Author Jeff Kinney on his movie-bound 'Wimpy Kid'
"Diary of A Wimpy Kid," Jeff Kinney's series of illustrated children's books about a wise-cracking pre-teen, has sold more than 28 million copies since 2007. Not too shabby for a book that took nine years to write and was originally intended for an adult audience.
His first book in the series introduced readers to the awkward, scheming and at times misguided Greg Heffley and his amiable best friend Rowley on their first day of middle school. The painful yet comic reminders of just what kids will do to fit in, be cool and simply survive each day has been made into a film that opens in wide release Friday.
"The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary," a behind-the- scenes look at the making of the film, releases Wednesday.
Kinney, who served as a producer on the movie, spoke with Jacket Copy contributor Liesl Bradner from his home in Boston about the perils of turning his stick-figure cartoon into a living, breathing angst-ridden pre-teen.
Jacket Copy: What was your biggest concern with the book being made into a live-action movie?
Jeff Kinney: I felt like animating the movie would have been the safe way to go. I think what's exciting about bringing the story into live-action is that it adds emotional content that’s missing in the books. It's very moving on top of being funny. The audience can really become invested in the friendship between Greg and Rowley. I don’t think if you used my cartoon drawings in a film it would’ve packed that same punch.
JC: How did the movie come about?
JK: I'd been approached to do all manner of things based on the book -- puppets, an animated TV series. Film seemed like the best option. It was clear to me that Fox Studios, the producers and I were all going to be collaborators. The spirit of partnership was something we all agreed on.
JC: The books are told from a young boy's perspective, yet there is a wide crossover appeal to both genders. Why do you think that is?
JK: I think that in one sense Greg is a bit gender- neutral. He’s not too masculine or over-masculinized. He’s somebody that both boys and girls can relate to. I also think there's a little bit of a skew because more girls are readers. They’re going to come to books more naturally than boys do. I was trying not to write a book about boys so much as write a book about relationships and relatable situations.
JC: You have another book releasing later this year. What’s on the agenda for Greg?
JK: The next book is going to resolve the question of whether Greg and Rowley will still be friends. I plan on making puberty the central issue.
JC: Will we be following them all the way through high school?
JK: No -- I think Greg and Rowley are more cartoon characters than literary characters, and cartoon characters, the best ones, don’t age. That’s why I chose middle school. I wanted to have this kind of nebulous time period where you don’t know exactly what grade they are in or how old they are.
I think I'll make an artistic decision after the next book and decide whether or not I’ve still got enough in the tank to go forward. I would like to write three more books. I'd like to have a seven-book series.
JC: So you're following the standard comic-book format where characters never age?
JK: Yes, like how Charlie Brown has the first day of school every year but you never know what grade he’s in.
JC: Your books have transformed formerly reluctant readers into excited fans who anxiously await each new installment. How does that make you feel?
JK: That’s been a huge surprise to me -- I really wrote the book for adults. My publisher thought it would be better positioned as a children's series. I didn’t set out to get kids reading, but I’m happy that’s been the result. I do feel proud of that as an outcome. In another sense, if I would have tried to have written the book for kids, I likely would’ve written down to them. I don’t think it would’ve worked out as well.
I never thought for a moment I was writing for a kids audience. It was a little bit shocking to me.
-- Liesl Bradner
Upper photo: "Diary of A Wimpy Kid" cover. Credit: Amulet Books
Lower photo: Jeff Kinney. Credit: Rob McEwan