Archive for the ‘Comic books’ Category

Learning About Baseball With Harley Quinn

10/10/20

Recently, Harley at Bat, a Batman leveled reader I wrote, was published by Penguin Random House. It was illustrated by Fabio Laguna, Marco Lesko, and Beverly Johnson.

I knew NOTHING about baseball when I got the assignment to write Harley at Bat. The story was supposed to be about Harley Quinn stealing a white diamond roughly the size of a baseball and Batman pursuing her. And at some point in the story, Harley and the Joker play baseball, using the diamond as the ball. Those were the rough parameters I was given by my editor. And within those parameters, I would flesh out the plot and figure out why Harley was doing all of this, how Batman figures out what’s going on, how Batman captures Harley, etc. Then I would write the manuscript, based on that fleshed-out plot.

But you see, when I was a child, my father signed me up for little league three years in a row and I absolutely hated it. As a result, I’ve scrubbed all baseball knowledge from my brain. But now I had a paying gig writing a Batman children’s book where baseball was central to the plot. How would I work baseball terminology into the manuscript when I don’t KNOW any baseball terminology? How could I become baseball-literate in time to meet my deadline for this book? How indeed…

There was a strict word count for Harley at Bat. I had to use a certain number of words – and a certain number of lines – on every page of this book. This made me feel like I was writing poetry. Like a haiku or a sonnet. So then I thought, “Why don’t I just read some poems about baseball? Maybe that will teach me how to write ABOUT baseball, and specifically, how to do so in a concise way.” So I googled “poems about baseball.” Know what? It really helped! Here are just some of the baseball-themed poems I read while writing this book:

* Kidding! It was written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. But you already knew that.

I also watched a bunch of YouTube clips of people playing baseball. The clips didn’t just show me what actually happens during a baseball game, they also showed me how the announcers talk about what’s happening. How do they describe, deconstruct, demystify, and unpack what’s just happened for the people in the stadium and for the viewers at home? In baseball, much of the language is really colorful and expressive. Like, “Neil Walker clobbers a home run.” Or “Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits an absolute monster home run.” Or “Tiki Broward takes that home run into a dark alley, beats it senseless, steals its wallet, and stomps on its phone so it can’t call 911.” Okay, I made that last one up. I also made up Tiki Broward, who is not a real person as far as I know.

The things the announcers say in baseball games often sound like the stage directions in a screenplay for an action movie. Superhero movies (and by extension, superhero children’s books) are a lot like action movies. And baseball players (like superheroes) wear colorful costumes. So this was very appropriate.

I had a ton of fun re-educating myself about baseball while writing this book. And I hope that that comes through when you (or your kids) read it.

 

This Year, I’m Going To Comic Con…Without Going To Comic Con

7/23/20

Much like other big public events that are involve thousands of people huddled together in a confined space, the San Diego Comic Con is not happening this year. Not the live, in-person, analog version of Comic Con, anyway. However…

This year, SDCC is having a series of virtual panel discussions and other online events. They’ve christened the event “Comic-Con@Home.” It started yesterday, and the online programming goes until Sunday July 26th, 2020.  


I’ll be appearing on a “Comic-Con@Home” panel discussion celebrating the history and legacy of E.C. Comics. The panel will be happening tomorrow, Friday July 24th, 2020, at 6pm PST/9pm EST. The other panelists will be Grant Geissman (Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics!) and Dr. Travis Langley (The Joker Psychology: Evil Clowns and the Women Who Love Them), and the moderator will be Danny Fingeroth (A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee), who is the Walter White to my Jesse Pinkman, the Eddie Murphy to my Arsenio Hall. Together, we’ll look back on the lasting impact E.C. has had on comics and on popular culture in general. For more info (and to view the panel on YouTube), click HERE.

E.C. holds a very special place in my heart, especially since I’ve served as a writer for two E.C. titles, MAD Magazine and Tales from the Crypt. Over the years, I’ve written approximately 30 humor pieces for MAD Magazine. I was also one of the writers who worked on the 2008 relaunch of Tales from the Crypt, published by Papercutz.

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.

So, Better Late Than Never, I Guess?

