A few weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to interview Diary Of A Wimpy Kid author and artist Jeff Kinney for MTV Geek. I jumped at the opportunity, but knew I’d have to do some research because, even though I had heard great things about the series, I had never read any of the Wimpy Kid books. I remembered seeing them at Marshall’s for a pretty good price, so I drove over and was able to pick up the first, third and fourth books. But, since the interview was that night and I’m not the fastest reader in the world, I only had time to read the first and fourth book. Luckily I was able to fly through the books, which are a combination of journal entries and one-panel gags from the perspective of recent middle school student Greg Heffley. Many times throughout the first book I found myself laughing out loud both because the jokes are really well crafted, but also because there were so many elements I could relate too.
The thing about Greg is that he’s kind of an arrogant jerk, but he’s still appealing because you kind of write it off as a young kid not really understanding how people or the world works. Plus, Greg has his fair share of Charlie Brown-esque moments where things just don’t work out for him, which creates a wave of disbelief at his actions followed by feeling kind of sorry for him that really keeps the books going. The specific aspects from the first volume that I could relate to revolved around Halloween. Not only do Greg and his more child-like friend Rowley have a plan to run all over town getting the best candy (we used to do that), but there’s also a scene where they plan this incredibly ellaborate haunted house with blood lakes and death traps, but can only actually make one tunnel of terror that’s not really all that scary.
You might be thinking that these books are aimed squarely at kids or, more specifically, geeky kids, but the great thing about Greg is that he doesn’t know that he’s maybe a little weird. He thinks he’s a cool kid who just hasn’t had the chance to show the world (which, to him, is his school and immediate family) everything he can do. There’s something to respect about that. The book also works for adults because, as Kinney told me in the interview, it was actually originally intended for adults and was changed to be aimed at kids towards the end of the process. From a writing level, even though it’s from Greg’s perspective, there’s a lot of humor to be found in Greg’s vision of the world compared to the real world we know as adults. I would imagine there’s plenty in there for kids to relate to, but the jokes often work on multiple levels.
After reading the first and fourth books, I wanted to continue with the series, but couldn’t find the second book on the cheap until the weekend before last when I stumbled upon it. Soon after, I found myself reading 2, 3 and eventually 5 which I was sent a review copy of after doing the interview. I really can’t recommend these books enough to younger and older readers alike. From Greg’s relationship with his parents and his family to his disdain for most of his fellow classmates and middle school in general, there’s really something here for everyone in a very broad sense. I also think that if you grew up in the 70s and 80s, there’s a lot going on here that you can related to. I remember going over to my friend’s house because he always got new video games while I usually waited for the price to go down. I remember going to church and hoping certain girls I didn’t even know would be there just because they were pretty. I remember making up comic strips with stupid jokes and games that could have resulted in some pretty serious injury but thankfully never did. I remember being terrified of teenagers for no real reason. I remember wondering what my first boy/girl party would be like. I might not have been as much of a jerk as Greg (that might depend on which of my grade school classmates you ask, there was a time where I wasn’t the nicest person around) and wasn’t as outgoing as him, but these books were just packed with moments I found myself grinning and full-on laughing at.
The only negative aspect of the books I can see is that kids today might not be able to relate to them as much as I do. I say this knowing that most of the books have ended up on the New York Times Bestseller List, been turned into two major motion pictures and spawned a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this year, but the way the kids act sometimes reminds me more of my childhood than the one of seen of the younger generation. Do parents still let their kids run around by themselves on Halloween? Do kids still run around their neighborhoods playing games? Do schools still do lock ins? I honestly don’t know, though I’ll be personally dining out in a few years. I hope I’m completely wrong about this, but I have my suspicions.
Talking to Kinney was a lot of fun. He turned out to be a really down to earth guy who seemed to not believe how well he’d done since the 2007 premiere of Wimpy Kid. He actually turned the questions around on me when I mentioned that I journaled from 7th grade all the way to the early days of college where I eventually ran out of time. I’ve been thinking about starting it back up, but Kinney mentioned something interesting, saying that you wind up spending more time writing about life than living it. Either way, I love the books and hope to pass them along to a younger read to borrow. I think they’d be a pretty good gateway into comics for a lot of kids and also potentially a way to get them writing in a diary or journal. Anyway, if you see the books around, do give them a shot, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.