After two years of pandemic-restricted tours, author Jeff Kinney is ready to rock again—this time, literally. With the publication of Diper Överlöde—the 17th installment in Kinney’s mega-bestselling Diary of Wimpy Kid series—the author has, uh, löded up the van and hit the road for a series of rock concert-style events. The 12-city tour kicked off on October 24 in the shadow of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, sponsored by indie bookseller Loganberry Books. And yes, the words “Hello Cleveland!” may have been uttered.
“You know, I think I did actually say that, unironically,” Kinney said with a laugh. “I know I got a really big cheer.”
Kinney told PW that the first night of the tour drew about 1,000 fans—and it was a total blast. "We have a 10-foot inflatable demon baby and smoke machines that pivot around and shoot fake pyrotechnics. We have lots of different kinds of skits. One of them is that we ask everybody to come dressed as if they're going to a concert, and of course there's always some parents in the audience who didn't get the memo. So we bring them up on stage, have a little fun with them and then send them for a rock-and-roll makeover and have them sing a song. It's really fun."
The Diper Överlöde Show tour will hit a total of 12 cities over two weeks, partnering with 12 bookstores along the way to host concert-style events. Kinney will emcee the shows, which feature performances from the Löded Diper band as well as opportunities for concertgoers to show off some of their own singing, dancing, and musical talents. And Kinney even tried his hand at writing a hit song for the tour (with producer Jon Levine and performed by Jimmy Tatro)—the stirring rock anthem “Can You Smell Us Now,” which is available on all the major streaming services.
Whether the song races up the charts or not remains to be seen. But Diper Överlöde will certainly be another #1 hit for Kinney and his publisher, Amulet Books, an Abrams imprint. The book follows the exploits of middle schooler Greg Heffley, this time as he tags along with his older brother Rodrick’s band Löded Diper as their rock & roll dreams collide with reality.
"It's kind of like This Is Spinal Tap for kids," Kinney said. "It starts out with Greg tracking the rise of Löded Diper as they get ready for a battle of the bands, and it covers all the tropes about what happens with bands: getting the right outfits, getting the right look, recording, and of course the tension and the tragic breakup."
Diper Överlöde dropped this week with an announced first printing of three million copies. And all told, Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has now sold more than 275 million copies across 82 editions and in 67 languages globally since the first Wimpy Kid book came out 15 years ago this month. And while Kinney did manage to pull off four socially distanced, outdoor tours over the last two years, being able to celebrate the new book on tour and up close with his fans makes the 15-year anniversary a little more special.
"This is really the first time that I've back on a stage since 2020," he said. "It’s definitely been a significant chunk of our lives, and I actually talk about that in my presentation, about how when I said goodbye to everybody after our last tour in 2019 I didn’t know it would be so long since I'd be back on stage."
Meanwhile, Kinney is also back with a new animated feature for Disney+. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, once again written and produced by Kinney, is set to premiere on the streaming network on December 2, based on the second book in the Wimpy Kid series. Amulet is also set to publish a special movie tie-in edition of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules that will feature a full-color 3D animated cover, on November 24.
Kinney spoke glowingly of the opportunity to reimagine his books as animated features with Disney+.
"I loved doing the Disney+ script writing more than anything in my professional life," he said. "Because, you know, when I started off I wasn't a great writer. I certainly didn't know story structure. I didn't know how to write in three acts. And now I understand the craft from a screenwriting perspective, and I feel like that has made me write better books. And what a privilege to be able to reach a whole new audience all these years later. So I'm really digging into this and I hope we'll make multiple multiple movies."
Meanwhile, with a new Wimpy Kid book on the shelves, a rocking new tour, a new movie just days away, and celebrating 15 years and more than 275 million copies sold, Kinney certainly sounds like an artist whose best is yet to come.
"You know, sometimes I feel bad that we're talking about book 17 because it can sound a little crass, or commercial. But I think of my books as more like serialized comic strips in a way. And comic strip characters have a really long lifespan," Kinney said. "It's really cool to me to be a part of kids' lives across different generations. And I'm about eight years away from reaching the children of the original readers of the Wimpy Kid books. To think that those parents will have fond memories of the books and want to pass them down to their kids—that's pretty cool."