The author/illustrator was interviewed by Scholastic students.
We noticed that you write about animals a lot. Do you like animals?
I guess I do write about animals a lot. This is probably because I like animals so much. Plus, I think it's very easy for people to relate to animals. It doesn't matter what language you speak, or what race or religion you are — anybody can identify with a dog, or a cat, or a mouse, or even a dragon. Animals are universal!
What's your favorite book that you have written?
I have lots of favorite books that I have written. It changes depending on my mood. If I'm in a quiet, thoughtful mood, my favorite book is When Cats Dream. If I'm in a silly mood, I always go for The Dumb Bunnies books, Dogzilla, and Dog Breath. If I'm feeling sad, I like god bless the gargoyles — it always cheers me up. The Dragon books are favorites of mine no matter what mood I'm in. But if I had to choose an all-time favorite, it would have to be The Adventures of Captain Underpants. It's the one book of mine that I've actually read the most (at least 15 times) and it still makes me laugh. I think my funny books are my favorites, because I like to laugh so much.
Would you and Cyndi Rylant ever write and illustrate a book together?
Cyndi Rylant and I have talked about doing books together from time to time, but we don't have any plans to do so right now. Cyndi has recently begun painting her own books. (If you have not seen Dog Heaven, Cat Heaven, The Bookshop Dog, or The Whales, you should drop everything and run screaming to your local library or bookstore and read them immediately! They're wonderful!) Anyway, Cyndi enjoys painting so much that I don't know if she'll ever let me paint any of her stories. I think she may want to paint them all herself. Actually, I hope she does, because she's SO GOOD!!!
Where did you get your ideas for your characters?
The ideas for my characters mostly come from real life. The dog in Dog Breath was inspired by a dog I had as a kid. Her name was Halle and she had the world's stinkiest breath! The principal in The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Mr. Krupp, was based on two different principals I had as a kid. They were really mean and they hated me! I think every character I've ever come up with has been based on someone or something I've known.
How do you come up with ideas for your books?
Usually, I start by daydreaming. I just stare off into space and think my thoughts. I used to get in trouble for doing that in school, but now it's part of my job! Often I start by thinking of a funny title. Some of my books, like 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving, The Hallo-Wiener, and The Silly Gooses, just started out as silly titles. I wrote the stories later. Sometimes I get ideas from dreams. Two of my books, When Cats Dream and The Moonglow Roll-O-Rama, came to me in my dreams. I keep a journal by my bed and when I have an interesting or funny dream, I write it down so I don't forget it. I've even gotten some of the jokes in the Dumb Bunnies' books from dreams. The rest of my ideas come from actual experiences I've had. The Paperboy came from actually being a paperboy and knowing the paperboy who delivered papers in our neighborhood. Dog Breath came from having a dog who had really bad breath. Kat Kong and Dogzilla were also inspired by my pets and my love for King Kong and Godzilla movies. It's easy to think up books. All you need is a title, dreams, experience, and most important, time to daydream!
How did you get the idea for Captain Underpants?
I got the idea for Captain Underpants when I was a second grader at St. John's Lutheran School in Elyria, Ohio. My teacher used the word "underpants" in class one day and everybody started laughing. She got mad and told us that underwear was not funny. We all laughed harder. Usually when the class cracked up, it was because of something I had said or done. But our teacher had never made everybody laugh so hard before. I realized then that the word "underpants" was a very funny word. On the school bus home that day, I was making up a story about underwear and some younger kids in the seat behind me were laughing so hard, they almost fell on the floor. The next day, while sitting in the hallway — I spent lots of time in the hallway because I often misbehaved in class — I invented a superhero named Captain Underpants.
When I got older, I wanted to make a book about Captain Underpants. At first, I tried to write it as a comic book, but nobody would publish it. After a few years, I decided to make the book more about my own experiences as a class clown, who made comic books in his spare time. I wrote the characters of George and Harold, who are very much like I was as a kid, and Mr. Krupp, who is a combination of two different principals I had growing up. So the books are (more or less) based on my childhood experiences of pulling pranks, cracking jokes, and making comic books. I never turned my principal into a superhero, though. Only George and Harold could get away with something like that!
