Young adult and intermediate literature are often made up of characters who grow as their stories progress. But highly acclaimed Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney insists that his main character, Greg Heffley will stay in middle school forever. Jeff’s style is one that mixes comics into a chapter book format, and it’s this quality that’s inspired lots of 10-year-olds to pick up a book. Greg’s relatable antics are more comical than literary, which is something that Jeff is quick to point out because of his penchant for jokes.
The author was in Manila recently to promote the 11th book in the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down. We got to sit down with Jeff to talk about the comic-chapter book hybrid and the difference between comic characters and literary characters.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney confesses that the series was originally meant to sit in the humor section of the bookstore, not the kids section.
Hi Jeff! You just got back from India, right? How’s touring been so far?
It’s been really amazing. I would say it feels very life changing. It feels like this is seeping into my bones in a way. I started doing a world tour last year, and it changed me I think because I could see that the work that I was doing was reaching kids from cultures that are very different from mine. This is about as far as I’ve ever come to the Philippines, so it’s very interesting, very edifying.
You’ve mentioned that the book was meant for adults but your publisher told you that it was actually a children’s book. How did that affect your writing or the way you edited it?
I really didn’t change a word, actually. I just thought that I was writing something that was nostalgic, something that would remind an adult what it was really like to be a kid. And I worked on it for eight years thinking that it was something that would sit in the humor section of the bookstore, not the kids section. In fact, I didn’t really know much about the kids section at all, and my publisher told me that I wrote something that they thought would work as a kids series, and that was a really big surprise to me.
Greg’s voice is very genuine. He’s not the usual YA hero who thinks and speaks like an adult — he speaks like he’s really his age. How do you think his voice has evolved over the course of the series?
I’m not sure that Greg’s voice has developed over the years. I try not to make it change. I think one of the fun things about a cartoon character versus a literary character is that a cartoon character stays the same, they stay really constant. So I’m always striving to make Greg look the same and act the same even if the circumstances really change.
Double down: Jeff treats Diary of a Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley as a cartoon character more than a literary one.
Up to when do you plan to keep him?
I’m going to keep him in middle school forever. I think he’s like Charlie Brown where he would have a first day of school every year, but you never really think too hard about things like “Shouldn’t he have graduated by now?”
There’s a stigma associated with comics, like “Oh, they’re not a literary art form. But I love how this is a chapter book form. Especially with this—it’s a bridge of both. It hasn’t been done before.
I tried for a few years to become a newspaper cartoonist but I didn’t break in and I couldn’t become successful. I wanted to take the art of cartooning and come up with a different format, so I came up with this idea of a hybrid between a book and cartoons. I don’t really consider these as works of literature, I think of them as long form cartooning. So I think it’s something different altogether. And I didn’t think it would work, but it has.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a conclusion that’s kind of reflective. Like, Greg kind of reflects on what happened throughout the course of the book. Do you come up with that after putting all the jokes together?
In my Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, I’m not actually that interested in imparting a moral lesson —I’m trying to write humor, so usually if you add a moral lesson, that kind of spoils the fun a little bit. So I’m also trying to think cinematically and I’m trying to think about what is emotionally satisfying, so I’m always looking for that line and sometimes I’m good at it, and sometimes I’m not.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down is available in all National Book Store branches nationwide.