Monsters (And Not The “Elmo” Kind)

1/6/17

I was recently interviewed by reporter AJ Frost for the geek culture site The Beat. We talked about my recent children’s book projects for Scholastic and Disney Book Group. We also talked about the series of lectures that I’ll be doing throughout 2017 at the NYC performance space QED Astoria.

I’ll be kicking off that lecture series with a talk titled “THE MONSTER MAKERS: UNIVERSAL PICTURES, CARL LAEMMLE JR., AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD HORROR MOVIES.” It’s happening on Saturday January 7th 2017 at 2pm.

This first wave of monster movies (1931’s Frankenstein, 1933’s Invisible Man, 1941’s The Wolfman, etc) didn’t just inspire future generations of horror filmmakers. It inspired ALL purveyors of fantastic cinema, including Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson, Joss Whedon, Clive Barker, and Robert Rodriguez. Not to be coy, but I can’t really tell you WHY or HOW it influenced them. Because then you wouldn’t come and see the lecture.

During my “MONSTER MAKERS” lecture, I’ll talk about people like Boris Karloff, Gloria Stuart, Bela Lugosi, Tod Browning, James Whale, Curt Siodmak, and Jack Pierce. By the time I’ve finished the lecture, you’ll understand why those people are important, why you should care about them, and how they shaped modern pop culture.

You’ll also understand what all of this has to do with the creation of the first wave of comic book superheroes, and how these horror movies were informed by then-recent events in world history.

And I just might explain how the story of these early horror filmmakers ties in to the narrative of my award-winning nonfiction book From Krakow To Krypton: Jews And Comic Books.

 


That One Time I Played A Bed (Well, PART OF A Bed) On National Television

12/31/16

Some time ago, I was a staff writer on the television series TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest. For those of you that don’t know, World’s Dumbest was a “clips show,” and that means that people would send us clips of themselves and their friends doing stupid things. And we (the writing staff) would write comedy sketches and jokes making fun of the clips.

Someone had sent us a clip of this moronic woman playing a prank on her boyfriend. She had bought a plastic mannequin’s head, got under the covers in bed and pretended to make out with it (no I’m not making this up). Her idea was that her boyfriend would come home and he’d be all like, “Oh no, my girlfriend’s cheating on me!”

I wrote a comedy sketch making fun of this clip, which featured cast member Amanda Landry. In the sketch, Amanda is in bed with the plastic head, and she’s ACTUALLY cheating on her boyfriend with it. So she keeps saying tender, sentimental things to the head. We keep cutting to the mannequin head who says nothing, then back to her, reacting as though the mannequin head has said something profound or romantic. It went like this:

AMANDA [moans happily]: That was A-MAZ-ING! [to mannequin head] Was it good for you?
CLOSE UP ON: mannequin head, completely still and silent.
AMANDA [to mannequin head]: We almost got caught last time. We have to be  more careful.
CLOSE-UP ON: mannequin head, completely still and silent.
AMANDA [to mannequin head]: You always know just what to say.

You get the idea. Anyway, when we actually went to shoot this comedic masterpiece, we got a prop bed for Amanda and the mannequin head to lay down in. BUT…

When the bed arrived on set, it was missing two of its legs. The legs that go below the headboard. Someone had to CROUCH DOWN BEHIND THE HEADBOARD and hold up that end of the bed and play the part of the missing legs. Since I wrote the sketch, and all the Production Assistants were busy, I got drafted.

This is the way it went down: they would shoot a take, then they’d yell cut, I’d stretch my (real) legs, then I’d crouch back down behind the headboard and hold up my end of the bed by the time they yelled “Action” again. This went on for HOURS. They even tweeted a few photos of me popping my head up from behind the headboard between takes.

Over the years, I’ve taught screenwriting and comedy writing courses at quite a few different schools. And I often tell this story to my students. The moral of the story is that the entertainment industry is WEIRD. If you are lucky enough to make a living in show business, at some point someone’s going to ask you to pretend to be the two missing legs of a bed in a nationally televised comedy sketch. Or they’re going to dress you up in a turkey costume, like Paul Simon in that “Still Crazy After All These Years” bit on SNL. Or they’ll ask you to hold a sandwich between your legs while Kenneth Branagh shoots a scene in a Woody Allen movie (that happened to a friend of mine once).

And you’ll do it, because that’s show business, and there’s a line a mile long of other people who would kill to have your job, even if that job involves being the missing legs of a bed. So there’s no room for divas, and you’ve kinda got to get used to all the weirdness inherent in the entertainment industry or you won’t last very long.

Like Lee Strasberg says in The Godfather: Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Boy is it ever.

 


New Books & Upcoming Speaking Gigs

12/27/16

Happy Holidays! Happy Almost-New-Year’s-Eve! Okay, so there are a few new things that I want to announce:

Recently, I wrote two LEGO STAR WARS books for Scholastic. The first one, LEGO STAR WARS: FACE OFF (illustrated by Dave White), is out now. You can see some excerpts from the book HERE.

The second LEGO STAR WARS book that I wrote is called THE OFFICIAL STORMTROOPER TRAINING MANUAL, and it comes out next month. And guess what, you lucky people? You can see some excerpts from THAT book HERE.

I talked a little bit about what it was like writing those LEGO STAR WARS books when I was a guest on the COMICSVERSE podcast, and you can listen to that podcast interview here.

I’ve also been working on a few projects for Disney Book Group’s Marvel Press imprint. For example, I wrote three of the stories in the 5-MINUTE AVENGERS STORIES collection, which is out now from Marvel Press. I also wrote one of the stories in the SPIDER-MAN STORYBOOK COLLECTION, which is also currently available.  

And I wrote two of the stories in the 5-MINUTE SPIDER-MAN STORIES anthology, which will be published by Marvel Press in June 2017. (I don’t have a cool link for that, but I should soon.) Interestingly enough, one of the stories that I wrote in each of those anthologies is a time travel story (and yes, there’s a reason for that).

And starting in January 2017, I’ll be doing a series of pop culture-oriented lectures at NYC performance space QED Astoria. The first one is a talk on the Golden Age of Universal horror movies (e.g. James Whale’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN). It’s called “THE MONSTER MAKERS: UNIVERSAL PICTURES, CARL LAEMMLE JR., AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD HORROR MOVIES,” and I’ll be giving that talk on January 7, 2017 at 2pm.

01/07/2017 <BR>2:00 - 3:00PM <BR>Monster Makers

I’ve also got quite a few other speaking engagements slotted for various dates in 2017, and I’ll be posting the specifics on THOSE lectures here soon too.


Jewish Comic Con 2016

11/21/16

jewishcomiccon-small-logoRecently, I was one of the programming consultants for the Jewish Comic Con, which was held on Sunday November 13, 2016, at Congregation Kol Israel in Brooklyn, NY. The event was the brainchild of Congregation Kol Israel president Fred Polaniecki and comic book writer Fabrice Sapolsky. I co-moderated most of the panels at Jewish Comic Con (alongside fellow co-moderator Danny Fingeroth), and there was quite a bit of press coverage for this event. Articles about Jewish Comic Con were written up in The Wall Street Journal, The Jewish Week, Bleeding Cool, and more. AJ Frost, a blogger for comics site The Beat, interviewed me about Jewish Comic Con, my work as a guest lecturer and public speaker, and my recent projects as an author/comic book writer.