Interview With Dav Pilkey: ‘Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot’

Image: Scholastic Inc.
Image: Scholastic Inc.

I love it when a book intended for kids can make me laugh. And not just with words like “poop.” Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series is actually quite hilarious. If you’ve never picked one of them up, give it a try. It’s not all bathroom humor. Dav walks the line perfectly between stories that appeal to kids and hidden humor that appeals to adults.

It’s not the use of “potty mouth” words that makes these books funny. It’s the whole combination of how he uses these types of words in the context of a fun story. But mostly it’s just Dav’s personality that shines through. He is hilarious, and spends a great deal of time poking fun at grown-ups who have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid, or who have forgotten how to be a kid. If you never forget, you never truly grow old.

Any of the books in the Captain Underpants series are also good for getting reluctant readers reading. With sometimes-off-limits words such as “fart,” you can get your kids giggling. If they read the books out loud to you, you can giggle together.

Now there’s a new Captain Underpants book coming out later this month called Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot. Dav sent my son an advance copy of the book, which I enjoyed almost as much as he did. It was a quick read, and is a superb next book in the series. The beginning of the book gives a brief summary of what came before, so don’t worry if you read this book without reading others, or if you read them in the wrong order. Dav’s got your back, and will get you up to speed.

As always, the book includes occasional references that only grown-ups will get. Chapter titles, plays on words, and commentaries on current society make these books much richer than they may first appear. After all, all the best stuff for kids has extra elements for adults (like The Muppet Show did).

The book reads a bit like a story that a child would have made up, but with many layers of humor and fantastic, varied art. Fun for all ages, I say.

Dav Pilkey is a warm, generous guy who definitely comes off as a real person–not a stuffy author who lives in his ivory tower. I was excited to talk to him, and he seemed just as excited to talk to me.

GeekMom Jenny: We see book after book out of you, and they continue to be really amusing and original, so how do you manage to continue channeling your inner 12-year-old boy?

Dav Pilkey: Oh, thank you, first of all. I dunno. I think there’s a part of me that just never grew up. I mean, I think, certainly my sense of humor has evolved to welcome new things. But there’s still part of me that still thinks that toilets and boogers and underwear is hilarious. And I think it’s funny that kids think it’s funny. And I also think it’s funny that there are some adults who do not think it’s funny. I mean, I don’t know why I find that hilarious, but I guess I still do.

GMJ: Well, some people just grow up a little too soon, I guess.

DP: Yeah, yeah.

GMJ: So, tell us about the new book that you’ve got. What original hilarity does cover?

DP: Well, the new book, this time the villain is the Gym teacher. His name is Mr. Meaner. And, through a series of accidents, he actually becomes smart, and decides that he’s gonna take over the world by basically taking over the minds of children. And turns children all over the world into his obedient slaves. So, it’s up to George and Harold to stop this horrible stuff from happening. And because all the children are basically turning into these wonderful subservient slaves, that adults kind of like, they have to find two adults that they can trust, and so they have to go to the future, and find their future selves to help them solve this dilemma.

GMJ: My son’s favorite parts of the books are the comic books that George and Harold make and put together. So what are your favorite parts of the books when you are writing them? What are your favorite features to write?

DP: Well, I probably would have to agree with [your son]. I love the comic books by George and Harold, and I love them so much that I actually have done some spinoffs that are just basically all comics. And, I think of all the books that I’ve done, those are my favorite. For some reason it seems like, I don’t know if this is gonna sound weird, but it doesn’t seem like I make those books. It really does seem like they are made by somebody else. And if I open up my own books, and look at them, I get very critical. I think, “Oh, why’d I draw it this way?,” or, “I should have written this differently.” But, for some reason, with the books that George and Harold do, when I look at them, I like them much better. Even though there are mistakes in the books, they don’t bother me. I really enjoy the writing, and the drawing, much better than my own.

GMJ: What is your creative or productive routine? What’s your normal day like? How do you go about writing the books?

