This past weekend, the Javits Center in New York City hosted Book Con 2017. The event filled the same building and rooms and followed a similar structure to the more sprawling NYC Comic Con, which invades in October. Book Con came on the heels of Book Expo, a 3 day event that featured guest appearances by Hillary Clinton, Stephen King, astronaut Scott Kelly and others. Book Con featured countless authors, exhibitors, and publishers as well as guests such as Kevin Hart, Jeffrey Tambor and Bill Nye the Science Guy. One person I was extremely excited about was Jeff Kinney. See, I have a 13-year old son, and he has been obsessed with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for years. We have all 11 titles in the series including the extra “movie journals,” and we own the movies on DVD. So when I saw the Kinney was having a panel discussion about his upcoming 12th DoaWK book, The Getaway, I was there.
Jeff Kinney entered the Main Stage to a rousing ovation from his fans; mostly parents with kids. My son was texting me questions to ask for the Q&A portion, but alas I didn’t get the mic. Kinney seems like the most completely normal guy you can imagine, but his backstory to how he became the King of wimpy kids is interesting. He grew up loving and reading classic newspaper comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes, Farside, Bloom County, and Big Nate, and dreamed of being the next big thing in print media cartoons. He even created his own character, Igdoof; who looks right out of the Wimpy Kid stories. After several rejections, he began keeping journals and writing down everything he thought was funny, coupled with doodles of Igdoof and other similar characters. And that’s when he noticed that interlacing the cartoons with the narrative was something unique. He described it as “speaking the language of cartoons” in which the cartoon drove and furthered the plot of the narrative rather than simply showing you the plot.
After completing a 12-page sampler of his first Diary of a Wimpy Kid story, he drove down from his suburban Massachusetts home to the first ever NYCC at, you guessed it, the Javits Center… and he couldn’t get in. Thanks to his wife, a Billy Joel concert at MSG, and raw determination, he went back the following day and got in and met with Abrams Books. About a year later, the rest they say, is history. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series quickly became a worldwide phenomenon with over 200 million books in print in over 50 languages, and a third movie out in theaters now.
Probably the most interesting thing Kinney said was that he never thought of himself as a children’s author, and equated his first book to A Christmas Story (1983) or The Wonder Years, as in a story for adults looking back on childhood. Instead, he is a beloved child author and cartoonist. When time came for the Q&A kids as young as 4 and 5 raised their hands high to ask about their favorite characters, from Greg and Rowley, to Roderick and Fregley. And parents were quick to congratulate and thank Kinney for helping young kids find joy in reading.
Kinney was extremely fun too, demonstrating his drawing process on a projected tablet, and showing a slideshow of pictures that included his process (long walks and comfy chairs), his kids then and now (his oldest is now 6’2), and his bookstore “An Unlikely Story” in his hometown of Plainville, Massachusetts. He said he would take the series up to 20 books as long we keep buying them, and the crowd of screaming kids and their parents gave him no reason to think he’d have to stop any time soon. He encourages kids to never quit on their dreams, and to learn from rejections. When it was over, my only regret was that my son was home and not there with me for this.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway is available for pre-order now at Barnes and Noble and comes out in stores in November.