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Preview: Geeks and Greeks

Geeks & Greeks is Good Will Hunting meets Animal House in graphic novel format. It’s a coming-of-age story told through the prism of high-tech pranks and hazing at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Inspired by actual events, this graphic novel shows what sort of mayhem can ensue when a group of super geniuses live together and personalities clash. In this high-tech battle royale two of MIT’s smartest students square off in an escalating war of pranks and egos. Jim Walden is an underachieving freshman with a knack for mischief and a secret that could end his career before it begins. Luke Bardolf is a gruff alpha-nerd senior on a mission to pull the ultimate prank and maintain dominance over his fraternity. When their rivalry comes to a head, it will take all of Jim’s creativity and resourcefulness to save his scholarship, his friendships, his girlfriend, and his dream of becoming an astronaut.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is known for brilliant students and life-altering inventions – the internet, email, and video games were all born there – but it’s also famous for its epic pranks. These pranks (or “hacks” as they’re called at MIT) are creative, challenging, entertaining feats of engineering orchestrated by anonymous groups of students to offset the rigors of studying at one of the world’s most prestigious technical universities.

Geeks & Greeks brings to life many of these notorious hacks, such as an MIT campus police car mysteriously appearing atop MIT’s iconic 150-foot-high dome and fraternity denizens commandeering the Sheraton hotel’s massive rooftop sign in downtown Boston to make it spell “ATO,” their fraternity’s initials.

This loosely-autobiographical book written by humorist Steve Altes and illustrated by Andy Fish also shines a spotlight on the hazing culture that existed at MIT fraternities in the 1980s when Altes was a student. “Fortunately, hazing is a relic of the past at MIT,” says Altes. “Nowadays students are more interested in inventing the Next Big Thing, than engaging in the shenanigans recounted in Geeks.”

Altes says the raucous incidents in his book are so over-the-top by today’s standards that he understands if contemporary students doubt their authenticity. “That’s why I included 120 endnotes that explain the real-life origins of nearly every event in the book,” he says.

Judging from the hazing incidents in Geeks & Greeks, it was risky to antagonize an MIT student in Altes’ day. You didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a ratsicle (cryogenically frozen dead rats used for batting practice in a victim’s bedroom). And beware if they gathered watermelons, a bicycle pump, and surgical tubing (the makings of a highlypressurized watermelon slingshot). According to Altes, “The only thing scarier than John Belushi from Animal House is John Belushi from Animal House with a 160 IQ.”

Altes hopes Geeks & Greeks will appeal to techies of all stripes and anyone with a fondness for Boston. “Geeks & Greeks is really a love letter to my adopted home of Boston,” he says. When asked whether he had participated in any of the hacks or hazing episodes featured in Geeks & Greeks, Altes quipped, “Let me check the statute of limitations and get back to you.”

Steve Altes is the author of the comedic graphic novel Geeks & Greeks, set at MIT and inspired by MIT’s culture of hacking and Steve’s own experiences with hazing. Known for his humorous essays, Steve’s specialty is getting hired into unusual occupations and writing funny accounts of his misadventures. Some escapades he has written about include working as a hand model, a stand-in for Brad Pitt, a stunt man on Die Hard With A Vengeance, a bank robber at the FBI Academy, an aide to President-elect Bill Clinton, and applying to the CIA. His humor essays have been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers, including the Boston Phoenix, Capital Style, Funny Times, the Los Angeles Times, Penthouse, P.O.V., Salon, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, and The Writer. He is the author of two humor books, The Little Book of Bad Business Advice (St. Martin’s, 1997) and If You Jam the Copier, Bolt (Andrews McMeel, 2001). His work also appears in the humor anthologies, May Contain Nuts: A Very Loose Canon of American Humor (HarperCollins, 2004) and Joke Express: Instant Delivery of 1,424 Funny Bits from the Best Comedians, (Andrews McMeel, 2006). He has been a commentator for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and a member of Us Weekly magazine’s “Fashion Police” (ironic if you knew how he dressed). Steve’s career as a humorist actually began in college when he began selling absurd letters to the editor to National Lampoon. Steve holds three degrees from MIT: a bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering, a master’s in Aerospace Engineering, and a master’s in Technology and Policy. Steve’s thesis on the U.S. space program was the only college thesis in history ever reviewed by The New York Review of Books. He was a co-recipient of the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest award for technological achievement, for his work on the Pegasus air-launched space booster

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