TIME For Kids chatted with author Dav Pilkey about the newest book in the Captain Underpants series
The first new Captain Underpants book in six years has finally hit bookstore shelves! The Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers takes readers on a journey back in time with their heroes Harold and George. In the story, the two boys are about to start kindergarten, where they meet a horrible bully named Kipper Krupp. Kipper is the son of Mr. Krupp, the school principal. Since Captain Underpants will not be invented until George and Harold reach 4th grade, they have to use their own creativity to put an end to Kipper’s evil ways. TFK Kid Reporter Rylan J. Daniels chatted with Dav Pilkey in Los Angeles, California, about the author’s experiences in elementary school and how they became the source of his Captain Underpants stories.
TFK: In the Captain Underpants series, books 1 through 8, the characters who are mean to George and Harold are mostly adults. But in book 9 it’s other kids who are the bullies. Why did you decide to make that change?
PILKEY: That’s a good question. I had this story about George and Harold being bullied in the back of my mind for a long long time. But I didn’t want George and Harold to be able to snap their fingers and get Mr. Krupp to turn into Captain Underpants and help them out. I wanted them to have to use their own imaginations. So I knew it had to happen before they created Captain Underpants, which is why they go back in time. I think the best answer to your question is I don’t know why I did it. I know a lot of kids do deal with bullies. So I thought that might be a good thing to write about.
TFK: October is National Bullying Prevention Month and this is a topic that is being discussed in schools across the country. In The Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers George and Harold are victims of bullying, but they fight back by secretly playing pranks on the bullies. Is there anything you would like TFK readers to learn about bullying from this book?
PILKEY: The book doesn’t discuss bullying in a practical manner. It’s more like a funny story that happens to deal with bullying. So I don’t think there are any answers for kids who are victims of bullying. However, I was bullied a bit when I was a kid. It might be helpful to some kids to know they are not alone.
TFK: One of the most memorable things about the Captain Underpants series is the costume of the superhero. Why would a superhero wear underpants?
PILKEY: Well, it looks like superheroes are wearing underwear anyway. Underpants was a powerful word when I was a kid. I remember being in second grade and my teacher used the word underwear in class and everybody laughed. She got really mad and said, “Boys and girls, underwear is not funny.” We all laughed even harder. I decided underwear is a powerful word, so it makes a good theme for a superhero story.
TFK: Every other superhero knows their alternative identity. Why did you decide to portray Mr. Krupp as not knowing he is Captain Underpants and vice versa?
PILKEY: I wanted the kids, George and Harold, to have power in these books. I know that Captain Underpants is very powerful too. But I like the fact that they can turn him on and off with a snap of their fingers. That gives them power too. Maybe in some ways it’s a nice fantasy for kids to feel as though they are in charge.
TFK: Are the characters in the book based on people from your life? Did you know someone like Kipper the bully when you were a kid?
PILKEY: Yes, I had some Kippers in my life. I had bullies in my neighborhood who are all rolled up into Kipper. George and Harold are based on me. They are different sides of my personality.
TFK: At the end of the story, the bullies are shocked by Tippy’s trip back in time. They believe he is the Haunted Pants of Wedgie Magee. Why do they go crazy and get admitted to the Piqua Home for the Reality Challenged?
PILKEY: It all builds up to that. I wanted to take power away from the bullies and give it to George and Harold again.
TFK: The drawings in Captain Underpants are amazing. Why did you decide to use illustrations in your books?
PILKEY: When I was a kid, I was not a big fan of reading. I loved picture books. I really liked how the words and the pictures worked together. But when you get older, you can’t read picture books anymore. You have to move on to chapter books where there aren’t too many pictures. So I didn’t like reading as much when I got older. When I became a writer, I wanted to bring pictures to chapter books. I wanted to have pictures on every page because that’s what I always liked. It kept me interested. I’m writing for the kid I used to be.
TFK: When you make the books, do you first draw or write?
PILKEY: I usually start with the title. Then I draw while I’m thinking of ideas. I’ll spend a few months walking around and thinking of ideas. I’ll also sit up in my office and draw. After that process, comes the writing. The final illustrations come last.
TFK: What advice do you have for kids who want to write or draw?
PILKEY: Write and draw as much as you can. That’s how you get really good at things. If you want to play the piano, you practice over and over again. The same thing applies to writing and drawing. The more you do it, the better you get.
TFK: Have you ever considered creating any video games or maybe a Lego construction based on Captain Underpants?
PILKEY: Wow, I would love that! Do you play the Lego video games? I haven’t really considered doing that. But there’s a movie coming out in a few years based on the Captain Underpants series. I have a feeling that when the movie comes out, there will also be some video games and, I hope, a Lego version. That would be fun.
TFK: Will there be any new scenes or characters in the movie?
PILKEY: There will be a lot of surprises for the viewers and probably for me too. Writers are working on the screenplay right now. They are making everything bigger and more exciting, so it’s going to be fun.