Dav Pilkey takes us behind the creation of Captain Underpants. The latest book in the series, Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000, is out on August 26.
Which characters from your books are the most similar to you? George and Harold are both based on me when I was in elementary school. Like George and Harold, I was always getting in trouble with one authority figure or another when I was a kid. My troubles usually came from trying to entertain the classroom (with either my comics or my silly behavior). But unlike George and Harold, I don’t think I actually saved the world very often (maybe just once or twice).
Did you like to read as a kid? Actually, no. I had a lot of reading problems when I was a kid. I still remember feeling dumb because I couldn’t read very well, and I’ll never forget the torture of having to look through hundreds of library books trying to find one that seemed interesting to me. I usually settled on a book that had lots of pictures (more pictures equaled less text), and short chapters (I was such a slow reader and would often feel discouraged when I’d spend an hour suffering through a book without even finishing a whole chapter). When I began writing the Captain Underpants series, I tailor-made these books to suit all of my childhood “requirements”:
1) They had to be funny.
2) They had to have either robots or monsters in them (preferably both).
3) They had to have tons of illustrations (I made sure there was at least one on every page).
4) They had to have short chapters (many of them are only one or two pages long).
5) They had to be at least 100 pages long so they would qualify for book reports.
What inspires you the most? I think most of the stories are inspired by memories from my childhood—by the feelings of helplessness and frustration I felt (and I’m sure most kids feel) when I was constantly surrounded by adults who were either mean, dumb, or unfair (and sometimes all three). “Kid empowerment” is a very strong theme in my books.
What inspired you to write about Captain Underpants? He was a character I created in 1974 when I was in the second grade. I got in trouble constantly for making Captain Underpants comic books at school and disrupting the classroom with them. One teacher, after angrily ripping up one of my comic books, told me I’d better start taking my studies more seriously because I couldn’t spend the rest of my life making silly books!
What was your favorite book or author as a child? A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer and P. D. Eastman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Georgie and the Robbers by Robert Bright. Those were the books I remember reading over and over, and I would often grab a stack of paper and try to draw the characters.
The book that influenced me the most as a child was The Children in the Jungle by Leif Krantz and Ulf Lofgren. It’s been out of print for a long time, but this book had a direct influence on many of my books, from When Cats Dream to The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future. There’s even a three-word sentence from The Children in the Jungle that I have used in every Captain Underpants epic novel.
What children’ books writers have inspired you as an adult? As an adult, I fell in love with the books of James Marshall (George and Martha) and Arnold Lobel (Frog and Toad). I owe so much to the influence of these two wonderful artists and their gentle humor.