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Friday, August 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Singer, author team up for over-the-top adventures with Captain Underpants

Seattle Times staff columnist

Maybe one Friday night a few years ago, you channel-surfed your way into the Straits of Public Access and saw Josh Katz talking to a camel puppet named Ishtar.

And maybe you felt like the designated driver at that cantina in "Star Wars." You just didn't get what they were talking about, or what was so dang funny.

But Dav Pilkey got it. The best-selling author of the Caldecott Award-winning "The Paperboy," as well as children's-series favorites like Captain Underpants, Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot, Big Dog and Little Dog, and the Dumb Bunnies, became one of Katz's biggest fans.

"I thought it was the coolest thing on TV," said Pilkey, who, when he had a studio in Seattle, set his TiVo to record "The Make Josh Famous Half-Hour of Garbage." The show ran from February 2001 to March 2003 on the Seattle Community Access Network.

"The show was really funny and charming," said Pilkey, who now lives in Portland. "And I loved how it seemed like it was just thrown together at the last minute."

Pilkey also became a fan of Katz's raunchy, comedic songs, which the Bellevue native recorded in a friend's basement and sold on his Web site.

Captain Underpants

 

 

Listen to clips from the new CD

After Pilkey bought five copies of Katz's CD, "Wigger Than Jesus," the two connected through e-mail and became friends. Then last year, Pilkey hired Katz to write songs for the author's caped, crusading comic-book star, Captain Underpants. ("Tra-la-laaaaaa!")

The songs, now on Pilkey's official Web site (www.pilkey.com; look under New Stuff, then Dav's Free Music), will be featured on a CD included with a new collector's edition of "The Adventures of Captain Underpants" (Scholastic, $9.99), to be released in September.

Some numbers, to give this offbeat partnership some perspective: Since 1997, more than 26 million Captain Underpants books have been printed.

The last two books — "Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets"; and "Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers" — each had a first-print run of 1 million copies.

Katz was clueless about his good fortune.

"I didn't know anything about Captain Underpants because, well, I'm 22," he said. "My mom read me 'The Hobbit' and 'Where the Wild Things Are' and that one about the fern and the fern dies? And a bunch of dogs? Or wolves? I'm not sure."

We're not, either. But suffice it to say that Pilkey had his work cut out for him. He sent Katz all his books, to better understand the Captain Underpants story.

In a nutty shell: The series is about friends George Beard and Harold Hutchins, both fourth-graders at Jerome Horwitz Elementary. They spend their days writing comic books, including "The Amazing Captain Underpants," who fights with something called "Wedgie Power."

The character comes to life when the boys hypnotize their cruel school principal, Mr. Krupp, and tell him he is the superhero himself. Chaos ensues, as Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants takes on adventures like "The Attack of the Talking Toilets," and faces villains like Professor Poopypants and the Wicked Wedgie Woman.

Hogwarts it ain't.

Katz read the books while parking cars at a Bellevue hotel and wrote two songs in the valet booth. He recorded them at Seattle's Vera Project with his friends as backup singers/talkers/rabblers.

"They're fantastic," Pilkey said of the songs, via e-mail. "They're really funny and silly and 'catchy' and obnoxious in the best possible way. They have that wonderful energy and spontaneity that Josh seems to bring to everything. They're PERFECT!"

So the same guy who put out CDs called "Wigger than Jesus," and "Rappy McRaperson: Greatest Hits" (featuring songs with titles like "Fish Stix," and "Ima Gangster") is now the brain and voice behind "Hooray for Captain Underpants," "Captain Underpants Pizza Party" and "Super Diaper Baby Country Shuffle."

How could this be?

"I guess I'm the only guy in the world who would listen to those incredibly offensive songs and think, 'Hey, that guy should be making music for kids,' " Pilkey said. "But that's what I thought."

In total, Katz has written 22 songs for Pilkey, who drew a cartoon music video to go along with one, "Hooray for Captain Underpants." (The video is on the Pilkey Web site.)

"I tried to keep them simple, something a kid would like," Katz said. "And, like the characters in the books, they are not always polished and professional. I think that's why Dav likes me. I'm so incredibly unprofessional."

That should be fine for what Katz has in mind for the rest of his career: television.

"I don't want to follow anyone," he said. "Hobos follow people. I want to make music and I want to make TV shows. A little goofy sketch comedy/talk show."

Pilkey isn't sure if he and Katz will ever work together again, "But I really hope our friendship continues," he said.

"He's a great guy. I think he's got a huge future ahead of him, and it's going to be fun seeing where his talents take him. I know he's going to be really famous someday, and my friends are all going to be so impressed that I know him."

Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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