Start with highly anticipated reboots like “The Lion King”, “Aladdin” and “Men in Black”, add mega blockbusters like Marvel’s “Avengers” and “Spider-Man”, then throw in some ’90s kids nostalgia like “Rugrats” and “A Goofy Movie”. Josh Weiss (Drexel, 2017) is a pop-culture aficionado who covers it all, writing for the likes of Marvel, The Hollywood Reporter and SYFY. He’s currently a contributing writer at Forbes, and today’s #FridayPiday will be your favorite Q&A.
How did you start writing for companies like Marvel, SYFY and Forbes?
It was really just a mix of experience and luck. I’ve always been a writer, so it’s something I’ve always loved doing. I wrote in my school newspaper nonstop. At Drexel I was looking for internships/co-ops that fit into my interests. I eventually landed at CNBC and Marvel. I forged good connections there. I graduated a few months later and got added to their freelancing team. I wrote for their website, interviewing artists etc.
How would you describe pop-culture in 2019?
I would say it’s very personal and whatever you can make of it. In terms of meme culture, a piece of pop culture can go viral instantly. The Ant Man/Thanos meme is an example. The most ingenious and funniest things can come out of media. People just run with it and transform it. Even a blockbuster can become grassroots.
You’ve covered a lot of science fiction, comic and horror. Which genre is your favorite and why?
That’s a good question. I would have to say sci-fi. Every genre is so vast but I’ve always been fascinated with sci-fi, the way it puts a mirror up to reality, themes that make us look inwardly and at society. I’m a huge fan of alternate history or re-imagining what the world would be like if a certain event had turned out a different way. Like The Man in the High Castle. I just wrote a book within that subset of speculative fiction.
Interviewing directors and hosting Q&As with movie industry celebrities is part of your job. Who stood out to you the most?
I may have to go with Steven Spielberg. This was when I was still in college and before I became a professional freelance writer, but it’s just too awesome not to talk about. Just before Bridge of Spies opened in theaters, I got to be part of a conference call comprised of other college journalists and we just spent a magical 45 minutes on the phone with one of the greatest directors of all time. I was even one of the lucky folks to ask him a question, which pertained to his many collaborations with Tom Hanks over the years. As a film nut, that’s something I’ll never forget.
At what point in your life did comics and pop-culture become something to share with others?
Comics are a more recent thing. I didn’t really get into comics until I started working at Marvel. I’ve always been a huge movie buff. My parents can tell you even as a kid I would only see movies on opening day/weekend. It’s something I’ve always been obsessed with even if others aren’t. I try not to shove it in people’s faces too much. My dad introduced me to things he was watching when he was a kid, like Indiana Jones and the Alien franchise which I had nightmares about as a young child but I’m still grateful. It was a good sharing experience. I credit him a lot.
Marvel or DC?
Aw, man. You can’t do that … You might see it as a cop-out answer but I’m one of those people that like them both equally. There’s no reason you can’t like both. Just because I write for Marvel doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy DC. I think I’m one of the few people in this world that likes Batman vs. Superman and Justice League. Both comic book universes have great heroes, both have great movies and characters. There’s enough room in my heart for both. Have you seen Shazam yet? It’s great!
Would you rather join the Avengers or Justice league?
Avengers. If it’s recent movie versions, the Avengers because they have more members right now (at least on screen). I don’t have any superpowers but maybe I could be the water boy?
Would you rather get tickled by Wolverine’s claws or massaged by Thor’s Hammer?
Wolverine’s claws are so sharp … they wouldn’t tickle they would just go straight into you. Thor’s hammer could kill you by suffocation … If Thor is holding it and rubbing it against my back I guess that would be nice, it has the power of a star in it, maybe it’s warm and comfortable. Okay, Thor’s hammer but only if Thor is the masseuse or else I’m dead because he’s the only being in the universe who can actually wield it.
Which comics are you currently reading?
I read so many for work but I’m slowly making my way through the Hellboy series by Mike Mignola, preparing myself for the new movie.
People like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Bob Kane are all iconic Jewish creators. What can we learn from them?
If your name is too Jewish, change it. I’m just kidding! They all came from humble beginnings in Jewish parts of NYC. Jewish creativity is real. We are a very creative people because we have to be able laugh at ourselves after all of the hardships over the years. Those guys were about championing what you’re passionate about, which lead to creating insane international legacies. They taught us to pursue what you love no matter how weird it is because one day you might be the stuff of legends.
What do you make of Jewish representation in comics/pop-culture? Is there enough?
Whenever I see Jews represented I geek out. I love to write about the cross section of Judaism and pop culture. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a great example. It depends on the person. Is there enough? For me, there are never enough Jewish characters. That’s not me being angry when there are no Jewish characters, it’s just that I love to consume it. Recently seeing Ben Grimm “Thing” of the Fantastic Four illustrated breaking the glass at his wedding, wearing a tallit and yarmulke was really cool. You don’t have force Judaism in for me to be happy. I will always be happy to see a Jewish character as long as it’s appropriate.
You’re a Jewish writer. Have you faced any challenges because of it?
