It’s Hanukkah! (Well, the sixth day of Hanukkah. But Hanukkah nonetheless!)
In the late 2000s, I wrote two Hanukkah-themed comic book stories. I was just thinking about them recently because it IS that time of year, and also it’s been a while since I wrote a Hanukkah-themed story. Maybe I’ll write another one someday.
But until then, I’m pretty proud of how these two tales turned out.
Want me to tell you about them? Of course you do.
The Ballad of Flipper the Hanukkah Turtle
The first one is called “Not a (Green, Slimy) Creature Was Stirring,” and it first saw print in The Simpsons Winter Wingding #3, published by Bongo Comics in November 2008. “Not a (Green, Slimy)…” was penciled by Phil Ortiz, and inked by Mike DeCarlo. After its initial publication in 2008, this story was reprinted by Bongo several times in various trade paperback collections (e.g. The Simpsons: Homer for the Holidays, published in 2010). So I guess that means that the folks at Bongo liked it. Which is good to know.
In case you haven’t read “Not a (Green, Slimy)…,” here’s a rundown of the plot:
Krusty the Clown realizes that there are many Christmas mascots (e.g. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, etc). But there are no Hanukkah mascots. So since Krusty is Jewish, he decides to CREATE a Hanukkah mascot. He doesn’t do it so that all the Jewish kids out there will have a mascot that represents them; he does it just so that he can reap all of the merchandising money that such an easily marketable mascot character would generate.
So Krusty creates a mascot – or rather, he hires a team of Springfield schoolchildren to create the mascot, because he can’t be bothered to do it himself. The children (Bart, Lisa, Nelson, Milhouse, and Ralph) come up with a mascot character called “Flipper the Hanukkah Turtle,” and they present Krusty with a crayon sketch of Flipper. But Krusty’s art department bases their Flipper costume on the children’s crude, unintentionally ugly drawing, and it comes out looking HIDEOUS. On the first night of Hanukkah, when Sideshow Mel goes on Krusty’s TV show wearing the Flipper costume, it traumatizes all the kids in Springfield.
At that very moment, the aliens Kang and Kodos are orbiting the Earth in their spaceship and they watch Flipper on their viewscreen. They think that Flipper is “Xarthon 9,” the deity of their winter solstice festival. Kang and Kodos invade Krusty’s TV studio and immediately begin worshipping “Xarthon 9” (which is still Sideshow Mel in a Flipper costume), telling the “deity” they’ll do whatever he tells them to do. This gives Krusty an idea, and on the SECOND night of Hanukkah, he has TWO Hanukkah mascots on his show: Moishe and Mendel (Kang and Kodos with yarmulkes and beards), and they’re not HALF as revolting as Flipper was! They don’t know why Xarthon 9 wanted them to juggle dreidels on live television, but they know not to question the will of a deity!
I wrote “Not a (Green, Slimy) Creature Was Stirring” because I honestly do think it’s kind of weird that there’s no Jewish equivalent of Rudolph or Frosty. So I created one! Until there’s an actual Hanukkah mascot in the real world, I guess Flipper the Hanukkah Turtle will have to do.
Also, I included the following detail in the art notes (aka stage directions) for the final panel on the final page of the script:
“Kang is JUGGLING TOY DREIDELS with his tentacles, while Kodos is lighting one of the CANDLES on a LITTLE GOLD MENORAH shaped like HIMSELF (with his TENTACLES as the candle holders).”
And Phil Ortiz and Mike DeCarlo DREW that Kodos-shaped menorah into the final panel of the story. That menorah looks SO cool, and to this day, I’m amazed that – with all the Simpsons merchandise out there – no toy company has made an officially licensed Kodos-shaped menorah. Maybe someday…
Golem, Golem, Golem, I Made You Out Of…SNOW?
The second Hanukkah-themed comic book story I wrote was a Superman tale titled “Man of Snow.” It was penciled by Nick Runge and inked by Gabe Eltaeb. And it was published in November 2009, in the pages of The DC Universe Holiday Special ’09 (DC Comics).
In “Man of Snow,” Superman is headed over to Smallville, to spend time with Ma Kent. He’s bringing her giant drums of caramel corn for her to snack on. On his way there, he’s flying over the Metropolis suburb of Park Ridge when he’s attacked by a golem. And not just any golem, a golem made of snow! The golem hits the Man of Steel so hard, the drums of caramel corn go flying over the horizon. Superman is flummoxed. What’s going on?
Superman soon discovers that the creature was accidentally set upon him by a 12-year-old Jewish boy named Yosef, who has a very unique superpower: he can imbue inanimate objects with life. The boy is a gifted sculptor, so he creates sculptures of fantasy creatures (dragons, gargoyles, ogres, etc) and brings them to life for his own amusement. Yosef has cystic fibrosis and lives with his grandfather. Superman wants to know why the golem attacked him. Yosef explains what’s going on as we see it in flashback:
Earlier that day, Yosef was feeling lonely, so he made the snow golem as a playmate. While playing with the golem, Yosef wandered aloud that it would be great if the golem could “get Superman” for him (as an additional playmate). The golem took this literally and trudged off to get Superman. Which is why Superman was attacked by the golem in the first place. (Thus ends the flashback sequence.)
Superman feels for Yosef, and he realizes that the boy didn’t mean any harm. The Man of Steel flies Yosef all over Metropolis, as they look for stores that are still open so that they can get two replacement drums of caramel corn for Superman to bring to Ma Kent.
And that’s “Man of Snow” in a nutshell. It’s a very short story, clocking in at a mere 4 pages. It’s only a Hanukkah story because at one point Yosef tells Superman that it’s the first night of Hanukkah. And we see a menorah in the house Yosef shares with his grandfather. But unlike “Not a (Green, Slimy) Creature Was Stirring,” which is all about Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights doesn’t really factor into the plot of “Man of Snow” in a major way.
But it’s a very personal story to me for a couple of different reasons. For one thing, Yosef is based on me – well, me at 12 years old. I didn’t have cystic fibrosis growing up. But, much like Yosef, I was a reclusive, nerdy, artistically-inclined kid who was always making drawings and sculptures of fantasy creatures. I didn’t eat drums of caramel corn with my parents when I was a kid. But I did eat homemade popcorn with my parents during the winter holidays, when they’d show my favorite movie on TV. That movie? 1978’s Superman, starring Christopher Reeve. And by the way, my middle name is “Yosef.”
Also, about a year before I wrote “Man of Snow,” my book From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books had come out. And there’s a chapter in that book where I explore the question of whether Superman’s a golem figure. In other words, whether Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were inspired by the legendary golem of Prague when they first dreamt up Superman. After all, like the golem, Superman is a larger-than-life, super-strong being who helps the helpless. Is Superman a modern-day golem? Many pop culture historians have debated this point over the past few decades. For the record, I personally don’t think that Superman is a golem figure. However, I did think it’d be a cool idea to have Superman fight an actual golem in a comic book story. So I wrote “Man of Snow.”
Golems are usually made of clay – at least, they are according to legend. The golem of Prague was made of clay. These days, there are many video games that use golems as characters, and I’ve seen games featuring golems made of metal, wood, stone, and various other materials. So when I was writing “Man of Snow,” I figured a golem made of snow would be a unique variation on the golem legend. And after all, as Yosef says in the story, making a golem out of snow is “more festive for this time of year.”
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?
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…
I 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 I’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 short 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: http://mkjf.org/joomla/index.php/10-front-page/63-about-arie-kaplan
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: http://www.wichita.edu/thisis/wsunews/cnews/?cnid=18581