Young fans of Dav (it's pronounced "Dave" despite its missing silent "e") Pilkey arrived at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books clutching copies of the author and illustrator's books -- "Captain Underpants," "Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot," "My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish." They were treated to Pilkey's wisdom ("underwear is very powerful") and his announcement that he's working with DreamWorks Animation on a "Captain Underpants" movie. That drew huge cheers from the audience at his Saturday talk.
Pilkey's snub nose and round cheeks give him a distinct resemblance to his most famous character. But he said he identifies instead with the young protagonists of that series, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the irrepressible fourth-grade artists who accidentally turn their irritable school principal into a scantily clad superhero.
"I pretty much did things that I liked all the time," Pilkey said about his own childhood, as photographs of him as a grinning blond child flashed behind him. "And then school started."
"School had a way of wiping the smile right off my face," Pilkey said as the perky photographs gave way to one of an uneasy-looking older boy. He suffered from ADHD and dyslexia, he explained, as well as a long list of behavioral issues.
He took solace in drawing, Pilkey said, displaying examples of an early comic book, "The Adventures of Waterman," about a man who gets struck by lightning while fishing and turns into water.
Waterman met up with other superheroes from Pilkey's imagination, such as Molecule Man and Frankenfart, who "had some gastrointestinal concerns."
Although the mechanics appear slightly less fluid, the format, tone and style of these early comic book are remarkably consistent with his adult output.
"Everyone in my class loved my drawings," recalled Pilkey, showing illustrations of delighted children clustering around him. "OK ... not everyone," he added, showing a horrified teacher with a gray beehive and cat's-eye glasses. That teacher ripped up his drawing, he recalled, as well as the comic book he produced when he was banished to the hall.
"You need to grow up, young man," he said she told him. "You can't spend the rest of your life making silly books."
Pilkey's next silly book, about a police officer named Dog Man with a weakness for fetching balls, will be his 60th.
He did credit that villainous second-grade teacher with inspiring "Captain Underpants." One day she said the word "underwear," and all the students laughed. She responded, "Underwear is not funny!" The students laughed harder.
"I realized that underwear is very powerful," Pilkey said. "It makes everybody laugh."
Pilkey cultivated a familiar back-and-forth with the audience and even asked them to create sound effects for a few of his signature "Flip-o-Rama" animations.
He also disclosed some arresting personal details: He has a pet giant beetle that sits on his arm while he's drawing and sometimes tries to take his pen. He and his wife own a house in Japan, and he often works in a cave there, which he discovered while kayaking. In fact, he said, he wrote the second book in his series "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Caveman from the Future" in that cave.
"It may be the only book about cave men written in an actual cave," he proposed.
At the end of the presentation, Pilkey stood in front of a flip chart and brought some of his characters to life with a few deft strokes of a black marker, then asked if anybody in the audience could identify them.
Kids who answered correctly were called up to the stage and given a drawing, as well as a collection of signed books and gift certificates. A few children answered incorrectly. Pilkey promised that if they came up to see him afterward he would give them a "good try" reward.
The lucky children wore star-struck smiles. A few less fortunate ones in the back voiced audible complaints. There was a flutter among Pilkey's assistants, standing to the side, and a sense that all would be made right at the ensuing book signing.
Check out the Festival of Books schedule for this weekend.
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