CANBERRA (Reuters) - As a superhero Captain Underpants may lack muscles but he's proven to have the power to get children reading with his creator, Dav Pilkey, hoping four new books with the same potty humor will nab more young readers.
Pilkey, 44, an author and artist based near Seattle, said he came up with the idea of Captain Underpants while at school where he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and spent long periods in the hallway on his own, drawing and making up stories.
Since winning a writing contest at age 19 he has been penning children's books full of poopypants and wedgie jokes with Captain Underpants flying from the presses in 1997. Since then 45 million copies have been published in 19 languages.
After a few years away from writing to care for his terminally ill father, Pilkey signed a deal in March this year with Scholastic for four new books with the first released this week with a worldwide printing of 1 million copies.
This is a graphic novel called "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Caveman from the Future" supposedly written by fourth-graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the pair who turned their school's principal into Captain Underpants.
Pilkey said his new book keeps the gross-out humor which has led to his genre of writing being dubbed "poop fiction."
"The potty humor exists in my books because that's the kind of thing I loved (and wrote about) when I was a kid," the publicity-shy Pilkey told Reuters in an email.
Pilkey, who also created Super Diaper Baby, Ricky Ricotta and the Dumb Bunnies, said the next three books in his contract wouldn't be centered on Ook and Gluk but he declined to say exactly what they would be about.
He has not yet given up on Captain Underpants though and is planning at least four more "epic novels" about the superhero.
"It may take decades before all of them are published," said Pilkey. "In the meantime, I've got dozens of books planned that are firmly rooted in the "Captain Underpants Universe." Many of them will be graphic novels."
Pilkey has been praised by some for using potty humor and bodily function jokes to get young boys reading and close the gender gap with girls who tend to be far ahead.
But he is not universally loved. In 2002 the American Library Association ranked the Captain Underpants books among those most frequently complained about by parents and educators.
The author, however, said he rarely received complaints, with most parents and teachers writing to thank him.
He said the aim of his writing was to get children to read.
"I had a lot of reading problems when I was a kid. I still remember feeling dumb because I couldn't read very well, and I'll never forget the torture of having to look through hundreds of library books trying to find ONE that seemed interesting," he said.
Pilkey said he tailor-made his books to suit all of his childhood requirements.
This meant they had to be funny, have robots and/or monsters in them, have lots of illustration, short chapters, and be at least 100 pages long so they qualify for book reports.
And the childish spelling errors?
"The occasional "phonetic spelling" is there for a reason, too ... I want to show kids that they can be creative without having to worry about being perfect," said Pilkey.
"So far I feel like my plan is working. Each year I get hundreds of original comics and stories sent to me by kids ... most of them have misspellings and mistakes. But these kids did this stuff on their own. These stories weren't homework assignments --- they were made for fun."
Editing by Paul Casciato