Archive for the ‘Disney’ Category

The Worst Voicemail Message In Human History


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.   

Thanos Demands Your Silence (Because He Needs A Nap)


Last year, I wrote an Avengers Little Golden Book, titled The Threat of Thanos, which is out now. The Threat of Thanos was illustrated by the incredible Shane Clester, and it was published by Penguin Random House.

The Threat of Thanos features Thor, Black Panther, Iron Man, and The Wasp. Oddly enough, those are the main characters in the last four MCU movies (Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp). But seriously, that’s just a coincidence.

I should mention that The Threat of Thanos has a totally original plot, and it’s not an adaptation of the Infinity War movie. This was a fun book to write, and I’m really proud of it. If you look at the book’s cover art, you’ll see that Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and all of the Infinity Stones. The biggest challenge in writing the book was figuring out how to explain what each of the Infinity Stones does on a level that a 2-5 year old kid could understand. For example, how do you explain the Mind Stone (or the Reality Stone, for that matter) on a kindergarten level? But I think I pulled it off.

Whenever I write a Little Golden Book, I have to write the art notes as well as the text. (Art notes are notes to the artist, telling them what to draw on every page.) So as I’m writing the text, I’m usually drawing up really rough thumbnail sketches to try and figure out what the art might consist of. Then in the art notes, I describe what I’ve drawn. I usually don’t show the thumbnail sketches to anyone, even my editor. They’re just for my own reference. But they really help in terms of figuring out which specific images will help to tell the story, which images will complement the text, and how many of those images can comfortably fit inside a book with a very specific page count.

I don’t know if other authors draw thumbnail sketches while they’re typing up the art notes, but for me, it’s a vital part of my process. So is listening to the right music. While writing the Threat of Thanos, I listened to Alan Silvestri’s score from the first Avengers movie.

Oh! And as of this writing, The Threat of Thanos is the #1 New Release in Children’s Superhero Comics on Amazon

PS – Back in April, I was interviewed by AJ Frost, Staff Writer for the “geek culture” site The Beat. During the interview, I talked about The Threat of Thanos, as well as some of my other recent children’s book projects. You can check out the interview here.

New Books & Upcoming Speaking Gigs


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.

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over!


Okay, so it’s been a while since I posted anything here. I’m not proud of that. But all of that is going to change. From this day forward, I am going to be posting things, of that you can be sure, oh you betcha. Boy howdy! Twenty-three Skidoo! And so forth. I’ma be posting things like a super-posting guy who posts a lot. POSTS! Anyway…

Here’s some recent projects I worked on. I’m very proud of them. They’re like my children. My highly flammable, made-from-dead-trees, rectangular-shaped, occasionally-dust-jacketed children. I have one ACTUAL child who is NOT rectangular. But that’s not important to this conversation. Not that my CHILD isn’t important. (Love you, sweetie!) Anyway, yeah, my projects. So…

THE-SIMPSONS-TREEHOUSE-OF-HORROR-21 CoverI wrote a story called “Graveyard Shift,” which appears in the comic book anthology THE SIMPSONS TREEHOUSE OF HORROR #21, which is out now from Bongo Comics. “Graveyard Shift” is pencilled by Ryan Rivette, inked by Patrick Owsley, colored by Alan Hellard, lettered by Karen Bates, and edited by Nathan Kane. The story is a parody of the 1984 movie GREMLINS, but it’s also kind of an homage to early 1960s horror anthology TV shows like THE OUTER LIMITS and THRILLER. It’s an awesome story. HOW awesome? Well, for those young people reading this, it’s more awesome than Taylor Swift instagramming artisanal pickles and talking about it on Periscope. (There. Is that enough current pop culture references to make me seem super-young? SURE IT IS!) 

I also wrote a new juvenile nonfiction book titled SWASHBUCKLING SCOUNDRELS: PIRATES IN FACT AND FICTION, which is out now from Lerner Publishing Group’s Twenty-First Century Books imprint. It’s a book about (wait for it) pirates, both the real historical kind, and the Johnny-Depp-wearing-tons-of-eyeliner kind. I’m really proud of it (the book, not Johnny Depp), and I can honestly say it’s exhaustively researched. Like, I researched it so much I exhausted myself. Physically, emotionally, and in all other possible ways. So I’m not saying that if you don’t buy a copy SwashbucklingScoundrels CoverI’ll have some sort of existential crisis because I’ll start thinking that all my hard work was for nothing, but…I mean, come on. It’s a book about pirates. Fun! SWASHBUCKLING SCOUNDRELS introduces readers to real-life pirates like Blackbeard and Anne Bonny, it reveals which pirates (if any) ACTUALLY buried their treasure, and it explains the difference between a pirate, a privateer, a corsair, and a buccaneer. The book also uncovers the origins of that ridiculous “pirate” accent everyone talks in. You know, the “arrrrgh, me mateys” thing. On a more serious note, the book examines the socioeconomic reasons why the early 18th century was such a boom period for pirates, and it explores the recent wave of Somali pirate hijackings. But if the only reason you want to buy it is because you’re super into “Talk Like A Pirate Day,” who am I to judge? I mean, I started out my career writing for TIGER BEAT. (Seriously, I did. Google it.) I’m the LAST person to judge you for that.

