SciFiPulse: I thought that Hungry Sharks: The Shark-Tastic Guide was very funny, even though it was intended for readers much younger than me.
Arie Kaplan: Thank you.
SFP: Have you ever played the game before?
AK: I have. I’m a game writer, aka a screenwriter for videogames. I try to keep on top of what people are playing, what’s going on in the game industry, and certainly was aware of the game Hungry Shark Evolution when it launched in 2012 and I think I even played Hungry Shark World when it came out in 2016. So when my editor Michael Petranek asked, “Are you familiar with the Hungry Shark games? Would you be interested in writing a guide to the world of the game?” I was like, “Of course!” I was thrilled to get the opportunity to write the book.
SFP: Which of the sharks stood out the most to you?
AK: Whenever I do a project like this, when I write any kind of book or story, I try to look at the character that I identify with the most. Who’s like me? Who would I like to be of all the characters? Megamouth because he’s a jokester, prankster, has a good sense of humor. Also Drago the Pliosaur, the shark gang’s resident nerd. Those are the two closest to me personality-wise. If I could be a shark that’s not like me, but is just really cool, it would probably be one of the Otherworldly Sharks, like Dark Magic or the Wereshark. That was a conversation that I and Michael, my editor, had, which we had a lot of early on, was that those Otherworldly Sharks really gave me a strong Marvel Comics vibe. They seemed very much like Marvel 60’s era characters, like the Hulk or Spider-Man. Those characters were very much inspired by old school Universal horror movies like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. It seemed like these kinds of characters like Wereshark was inspired by the werewolf. He’s the Wolf Man. Atomic Shark is very much like a parody of those atomic age movies; someone gets doused with radiation and becomes a giant monster. These B-movies in the 50’s and 60’s were an inspiration to the Incredible Hulk, so that’s why they gave me a very strong Marvel vibe. Michael told me, “Lean into that. That’s good.” So I tried to write towards that with those characters.
SFP: I’m glad you mentioned Megamouth. Being aware of your previous writing, I know you like to write humor and Megamouth was stated as making bad puns. Going through the book I saw you had some really fun lines, even for adults. For example, on Bull you wrote some great alliteration with “…not the brightest barnacle on the boat.” And you start the book out with a great groan worthy, and yet I also have to give applause to, line that calls the cast “these chums.”
AK: I tried to fit in as many shark and fin puns as I could. I’ve written a lot of comic books and I’ve written a lot of children’s books, featuring a lot of Marvel characters. Stan Lee was a big inspiration to me. Stan was big on alliteration. He was big on puns. Those are the two ways he influenced me quite a bit. I don’t know if you noticed this, not only are there a lot of puns, groan worthy puns, things like that, there are also a good number of characters that I tried to give each a good subtitle, such as Pyro Shark “Girl on Fire.” That’s an example of one. Subtitles are named after different songs or album titles.
SFP: I did see those. I thought those were clever.
AK: That’s one of things where parents will get them, like Electro Shark, you know, “He Will Rock You.” I don’t exactly know how many kids are Queen fans. The parents will get that.
SFP: I thought that was a cool way to cover your reading bases, too.
AK: Thank you! Well, it’s what I call the Pixar Effect. I think that any kind of children’s entertainment project these days, be it a movie, book, or comic, needs to work on both levels — the kids level and the adult level. These things are being consumed by a young child, but a child is not going to be reading to themselves, they’re going to have their parents read it to them. They’re also not going to be seeing a movie by themselves, they’re going to be seeing it with a parent. There’s got to be something in there to entertain the parents as well. This is what every Pixar movie tries to do.
SFP: You include a lot of fish facts in the book. Did you have to research those on your own or did Ubisoft provide them?
AK: That was something the company wanted, but I did early on just because — I did that even before I knew I had to that because I am crazy. I throw everything but the kitchen sink in there, research-wise. So while I was waiting for Ubisoft, before I even knew the personalities of the sharks, just to give me something to do, I did a lot of research on actual sharks and was able to utilize a lot of that. When I learned they wanted actual facts, I was like “Perfect! I already did a lot of that.” So it now happens I know a lot of facts about sharks.
SFP: More information than you wanted to know?
AK: It actually makes you very, very respectful of real sharks. I wouldn’t want to be in the water because they wouldn’t respect me at all…wanting to eat me. It made me very fascinated by this undersea world they all occupy.
SFP: At the end of the book it says “More books are to come in the future.” It seems Scholastic is planning on original adventures along the lines of what Lego has done with various properties. Would you be interested in writing a storybook about these characters?
