“I get older every year, but my audience is always the same age”

Jeff Kinney (Maryland, USA, 1971) is the author of the Greg’s diary and of the entire saga that has just published a new volume, the 17th, Giving the note (Editorial Mill). From comic strips on a website, this student went on to novels and from there, to movies. His author, who started autobiographically with these experiences in high school, believes that Greg will stop at the end of adolescence, so there would be at least three other books left. Kinney chatted from his house on a video call for this newspaper.

-After living in fiction for so many years among teenagers, is that a problem to cope with real life?

-It’s interesting, because I age one year every year but my audience is always the same age so to speak. That’s kind of weird because as the age gap gets bigger I start to worry about maybe not being able to connect with that. I always try to have a bit of that more youthful sensibility, and how do you achieve it? keeping in touch with small family members, talking to teachers so they can tell you what life is like today…

-And how are the children today compared to when you started the work of Greg?

-I believe that the main change is the use of mobile phones, that does not surprise anyone. The mobile has already become the center of our lives. If I had to write a book precisely about today’s kids, they’d be staring at the screen all the time: the outcome of the story wouldn’t be too interesting, would it?

-Due to the mobile do you read more, precisely, but do you read fewer books?

-Young people and children have another link with reading. The text always accompanies something visual and that is why graphic novels have become popular again. Or books like mine where you have a graphic image to support the text. It’s hard to get a kid to read page after page now, just text.

-When you start writing your stories, what are your references?

-For example, I remember the Donald Duck comics from my childhood. I think of my lifelong heroes, of those creators who took advantage of comics, a way of writing literature. And of course I don’t lose my sense of humor, classic humor inspires me.

-Without humor you couldn’t build Greg?

-Of course. And on book covers you always see Greg frowning. That as a character makes him more interesting. If the first book, well, if I had published it with a smile on the cover, it would have been cheesy. I think it’s more stimulating to see him a little tormented. And a bit of a loser. In the end things work out for him and the reader prefers it to be so.

“Have we all been, at least a little bit, Greg?”

-The reader identifies a lot with these adventures. The institute, the school, with the community that exists in them, are very identifiable things. I think it’s easy to identify with him because these books open you like a window to another world but at the same time they can be like a mirror of our life. When you read Harry Potter and you are looking into another world, fantastic, where you would like to be. You say “wow, what’s up?”. With Harry Potter you dream that you are a wizard while with Greg what you see is that you are like yourself, with your own clumsiness, but with magnified defects. You then identify with your own character.

Is there much autobiographical in those pages?

-Everything that happens to Greg in his family environment during the first books happened to me, but like in those fair mirrors that deform you a little. The source of all this has been my personal life in fiction, and commercialized for fun. Now the adventure is extended, with more age, already with his rock group.

-What can you get from that? Giving the note?

-Your brother is at the same time your executioner and your hero. Greg enters that world that is already adolescent, an experience for older boys. The character is now a pre-adolescent boy who is following his brother’s band, with his anecdotes.

-To build this Greg, do you now look at what his own children experience?

-Maybe subconsciously. My children are already past adolescence, I don’t know if in some way I have been reflecting the changes that my life has gone through and in Greg himself one perceives new traits that boys who now pass to another stage of age have. It is a feeling of looking in the rear-view mirror and you have recognized that your children have grown up. I was a bit shocked when they started going out. They got older and I didn’t realize it.

-Do you notice from your children that the young people of today have been marked by the pandemic?

-During the pandemic our children had to be children two years older than normal. When they left and everything returned to its schedule, the world suddenly opened up and they flew from one day to the next.

-Did you write this adventure of Greg during confinement?

-I wrote it in 2022 but some of its ideas come from the confinement that we suffered in 2020. In family life, ideas arose. It was getting a new experience out of those months that were so complicated for everyone. And at the same time it was different, we watched TV with our children in those days.

-What do you think of the movie versions of your novels, which have been so popular on television?

-I am delighted with these films because I also have a great responsibility since I am a producer and author, I am part of the film’s scriptwriter, with which I am deeply involved in the effort that has been made to bring them to the screen. There are other Greg movies coming up so this is a world that I’m going to continue to live in for a while.

-And what would you think of turning your stories into a series?

– I have not contemplated it. What I would like to continue doing is writing more books to make more people happier. It seems to me a good sign that when reading my books and watching the movies, people laugh in both formats. I like that the gags are discovered for new readers and viewers. When I write my novels I laugh with the texts. If you laugh with what you write it is a good sign. But writing is something very serious for me. I take work very seriously so that it makes people laugh.

“How long would this world of Greg’s last?”

I don’t think I’ll be more than 20 years old. I don’t know, at least it would be three more books. Beyond that, I think I will have to make a very serious decision: what am I going to do with the rest of my life, that is why I would create another character. I think the most special part of a cartoon character is that permanence they have: you know you don’t want them to change. Greg must be as a child, a young man. Donald Duck’s voice is the same as it was 40 years ago and it’s going to be the same in 40 years. I think my job my responsibility as a cartoonist is to keep that freshness and that permanence of Greg.

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