The first time we saw Word Girl we were hooked. How could you not love a fifth-grade superhero with a monkey sidekick named Captain Huggy Face? A superhero who fights villains like The Butcher, who butchers the English language, hurls meat at his enemies by saying things like “Sausage Cyclone!”, tries to steal the priceless Hoboken Diamond and can be rendered powerless by tofu?
The PBS show, which enters its second season this fall, won a daytime Emmy in 2008 for outstanding writing in animation. It’s filled with quirky extras like an unseen narrator who banters with Word Girl. At the end of each show there is a James Bond “Q”-style peek at “Word Girl gadgetry.” The animation has a cool retro comic book feel. Did I mention the monkey? He break-dances at the end of each show. Can you tell I’m a little obsessed?
When it came time to chat with Word Girl creator Dorthea Gillim, I was like one of those Trekkie dorks who accost William Shatner at the airport Marriott. She talked about why she made Word Girl “ethnically ambiguous,” the importance of a good vocabulary, and what she took from The Simpsons. – Jennifer V. Hughes
I have to admit something. We are totally obsessed with Word Girl in my house. And by “we” I mean my five-year-old daughter, but also me and my husband. He actually watches it when she’s not home. We tape it every day.
[Laughs] Like tape, as in VHS?
Yeah, we’re pretty lame. Do you get a lot of response from grown-ups? Or are we just weird?
You’re in very good company. I must say that I’m not at all surprised and I’m very happy to see that my hunch worked out – build it and they will come. This was always, in my mind, a family show. It’s a kids’ show, but it’s one that I would want to watch.
How did you come up with the idea for Word Girl?
I trace the origins back to my love of language, which started when I was in ninth grade and asked for a dictionary for Christmas. Not just any dictionary; it had to be the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. I was the kid who marked all the words I looked up. I’ve always aspired to be eloquent and articulate, because I come from a family of great orators and I never felt like I measured up. I thought it would be cool if eloquence was a super power. I knew I wanted to create a new character for kids. I wanted it to be a girl and I wanted her to be ethnically ambiguous so all kids could identify with her. She has all the powers of Superman, but then she’s got eloquence too.
You have the best villains. I mean, Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy who has a sandwich-shaped head, shoots mustard at people, lives in his mom’s basement and plots to crush City Hall with a Panini press? How do you guys come up with this stuff?