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 22ndat 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?
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)
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 Warsbooks 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?
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.