9/19/19

You know what? I’m gonna tell you an embarrassing anecdote about my writing career. (Just like I did last time. And the time before that. And the time before that…You get the idea.) But first, some announcements:

Recently, I wrote a book called The Despicable Me Little Golden Book. As you may have deduced from the title, this book is a Little Golden Books adaptation of the first Despicable Me movie. It’s illustrated by Elsa Chang, and it was published by Penguin Random House on September 3rd, 2019.

Also, I co-authored a book called The LEGO Ninjago Visual Dictionary (New Edition), which was published by DK on September 10th, 2019.

And I wrote 2 humor pieces for MAD Magazine #9, which is on sale now. They are:

  • “What If Batman Were Actually 80 Years Old,” illustrated by Pete Woods
  • “Signs She’s NOT Into You,” illustrated by A Person

BTW, you can read my “What If Batman…” humor piece in its entirety via this Nerdist article about the piece. 

This Sunday September 22nd at 7pm, I’ll be giving a lecture called “Flickering Shadows: Images of the Holocaust in Film & TV” at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

And remember just a few sentences ago when I mentioned that I co-authored the new edition of the LEGO Ninjago Visual Dictionary? Well, I’ll be signing copies of it at the New York Comic Con in a couple of weeks. All of the signings will take place at the DK booth, which is Booth #2205-J (Part of the Penguin Random House booth). Here’s my signing schedule:

  • Thursday, October 3rd from 3-4pm
  • Saturday, October 5th from 11am-12pm
  • Sunday, October 6th from 2:30-3:30pm

Last week, my friend Gabe Eltaeb interviewed me for an episode of his YouTube show Inside Comics with: Gabe Eltaeb. In the interview, we talked about my writing career, we talked about storytelling in general, and I answered viewer questions. You can check it out here.

That’s it for the announcements. Now, if I remember correctly, I owe you an embarrassing story about my writing career. Ask and ye shall receive:

There’s a pretty popular online animation studio out there called JibJab Bros Studios. These days, they’re known for animated e-cards and music videos. But back in the day, back when it was called JibJab Media, they produced quite a bit of original scripted content. Mainly, they produced animated webseries, like Geezers, about two little old men named Leo and Cicero who’d sit on a park bench and comment on the world around them. Writing scripts for Geezers was one of my first writing credits of any kind and my first-ever credit as an animation writer.

So imagine how thrilled I was when I showed my father the first produced episode of Geezers I wrote. Now, before I go on, I need to provide a little bit of context. See, unlike most people, my folks were supportive of the fact that I wanted to be a writer. All throughout my childhood, they were very encouraging.

That’s why, when my first episode of Geezers came out, I whipped out my laptop and told my dad that I wrote the script for the Geezers episode I was about to show him. He said, “Okay,” and I hit play. The episode is about five minutes long. My dad didn’t laugh once. He had this pained look on his face, like someone was making him watch their kid play a tooth in the school play. Shortly before the end of the episode, he shook his head sadly and groaned, “What IS this garbage? Who actually thought this was funny?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Dad,” I said, “What are you talking about? I wrote that.” He got this bewildered look on his face. “You did?” he bellowed. “Well yeah,” I explained. “Don’t you remember? I told you right before I hit play. Why did you think I was showing it to you?” “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I thought it was something you saw somewhere that you liked.” “Okay…,” I sighed, trying not to sound frustrated. My dad slapped his knees and looked up at me. “Play it again,” he suggested. “From the beginning.” “What?” I was very confused. “But you just saw it, dad. You REALLY didn’t like it. Why would you want to see it again?” “Just play it again, Arie,” he demanded. “Come on!”

“Sure,” I muttered, and I played it again. This time, he laughed at every damn line of dialogue. Oh, it was as though he’d never SEEN anything so funny. I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that he was laughing in that forced way people do when they’re showing you pity. But no. This was not that. On the contrary. On the most contrary of contraries. He was genuinely, falling-out-of-his-seat-wetting-himself laughing. IT. WAS. SO. WEIRD. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. It’s like he was a robot, and between the first and second viewing of the episode they turned on his emotion chip. After the episode was over, he gave me a big hug and congratulated me on doing such a good job. With no hint of irony whatsoever. There was no, “Well, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t aware that my genius son wrote it, but now that I am, I can appreciate its brilliance.” Even though that was exactly what was going on.

Let me repeat: It was so weird.

And my takeaway from that experience is: Um, thanks, dad? I think?

 

 

 

 

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