teacher who helped him explain the trickier theories in the book, whether the pandemic-era anti-science movement has made Jim doubt his work or has him doubling down on it, and (of course) our running stories. Give it a listen! And go read EINSTEIN!

(And go listen to our 2016 and 2020 conversations!)

“With all the science and all the work that I’ve done, I felt it was much more important to get across to the reader what it felt like to encounter Einstein, and what the broad strokes of the theories meant for the person who discovered them and for the rest of the world.”

“In the opening letter that accompanies my scripts to artists, I write, ‘You’re going to see panels that have descriptions that are three paragraphs long, and there might be two useful words for you in those paragraphs, and that’s fine.'”

“There are a finite number of pages, and the artist has a finite amount of time (and muscle strength before their hands seize into a horrible, immovable claw), so you have to pick and choose what will be in a book like this.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Jim Ottaviani has written fifteen (and counting) graphic novels about scientists. His books include Naturalist (with E.O. Wilson), Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier, Hawking, The Imitation Game, Primates, and Feynman. His books are New York Times bestsellers, have been translated into a dozen languages, and have received praise from publications ranging from Nature and Physics World to Entertainment Weekly and Variety. Jim lives in Michigan and comes to comics via careers in nuclear engineering and librarianship. His new book is EINSTEIN, with artist Jerel Dye & colorist Alison Acton.

Follow Jim on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Jim by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

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