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Surrounded by idiots! / Greg's diary vol. 1

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung | Discussion of November 26, 2015Peter Pan's crafty brother

Serial art: "Greg's Diary" is one of the most successful children's book series in the world. The tenth volume has just been published. An encounter with the author Jeff Kinney.

This time his angry father doesn't threaten him with the drill in the military school as he usually does. Luckily he was away this time when the accident happened to his son in the car in which Greg was hiding, accidentally released the handbrake and maneuvered the car into the ditch. But because his father will be back soon, Greg signs up for a class trip to the "sweat-and-hard-work farm", which is feared because of its spartan equipment. After a week, he reckons, his father's anger over the dented bumper will be gone. And with it he goes into a hell from which his father only rescues him without really wanting to.

The children's book series "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (in German: "Gregs Tagebuch"), written and drawn by the American author Jeff Kinney, is unprecedented in the current book market for young readers. Not only because of the sales figures: 160 million of the previous volumes, including the just published tenth, were sold worldwide, around thirteen million of them in Germany. These are not yet the dimensions of the "Harry Potter" series, the total circulation of which is 450 million, but it came to an end eight years ago, while "Greg's Diary" can still catch up.

But above all, the series is a phenomenon of promoting reading. Parents, booksellers and teachers tell of children who actually have little affinity for books and who still get to read through these volumes. One reason is surely that "Greg's Diary" is a mixture of comics and narrated text, which Kinney uses in a calculated way: "The children swim in the text," he says in conversation, "and then they find an island in the pictures. " Quite a few islands, three to four drawings by the author interrupt the reading flow per double page. Only in the rarest cases do they illustrate what one has just read, but rather tell the story further: The daydreamer Greg imagines, for example, how he can turn an unfavorable situation into its opposite, or vice versa he spins out vigorously, what horror he expects from a certain constellation.

The concept has been copied many times since Kinney, after eight years of work on it, published the first volume of "Greg's Diary" in 2007 - it was supposed to be an adult comic novel about his own childhood, but he let the publisher convince him that the actual target audience being younger for this humor and this narrative. Kinney, who names the legendary Dagobert Duck draftsman Carl Barks as his great role model, left it with the name of the main character, who is strikingly similar to his own: Greg Heffley.

And he gave his series a series of spikes that, with his point-oriented narrative style, enter into a symbiosis that is rare for children's literature: his hero, battered by an older and a younger brother, tells his story from a universe of extremely unreliable adults. Not only Greg's father preaches abstinence and lets his son catch him stealing candy in the cellar at night. Greg's mother also wages a campaign against electronic devices and equips her son with a GPS chip for better monitoring. Greg's grandfather behaves like a teenager who uses the storm-free booth to celebrate and is put in the corner by Greg's father. And even the teachers: If someone promises that the only thing that matters when investigating an crime is that the guilty party confesses that nothing will happen to him - then everyone in the class knows that it cannot be relied on. Or, if the awareness class trains caring for another being by giving each and every one a raw egg to take the place of an infant (Greg's mother unwittingly scrambles her son's protégé), then the teacher praises those who take the place of an infant The next day bring the egg back to class intact, and then dispose of the substitute children in a garbage can in front of everyone.

It's grotesque scenes like this that can save a children's book series from cuteness and at the same time keep it interesting for parents who read along. Greg's world is trapped in a kind of time bubble, just as it corresponds to the newspaper comic aesthetic: Greg, it seems, always stays the same age with all relatives and friends, and nothing happens that would have great consequences beyond the band's boundaries: " To be honest, it feels like I've been going to middle school all my life, "revealingly says in the tenth volume. For Kinney, who started his first Greg book at the age of 28, childless at the time, this means telling of a halted time when he himself had two sons, the first of whom is now thirteen. Kinney says he already knows that one day his children will outgrow the Greg world. "I'm going to write a book they won't read, and it'll feel like they're leaving me behind. I need to encourage them to have children of their own as soon as possible," he says.

This is how J. M. Barries once again saved himself from loneliness when the eternally young Peter Pan - like his friend Wendy - once again lost a playmate in the adult world. Children eventually grow back and are reflected in their parents as Greg is in his father. The last book in Kinney's series so far is dedicated: "For Dad".

TILMAN SPRECKELSEN

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