sequential art

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – comics or not?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Here at, we like to give you truly cutting edge coverage of the comic book and graphic novel world. That’s why almost exactly four years after its release, we’re taking a look at Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, published by Abrams’ Amulet Books.

OK, maybe this isn’t the CNN of comics, but where there may be a lack in timeliness, I hope quality and analysis picks up the slack. (Side note: follow me on Twitter, and you’ll see me comment on, tweet and retweet comics-related stories I think are worth a closer look, so there’s your fancy CNN breaking news coverage! Sorta.)

So yes, the first book in the series was released on April 1, 2007, and eventually topped the New York Times Best-Seller List. All subsequent books have done the same. Much like the Harry Potter books, each release has become a bigger and bigger deal. And two movies adapting the first two books have done very well. In fact, the second one was released just last weekend and dominated theaters. It was around then that I thought maybe it’s past time I check this out to see the big deal. I’m also considering buying a TV set.

Having read the first book, I’m not breaking the internet by saying that it’s a very enjoyable read. It’s fun and funny. It’s a light read, a quick read, and it’s very easy to get sucked into the pages. Jeff Kinney writes with an authentic voice for the main character, a middle school kid named Greg Heffley, and he has a charming cartooning style to match. It’s real easy to see why this became a big hit.

So now the big question: Is it comics?

My answer: Sometimes.

To qualify as comics, and not simply an illustrated children’s book, there needs to be a sequence of images with or without words. In the case of most illustrated children’s books, the cartoons or illustrations merely echo what is being said in the prose. They may add aesthetic information, but they are not a sequential moment in the story all their own. Sometimes this is the case with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but just as often, the cartoon drawing is the punchline to a joke or is a story beat of the story or adds details and information to the story that isn’t revealed in the prose text. And as is the case of the snowman scene (below), there is a series of drawings that sequentially tell the story at the same time the prose is doing the same, yet they aren’t completely redundant to each other. Both words and images are playing off of each other and forwarding the story with new information. In a sense, the blocks of text themselves become a part of the sequential storytelling of the images, almost like a comics panel. And I think in those moments, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is very much sequential art, or comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer).

Part of the snowman scene (from - click to buy)

I believe there’s actually a level of formalistic innovation involved in those scenes. It’s not the first or only to try this hybrid form of prose and comics. In 2006, J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog released a short-lived series of books called Abadazad through Disney’s Hyperion Books. They were an adaptation of their earlier comic book series of the same name which sadly ended prematurely due to the bankruptcy of its comics publisher CrossGen Comics. Disney bought the company up at an auction because of their interest in Abadazad. Unfortunately the experiment didn’t work out or the marketing efforts fizzled or both, and the series of books ended early. Of course, Diary of a Wimpy Kid first appeared online in 2004 (slightly different from the published version), so it’s possible Hyperion and/or DeMatteis and Ploog were influenced by that in their attempts with Abadazad. Either way, the execution wasn’t quite the same. Abadazad more often than not switched from full comics pages to full prose pages. There were occasional illustrated pages to accompany the prose, like a children’s book. This back and forth might’ve been what kept the books from taking off. With Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the integration is visually consistent throughout with only the increased frequency of cartoons causing the sequential effect I describe above.

So what do you think? Is Diary of a Wimpy Kid comics? An illustrated children’s book? Something else?

(As a side note, I was kind of astonished to learn that Jeff Kinney apparently still has a full-time job outside of handling the growing Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire. Considering the stellar sales these books have had and continue to have, and the big success of two feature film adaptations from Hollywood, I have to assume that he chooses to work because he loves it, and he’s not somehow trapped in some terribly restrictive contract where he’s only seeing a fraction of the profits he’s due. Anyone know more?)

It’s MS Awareness Week: MS = 1 day at a time #msequals

Hey everybody! Multiple sclerosis is a thing that exists!

There, now you’re aware. That wasn’t so hard. Problem solved!

Huh. Probably should’ve done that sooner.

Wait… I think multiple sclerosis is still a problem. And I think there are people that may not have read this yet that don’t know about MS. I guess I’m not done after all.

