Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been obsessed with animation. Every aspect of it. Who made the greatest animated cartoons in cinematic history, how many Fleischer brothers there were (and what each one did), how to spell and pronounce “Ub Iwerks.” All that stuff. And aside from my work as a writer of variousotherthings, I’m also an animation writer. (In fact, you can see some of my animation writing credits HERE and HERE.)
So I know quite a bit about animation, and I also know a lot about animation history. Pay attention to that last bit, because it’ll be important later.
In addition to all of the above, I’m a public speaker. In fact, for a couple of decades before the pandemic, I used to go all over the world (well, all over the US, as well as a few places in Canada and a couple of countries in Europe) and give lectures at various venues including universities, literary festivals, synagogues, libraries, museums, etc. For the past three years, I’ve been giving lectures virtually, because of the aforementioned pandemic (perhaps you’ve heard of it). Hopefully, now that everything’s opening up again, I’ll start lecturing in person once more. Which would be nice, because I really miss those speaking gigs where I’m actually in the same room as my audience. (What a concept!)
No matter whether I lecture virtually or in person, I usually talk about various pop culture-related topics, often from a Jewish perspective. That’s largely because my lecture career started out with me speaking on subjects like the history of Jews in the film industry and the history of Jews in the animation industry. And that kinda became my thing, for reasons too convoluted to go into here. * Then after my book From Krakow to Krypton: Jews in Comic Books was released in 2008, that was the topic I spoke about the most. I mean, I had written a successful nonfiction book on the history of Jews in the comic book industry. Why wouldn’t that be my most frequently requested lecture topic?
I’ve also done some work for the Union for Reform Judaism (aka “URJ”) over the past couple of decades. For instance, I’ve written several articles for them (both print and online), most of which are about various aspects of pop culture history as well.
At the tail end of 2021, the folks at the URJ hired me to make a video about the history of Jews in the animation industry for their “RJ on the Go” platform. It was called “Drawing the Line: The History of Jews in Animation,” and it was up on their site for about a month, from late December of 2021 to late January of 2022. It’s not up there anymore, but they gave me the link so that it can live permanently on my website. With that in mind, you can check it out here:
* I should clarify that I don’t exclusively talk about these subjects as seen through a Jewish lens, so to speak. Sometimes, in my lectures, I simply talk about film history (in general), or the history of television comedy (in general), or the history of the comic book industry (in general). Other times, I talk about my writing career and how it’s evolved over the years. I’ve even given lectures about specific areas of my writing career, like my career in the video game industry or what it was like working on those three LEGO Star Wars books I wrote for Scholastic. But, at least in certain circles, I am definitely known best for my lectures on the contribution of Jewish folks to various areas of popular culture.
Hey! Do you like Minions? Do you like stickers? Do you like art? Do you like puzzles? Do you like all of the above? If so, boy are you in luck! I wrote the Minions Sticker Art Puzzles Book, and it’s out now from Thunder Bay Press. You can learn more about the book HERE.
Speaking of that last book, a while back Claire Sewell interviewed me for her website, The Golden Girls Fashion Corner. In the interview, I talked to Claire about what it was like writing the Golden Girls Sticker Art Puzzles Book. You can read the interview HERE.
And I talked about the Nightmare Before Christmas Sticker Art Puzzles Book in a previous blog post. Check it out!
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?