Jeff Kinney, author of the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, spoke to children and adults alike at the Jeff Kinney Presents Diary of a Wimpy Kid and a Preview of Book 9, The Long Haul panel at New York Comic-Con Sunday evening. The books had sold 150 million copies worldwide. The Long Haul will be released on November 4, 2014.
Some excerpts from his panel can be found below.
-In 2006, I was a guy with a sample packet walking around Comic-Con. My dad had introduced me to the Donald Duck comics and to newspaper comics like Calvin and Hobbes. The Far Side taught me you didn’t need to be a great artist–the lines were simple.
-In college I made Igdoof and I wanted to make sure he looked different. I made him nearly bald in the comics and there was a long history of that. The yellow kid in 1893. And Charlie Brown.
-Big Nate was a comic in the Washington Post. I wrote to the author, Lincoln Pierce, a letter. He wrote back. And we wrote back and forth. My brother called me up and told me to look in the Washington Post. In a drawing was Igdoof, like a centimeter. For me, I took it too far. As far as I’m concerned, I was a published cartoonist.
-After college I took nine months and put together a submission packet, and I got lots of these (pulls up rejection letters). I never hit my dream of becoming a newspaper artist. For three years I tried lots of different jobs. I was a criminal justice major. I was a newspaper designer and did layout, a computer designer. I created poptropica-a virtual world for kids. I have a day job still–9 to 5. I wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist, but I had to take away the most important part–newspapers. The opportunities were limited. I didn’t have talent. I was drawing like a kid putting his work into the world.
-In 1998, I had an idea. I was going to fill up a sketchbook of ideas. I’d start writing my book. The ideas were disassociated with each other. Now usually you write a plot then hang humor onto it or do the opposite. You write humor and hang a plot onto it. It took four years to fill that book and the last page took four months. Then I cut and cut.
-I had a website, Funbrain, where I’d post an excerpt every day. So it’s 2006. I had 12 million readers. I printed 12 or 20 pages and walked around Comic-Con, but that’s not what they’re here for. I found out about Mom’s Cancer by Harry Abrams, who started with a comic strip on the web, but then made a book. I saw Mom’s Cancer in somebody’s booth. I showed the editor my packet and he loved it.
-I used to think of Greg Heffley as a literary character. but I didn’t want him to get older. In the 5th book I thought I should wrap up the series. Greg is frustrated because everyone around him hitting puberty. But I’m hoping to keep the quality high.
-Book 9 is my favorite book. I started in January like all my books. I have to come up with all new ideas. There’s a counter above my door for ideas (pic says 3). I have to do everything I can to get to 350 ideas (he shows funny home pics).
-I will sit for 3-4 hours with no jokes. This year, I prioritized writing. I went five days to Puerto Rico. I came up with the best ideas from that trip. I knew I wanted to write about a road trip–all the Heffley’s in one car.
-In July, I start writing a manuscript. Takes about a month. I send it in and as far as I’m concerned, It’s perfect. And I get back this (pic of comments all over his page). Then I have about five weeks to do 340 pics and each one takes one hour (he demos his drawing methods).
-I spend a long time coming up with colors. I make lots of mistakes and use the computer to fix. It took. year to draw and redraw to get final form. Make sure that everything always looked the same. In the old Peanuts or old cartoons, they look different.
-One regret was in the 4th book, Manny gets a dog. By the end of the book it’s shipped off to Grandma’s. I like everything to reset. And there’s been a few times where I wanted them to have a dog.
-In this book I introduce a pig. Manny wins a pig at the country fair. Greg has to take care of it in the back of the van. They stop at the gas station so him and the pig can go to the bathroom. He gets back in the wrong van (shows pic of screaming strangers).
-I ship the book in September. I send it into the world. We find problems at the printer. There’s a part in the book where it’s like, “Look! There’s a full moon!” And I drew a quarter moon. And this went through like eight professional adults. my kids look at it and say, “Dad, that’s not a full moon.” A few weeks later I get this slim FedEx package and inside is a book. It’s this little thing and I put in on the shelf.
-I get to go on tour on this rock star bus.I spoke at the Sidney Opera House, I met the president–a few of them, I got to make a balloon for the Macy’s Day parade.
He ends his speech with this: If you have a dream, nurture it. But to become an expert, like it said in The Outliers, you need 10,000 hours of practice. May you be lucky like me and see your dreams fly.
Kinney then answered some questions from the audience.
Q-What’s up with your bookstore?
A-I’m making a bookstore in Plainville, MA. People think I’m a children’s literacy expert. I do know how important it is to put a book into the hands of a small person–a sacred act to put in the hands of a kid.
Q-How have you been able to overcome your ADD?
A-I don’t know that I have. I think of it like a gift–like I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. ADD people get really distracted but when push comes to shove I can do it. Periods of intense focus following intense distraction.
Q-What inspired Igdoof?
A-At the college I wanted to make crosswords. They laughed at me. Then I said ooorrrr…. cartoons. And they were like OK.
Q-Did something in your book happen in real life?
A-Almost everything, but the part with the swim team when Greg wrapped himself in toilet paper That happened every day for three years.
Q-When you would show Igdoof to roommates, did they laugh at you?
A-No, but now I have low self-esteem.
Q-Who’s your favorite author besides yourself.
A-The adult in me says Bill Bryson and Malcolm Gladwell. The kid answer is Judy Blume. My sister had Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Luckily my brother gave me a heads up with Are You There God It’s Me Margaret.
I asked my 10-year-old son, long time fan of the Wimpy Kid series: What did you like about the panel?
Brandon: Um…that he told us about how he started and he loved this comic called Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce. Another thing that stood out to me was that he wanted to be a professional comic artist, but he wasn’t perfect so he decided to make a book out of it. And it was supposed to be an adult book, but it ended up being a children’s book and sold a lot. I liked the slideshow because it showed how his lifetime passed and how its grown. It was pretty interesting because I wanted to see the back story of his life.
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