Writer Ben Thompson champions blood, sweat and sass

What do Zeus, Godzilla, Joan of Arc and Skeletor all have in common? According to rabid history buff and author Ben Thompson, they’re all badass.

Thompson always has preferred the dramatic side of history. The battles, maniacal despots with megalomania and sword-swinging soldiers that saturate much of history made him wonder why most history books were so boring.

Finding himself less than challenged by his 9-to-5 cubicle life, in 2004 Thompson, as a joke, created Badassoftheweek.com, a tribute to badass champions — which doesn’t include himself.

“I’m not badass at all in real life,” says Thompson. “I’m more of a Plutarch than a Julius Caesar — the fat toga wearing guy writing on a scroll who doesn’t want to do any of the badass stuff. Somebody’s got to be around to tell the story,” he says.

The website gave birth to two books, including the recent “Badass: The Birth of a Legend,” published in March, which he’s promoting in an appearance Tuesday in The City. The book highlights mythological figures and creatures, including the kraken and chupacabra.

Factual and fictional badasses have always been featured side by side on Thompson’s site, and he likes them both, but for different reasons.

“I’m more amazed by the historical and real-life guys, because the stories are so unbelievable because they actually happened,” says Thompson, who paid tribute on his site to present-day hero Hideaki Akaiwa, a Japanese man who donned scuba-diving gear to save his wife and mother in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster.

“With fictional characters, they’re engineered to be badass, so it’s not as surprising or awe-inspiring, but they’re so much fun to write because of the crazy stories that people have come up with,” says Thompson.

His coverage of pop culture icons is vast, including Dirty Harry, Darth Vader, B.A. Baracus, and even Skeletor from the 1980s animated series “Masters of the Universe,” who hasn’t aged well.

“Skeletor’s cool but it doesn’t really hold up over time,” says Thompson. Once the scariest villain on Saturday morning cartoons, to an adult, Skeletor sounds like the drag queen impersonator of an aging Katharine Hepburn.

“He’s an anomaly. He doesn’t have a nose, but he has a super-nasal voice,” says Thompson. “But Skeletor had heart. No matter how many times he got his ass kicked he’d get right back up and try to do it again.”

Determination is a key part of Thompson’s definition of a badass, and something many of Thompson’s female subjects have in abundance.

“In a lot of cases female badasses are more impressive than the men. There wasn’t a lot of women’s lib back in the Middle Ages,” Thompson says. “It’s even more impressive that someone like Joan of Arc was able to not only do things that were awesome, but also overcome all of this additional stuff that male badasses didn’t have to deal with.”


Ben Thompson

Where: The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday April 5

Free, preferred seating available with book purchase

Contact: (415) 863-8688, www.booksmith.com, www.badassoftheweek.com