If Jeff Kinney’s life had gone according to plan, there may never have been a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

The 40-year-old author originally set out to be a cartoonist, but was unsuccessful in syndicating his college comic strip. Instead, he began a career in web development and kept doodling, thinking his “Wimpy Kid” precursors would make a good book for adults. It only occurred to Kinney that children might enjoy his material when one of his kid-friendly websites needed to ramp up traffic during summer months; his daily installments of the “Wimpy Kid” series found immediate success online. A book deal later followed.

Just three years after the publication of the first “Wimpy Kid” book, there are 43 million copies in print and translations in 37 languages. Kinney is often credited with instilling a love of books into otherwise reluctant readers.

The “Wimpy Kid” gang returns to the big screen Friday in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,” based on the best-selling second book of Kinney’s series. The movie centers on Greg’s antagonistic relationship with his older brother, Rodrick.

Kinney, who executive produced the film, believes the success of the franchise is partly due to its relatable protagonist, Greg Heffley, who has been compared to Holden Caulfield.

“I just wanted to write about a kid who seemed like a real kid,” he says. “Most of the humor in the books comes from Greg not being perfect.”

While the author’s real-life experiences shaped the material for his book, he was impressed with the added depth brought by the film’s actors.

“They’ve really stepped into the shoes of these characters,” he says. “They really inhabit the characters and then bring a whole new dimension to them.”

As for his original intention, an adult series?

“I feel very fortunate it ended up where it ended up,” he says. “[If it were printed for adults], it would have languished in the humor section of the bookstore.”

Where it all began

It’s safe to say Greg Heffley is a bona fide superstar now, but he had very humble beginnings.

“There’s a scene in this new movie where Greg, in order to avoid swim team practice, wraps himself in toilet paper in the bathroom,” Kinney says. “I did that as a kid — in fact, that’s where I think Greg Heffley was born, in that bathroom stall.”

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