Even for an artist of prolific energy, the past year has been an unusually fast-paced creative whirlwind for Dav Pilkey, and the remaining months of 2020 augur more of the same. Here’s a recap of some of the megaselling children’s author’s recent publications and his artistic endeavors in these unsettled and unsettling times, and a peek at what’s new from Pilkey—which includes a graphic novel series launch and a reveal of the title for his next Dog Man caper.
A flashback to August 2019 reveals the curtain rising on TheaterWorks USA’s production of Dog Man: The Musical, which debuted in New York City before embarking on a North American tour on which the not-for-profit theater company offered subsidized tickets to communities in need. That same month, Scholastic’s Graphix imprint released the seventh adventure starring Pilkey’s half-canine, half policeman superhero, Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls, which the author promoted on his “Do Good Tour,” making stops in various U.S. cities, followed by appearances at the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair and in Singapore and Mumbai.
Last December, Dog Man reappeared in Dog Man: Fetch-22, which debuted at the number one spot on the major national bestseller lists and was the top-selling book overall in the U.S.—children’s and adult books combined—for four straight weeks. Dog Man fans enthusiastically rally around the good-doing superhero, noted Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade. “We continue to see tremendous growth book after book for Dog Man series,” she said. “Sales of each successive release of a new Dog Man title increase by double digits percentages over the prior title. Four years after the series launched, the Dog Man books now have more than 30 million copies in print and have been translated into 38 languages.”
Capping off the year, in December Pilkey was named PW’s Person of the Year for 2019, a well-deserved accolade given all of the above and his ongoing, unwavering commitment to children’s literacy and fostering a love of reading through his pioneering illustrated novels. The creator of more than 60 books, Pilkey broke ground in the format two decades ago with his Captain Underpants series, whose 12 installments have an in-print tally of 90 million copies.
Another Banner Year, a New Role for L’il Petey
This year’s pandemic crisis inspired Pilkey to find a new channel for his creativity when stay-at-home dictates prevented him from working in his studio. The author decided to create, edit, produce, and voice videos for kids who were similarly confined to their homes after schools were shuttered. Among his productions was a ‘Flip-o-rama’ music video featuring Flippy, one of his characters from the Dog Man books. According to Ken Geist, v-p and publisher-at-large, Pilkey Publishing and Picture Books, “Dav wanted kids to be able to take a break and have a little bit of fun after a long day of being home. These videos were the beginning of the Dav Pilkey at Home initiative, which offers free content online in collaboration with the Library of Congress. The program has reached and continues to reach and engage millions of kids and families, not just around the U.S., but worldwide.”
Meanwhile, Scholastic Graphix’s production of new Pilkey titles proceeds apace. Dog Man: Grime and Punishment published earlier this month with a five million-copy first printing and is currently the #1 bestselling book overall in the U.S. and Canada. A new graphic novel series debuts in December with Cat Kid Comic Club. Incorporating elements of comics, photography, painting, Claymation, and film animation, the series stars Dog Man character Li’l Petey, who teams up with Flippy the Fish and Molly to teach 21 baby frogs how to create their own comics.
“I wanted to create a new storyline for Li’l Petey, a character who is based on my mom and who embodies love, optimism, and hope,” Pilkey explained in a statement. “In Cat Kid Comic Club, Li’l Petey keeps his promise to his best friend Molly that they will teach everyone how to make comics. Together with their new friends, they make mistakes but with practice and persistence, they learn and become better artists. My hope is that kids everywhere are inspired to write their own stories, appreciate different ways of thinking and approaching art, and feel empowered to be creative.”
The new series meshes popular Pilkey creative traits and some innovative storytelling devices. “Cat Kid Comic Club combines the humor and heart that is Dav’s signature for his Dog Man and Captain Underpants series, as well as his Dragon early chapter book series,” Geist said. “Yet he stretches his imagination even further in this book, as he shows various ways to tell one story with ‘mini-stories’ utilizing different art mediums and encouraging budding artists to not be confined to one way of creating a story. Without patronizing his readers, Dav shows his characters’ progression through practice and persistence.”
Looking ahead, Dog Man fans will welcome his spring 2021 return in his 10th adventure, whose title is revealed here for the first time: Dog Man: Mothering Heights. “During these extraordinary times, the demand for Dog Man continues to rise,” Berger said of the series’ relevance today. “The themes and messages in the Dog Man books—humor, friendship, empathy, and doing good—are ones we can all get behind, politics aside. We’re thrilled that more books from Dav are forthcoming—more stories that kids love and families can read together.”
Reflecting on Pilkey’s widespread appeal to readers of all ages, Geist noted, “Dav’s love for and commitment to young readers is beyond reproach. He navigates readers through tough subjects with humanity that respects children and adults. Dog Man stories and the complexity of the characters have evolved with each book. This year, for her virtual graduate MIT commencement speech, Nobel Prize-winning professor Esther Duflo held up Dog Man: Fetch-22 and read from it—not for humorous effect but for the seriousness of the passage in the book. I think that says it all.”