While Jeff Kinney is best known for his role as author of the multi-million-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, he’s also the creator of the website Poptropica. While the site has been entertaining and educating kids for nine years, it just branched out into a new direction: a graphic novel, Poptropica: Mystery of the Map, written by Jack Chabert and illustrated by Kory Merritt.
1. We’ve heard you refer to Poptropica as your “day job.” For parents who aren’t familiar with the site: What is it and what makes Poptropica different from other websites geared toward children? Poptropica (poptropica.com) is a virtual world for kids, consisting of 50+ islands where kids can go on epic interactive story-based quests. What makes Poptropica different from just about anything else is the sheer variety of experiences a kid can have. On one island, they might learn all about Greek mythology and encounter Zeus on Mount Olympus, and on another, they might travel by train to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and settle a dispute between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.
2. How has Poptropica changed since it launched in 2007? What is your mission/endgame when designing the site, quests, and islands? Poptropica’s mission has stayed the same, but we’ve added so much more content. A kid could play on our site for months without solving every quest. We feel like it’s a privilege to introduce kids to their world, and help them learn about architecture, art, history, and even worlds far from our own, in an entertaining way.
3. How did the idea to turn Poptropica into a graphic novel come to be? In Poptropica, you’re the hero, so the world revolves around you. But we thought it would be fun to create memorable characters and to explain the mythology behind Poptropica. Myself [and fellow Poptropica creators] Jess Brallier and Mitch Krpata created a really rich outline to tell the story of Poptropica a few years back, and we’re excited it’s finally out in the world.
4. Were you tempted to write the book yourself? The book is actually an adaptation of a screenplay I wrote for television, so it’s got my fingerprints all over it. Still, it needed a writer to get it into graphic novel shape and an illustrator to bring the world to life.
5. Poptropica turns 10 next year. What’s next for the site? Well, we’re going where the kids are...to mobile. When we started off, there was almost no mobile gaming. Now it’s where kids spend the bulk of their digital time.
6. We’ve heard you say that you write while you walk outside. Do you have an idea of how many miles you rack up on an average “writing session?” Sometimes I walk for three or four hours a day; I often get really lost. A few times my phone has died along the way. I don’t know how far I’ve walked so far. Maybe one day I’ll try to walk across America.
7. What is your advice for kids who like to draw? My advice is to copy your favorite artist’s work. When you do that, you can understand how it’s put together, and then you have tools for your own toolkit.
8. Your bookstore, An Unlikely Story, just celebrated its first anniversary. What has the past year been like and what has surprised you most? The first year has been really amazing. We’ve exceeded our goals and expectations. We’ve been able to draw in internationally known authors to our little town of Plainville, Mass. What’s surprised me is what an appetite there is for books. It makes me really happy to see a kid run down the sidewalk clutching a brand-new book!