Have fun, don’t fear failure: Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney

Aditi Amritesh
Aditi Amritesh

The Goodwill Project’s preteen reviewer Aditi Amritesh recently attended Penguin’s Annual Lecture in New Delhi by Jeff Kinney, the creator of the bestselling children’s book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It taught her that having fun is key to any creative project, she says.

During my tenure as literature reviewer with the Goodwill Project, I have had various enriching opportunities. I recently got to experience something I never thought I would—I saw Jeff Kinney in person.

For those who don’t know, Jeff Kinney is best known as the author of the world-famous and #1 New York Times bestselling children’s book series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This series is enjoyed worldwide by people of all ages for its hilarious jokes, easygoing narrative and relatable main character, Greg Heffley. Any book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series never fails to put a smile on my face.

Wimpy Kid-Jeff Kinney lecture-PenguinMr. Kinney was in Delhi this December for the Penguin Annual Lecture. The Penguin Lecture is an annual event, an inspiring and interactive talk by famous individuals like His Holiness Dalai Lama, actor Amitabh Bachchan and author Dan Brown, who delivered some of the previous lectures. This year’s lecture by Mr. Kinney was a lot of fun and very enlightening. Mr. Kinney spoke about how he got inspired to create Diary of a Wimpy Kid and his emotional journey behind it.

In college, Mr. Kinney found out that he had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). This made huge college textbooks with few illustrations hard for him to read. So, he invented a strategy where he’d start reading a passage near an illustration on a page in a book and he’d read until he reached the next illustration, which was kind of his ‘reward’ for finishing reading the section. Mr. Kinney explained that these images acted as ‘islands’ for him to ‘swim’ to, through the text. He said that he put these ‘picture islands’ in every page of his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books so it would make his books easy to read (this is also a reason why Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are so widely loved).

This resonates with my belief that illustrations do not reduce a book’s level, instead they add to its core story and visual appeal and make it easier to understand the story.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid-Jeff Kinney4-LRMr. Kinney then spoke of how he created his first comic series, Igdoof, and attempted to send its drafts to many publishers, getting rejected multiple times. Even though he doubted himself and wondered whether he was in the right profession at times, Mr. Kinney never knew that eventually he’d be an extremely popular and influential author. I learnt from Mr. Kinney’s experience that even though one might fail several times, staying determined and trying again leads to success. This reminds me of Masashi Kishimoto, author of the world-famous Naruto manga graphic novel series, who had a similar story in getting his work published.

Mr. Kinney also explained that the purpose of cartooning was to present a story in a simple and fun way. This is why he keeps the illustration in his books basic. For an aspiring graphic designer/comic artist like me, this was valuable advice. Mr. Kinney demonstrated his drawing technique to the audience. He did not use any guidelines or work in a particularly refined manner, yet his end illustrations were effective and conveyed character moods easily. The audience, largely composed of school-going children were able to easily guess the emotions of the characters.

This made me realise that when drawing something fun-looking and easy to take in like a comic strip, I should not hound perfection but be willing to let myself loose and enjoy drawing; if I didn’t have fun, the viewers of the artwork won’t either.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Kinney’s lecture and learnt a lot from it – it was a truly enriching and enjoyable experience.

I’d like to thank:

Ms. Anuradha Varma for facilitating this experience.

Mr. Neel Madhav who entertained us with spectacular magic before the lecture.

Mr. Jeff Kinney, for being amazing and inspiring.

The Goodwill Project

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