What inspired you to become an author?
I was inspired to become an author by my freshman English professor at Kent State University in 1984. She told me I was a good writer, and she loved all the silly pictures I drew in my notebook. She said I should try writing children's books, and so I did. You can read all about it in a comic book I made on my Web site.
What gave you the idea for Dog Breath?
I got the idea for Dog Breath from my dad and from my pet dog, Halle. When I was growing up, we had a dog named Hally, who had the world's stinkiest breath! My dad used to call her "Halle Tosis," but I never understood his joke until I was much older. You see, "Hally Tosis" sounds a lot like the word halitosis, which is a medical term for "bad breath." So I borrowed my dad's corny joke, and added a few corny jokes of my own, and came up with a story about a very good dog with very bad breath!
Do you have a workroom and/or studio?
I used to have a workroom at my home, but I found it difficult to separate my life and my work when I "lived in my office." So I began renting an apartment across town for my work. It's a beautiful little place right on the Wilamette River. The constant sound of the running river is really inspirational. Plus, they allow pets here, so I can bring my dog to work with me every day. It's worked out really well for us.
Do you laugh at your book ideas?
Yes. It's kind of embarrassing, but I do often laugh at my own book ideas. Sometimes when I'm walking my dog down the street, or strolling through the city, I'll think of an idea for a story and just start cracking up right there! People must think I'm a nut!
Do you have any plans to make movies or video games of your stories?
So far, there aren't any movies in the works. There's a Dumb Bunnies TV show on Saturday mornings on CBS. If the show is a success, they will probably make Dumb Bunnies video games (I think that would be pretty cool!) There may be a Captain Underpants TV show (or animated movie) in the near future. The company that is producing the Dumb Bunnies television show, Nelvana Communications, has just bought the rights to Captain Underpants. That TV show probably won't start for a couple of years, though.
Do you have any other pets besides dogs?
Technically, I only have one dog. Her name is Little Dog and she's a dachshund Ñ a wiener dog. All my other pets live with my girlfriend, Cyndi. She lives down the street from me, and she has several dogs and cats, including Leia from Dogzilla and Blueberry from Kat Kong. I think she has several photos of our pets in her photo gallery. I used to have a bunch of pet mice, including Rabies, Flash, and Dwayne. They appeared in Kat Kong and Dogzilla. They were very good pets and Rabies even had babies. Unfortunately, I had to give them all away when I moved across the country a few years ago. They were adopted by a very nice family in Ohio. If you want, you can visit Little Dog's page on my Web site and learn more about her.
I was wondering, what do you dream about when you sleep? Do your book characters ever appear in your dreams? Do your dreams help you come up with new material for future books?
I don't always dream about the same thing, but there are sometimes common themes. Often I am back in school. (I had a really hard time in high school... maybe I still have some things to work out in my dreams.) Other times I dream about a cottage that my family and I used to vacation during the summertime (very happy dreams). Then there are the silly giant monster dreams.... I think I get these from watching Japanese monster movies right before bedtime, which I often do.... I'm a huge Godzilla fan!
During the past decade, I have been experimenting with "lucid dreaming." This is when you suddenly realize that you are dreaming while you are still dreaming. With practice, you can develop skills in the dream world by manipulating your dream environment, seeking "gifts" or "advice" from dream characters, and interacting with just about anything or anyone you can imagine. Usually in these dreams, I fly. Sometimes I ask dream characters for story ideas (though that doesn't always work out too well). Lucid dreaming is a wonderful (and often very spiritual) experience... and it's really fun, too! If you're interested, there are lots of books on the subject.
P.S. My book characters do not usually appear in my dreams, but I have written two books, When Cats Dream and The Moonglow Roll-O-Rama, that were directly inspired by dreams.
