I Can FEEL Your Anger! It Gives You Focus! Makes You Stronger!

5/23/19

You know what? As a writer, often I really try to get into the heads of my characters. And sometimes, I take it too far. For example…

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s a couple of announcements (and THEN, as usual, I’ll tell you an embarrassing anecdote from my writing career).

  • MAD Magazine: I wrote a humor piece called “The Bad Roommate,” which was illustrated by David DeGrand. It appears in MAD #7, on sale now!
  • Last month my Avengers Little Golden Book The Threat of Thanos (illustrated by Shane Clester) appeared in a Barnes & Noble ad in celebration of the film Avengers: Endgame! (Click on the thumbnail to see the whole ad)
  • Hungry Shark: The Official Shark-Tastic Guide, written by yours truly, comes out on June 25th, 2019 from Scholastic. Barnes & Noble included the book on their list of “Guides & Novels for Your Gamer.” (Seriously, what’s with Barnes & Noble hyping all of my books lately? Not that I’m complaining…)
  • Star Wars Adventures: Recently I wrote a Tales from Wild Space comic book story called “Majordomo, Major Problems,” which was illustrated by Drew Moss. “Majordomo” is an 8-page backup tale in Star Wars Adventures #23, which comes out on June 26th, 2019 from IDW Publishing.

Now that that’s out of the way, I believe you’re owed a humiliating anecdote about my writing career. And you shall have it:

As a writer, often I really try to get into the heads of my characters. For example, when I was a staff writer on the television series TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest, I found that in order to write jokes for Gilbert Gottfried (who was one of the cast members), you had to yell the jokes out loud AS Gilbert Gottfried. In other words, you had to do an impression of Gilbert Gottfried, to figure out how he would say a particular joke.

And that’s something I’ve done quite a few times in my career. When I was writing the scripts for the House M.D. video game, I did an impression of Hugh Laurie, in his “Gregory House” voice. As “Hugh Laurie,” I acted out each scene, talking into a digital recorder. Then I played it back in order to see if it sounded like something the character would actually say.

When I used to write Bart Simpson comic book stories for Bongo Comics, whenever Krusty the Clown was in a story, I found that it was really helpful to brainstorm one-liners for Krusty by doing a terrible Krusty impression and ad-lib some jokes while talking into the digital recorder. More recently, when I wrote my LEGO Star Wars books for Scholastic, I liked to put a few Emperor Palpatine jokes in each book. And sometimes the jokes were written IN Palpatine’s voice, especially if Palpatine was narrating a section of the book. That meant doing a really terrible, over-the-top Ian McDiarmid impression, and it really helped make the Palpatine jokes and Palpatine narration even funnier.

But what I’m really getting at is that – as I type this – there’s a digital recorder right next to my laptop. On that digital recorder’s files there’s hours and hours of audio of me doing the absolute WORST Hugh Laurie, Krusty the Clown, and Ian McDiarmid impressions. And when I was writing the House scripts, I was also doing impressions of the OTHER House cast members. So there’s audio of me doing awful Omar Epps impressions, awful Lisa Edelstein impressions, awful Robert Sean Leonard impressions. Oh, you have no idea. And you WILL CONTINUE TO have no idea. Because nobody will ever hear those audio files. I guess this isn’t really a humiliating anecdote as much as it’s a POTENTIALLY humiliating anecdote.

But if you ever need something to blackmail me with, just steal the digital recorder, okay?

 


Dress For the Job You Want. Or Don’t. It’s Entirely Up To You.

4/4/19

Happy Two-Days-After-April-Fool’s-Day! Welcome to my latest blog post, where I generously share news and announcements about my recent projects, followed by a humiliating personal anecdote. So, without further delay, here are some announcements:  

This weekend (April 5-7), I’ll be the Scholar-In-Residence at Congregation Or Hadash, in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. I’m going to be giving lectures and teaching workshops on a variety of pop culture-related topics. 

