Captain Underpants is America's most unlikely superhero, fighting for "truth, justice and all that is preshrunk and cottony." There are 12.5 million copies of the wildly popular children's books based on this character, with the newest one, Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman (Scholastic), coming out this month. TIME interviewed the captain's irreverent creator, Dav Pilkey, by e-mail.
Were you a behavior problem in school?
Yeah, but I wasn't a bad kid. I just wanted to make everybody laugh. My second-grade teacher got so upset with my class clownism that she moved a desk out into the hallway just for me.
How did you get the idea for Captain Underpants?
My second-grade teacher used the word underpants in a sentence one day, and everybody in the class burst out laughing. She got mad and shouted, "Underwear is not funny!" This only made us laugh harder. It was then that I realized the amazing power of underwear. Not only could it make kids laugh, but it could also make my teachers very angry. What fun!
What do you think is the appeal of these books?
I think kids feel trapped just by being kids. You can't do anything when you're a kid. Adults are always trying to spoil your fun and making you follow their dumb orders. So I think kids are drawn to these books because the main characters, George and Harold, get away with so much. They're always having great adventures, and the adults can't stop them. It's great escapism.
The New York Times called Captain Underpants "the anti-Harry Potter." Your response?
Who's Harry Potter?
Some schools have banned the Captain Underpants books. What do you think of that?
Just a few schools have banned the books--less than 10, I think. But they always get a lot of attention when they do. It usually makes all the papers. My reaction is disappointment really, because most schools love the books. Almost half of my fan mail is from teachers and librarians who have used these books in school very successfully with reluctant readers.
What ages are your readers?
The books are technically for ages 7 to 10, but I like to think the appeal goes beyond that.
Are most of them male?
I don't know for sure. I seem to get just as much fan mail from girls as I get from boys.
Do you have any interest in writing adult books?
No. Making books is extremely difficult for me. I wouldn't waste that kind of energy on grownups.