As I’ve shared in the past, my wife Nahleen was diagnosed with MS over 8 years ago. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of the body’s nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord to communicate with each other. This leads to a variety of symptoms, usually different for each person, that can include coordination and balance problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, pain, speech difficulties, cognitive lapses and other fun stuff. The severity can vary wildly but generally (but not always) gets gradually worse over time. The cause is unknown. There is no cure.

The National MS Society is trying to change that. They do amazing work to raise money for research and treatment. They also organize workshops, seminars and other activities to help people live with this disease. They have been a great resource for us and their proactive involvement has helped produce the first oral medication for MS, Gilenya, which Nahleen started taking a few weeks ago.

Before that, Nahleen treated her MS with one of four self-injected medications. Yes, self-injected involves stabbing oneself with a syringe deep enough to get between the fat layer and muscle. Depending on the type of medication, this is done either daily, every other day, three times a week, or once a week. The worst thing in the world? No. But the process was not a good time. Pre-medication (Tylenol for the pain and numbing of the injection site with ice), preparation, injection, clean-up. Then there are all sorts of awesome side effects for each version. For Nahleen, she experienced flu-like symptoms like a fever (she would usually wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night after each injection), muscle aches, fatique, depression (Hey, aren’t these some of the symptoms for MS? Why yes, yes they are.), and injection site reactions (bruising, swelling). Oh yeah, and it hurts. Sometimes barely at all, but sometimes quite a bit.

So yeah, switching to a pill kind of feels like winning the lottery. Side effects are minimal to nothing so far. (Although we might need the real lottery to pay for it.)

If that’s all the National MS Society did, I would love them forever, but they do so much more. Like organizing Walk MS events, which we usually do (but sadly not this year), Bike MS, and MS Awareness Week, where they’re asking what MS means to people. You can post your answer at that last link, or tweet including the hashtag #msequals, make a video on YouTube or post a blog like I’m doing.

My answer is in the title of this blog. MS = 1 day at a time. One thing I had to abandon was what I expected to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, forever. Every day is different for Nahleen, and I have to be willing to allow for a drastic or slight change of plans. Whether it’s about grocery shopping tomorrow, flying back east to visit our families this summer, or great big life decisions and dreams 5-10 years from now, I have to be able to let them go. Sure, it can make RSVP’ing for birthday parties challenging, but we’ve found that most of our friends understand. It takes being patient, forgiving and willing to… improvise. Why yes, maybe there’s something to those improv comedy shows I do with the Magic Meathands that help me accept and adjust. Even comic books offer a way to look at life that can help in dealing with all of this. Comics, or sequential art, break up life into snapshots or moments of time. Appreciating that moment, within and without the context of the moments (and life) around it, give me a gratitude for the times Nahleen and I have together regardless of whether it was the big date we were “supposed” to have, or a quiet and careful night at home.

Nahleen and I may not be doing Walk MS this year, but we would still love to help raise money for the National MS Society. We’d like to refer you to two Walkers this year, and hope you will consider donating to them. Michelle Hazan is a friend of ours and has been on our Walk MS team for several years now. Through the magic of Twitter, I met Angelina Fuller (@Symph0ny) who is doing her very first Walk MS this year. It would be amazing if our people could help them reach their goals.

Also, if you’re in the west LA area around lunchtime (12-2 PM), there will be a different food truck camped out at the National MS Society Southern California office at 2440 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles 90046 each day of the week, to celebrate MS Awareness Week. 10% of sales goes to the National MS Society. Naan Stop and The Surfer Taco trucks were there Monday, yesterday saw Cali Cuisine (aka the Calitruck), and today will have three trucks hanging out in the So Cal office parking lot: Don Chow’s Tacos, White Rabbit, and the Calitruck! I heard there was a 45-minute wait yesterday with only one truck there, so the lines should be moving faster today. Check out the Facebook page for Walk MS SoCal & Nevada for tomorrow and Friday’s food trucks, and to hear more about their efforts to fight MS.