What is your favorite food?
My favorite foods are:
What is your favorite comic book? Can you give me any tips on drawing comics?
- Bubble gum
- French fries
- Banana splits
- Boo-Berry cereal
- Franken-Berry cereal
- Peanut brittle
- Corn dogs
I don't read a lot of comic books, but my favorite ones are the Sam and Max comics. They're pretty funny. I also like really old comics, like the Krazy Kat comics by George Herriman and the Nancy comics by Ernie Bushmiller.
If you're looking for tips on drawing comics, probably the best place to start is your local public library. I used to get books about creating comic art when I was a kid, and they taught me a lot! Good luck with your drawings!
How did you get the idea for The Dumb Bunnies series?
The Dumb Bunnies series was inspired by a series of children's books about a family called The Stupids. These books are among my all-time favorite children's books. I love their zany humor, and I always wanted to do a series of original books that had the same off-the-wall silliness.
What kinds of pictures did you draw when you were in school?
I drew a lot of monster pictures when I was in school — I always loved monster movies, and still do! My favorite monsters to draw were giant apes like King Kong, werewolves, and Godzilla, Gamera, and Ghidorah. I also liked drawing superheroes, but I usually made up my own superhero guys. They included Captain Underpants, whom we all know; Water Man, who was made out of water and could evaporate and turn to ice at will; Dog Man, who was half man and half dog — his own best friend!; Molecule Man, who could shrink down to whatever size he wanted; and several others. Plus, sometimes I liked to draw my teachers. These were not usually very flattering pictures!
What are your goals for the future?
In the future, I would like to be doing pretty much the same thing I'm doing now. I guess I'd just like to relax more, be healthier, and be happier. (I'm pretty happy now, but who wouldn't like to be even happier?)
What is it like to be an author?
Being an author is fun. It's a great job, because I can stay up as late as I want, and if I feel like taking the day off, I do it. Plus, I get to make up silly stories and draw pictures all day. (I used to do that in school, and I got in trouble for it — now I get paid for it!) The hard part is that I have to create stories that never existed before. I have to pull them out of thin air, and that can be a little scary sometimes. What if I never think of another story? What if I forget how to write? What if I get writer's block? So I guess being an author is both fun and scary. But I think the fun part far outweighs the scary part.
Yes! He keeps them in his "brief" case! Sorry, that's a really dumb joke... but it's the best I can do. It's late and I'm getting sleepy!
How did you come up with The Hallo-Wiener?
The story of Oscar, the Hallo-Wiener, was a personal one for me. In the book, Oscar gets made fun of a lot. And when I was a kid, I got more than my share of teasing and name calling, too. Being a kid can be pretty tough sometimes, and being different will almost always get you in trouble with everybody else who is desperately trying to fit in. But being different is a good thing, and can often be an advantage — like in Oscar's case. So if you're one of those kids who looks or acts different from everyone else in the crowd, try not to let the teasing get to you too much. Just try to be a good person and surround yourself with people who love you. They're the only ones who matter anyway.
In your book The Paperboy, why did the boy go back to bed?
When I was about thirteen years old, I had a paper route. Every morning during the summer, I would get up early and deliver the paper before the sun came up. When I came home, I usually went back to bed. It was always so nice to get back into bed after pedaling a bike all over the neighborhood. I guess that's why the paperboy in my book goes back to bed.
Why did you take off the letter e in Dave?
I took the e off my name when I was in high school. I used to be a waiter at Pizza Hut. One day they made a name tag for me, but the label maker was broken. For some reason, it wouldn't print out the letter e. So my name tag just read "Dav." I've spelled it that way ever since.
What do you like to do when you're not writing books?
