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Transcript of e-mail interview with Dav Pilkey, author, 'Captain Underpants' series
Q: How old were you when you first doodled a proto-Captain Underpants?
Pilkey: Around 8, I think. I created Captain Underpants when I was in the second grade. I was constantly getting in trouble for being the class clown, so my teacher sent me out into the hallway to punish me. It was there in the hall that I began drawing Captain Underpants. Soon I was making my own comic books about him.
Q: Did your teachers encourage this pursuit? How about your parents?
Pilkey: My teacher wasn't too fond of the Captain. One day she ripped up one of my comics and told me I'd better grow up because I couldn't spend the rest of my days making silly books. My parents were MUCH more supportive, though they honestly didn't care for the bathroom humor too much. They're still a little embarrassed by it.
Q: Why Captain UNDERPANTS?
Pilkey: Because "Captain Naked" would have been too naughty.
Q: How did you first come to know that kids responded to a mere mention of the name of Captain Underpants?
Pilkey: Actually, my teacher gave me the inspiration. One day she happened to use the word "underpants" in class, and everybody laughed. She got mad and said "Underwear is NOT FUNNY!" This only made us laugh harder. At that moment, I discovered that underwear was a powerful thing: not only could it make my friends laugh, but it could make my teacher very angry. What fun!
Q: Were you, as a boy, rather like George and Harold?
Pilkey: I was just like George and Harold. Harold is a little more introverted than George, and it's hard to say who I was more like. I guess it just depended on the circumstance.
Q: George and Harold are "behaviorally challenged" -- in fact, their guidance counselor suspects they suffer from attention deficit disorder. Did you have -- do you have -- A.D.D.?
Pilkey: Yes. I had A.D.D. I had a lot of trouble, um...what was the question again?
Q: Are the rather sorry lot of grown-ups in the books based on any actual grown-ups? You may wish to consult with an attorney before you answer.
Pilkey: I guess I should probably say "no comment."
Q: The gym teacher in the stories is named Mr. Meaner. Just how much did you hate gym class as a kid?
Pilkey: I still wake up screaming.
Q: Do you write these "epic novels" with readers of any particular age or gender in mind? Do you, for example, consciously write for kids who are of the age when just hearing a word like "pantyhose" makes them choke with laughter?
Pilkey: Actually, I write these books to make my girlfriend laugh. She's always the first one to read the stories.
Q: You've created a kind of anti-pantheon of nemeses and villains: Dr. Diaper, the Talking Toilets, the alien cafeteria ladies, the Dandelion of Doom, and of course, Professor Poopypants. What are the key characteristics of a good bad guy?
Pilkey: World domination should be a goal...and a funny name doesn't hurt.
Q: Was there any particular inspiration for the 'name game' in Book 4, "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants"? Did the other kids make fun of your last name when you were a kid?
Pilkey: Oh yeah. Like most kids, I was teased constantly. There are lots of 34-year-olds out there who will always remember me as "David Puke-ey."
Q: Why so much "potty" humor in these books?
Pilkey: I don't know...because it still cracks me up, I guess.
Q: What do you say to parents who complain that your books encourage crude, bathroom humor?
Pilkey: I don't say anything to them. I just stick out my tongue and make rude noises.
Q: What about another parental complaint: That your books encourage kids to be disrespectful -- that Captain Underpants turns kids into smarty-pants?
Pilkey: For that one, I usually just cup my left hand into my right armpit and pump my right arm up and down, creating a lovely flatulence noise.
Q: And the final, perhaps most serious criticism: That the books give kids ideas for "acting out" -- disrupting class, vandalizing school property?
Pilkey: Grown-ups do a lot of complaining! To be serious, I almost never hear complaints like that. I get thousands of letters each year from teachers and librarians who use these books. The thing I hear over and over again is how grateful educators are that these books have turned their kids on to reading. They usually tell me how the books have gotten even their most reluctant readers excited about reading. Some kids who never read a book before are finishing these books all by themselves. That's pretty cool.
Q: All four Captain Underpants books are a near-even mix of text and illustration. How important is that to their 'readability'?
Pilkey: I had a lot of reading problems growing up. It used to take me forever to read and comprehend stuff, so I decided not to make the Captain Underpants books TOO challenging. Don't get me wrong -- the humor and ideas are often sophisticated -- but the books aren't hard to read. I wanted kids who hate reading to find these books irresistible.
Q: Many of the joking asides in the books ARE fairly sophisticated -- from references to Miss Anthrope, the principal's secretary, to knowing remarks about suspension of disbelief. Do kids get these jokes? Does it matter if they don't?
Pilkey: I've learned early on to never underestimate the sense of humor of a kid. But does it matter if the joke flies over a kid's head? No. As long as my girlfriend thinks it's funny, it stays.
Q: Each book contains one of George and Harold's comic books -- crudely drawn and full of misspellings --
Pilkey: The comics within the books are written and illustrated by two fourth graders. It wouldn't be realistic if they used perfect grammar, punctuation and spelling would it?
Q: Have you ever heard of kids searching through the books, and making a game of finding the misspelled words? That's what my 8-year-old nephew did.
Pilkey: Sounds like your nephew needs a hobby.
Q: Another feature in each book is the Flip-O-Rama. What inspired that?
Pilkey: I used to make Flip-O-Ramas with my friends when I was back in school We called them "Flip Actions" back then. I always thought it'd be funny to try and put them in a book. My hope is that kids all across the world will start making Flip-O-Ramas themselves. Hey, that might be a good hobby for your nephew!
Q: I noticed some fairly challenging vocabulary in the books. Do you make a special effort to salt the stories with "Increase Your Word Power" words?
Pilkey: Not really.
Q: And speaking of what you do and don't imbed in these books, is there a 'moral to the story' in Captain Underpants adventures? Do you make an effort to teach any life lessons -- such as "read the directions on 3-D Hypno-Rings and other things you might use"?
Pilkey: No, I try not to bog the books down with didacticism. But I do feel that there's an underlying goodness and morality to each book. George and Harold may be mischievous, but they're also kind, brave, and good-hearted boys.
Q: Near the close here, can you confirm a few previously-published facts about yourself? That your first name is pronounced like "Dave" but spelled without the 'e'?
Pilkey: Yes. I got the name back in 1986 when I was a waiter at Pizza Hut. They tried to make a name tag for me, but the label maker wasn't working properly. Instead of printing "Dave," it printed "Dav." The name stuck.
Q: Can you confirm that you live in the Seattle area?
Q: That you live with a little dog named Little Dog?
Q: That you are not in fact a real person, but a 'composite' personality, concocted by an especially clever group of 4th graders who live in the Seattle area and don't know how to spell "Dave"?
Pilkey: No comment.
Q: So then why DO you agree to do interviews only via e-mail?
Pilkey: I just have a bad habit of saying dumb stuff when I give live interviews. Plus, with e-mail, I can let my publicist answer all of these questions for me. You don't really believe this is ME, do you?
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