DP: Um, my normal day, when it comes to writing, usually I do all my writing in the mornings. That’s when I feel like, the most… I don’t know. As soon as I get up, I’m still maybe in a little bit of a dream-like state, and so I just grab my laptop, and I’ll type out a chapter or two. It comes out a lot easier in the morning. And that usually takes an hour or two to get a chapter to where I’m happy with. And then once the book is written, it takes about four to six months to do the illustrations. And that’s kind of like, just wake up in the morning, and just start hammering it out. And those will often be very long days. Like twelve hour to fourteen hour working days, where I’m just kind of holed up in my studio. Not very exciting, I’m afraid, but that’s the way it goes.

GMJ: So you do all the writing, and then you go back and do the illustrating?

DP: Yeah, the writing always comes first. Um, sometimes, when I’m writing, I’ll draw little sketches, if I get like a visual gag, or something, some visual idea, I’ll just kind of do a quick sketch. But mostly, the writing comes first, and then the illustrations.

GMJ: Have you ever run a plot idea past children to gauge their interest before making it into a book?

DP: Not to my knowledge. I don’t think I have. I don’t have any young kids in my life right now, but, when my nephews and my niece were young, I don’t think I actually did that. I think I just did the books, and showed it to them. And I was fortunate enough that they liked the books.

GMJ: Why is Captain Underpants’s secret identity, as a school principal, sort of a villain? Why is it a villain who ends up becoming Captain Underpants?

DP: I think the duality of his character is interesting. Especially how sometimes, it kinda shows that there’s good in all of us, but, also, a lot of the character of Mr. Krupp is based on my own childhood. I had a really awful, awful principal, who was always mean, and especially mean to me. And so in a way, I’m kind of re-writing my childhood, and trying to put a positive spin on it.

GMJ: Sort of tying into that, since you began the Captain Underpants universe when you were a student yourself, what words of inspiration do you have for kids who are wanting to create their own stories, or books, or comics?

DP: Well, I would say the most important thing is to actually do it, and keep doing it, you know, over and over again. You really need to work at it, as much as you can. Every time you make a new comic, you’re gonna learn from the last one that you made, and you’ll get better and better. And I think it’s important to have fun with it, and not worry about making mistakes. A lot of time, I see children will be so concerned about getting everything spelled right, or drawing everything correctly, or trying to emulate an author or illustrator that they really like, they get caught up in trying to be perfect, too much. And I think you just have to go with it. You have to not worry so much about perfection. It’s more important to be creative than to be perfect.

GMJ: You used to write under a female pseudonym. How was it different writing as a “female author?”

DP: Hm. I’m not sure. Sometimes I don’t put a whole lot of thought into the things that I do. Writing under the name Sue Denim, is that what you’re referring to?

GMJ: Yes.

DP: Yeah, you know, I just don’t really think I put too much thought into actually being a female character. I was really more focusing on the joke that Sue Denim sounds like pseudonym.

GMJ: Are there any plans to write books that are similar to the Dogzilla and Kat Kong books in the future?

DP: I currently don’t have any plans to do that. Although, you just never know where inspiration, when it’s going to hit, and where it’s going to lead to, but, as of this moment, I don’t have any kind of plans for those.

GMJ: Is there anything else you’d like to plug, any other projects you’re working on?

DP: Well, [your son] will be happy to know that I’m doing a new graphic novel spin off by George and Harold called, The Adventures of Dogman, which will be coming out next year. It’s a story about a police officer and a police dog who get into an accident. And in order to survive, they have to be joined together. So the dog’s head is put on the man’s body, and he becomes one. He constantly has to battle against his canine nature in order to be a better man. It’s kind of done in the style of Super Diaper Baby and Ook and Gluk.

Don’t miss Dav Pilkey’s latest Captain Underpants book, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, coming out August 25.

Note: Dav sent my son a copy of the book for review.

Jenny Bristol is an Editor at GeekDad and a founding Director at GeekMom. She is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, losing herself in history, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.