AK: I would love to. That would be amazing. Before this book I had written three Star Wars LEGO books for Scholastic. Those books were so much fun to work on. So to do something with the Hungry Shark characters…I would would love to write more books with them. I think it’s cool because the assets that Ubisoft sent me were these big documents about their personalities and of different characters, what each one was like, and what their roles were in this great big dynamic of the Hungry Shark game. I had to turn all that into a book in a funny, clever way. It was also to give readers a clue of who these characters are, what their personalities were, what their character flaws were, what was cool and funny about them, etc. I would love to branch off from that and tell original stories with them or do a book featuring them. When you write a book like this you really fall in love with the characters.
SFP: There’s an Evil Trio established, with Ice Shark, Robo Shark, and Electro Shark. They’re established as solid villains. Is there a character you would lean towards as a hero or a lead for a book?
AK: It would have to be Great White because he’s a very protagonisty — protagonisty is not a word, but I’m a writer and I can do that. Great White is a strong, confident, charismatic character. He’s the leader of the sharks. Based on the drawings he’s obviously the lead character. He’s very much be the go-to character for the lead. However, that being said, I think it would be fun to have a secondary character or tertiary character with one of the Prehistoric Sharks or Otherworldly Sharks. Megalodon or Dark Magic, I keep going back to that character. He keeps pulling me back, back to a Marvel-like character. He gives me a strong Doctor Strange vibe. Going back to a second lead character would be fun because he would play off Great White in a very interesting way. Put them together in a scene and would create a lot of magic — pun intended.
SFP: You write other books and stories. You’ve got an eight page story appearing in Star Wars Adventures #23 on June 26th. It features Bib Fortuna and Jabba the Hutt. Are there any other Star Wars characters you’d be interested in writing?
AK: Oh, gosh!
SFP: There are a couple out there you haven’t gotten to yet.
AK: The short answer is yes. I would love to do a story with the Rebels characters because that was a show I loved. Ezra, Hera, and Sabine, they were just awesome characters. The whole thing about the Star Wars Adventures story that comes out in a few weeks that’s called “Majordomo, Major Problems” is it’s about Jabba and Bib. As a kid, the first time I saw Return of the Jedi one of the opening scenes is Jabba’s court. It seemed this whole subculture could be spun off into a whole other movie about just Jabba. I like the idea of an intergalactic alien gangster. I just found that to be so fascinating. He’s like the alien mafia. All of the side characters, like the Gamorrean Guards, what are their stories? There’s not time to get into that in Return of the Jedi. I thought what is Bib Fortuna’s life on a day-to-day basis? What is that like? What is like to be Jabba’s butler slash second-in-command? What kind of pressures and stresses does he deal with? Would it wear him down? He’s clearly loyal to Jabba, but does it ever upset him? Does it ever get on his nerves? He has to do everything Jabba tasks him with doing. What are those things Jabba tasks him with? What may be wearing him down? May be a little beneath him? I would love to do that with some of the other characters that we haven’t seen too much about.
SFP: The artwork on the Hungry Shark guide is fantastic. Drew Moss, who drew the artwork on you Star Wars Adventures story is a really strong artist, but I’ve never seen him do Star Wars. Have you seen any of the artwork?
AK: Yes. It looks amazing! I was shown the rough layouts early on. He gives the story a really comedic look with Jabba and Bib’s relationship. Drew’s artwork so immediately, early on, he got it. It was WOW! He injects the characters with so much personality. When I was writing Jabba’s dialogue, I do this thing a lot, where I talk into a digital recorder to make sure it was coming out right. It was a big obnoxious gangster, but as an alien. You have to write him like a character from a Godfather movie. He’s always barking orders. He never says “Please.” He never says “Thank you.” It’s his way or the highway. He makes a lot of declarative statements. “Go do it, now, Bib!” There was a lot of that. I helps to get into character when you’re shouting it into a digital recorder. The point is, Drew got all of that about the characters so instinctively. I had a lot of fun. I’ve never seen him do a Star Wars story.
SFP: I believe he’s done MASK and Power Rangers, as well as mature titles, but I haven’t seen him on Star Wars, so I’m looking forward to what he’s done.
AK: It was wonderful collaborating with him and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The Star Wars Universe is so rich, there are other characters I’d love to do. The Rebels characters. I would love to do something with Lando Calrissian, he’s a really fun character. I would love to do something with Han Solo. The list goes on…
SciFiPulse would like to thank Arie for the interview and Taylan Salvati at Scholastic for helping make it happen.