The rise of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" -- How a Web cartoon is muscling its way into the publishing world

Greg Heffley is a typical middle schooler, which means he is by turns devious, self-centered, underachieving, and cruel. But as the star of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Greg has become a hero to parents everywhere. The first Wimpy book appeared last May and has spent a full year on the New York Times children’s chapter books best-seller list; a follow-up, Rodrick Rules, debuted at No. 1 in February. Much of the credit for Wimpy’s success goes to ”reluctant readers,” hard-to-engage kids — often boys — who’ve turned Greg’s misadventures into an unexpected publishing phenomenon.

Kinney, a 37-year-old online-game developer in Plainville, Mass., created Wimpy as a Web cartoon for in 2004. Two years later, he took his strips to Comic-Con in New York City, where he was rejected by every publisher he met until Charles Kochman, a senior editor at Abrams, saw the potential in Wimpy‘s easily digestible format. ”He articulated visually and verbally something that everybody feels, whether they’re 8 or 48,” says Kochman. ”There was just immense power in seeing this figure with the weight of the world on his backpack.”

Wimpy‘s fan base is likely to grow. Fox 2000 and producer Nina Jacobson have optioned the film rights. A third book, The Last Straw, is due this January, with at least two more sequels to follow. So we can expect Greg’s emotional perils to keep readers — reluctant or otherwise — engaged for some time to come.