Also, three of my children’s books will be coming out later this year:

1. The first book is called Hungry Shark: The Official Shark-Tastic Guide. It will be published by Scholastic in June 2019 (just in time for Shark Week!), and it’s a guide to all of the characters in the Hungry Shark video game franchise. I had a ton of fun writing this book, which is stuffed to the gills with exclusive info about fearsome fish like Tiger Shark and Great White, as well as goofballs like Mako Shark and Porbeagle. 

2. I co-wrote the new edition of The LEGO Ninjago Visual Dictionary, which comes out in September 2019 from DK. My co-author on the book was Hannah Dolan. I did quite a bit of research while working on this book, and I think it shows! The book looks pretty fantastic, and I’m very proud of my work on it. 

3. And I wrote The Despicable Me Little Golden Book, which will also come out in September of this year, from Penguin Random House. It’s an adaptation (Little Golden Book-style) of the first Despicable Me movie, and it was illustrated by Elsa Chang. While working on this book, I really started to empathize with Gru. Like me, Gru’s just an ordinary dad. He just so happens to also be a supervillain. Is that so wrong? (Yes. Yes, it is.) 

But that’s not why you’re here! You’re here to read another embarrassing anecdote about my writing career. Well, here it is:

For the past several years, I’ve been a writer for MAD Magazine. But before I was a MAD writer, I was a MAD intern. Before I was even an intern, when I was first getting ready to go over to the MAD offices to interview for the internship position, I wasn’t sure what I should wear. I dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, which is the standard “Arie Kaplan uniform.” That was true then, and it’s true now. However, just in case the MAD folks wanted me to dress formally, I had my finest suit dry-cleaned. Then I folded it ever-so-neatly, kept it on its wire hanger, and put it in my backpack. And then I went to the interview, which was conducted by Joe Raiola, who was at that time both the Associate Editor of MAD and the magazine’s internship coordinator. After talking to Joe for a while, I realized that the interview seemed to be going well. So I said, “By the way, I didn’t know what to wear to this meeting, so I brought a suit.” Joe looked at me and said, “No you didn’t! I don’t know how to tell you this, but what you’re wearing is NOT a suit.” And I unzipped my backpack and pulled out the suit. And Joe started laughing and yelled out, “He brought a SUIT in his backpack…and it’s STILL ON THE HANGER! He even had it dry-cleaned!” He called in the other editors to look at the hallmark of ridiculousness that was my carefully folded, dry-cleaned suit, still on the hanger. And everyone had a good laugh. I don’t know why I thought I might have to wear a suit. It was MAD Magazine, after all! But in my defense, I WAS eighteen years old. And eighteen-year-olds are pretty much incapable of making good decisions. Ancient Egypt’s King Tutankhamen (aka “King Tut”) made so many bad decisions that he DIED at age eighteen.

To any eighteen-year-olds who might be reading this: stop it. Just stop it. Whatever “it” is that you’re doing, stop it. You look ridiculous. That is all.

 

 


The Worst Voicemail Message In Human History

2/2/19

This is my first blog post of 2019, and I’m trying something new: I’m going to end each blog post with an embarrassing anecdote taken from my long and storied writing career. But first, a blatant plug of a new project. To wit:

Over the past few years, I’ve written three LEGO Star Wars books for Scholastic. I hope that I get to write more at some point. My third LSW book, The Official Force Training Manual, came out in October 2018. Recently, Jonita Davis over at the Black Girl Nerds website interviewed me about the three LEGO Star Wars books I’ve written.

Also, here’s an appreciation piece I wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the life and legacy of Stan Lee, shortly after Stan died in November. I knew Stan a little bit (I interviewed him for my book From Krakow to Krypton). Also, I’ve written several children’s books featuring characters he co-created, like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, The Avengers, and so on. So I think I have a unique perspective on Stan and his work.

And now, my embarrassing anecdote: When I was first starting out as a freelance writer, I was an entertainment journalist for Primedia Youth Entertainment Group. They published various teen and tween magazines, like Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, and BOP. I wrote for all three of those publications.

