The Entire Eastern Seaboard!

7/7/20

Many many many (many) years ago, I was a writer for the late, lamented television series Codename: Kids Next Door, which was on Cartoon Network. The show’s head writer was Mo Willems. (Yes, the children’s book author. Back then, he was doing quite a bit of work in television, mostly as a writer or head writer for various animated series.)

One day, I was in a story conference with Mo, and we were going over a premise I had pitched him. For the most part, Mo liked the plot that I’d concocted…until he got to the end of the first act. He turned to me and said, “Wait a minute…the bad guy wants to destroy the entire town? THE ENTIRE TOWN? What does THAT mean?” I wasn’t sure what he meant, so he elaborated: “It’s too vague, too big, too general. If someone’s trying to destroy the entire town or blow up the entire world, there’s nothing specific about it.” Mo’s point was that you can’t have a supervillain character with a generic goal.

Mo always wanted a villain’s goal to be specific and personal. In other words, the villain shouldn’t want to brainwash everyone in the entire town. She should want to brainwash the person who used to be her best friend, so that they’ll be BFFs again. See? Specific. Personal. The supervillain’s goal is tied to that villain’s personal relationships.

And this is something I’ve really taken to heart as a writer ever since. To this day, I can’t stand it when I’m watching a trailer for an action movie and there’s a scene with the U.S. military reacting to the villain’s big plot and a general says, “My god! He’s going to wipe out the entire eastern seaboard!” Really? He is? WHO CARES! That’s too big, broad, and vague. I can’t respond to it on an emotional level. I honestly get angry whenever I hear the phrase “eastern seaboard” in an action movie. It’s usually a signifier that the movie suffers from lazy writing. Or maybe it’s just a movie where the villain ORIGINALLY had a unique, interesting goal…in an early draft of the script. But somewhere along the line the screenwriters got a note from the studio that said, “You know what? The villain needs a BIG goal. How about he wants to detonate some nukes and wipe out – I don’t know – the entire eastern seaboard? It really raises the stakes, right?” I mean, sure. It DOES raise the stakes. But it’s also TOO big. I can’t engage with it. I can’t care about this supervillain character if his/her/their goal is so big and impersonal.

That’s certainly something I was thinking about last year when I wrote a Batman children’s book called Harley at Bat, which was published by Penguin Random House. In fact, the book came out today, Tuesday July 7th, 2020. Harley at Bat is an early reader, and it’s illustrated by Marco Lesko, Fabio Laguna, & Beverly Johnson. Harley Quinn is the supervillain in that story, and she doesn’t just have a vague goal like “Destroy all of Gotham City.” No, she has a very specific goal. She wants to…

Oh, but that would be telling. Guess you’ll just have to buy Harley at Bat in order to find out what Harley’s big supervillain scheme is. But trust me: she doesn’t want to wipe out the Eastern seaboard! In fact, I can honestly tell you that the words “Eastern seaboard” never appear once in Harley at Bat. That’s a promise! 

And while we’re on the subject of Batman: you should be like Batman and social distance. I mean, Batman socially distances because he has trouble forming personal relationships, which is in turn because his parents were murdered, he was heavily traumatized by that horrible experience, and he doesn’t even trust most of his fellow superheroes. Meanwhile, you and I social distance because it’s how we stay safe and healthy. Know what else Batman does? He wears a mask when he goes outside. Be like Batman. Wear a mask. Please.


A Science Fiction Story with a Very Thin Plot

6/29/20

Hope everyone’s staying safe and healthy.

Recently, I wrote a short story for the humor site Points in Case. It’s called “A Science Fiction Story with a Very Thin Plot.” You can check it out HERE.

The basic premise behind the piece is: what if you had to write a science fiction story but you had no real story to tell and you had to REALLY pad it out?

Hope you enjoy it!  

Also, last year I wrote a Star Wars Adventures comic book story called “Majordomo, Major Problems,” which was illustrated by Drew Moss. It’s one of the stories reprinted in Star Wars Adventures Vol. 9: Fight the Empire, which is out NOW from IDW Publishing. For more info, and to see the book’s cover art (by Elsa Charretier and Sarah Stern), click HERE.

“Majordomo, Major Problems” is about Jabba the Hutt’s personal assistant Bib Fortuna, and how stressful it is working for an intergalactic crime lord like Jabba.

And speaking of Star Wars…

Hey, you know who’s part of the Star Wars universe? Darth Vader. Know what? He wears a mask whenever he leaves the house. Or whenever he’s around other people. Be like Darth Vader and wear a mask, people!

And honestly, that’s the ONLY way in which you should really emulate Darth Vader. But hopefully you already knew that.

 


That One Time I Tried To Write A Sonnet

1/1/20

Last Friday, December 27th, was my wife Nadine’s birthday. I decided to write a sonnet for her. I figured, how hard could it be? I’m a writer, right? So what if I’d never written a sonnet before. Was I successful? See for yourself:

 

Nadine’s Birthday Poem
A poem for Nadine’s birthday

– By Arie Kaplan

 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate

Also, thou hast a body and flesh and blood and internal organs and a skeleton and hair and toenails

Whereas, a summer’s day is, you know, a time of day during the summer, and it has none of that “flesh-blood-skeleton-toenail” stuff.

Nor does a summer’s day actually take physical form in any finite way.

A summer’s day might be filled with any number of delightful physical THINGS.

A walk along the duck pond. That sort of stuff.

Ducks are physical objects, right? So is a pond.

But a summer’s day isn’t…it’s not…What am I trying to say? Help me out here…

A summer’s day is not encased in a body like a person is.

