Jeff Kinney Isn't Kidding About How 'Wimpy Kid' Came to Life

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 2009; Page C01

"Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!" the boy says. The famous author just keeps smiling.

And why the heck would Jeff Kinney be doing anything else?

Three years ago, Kinney was a failed cartoonist who couldn't get in the door at a comics convention. Literally. When he arrived at New York Comic Con -- where he was hoping to show off a sample of the half-cartoon, half-prose opus he had worked on for eight years -- he discovered that the convention was sold out.

Giving up and going home was an option he seriously considered.

Now he's sitting in the Fairfax Borders on a Saturday afternoon, slapping hands with fourth-grader Brian Cheng ("Awesome!") and basking in the adulation of hundreds of other young fans. Kinney will spend a happy couple of hours signing their newly purchased copies of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules," a "Wimpy Kid" do-it-yourself book and the latest in the series, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw."

There are now more than 11 million "Wimpy Kid" books in print, Kinney's publisher, Harry N. Abrams, reports.

None would likely exist if Kinney hadn't persevered that weekend in February 2006.

Parents, librarians and teachers wouldn't be lauding his work as a magic bullet for reluctant readers. He would have no contract for books four and five. Twentieth Century Fox wouldn't be auditioning kids 10-13 for the role of main character Greg Heffley in a live-action film. (Are you "slight and skinny, physically unprepossessing, not overly cute or precious, with a quirky, memorable face"? Check out

The "Wimpy Kid" saga, already congealing into myth, is full of such unlikely turning points. There's what Kinney calls the "accident" that got him started cartooning two decades ago. An inspirational billboard message plays a part. So does a Billy Joel concert.

But here's the most unlikely thing by far:

Throughout those eight years before Comic Con, as Kinney was creating what would become one of the most successful kids series ever published, he thought he was writing for adults.

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