'Captain Underpants' author Dav Pilkey works in some jokes for the parents, too
Dav Pilkey writes books that appeal to kids who delight in bathroom humor. The "Captain Underpants" series has proven especially popular with young boys, while sometimes disgusting parents or older siblings.
But Pilkey, who appears at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland on Sept. 17 as a guest of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' Words & Pictures, doesn't want to alienate any potential readers.
"I really do try to get my adult audience in there as well," says Pilkey, a Cleveland native. "I love it when kids and adults read books together. As a child it was a huge moment for me when I sat down with my parents to read books together. I always put jokes in the books for adults, too."
The series features two imaginative and prank-oriented kids, Harold and George, who hypnotize their principal into believing he's the bald egg-shaped superhero Captain Underpants. An animated movie based on the books featuring the voices of Kevin Hart and Ed Helms was released earlier this year.
Pilkey came up with the concept when he was in the second grade. Because he was a distraction, his teacher made him sit in the hall outside the classroom.
"I was the class clown," he says. "I was the kid who couldn't pay attention and couldn't stay in his seat. I was a real distraction in the classroom. And sometimes when I was drawing my Captain Underpants comics, sometimes they wouldn't last very long. She would see them, I would hand them over, and they would get torn up."
Pilkey, who would be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, made the best of his isolation, continuing to refine the Captain Underpants character. Looking back, he admits that being banished to the hallway was a blessing.
"Even when I was in the classroom sometimes my teachers would move my desk away from everyone else's desk," Pilkey says. "I couldn't talk to anyone, I couldn't throw a pencil. I wanted to still remain significant, I didn't want to be the outsider. So it encouraged me to actually draw and write stories and make comics, so that when I was connected with my friends they would read my stories. Suddenly I was the writer guy, the kid who made up stories."
The first book in the series, "The Adventures of Captain Underpants," was released in 1997. Since then Pilkey has published spinoffs and other series featuring characters including the Dumb Bunnies, Dog Man, and Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot.
The "Captain Underpants" series remains popular for a few reasons. Bathroom humor, for better or worse, never goes out of style. Thus the books don't seem stale or dated. But Pilkey believes the underlying concept of the series --- the friendship between Harold and George – is what sets it apart.
"My motivation was to show there is creative friendship between these two boys," he says. "They are reading comics together, they're writing stories, and they are really showing the world that super powers are attainable. We can't fly, but we can make up stories and I think that's what kids are really responding to."
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.