Four Letter Nerd

Respect Your Elders: An Interview with Scribblenauts Unmasked Writer Josh Elder

In November of last year, 4LN launched an article written by my son Lycan. It was a video game review article all about some games he’d been playing and wanted to tell people about. One of the games he reviewed was “Scribblenauts Remix”. He loved it and wished that you could be Batman in the game, but he knew of the “Scribblenauts Unmasked” game, which features DC Comics superheroes, and wanted it. Well, for Christmas his loving grandparents made that wish came true. He spent hours playing that game. He got 3 or 4 video games last Christmas and I can honestly say that he hasn’t spent the same amount of time collectively on the others as he’s spent on that one game.

One day a few months ago I was looking at the upcoming new releases for new comic book day and I saw “Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis of Imagination”, published by DC, on the list. I knew the book had been available digitally, but I hadn’t heard about it becoming available in print. When I went into my shop that week I asked the shop manager about the series and he pointed it out to me. I picked up the first 4 issues and took them home to Lycan. His eyes got so big when I pulled those books out. I hadn’t mentioned it to him because I wanted it to be a surprise. It was. He read all of them right then and there. When he was done, I sat down and read them all myself. I couldn’t believe how brilliant these books were. The story politely caters to children on their level without patronizing them, but grown-ups can love it too. There are some really great, hilarious pop-cultural references all throughout the book. The ones that stand out in my mind the most are references to the Philosoraptor, The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker”, and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It’s nice to be able to read comics with my kids, and “Scribblenauts” has given me and them a book that we can read together and talk about. (We certainly can’t do that with Harley Quinn. Maybe when they’re older…)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing “Scribblenauts Unmasked” writer Josh Elder. We talked about the book as well as how he got started in the comic business and his organization “Reading With Pictures”. Enjoy!

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4LN – Do you remember when you first discovered comics?

Josh Elder – I honestly can’t remember a time when comics WEREN’T a part of my life. There are pictures of me in Superman jammies (Complete with cape!) at age 3, and I have a battered issue of World’s Finest from the same time that my mother claims was my first comic. It must have done its job well, because I’ve been hooked ever since.

 

4LN – What got you interested/started in writing comics?

JE – I’ve always liked telling stories. As a kid, I would make up my own superhero stories because I didn’t want to wait an entire month for the next issue to hit the stands. Then in middle school, I got into tabletop roleplaying. Whether I was a player or the gamemaster, I was always trying to come up with the most compelling and entertaining narratives that I could. And if I could entertain my friends, then I knew I was doing something right.

I have a Film degree, I’ve written a novel and I’ve designed video games, but comics were my first and truest love. So I may stray, but I always come back to comics.

 

4LN – You write Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis of Imagination for DC. Were you familiar with the Scribblenauts games prior, or did you have to get caught up?

JE – I was aware of the games – the series came up often during game mechanic discussions at Disney Interactive – but I had never played them. Of course I spent a good three days doing nothing BUT playing the game after I was offered the gig (Oh, the travails of life as a comic writer!), and pretty swiftly got a sense for the characters and the world in which they live. It was love at first playthrough, and I came back to my editor with dozens of story ideas. The characters are so adorable and their abilities so expansive, that it was almost impossible NOT to get excited about the project.

I’m extremely proud of the Scribblenauts story we (myself, Adam Archer, Ben Bates, Ian Herring, Saida Temofonte and Alex Antone) created. A kid-friendly crossover epic is pretty unique in the annals of comicdom, and I feel we delivered genuine moments of wonder, danger and fun. Plus we tried to do some formally interesting in each issue. My personal favorite was probably the “Look and Find” in Superman’s Fortress, or possibly “The Game of Everything” that told the Anti-Monitor’s origin.

 

4LN – Recently you had an opportunity to write a Wonder Woman & Superman comic for Wendy’s kids meals. How did that opportunity come about?

JE – Alex Antone, my editor on “Scribblenauts,” was behind that one as well. I had proven that I had a good handle on Superman after writing a one-shot for the late, lamented “Adventures of Superman” series, and I had a lot of experience doing comic work for licensors. It was just a good fit, and I had a great time working with Marcus To. It was a fast food promotion, but we treated it like it was any other assignment and did our best to tell an authentic Superman and Wonder Woman adventure that would be appropriate for a reader of any age.

And given most Wendy’s that I visited during the promotion were sold out of the comic but still had plenty of toys in stock, I think we must have done SOMETHING right…

 

4LN – Can you tell us a little bit about your organization “Reading With Pictures” and how people can get involved?

JE – Absolutely! We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that promotes the use of comics in the classroom. Our motto is that we get comics into schools and get schools into comics. We host an online database of research and lesson plans, we provide professional development to educators around the world and we produce educational comics of our own, like “Comics That Make Kids Smarter” published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. You can get the whole story at www.readingwithpictures.org.

 

We like to toss out some “lightning round” questions here at 4LN. Just answer with the first thing that comes to mind…

4LN – All-time best Saturday Morning Cartoon…

JE – “Batman: The Animated Series” by Bruce Timm and company. Really no contest there.

 

4LN – If you could choose another video game to adapt into a comic, what game would you pick?

JE – “Metroid.” There’s such a huge world there that’s never been properly explored. I’d love to bring that to life on the page. Followed closely by “Tetris” because I have absolutely no idea how I would make that into a narrative, and the challenge excites me.

 

4LN – Favorite Disney/Pixar film…

JE – Probably “The Incredibles,” though “WALL-E” and “Toy Story 3” are close seconds. Pixar is the gold standard in Hollywood because they make movies that EVERYBODY likes, and whenever I’m working on any all-ages product, I make a point to ask myself: “What would Pixar do?”

 

4LN – Zombies, Werewolves, or Vampires?

JE – I’ve always thought vampires were the Mary Sues of the monster world since they had all these amazing powers and no downsides except angst and having to wear lots of sunscreen. Werewolves, in contrast, are too limited. So I’ll have to go with zombies. The living dead are mentioned in the epic of Gilgamesh, so they have been with us for as long as we’ve had stories. They’re the Ur-monster, and you’ve got to respect that.

 

4LN – Best “Weird Al” album…

JE – I have them all, but “Bad Hair Day” is probably my favorite just because it hit at that perfect age where I was finally old enough to actually GET all the jokes. Though his latest album – and the video rollout he did for it – is a work of absolute creative and marketing genius.

 

4LN – Favorite non-comic book…

JE – “Dune” by Frank Herbert. It was the novel that made me want to become a writer. He created a fictional world that seemed as real and as rich as the world outside my window. “Dune” is the benchmark against which I shall ever measure myself.

 

4LN – Lastly, what character that you’ve never written, would you like to write?

JE – That’s a tough one. I want to play with ALL the toys, but if I MUST narrow it down to one, then I suppose I would choose Doctor Who. The Doctor’s philosophy – a childlike sense of wonder and an ironclad sense of justice – mirrors my own in many ways. Plus he wears a bow tie, and bow ties are cool.

 

A big THANK YOU to Josh for doing this interview! Follow him on Twitter @JoshElder!

Head up to your local comic shop tomorrow to pick up “Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis Of Imagination” #9! You and your kids will love it!

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Stephen Andrew

Stephen has spent most of his life reading comics, watching horror movies, listening to death metal music, and speaking in the third person. His favorite comic book character is The Punisher, and he believes that the Punisher: War Zone movie is criminally underrated. His favorite film of all-time is National Lampoon's Vacation, and his favorite album is Pantera's "The Great Southern Trendkill".

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