By any measure in publishing, cartoonist Dav Pilkey is a rock star.The children’s author created his characters Captain Underpants (a superhero for grade-schoolers) and Dog Man (a hound-supercop) while an Ohio second-grader, sitting alone in the hall during class as a result of his ADHD.Now Pilkey is 53, and “Dog Man” — a franchise that has sold millions — is perched atop the New York Times bestsellers list for children’s series, while “Captain Underpants” is at No. 8 (both books have sat on the list for years).
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Q: You have used puns like “The Hallo-weiner” in your books. What’s your most shameless pun?
A: It might be “Hally Tosis.” And I can’t take credit for that — that’s my dad’s joke. We had a dog when I was a kid and her name was Halle, and she did have a horrible breath. My dad used to call her “Halle Tosis.” And I just thought that was a funny, cutesy little name until I was a little bit older and I realized what it was.
Q: At what age were you diagnosed with attention deficit and dyslexia?
A: I was probably about 8. They didn’t have the term ADHD. They called it extreme hyperactivity disorder. Back in those days, the specialists prescribed caffeine for me, so I was drinking coffee for breakfast.
Q: How did that work out?
A: The only way I could get it down was, my mom would put in chocolate syrup with cream. I think I was so buzzed off the sugar that it didn’t quite work out.
Q: And you had to sit in the hall in elementary school?
A: So little was known about those conditions back in those days, and I think it was just seen as I was distracting everyone in the class with my silliness. I couldn’t stay in my chair and keep my mouth shut. So the teachers from second to fifth grade just put me in the hall. It ended up being kind of a blessing for me, too, because it gave me time to draw and to create stories and comics. I guess I made lemonade out of it.
Q: So you created Captain Underpants while in school?
A: I did. And Dog Man, as well. They were the first comics that I remember creating. In fact, my second-grade teacher gave me the idea for Captain Underpants. She mentioned underwear in class and everyone laughed and I was like: “Oh, that’s a good subject. I’ll do something with that.” And so that was that.
Q: So while you were sitting in the hall, you were also sitting on a future publishing empire?
A: Making comics was a way for me to stay connected to my classmates. I wasn’t just a kid in the hallway. I guess in a way I’m still trying to connect with my readers.