A few. I grew up orthodox, although I’m not as religious as I once was. I’m a little busier than I’d like to be on Shabbat and holidays. You have to work your tuchus off in this business in order to stay relevant. Not that I’m complaining, because I’m a workaholic. However, I never work on High Holidays and I let my editors know I’m taking off for other holidays. I try to balance.
How has your AEPi experience informed your Jewish experience?
For one thing, it gave me a place to make friends with other jews at my school and it gave me a lot of opportunities to partake in other organizations like Chabad and Hillel. Whether it was We Walk to Remember or minor Jewish holidays, AEPi underscores how important it is to stick together. It emphasized our connection to the Jewish culture as a whole. That doesn’t mean you have to fast on Yom Kippur, but we’re Jewish and we’re proud (you should fast on Yom Kippur).
You recently wrote about a new comic series that’s based off of the famous Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, called Simon Says. How did you first react to the idea of what you call a “Jewish James Bond”?
I f––ing loved it. It goes back to my love of alternate history. This cathartic concept of Jews getting revenge on Nazis. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to write about. Inglorious Bastards, X-Men First Class, this fantasy; this wishful fulfillment of giving anti-Semites what they deserve. I was sold. My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor and went through three different camps. It’s always been part of my DNA, learning about the holocaust and not downplaying it. There is what happened and then in another reality these Jewish heroes got the better of their oppressors. It sits close to my heart.
What’s something in pop-culture that you would like to see more of?
More alternate history shows. We have the Man in the High Castle and I know Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon is in the works. At Amazon, they’ve got The Hunt with Al Pacino. If it’s Jews hunting down Nazis in the 1970s, sign me up. I’d love to see another Jewish superhero. Mark Spector in the Moon Knight is the son of a rabbi who kind of goes off the derech and becomes a hero. A live action Moon Knight would be really cool. Why not? I’ll write it!
Something that you would like to see less of?
Nothing negative to report. If I’m not into it I’m not into it. If somebody’s into it, good.
You get to pre-screen many films. Is it hard to talk about upcoming films with friends and family?
I can tell people what I thought but there’s yet to be a movie I hate completely. Random people on twitter will ask me if this or that happened. One person asked me if Superman was in Shazam!. Of course I can’t tell them, but it’s funny to me because I wouldn’t want to be spoiled, so why would spoil it for others?
Have you or have you not seen a pre screening of Avengers: Endgame?
I have not. I’m hoping I will but I already have my tickets for opening night which I will still go to.
How do you think it will end?
Ant-Man explodes out of Thanos’ you-know-what … no. We know Spider-Man: Far From Home will take place after End Game, and Black Panther 2 was greenlit so there’s no way they aren’t coming back. I think they will get the Gauntlet back and reverse what happened. I’m a firm believer that Captain America and Iron Man might die. Not pretty but we’re so emotionally attached to these characters after ten years, they have to kind of Game of Thrones it a little bit. All that being said, I’m in the dark as much as everyone else is.
Have any favorite memes associated with pop-culture?
The Thanos/Ant Man one is a big one for me. I really like the Kung Fu Panda “our battle will be legendary”, the Spongebob Chum Bucket/Krusty Krab one. Memes have drastically evolved from super simple templates. They encompass so much these days, it’s crazy.
How would you describe your writing style?
I’d describe my writing style as fun and a little self-aware. Think Deadpool, just not nearly as funny or clever. I like to play the omniscient narrator in my writing if I can, calling out the audience or myself. I think that makes it zippy and more fun for the reader than just laying out the facts. Of course, there are times when you have to keep things professional and straightforward. If you’re writing about a tragedy or accusations against a person, you never want to make light of the situation. Most of the time, however, I like to infuse my voice and sense of humor into a story, making as many pop culture references and comparisons as I can.
You’ve volunteered in Israel. Tell us more.
Volunteering in Israel. It was awesome. I went with my brother last year to volunteer on a few army bases for three weeks. It was something my own Grandparents had done and following in their footsteps was amazing. Living side-by-side with the soldiers in the barracks was so fun, just chilling and playing cards during chofesh. If you’re interested, don’t hesitate, just do it. I made so many good friends. It really immerses you in the culture and helps you understand the country and dispel some myths that we often see reported.
Politics seem to be finding their way into all forms of media theses days and can sometimes alienate people. Are you one of those people?
I’m one of those people who get turned off by politics. I feel like it kind of takes all the air and fun out the room. I say this with the full awareness that I have a story going up this week about a zombie drama being an allegory for Trump’s America, but most of the time, I avoid politics like the plague. I’m not bashing politics or anyone interested in the subject. Civil discourse and bipartisanship are very important. For me (and this applies to many people), the world can be such a dark and depressing place, that arguing with someone about policy isn’t in my Top 10 Fun Things To Do When I’m Bored. I guess it sounds naive and myopic, but I want to focus on fun topics, or at least topics that I define as fun like pop culture. Of course, I’ll keep up to date on what’s going on in the news and the world of politics, but I feel it’s a rather sisyphean task to join in the dialogue, particularly in places like social media where it can often feel like you’re yelling into a void. Sorry, mom, I don’t think I’ll ever be first Jewish president of the United States.