Dav Pilkey feels one of his biggest achievements has been proving his principal wrong. He attended a very strict high school, and one day the administrator decided to pull the infamous class clown out of class. "[He] said to me, 'I know you think you're special because you can draw, but let me tell you something: Artists are a dime a dozen. You will never make a living as an artist!' Those words haunted me for many years. How delightful it was to prove him wrong."
Despite some unwanted critiques, Dav Pilkey remembers having a mostly good childhood. He was born in Cleveland and says "My parents tell me that I used to laugh in my sleep all the time, even as an infant." While other kids played outside, Pilkey drew animals, monsters, and "superhero guys" on paper his father brought home from Republic Steel. His parents encouraged his hobby, and saved whatever comics they could keep him from taking to school. (His early "Water Man" comics are now posted on his web site). They were his first readers, and Pilkey remembers them always laughing in the right places.
Growing up with Attention Deficit Disorder and severe hyperactivity didn't make it easy for Pilkey. "I went to small parochial schools that were probably not the best for dealing with an 'exceptional' kid like myself," he says. "My teachers were there to teach. I was there to make everybody laugh. Not a good mix." He remembers his grade school in Elyria, Ohio to be "exactly" like the one in the Captain Underpants series, Jerome Horwitz Elementary School.
Unfortunately, some of his reading problems in school made Pilkey think he was stupid. He knows differently now, but he still thinks it's important to tell people. "If I had known that people can grow up with these types of problems and still turn out okay," he says, "I might have had more hope. Once kids discover that you can still be successful in life even if you're not successful in school, I think they'll develop more confidence and hope."
Though Pilkey's sense of humor made him popular with the students, it didn't stop the usual teasing. Many former friends will forever remember him as "David Puke-ey." Of course, his legacy doesn't stop there-he still holds the classroom record for the number of crayons he can stick up his nose at one time. The teachers didn't appreciate his behavior, and they started sending him to the hallway to work. After awhile, Pilkey realized he had found the perfect haven. "Every day before classes began, I would fill up my hallway desk with papers, pencils, and crayons. Then at some point during the day, I would do something really silly or disruptive, and my teacher would snap her fingers, point to the door, and shout, 'MR. PILKEY---OUT!'" Once in the hallway, he drew superheroes and villains in his homemade comic books. First he just drew pictures, but eventually he added stories to go with them. One of these stories was "The Amazing Captain Underpants."
The series that has sold over 14 million copies started with Pilkey's second grade teacher. She happened to say "underpants" one day in class, and, of course, everyone laughed. Angry and embarrassed, she shouted "Underwear is NOT funny!" which only made everyone laugh harder. "At that moment," Pilkey says, "I discovered that underwear was a powerful thing: Not only could it make my friends laugh, but it could also make my teacher very angry!"
Pilkey continued to draw through high school, and in 1984, he attended Kent State University as an art major. One day an English professor complimented his creative writing skills and encouraged him to write books. He entered Landmark Editions' The National Written and Illustrated By...Awards Contest for Students and won! He was nineteen years old, flying to Missouri to meet with his new editors and publishers: "I tried to act normal, but I was so excited. It took every bit of self-control I had not to scream, jump up and down, and laugh hysterically.... I was going to be an author!"
After his book World War Won was published, Pilkey moved back to Kent, Ohio, where he met his girlfriend, author Cynthia Rylant. In 1990 they moved to Oregon, where they lived with their cats and dogs in the hills of Eugene, Oregon. Now he lives in Seattle, Washington with his little dog named "Little Dog" and his growing collection of books. Despite his potty humor, Pilkey lists some very distinguished artists as his inspiration. Besides Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Rousseau, his favorite is Marc Chagall: "I love the way he sees things... there are no straight lines in his world, and no gravity to speak of either. All the laws of physics go out the window! It's very liberating as a painter to have a hero who didn't follow the rules."
Currently Pilkey is planning for the publication of his latest books, Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot VS. the Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn and Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1. He has fans all over the world, most of them class clowns just like him. Of course, his parents are still supportive, though Pilkey admits they don't like the bathroom humor very much: "They're still a little embarrassed by it."