A summer’s day is not endowed with a psyche. It’s not self-aware.

A summer’s day doesn’t have emotions, opinions, wants, needs. URGES.

Does a summer’s day even know that it’s the daytime? No it does not.

And the concept of “day” is really just part of our artificial, manmade* way of marking time.

When it’s day where I am, maybe it’s night where you are.

Time is a construct.

So, you know, just to refresh: you and a summer’s day. Not really that much alike. The comparison is minimal at best.

Thou knowest what? Let’s start over.

Shall I compare thee to…wait.

I mean, come on.

Are you honestly telling me that there was a period in human history when comparing a woman to a summer’s day WASN’T a cliché? Like, did that work? Was that something men said to women to get their attention…AND IT WORKED? And how far back do you have to go to find a time when that DID work?

William Shakespeare wrote the ACTUAL “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” sonnet.

He lived from 1564-1616.

Comparing a woman to a summer’s day HAD to have been played out by that time. No?

I mean, even back then, I’m assuming Shakespeare’s in a pub with his buddies. And he’s like, “Hey guys, I’m thinking of writing this poem where I compare a woman’s beauty to…” And his friends are like, “Let me guess. A summer’s day?” And he’s like, “N-never mind…” And he just trudges off all frustrated because he can’t come up with a better metaphor. So this is what we’re stuck with.

You know what? How about “Shall I compare thee to a meat pudding? You’re both made of meat, but you wear it better.”

THERE. DONE. FIXED IT. I FIXED YOUR HORRIBLE AWFUL POEM, SHAKESPEARE, YOU IDIOT.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Nadine.

Love,

Arie

12/27/19

* Okay, so maybe saying “manmade” in this day and age is considered a microaggression. But I didn’t intend it that way. Also, nobody says “humanmade.” This isn’t the world I wanted. It’s just the deeply flawed world I was born into. And so were you, Nadine! So were you! Speaking of which – once again – Happy Birthday, Nadine!


Templeton

11/20/19
Charlottes-Web cover

When I was in second grade, my teacher Mrs. Alstein assigned us Charlotte’s Web. I hadn’t expected to enjoy reading the book, but I quickly found myself becoming engrossed in the story. The characters were well developed, and the central narrative was emotionally involving. There’s a reason the book’s so beloved, you know?

However, toward the end of the school year, I suppose as a reward for making it all the way through the book, Mrs. Alstein decided to show us the animated Charlotte’s Web movie from 1973. Now, if you haven’t seen that particular film, it’s not a bad movie overall, and it’s pretty faithful to the source material. However, the screenwriters also decided to add in a few slapstick-heavy comic relief sequences.

Templeton the rat, giving a typically subtle, nuanced performance

But even as a 7-year-old kid, I found those scenes REALLY hard to get through. I remember specifically, there was some scene featuring Templeton the rat, voiced by Paul Lynde. And if you don’t know who Paul Lynde was, I don’t know, Google him. For pretty much his whole career, Paul Lynde could be relied on to give the most cartoonishly broad performances imaginable. That was kind of his thing. So most of the slapstick comedy in the film was written around his character, Templeton. And there was one particular scene where Templeton is – I don’t know – ranting and raving about how he’s eaten too much junk food and has a bellyache or whatever. And every sentence out of his mouth is a joke, and it’s a HORRIBLE joke. A horrible, labored, predictable, hacky, lazily-written joke. And everyone in the class is just laughing their damn heads off. They’re eating the stuff up, the little 7-year-old sheep. But not me. I’m sitting off in the corner, sulking. And Mrs. Alstein notices this and asks, “What’s the matter, Arie? Don’t you like the movie?” And I just stared at her imploringly and yelled, “It’s just not FUNNY.”

 

Ewwww, Templeton! You NASTY!

So. Make of that what you will. That either means that I was a MASSIVE snob from day one, or that I had really high comedic standards, even in second grade. I prefer to think that it was the latter, and not the former.

(Come on, you think it’s the former, don’t you? I know you do. It’s okay. You’re wrong, but it’s okay.)

When I was watching all of the other students laughing at Templeton’s onscreen antics, I kept thinking to myself, “Why do they think this stuff is funny? I could’ve seen that punchline coming a mile away. Don’t these kids have STANDARDS?”

 

The LEGO Ninjago Visual Dictionary, co-written by yours truly (not to be confused with Charlotte’s Web)

 

Yes. “Don’t these kids have standards?” That’s how I was thinking about the world at 7 years old. Did I mention that I didn’t have very many friends in elementary school?

But now that I have a child myself, I see some of those same qualities in HER. As I type this, my daughter Aviya has just turned 9. (Today is her birthday.) She and I were recently discussing an animated series proposal I’d sent to a couple of television networks. See, in addition to my work as an author, I’m also a television writer. And usually I work on other people’s shows. But sometimes I’ll put together a proposal for my own series and shop it around. In this particular case, the proposal didn’t end up generating any real interest from the networks. However, when I told my daughter about the proposal, she loved it. I don’t want to say what it was about. Let’s say it was about vampire bats who were also sentient baseball bats. (NOTE: That’s not at all what it was about, but you already knew that.) Anyway, when Aviya heard that the networks all passed on my brilliant idea, she said, “You’re KIDDING me! You mean that they put a show about TALKING DOGS on TV (I think she meant Paw Patrol), but they won’t put your show about Vampire Bats on the air, even though it’s MUCH more interesting?! Who CARES about talking dogs!” So, in essence, she was saying, “Don’t these network executives have STANDARDS?”

 

Me with my daughter Aviya, during a book signing at the 2019 New York Comic Con


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