At a certain point, I discovered I was pretty good at wangling interviews with pop stars (e.g. Justin Timberlake). Because I knew quite a bit about hip-hop and R&B, I interviewed a few rappers for those magazines as well.

And somehow, I got Timbaland’s phone number.

If you don’t know who Timbaland is, well, he’s a rapper, songwriter, and music producer. His real name is Tim Mosley. I think I was trying to interview him for an article I was writing on Destiny’s Child. (Remember, this was a long time ago, when Destiny’s Child was still a thing.) Anyway, I got Timbaland’s phone number. I didn’t know any of Tim’s “people” (e.g. his agent, his manager, his personal assistant). So I had no choice. I just had to call Tim DIRECTLY. Which you’re not really supposed to do when trying to get a hold of a music-industry celebrity. But I had no other choice. So I called him. He didn’t pick up. And I left him the following voicemail message:

“Hi, Tim? Uh, I mean, Timbaland? This is Arie Kaplan. I’m an entertainment journalist and I’m trying to reach Timbaland. Timbaland, I don’t know if this is your direct number or if this is your assistant’s number. But if it’s not Timbaland’s number, I’m trying to get in touch with Timbaland. So if Timbaland could please contact me, I’d really like to interview Timbaland for the cover story I’m writing on Destiny’s Child for Teen Beat. Anyway, if this IS Timbaland, I hope you’re doing well, Timbaland. Thanks for your time, Timbaland!”

Wow. Think I said the word “Timbaland” enough during that painfully long, rambling, awkward, insane voicemail message? BTW, if you’ve never met me and you don’t know what my voice sounds like, please realize that as I kept saying the word “Timbaland” on that voicemail message, I was acutely aware that I sounded about as cool as Larry David would’ve sounded saying it. As I said, Tim never responded to that message. I bet you’re not surprised to hear that.   


Horrifically-Relevant Things I’ve Written (And In One Case, Illustrated)

10/31/18

In honor of Halloween (and totally NOT in honor of me being a shameless self-promoter), here are five of the horror-themed projects I’ve worked on over the years, all of which (except the last one) are on sale now:

1) PARANORMAL STATE: POISON SPRING: As I’ve mentioned on this site’s “Game Writing” page, I wrote the screenplay for the Paranormal State: Poison Spring video game, which was produced by Legacy Games in 2013. You can watch a trailer for the game here

2) THE DOCTOR STRANGE LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK: I’ve written a few Little Golden Books over the past couple of years. The Doctor Strange Little Golden Book was the first one. It was published by Penguin Random House in 2017, and it was illustrated by Michael Atiyeh and Michael Borkowski. 

3) SIMPSONS TREEHOUSE OF HORROR: GRAVEYARD SHIFT: From 2008-2018, I wrote various stories for (the recently-shuttered) comic book publisher Bongo Comics. This was one of them. It was a story published in 2015’s Simpsons Treehouse of Horror #21, and it was called “Graveyard Shift.” “Graveyard Shift” was the cover story in that issue, meaning that the cover depicts a scene from that story. As you might be able to tell, it’s a parody of the 1984 film Gremlins

4) TALES FROM THE CRYPT: JUMPING THE SHARK: As I mentioned on this site’s “Comic Book Writing” page, I wrote the story “Jumping the Shark” for issue #6 of the late 2000s relaunch of Tales from the Crypt, published by Papercutz. You can read the story now in the trade paperback Tales from the Crypt #4: Crypt-Keeping It Real

5) MONSTERFONT: A DECORATIVE TYPEFACE: Okay, this is just something I drew for my own amusement, and it hasn’t been published anywhere. Over the years, I’ve drawn one-panel gag cartoons for various publications (e.g. Nickelodeon Magazine). I haven’t posted any of those cartoons on this site, but I will soon. UNTIL THEN, please enjoy “Monsterfont, A Decorative Typeface.”


Please contact me if you want to use this for any reason. arie@ariekaplan.com