Archive for the ‘DC Comics’ Category

Mascots, Monsters, and Menorahs

12/16/20

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.”

You know, he’s not wrong.

 

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.

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