When I'm not writing books, I like to relax. Sometimes I go to the movies, or sometimes I stay home and watch TV. I also like to play video games and hang out with my girlfriend and we like to eat out and take our dogs to the beach. I live in Oregon, which is kind of close to Seattle. So every month I like to take a train up to Seattle. It is fun to just sit, look out the window, and think. In Seattle, I like to have afternoon tea and ride the Washington State Ferries. Again, more sitting and thinking. It's a good way to think of ideas for books!
Which character is your favorite?
George and Harold are probably my favorite characters. I used to get in trouble all the time just like they do. I guess I just have a soft spot for them because we have so much in common.
Do you have anyone read rough drafts of your books?
My girlfriend usually reads my rough drafts. Her name is Cynthia Rylant, and she's a wonderful writer. She even won the Newbery Award, so I know she'll give me good advice.
We love your books, especially Dogzilla and The Paperboy. We noticed that the dog in The Paperboy looks very much like Leia in Dogzilla. Are they the same dog?
Yes, the dog in The Paperboy is the one-and-only Leia. Very good! Not many people notice that Leia was also the model for Hally Tosis from the book Dog Breath, but nobody has ever made the connection because I made Hally look so cartoony. (I guess Hally Tosis doesn't look much like a corgi). One other top-secret fun-fact: Blueberry, the feline star of Kat Kong, is also in The Paperboy. Can you find her?
I want to know how you got the idea for the "hypno ring" in Captain Underpants. Can you send me one?
I got the idea for the "3-D Hypno Ring" from those silly ads in the back of kids comic books and magazines. When I was a kid, I always used to send away for "Monster Ghosts," which obeyed your every command (only $2.99), and "X-Ray Glasses," which allowed you to see through walls (only $1.95). The ads were always a rip-off. Either the stuff never arrived in the mail, or it didn't work. I thought it would be funny if George and Harold sent away for one of those silly items, and it actually DID work! Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a "3-D Hypno-Ring" or I'd send you one — as long as you promised not to hypnotize your principal with it!
Did you like reading in school? What part of school didn't you like?
I didn't like reading in school, because I had lots of reading problems. I was the slowest (and worst) reader in my class. Also, I didn't learn the same way that most of the kids in my class learned — being severely hyperactive didn't help much, either. I was discouraged a lot in school, and sometimes I felt like a total failure. Of course, that wasn't the case. I just learned differently from most people. And schools are designed to benefit the majority of students. So kids with special needs often get left behind. The trick is to not think of ourselves as "defective," just "different." There's nothing wrong with being different. Who wants to be the same as everybody else? But I had a lot of encouragement and support from my parents. They helped me get through the hard times. It's good to know that even if you're not successful in school, you can still be successful in life. (Albert Einstein was terrible at school, but he turned out okay!)
How did you learn to like reading?
I guess I learned to like reading by just finding books that were about things I liked. I mostly read children's books today, because they have the best stories. I also read dreaming books, because that's something that really interests me. Reading is always more fun if it's about something you think is cool.
Do you always illustrate your own stories?
I usually illustrate my own stories. That's the fun part! Writing the stories is fun, too, but it's not always easy. Drawing and painting has always been easy for me.
Do you ever illustrate books for other authors?
The only book I've ever illustrated for another author is called Julius, which was written by Angela Johnson. Most people think that I also illustrated the Dumb Bunnies books for another author. But Sue Denim, who is listed as the author of those books, is actually me. "Sue Denim" is my pseudonym, a fake name that authors sometimes use to hide their identities. I chose the name "Sue Denim" because it sounds just like the word "pseudonym." You can find out more about "Sue Denim" on my Web site. By the way, this is supposed to be a secret, so don't tell anybody. If you are not good at keeping secrets, please visit this "Sue Denim" Web page "for blabbermouths only".
How can I become an author? Do you have any advice?
I do have some advice on how you can become an author. You can do it the same way I did! By entering The National Written and Illustrated by... Awards Contest for Students. Every year the winners of this contest get their books published and earn money on the sales of their books. You can find out all about this cool contest by visiting their Web site at http://www.landmarkeditions.com.