But you know what kids like just as much as pirates? Superheroes. (How’s THAT for a dovetailing segue. FYI, when I was at NYU, I majored in writing with a minor in dovetailing segues.) Anyhootie…

I wrote three of the stories in the children’s short story collection 5-MINUTE AVENGERS STORIES, which hits stores at the end of the year from Disney Book Group’s Marvel Press imprint. The book is comprised of twelve s5 Minute Avengers Stories Coverhort prose stories, each of which is beautifully illustrated. The three stories I wrote are “Practice Makes Perfect” (illustrated by Andrea Di Vito and Rachelle Rosenberg), “Lending a Wing” (illustrated by Ron Lim and Rachelle Rosenberg), and “Robin Hawk” (illustrated by Mirco Pierfederici and Chris Sotomayor). Each story is based on the Marvel comic book series THE AVENGERS. To get more specific, “Practice Makes Perfect” stars Iron Man, “Lending a Wing” involves the Falcon, and “Robin Hawk” features Hawkeye. Although many of the other Avengers characters play supporting roles in each of those stories. (For example, Captain America and Black Widow also play a fairly large role in “Lending a Wing.”) I’m really proud of my work on these three stories, and it was great fun writing them. I also got to indulge some of my personal obsessions, like my fascination with folklore and mythology. For instance, in “Robin Hawk,” Hawkeye, Iron Man, and M.O.D.O.K. travel back in time to medieval Europe, where the townsfolk think that Hawkeye is Robin Hood. Working on these “5-MINUTE” tales taught me something about myself, too. I realized that I identify quite a bit with Tony Stark, but also if I’m being honest, I identify way too much with M.O.D.O.K. Probably shouldn’t actually admitted that. In print. On the Internet. In cyberspace. Oh well.

Oh, but there’s more. SO MUCH MORE! (Well, a little bit more.) I not only like to write, I like to talk. Talking is just like writing, but when you talk, the words just float away into the ether and nobody writes them down and it’s not like writing at all. When you talk professionally, it’s called “lecturing.” Which sounds like scolding young children for running in the hallways. Which is something totally different than what I do when I lecture. My type of lecturing is giving riveting talks before huge crowds of people on various topics. I’m an expert on many topics, so why not talk about them in a fun and informative manner, where my words float away into the ether and such?

I’ve given lectures on various topics all over the world for many years. In 2008, I wrote an award-winning book called FROM KRAKOW TO KRYPTON: JEWS AND COMIC BOOKS, and ever since, I’ve been speaking (far and wide, hither and yon) on the history of Jews in the comic book industry. The creators of Superman, Batman, the X-Men, the Avengers, and MAD Magazine were all Jewish. I got to interview some of these folks – and their friends, family members, and creative collaborators – when I was writing FROM KRAKOW TO KRYPTON, and my career in the comic book industry gives me added insight into their lives and their legacy. This weekend, I’ll be talking about that very subject in my capacity as guest speaker at the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation’s 2016 Annual Campaign Kick-Off on Sunday, October 25th, 2015, from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. The event will be held at the Wichita Marriott, 9100 Corporate Hills Drive. More info here:

And the very next day, at another venue in Kansas, I’ll be doing another lecture, this time about my career as a screenwriter for comic books, television, videogames, and transmedia. I’ll also talk about my work as an author of both fiction and nonfiction. THAT lecture, titled “Superheroes, Stand-Up and Sci-Fi: An Animated Life,” will happen on Monday October 26th at at 10:30 a.m. at Wichita State University, in the lower level of Ablah Library. What is it like writing comic book scripts, graphic novels, video game scripts and nonfiction books, as well as jokes for TV comedy shows? Find out by attending my WSU lecture! All will be revealed! (And THEN some!) For more info, go here:

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