Arie Kaplan writes the new series of Speed Racer comic books, called “Speed Racer: Chronicles of the Racer.” Separate from the big-budget movie coming out later this year, the comics provide Speed Racer with a wider range of settings and a deeper backstory than he has had before. I talked to Kaplan about Speed Racer and his other projects, including his three-part series for Reform Judaism Magazine about the Jewish origins and themes of comic books and comedy performers. Kaplan also writes for Mad Magazine, speaks often on subjects relating to Judaism and comedy, and has a new book coming out later this year: From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books.
How did you get involved with Speed Racer?
My series for Reform Judaism Magazine about the the influence of Jews on the comic book industry gave me a lot of contacts in the comic book world. I went to Wondercon and talked to IDW about Speed Racer. I had to go back and catch myself up on what was going on in comics. If you havenâ€™t been reading comics for a while and then read the One More Day series, you think, “What the Hell has been going on?” The quality of the writing is getting stronger. It is more like TV shows, but there are things you can only do in comics.
I wrote a horror screenplay a while back. Even though it had a horror element the special effects had to be pretty low key. It couldnâ€™t be like Transformers; it had to be low budget. For this Speed Racer series, each issue if they filmed it would cost like $300 million. In comics, you can do a story where it doesnâ€™t feel self-indulgent but you can have pirate ships, giant transforming robots, not too grandiose or too loaded or over the top, but make it work. It costs the same amount of money to draw people having a conversation as having an action sequence, that’s the difference between comics and movies. Anyone who wants to draw Speed Racer likes to draw action sequences, racing, blowing stuff up, but it wonâ€™t take a special secret expensive pen. Your imagination is honestly the only special effect; the budgetary limits are met.
But you donâ€™t want to put too many story twists; you donâ€™t want to pack the story too much. You do burn through story quite a bit because Speed finds out he is the last of a long line of racers. His last name used to not be the family name, but the occupation. There is a chosen one in each generation, the one to outrace the evils of the world. He is a crime-fighter but instead of super powers or a utility belt he has the Mach 5.
How did you come up with your interpretation of Speed Racer?
I wanted to make him more iconic, more comic-booky, more kinds of stories. I wanted him to be more of a teenager, and I wanted to bring in some of the The Hero with a Thousand Faces themes.
The name was one of the inspirations for this series. I wanted some explanations about why the goofy characters would have such on the nose names. I thought about my own name. Arie means lion, Kaplan means religious leader. A lot of names come from occupations â€“ what if Speed’s family was like that?