When the Wimpy Kid Man Was in Town

 

New Delhi, 6 December, 2016 – Penguin Random House India hosted the tenth edition of its iconic publishing brand event, The Penguin Annual Lecture, with Jeff Kinney delivering the lecture. Jeff Kinney is New York Times bestselling author and a six-time Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award winner for Favorite Book. He is the author of the popular series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which has won him two Children’s Choice Book Awards earlier this year.

With roars and laughter, and the occasional screaming of Zoo-Wee-Mama, Jeff was welcomed to the stage. This was Jeff’s first visit to India – a land of many myths and legends, he mentioned – “and greatly honored to be part of the prestigious Penguin Annual Lecture”. He began the lecture by talking about books and how it shaped him.

“I grew up in a home with lot of books and I loved reading. Books though were handed down to me from my siblings and I read what I got. It was not until 1982 that a bookshop opened near my home. It was only then that I grew a taste of my kind of books which then had gone on to included fantasy – the dungeons and dragons sort. I also loved comics – Calvin and Hobbes and Farside. The Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories are the best stories that I’ve ever read, in any medium.”

Jeff admitted that it was in college that he stopped reading for pleasure. He had dropped out of computer science course and was trying his luck again with criminal justice when he was diagnosed with Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD) which made things increasingly difficult. Textbooks had soon become hard to read and if it was not for the tiny occasional illustrations which Jeff calls “islands of fun” things would have been a lot different, Jeff recalled.

He was interested in cartooning as a career. He started off his career by getting himself a copy of ‘How to Draw and Sell Comics’. It took him four months to create a submission package which he actively sent out but was often met with a rejection letter and no feedback whatsoever. After three years and many trials and errors, Jeff figured that he was a pretty good comic-writer and a burning cartoonist but not a skilled illustrator. He decided then to write and draw as a kid. Jeff was 28 years old then.

He filled a sketch book with his observations – funny things that a kid would notice. During this time, he did not read many books fearing that they would influence his work with the exception of Harry Potter series by JK Rowling who he considers to be the best storyteller of our generation. The phenomenal success of Harry Potter though concerned him as Greg, his creation, was everything that Harry Potter was not. He worried that Greg would not be liked as much as Harry Potter.

Jeff took his time with his wok and was not willing to put it out there until he knew for certain that it was ready. The whole endeavor took him eight years – from beginning to end. There were a couple of things that he did differently. One was to have in place the old “islands of fun” back into his books and the second was to ensure that Greg remained the same. He spent an entire year reworking the character to get the perfect form.

Mid-way into the lecture, he stopped to do a quick drawing session by getting Greg’s face to do different emotions with the only the addition of few stokes of lines. “I used to use pencil, paper and ink like most cartoonists, but eventually, the technology caught up where a person could draw on the screen but still have it look like a human being drew the lines. That was the moment that I jumped over.”

It was at the New York Comic Con that he met his editor and since then it had been a magical ride. Kids find a connection with Greg and it’s not just Greg’s story that Jeff is writing about but the entire childhood itself. Greg is a blank canvas, Jeff mentioned. He is a template for a kid, and you can project yourself onto him. The fact that it’s all written in the first person allows you to relate to him better, too. But hopefully the reason that the books have worked out is because of the humor in the writing.

“My job is to bring joy to children. A book is sacred object and the act of giving a book to a child is a sacred act. I take great pleasure in that.”

Jeff Kinney’s visit to India to deliver the Penguin Annual Lecture is part of Penguin Random House India’s initiative to focus on readers and the joy of reading and augments its commitment to connect talented minds with the Indian audience.

 

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