Lincoln Peirce is a cartoonist/writer and the creator of the comic strip Big Nate. It appears in more than two hundred U.S. newspapers and online daily at comics.com.

Lincoln Peirce lives with his wife and two children in Portland, Maine.

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Test Your Big Nate Trivia Knowledge!

As the publication date for BIG NATE BLASTS OFF draws closer (okay, the book’s not coming out until February, but it’s always a good idea to plan ahead), I’ve started thinking about the tour that will coincide with the book going on sale.  At schools and in bookstores, I often end my presentation by playing “Big Nate Trivia” with the kids in the audience.  (FYI, parents are definitely NOT allowed to play Big Nate Trivia.)  The rules are simple:  I ask questions about earlier books in the Big Nate series.  Kids raise their hands to answer.  (Shouting out the answer without getting called on is completely unacceptable.)  If a kid answers a question correctly, I give him or her a prize — usually a t-shirt or a book, although there have been a few other random prizes over the years.

Anyway, I need to start thinking of some good questions to ask this next time.  While I work on that, take a look at this sample list of trivia questions I’ve asked in the past.  They range from ridiculously simple (like “what is Francis’s middle name?) to quite difficult.  TEST YOUR BIG NATE TRIVIA KNOWLEDGE!!  (Answers appear at the bottom of this entry!)

1.    What’s the name of Francis’s cat?
2.    What play is performed at P.S. 38 during BIG NATE:  ON A ROLL?
3.    Fill in the blank:  Nate and his classmates build a snow sculpture of ________________ during the big “Snowdown” with Jefferson Middle School.
4.    Speaking of Jefferson Middle School…what is Jefferson’s mascot?
5.    Name at least three of the services Uncle Pedro advertises on the pole in front of his house in BIG NATE FLIPS OUT.
6.    When Chad first appears in Book 1, Nate calls him by the wrong name.  What name does Nate mistakenly use?
7.    Name all four members of Enslave The Mollusk, and list the instruments they play.
8.    In BIG NATE GOES FOR BROKE, Nate and Dee Dee win a prize when they submit their comics to which magazine?
9.    Give the names of Ellen’s boyfriend and his boss at Klassic Komix.
10.    Who painted the long-forgotten but priceless mural at P.S 38 100 years ago?
11.    What’s the name of the Chinese restaurant where Nate once got a bizarre fortune cookie message in BIG NATE:  IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF?
12.    What’s on the front of Chad’s sweatshirt?


I usually have only three or four t-shirts to give away, and there are WAY more than three or four kids in attendance.  So, channeling my inner Mick Jagger, I always explain that You Can’t Always Get What You Want…but that it’s still worth playing Big Nate Trivia.  You’re just as likely to win as anyone else.

TRIVIA ANSWERS:
1.    Pickles
2.    Peter Pan
3.    Achilles
4.    A Cavalier
5.    Palm Reading, Haircuts, Small Engine Repair (Also:  Carpentry, Roofing, Hypnosis, Knives Sharpened, Live Bait, Landscaping, Music Lessons, Yoga)
6.    Todd
7.    Nate (drums), Francis (guitar), Teddy (keyboards), Artur (lead singer)
8.    Story Spinners
9.    Gordie, Wayne
10.    Granny Peppers
11.    Pu-Pu Panda
12.    A smiley face

 

Tue, 09/01/2015

On the Radio

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned WMPG in this blog.  WMPG is the radio station at which I’ve been a volunteer since 1998.  Every Monday morning, I host a radio show devoted to vintage country music.  It’s called “South by Southwest,” and I open each week’s show by promising listeners that if they’ll just give me two hours of their time, I’ll make country music fans out of them.  Whether or not that’s true, I have no idea.  But it’s good to have goals.  Anyway, the radio show is one of the joys of my life.

Volunteering at WMPG also provides me with the opportunity to contribute artistically from time to time.  Twice a year, we host a fundraiser called “Begathon.”  Each Begathon has a catchy “theme,” and once that theme is decided upon, some artwork needs to be created to go along with it.  This artwork then goes on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other swag that the station offers as premiums in return for people pledging money to the station.  

Years ago, a Begathon theme was “What Makes Portland Great.”  This fall, we decided to revisit and tweak that theme, and came up with “What Makes Portland Groove.”  I was asked to come up with a fun and funky drawing that would emphasize the word “groove” while also featuring an image that somehow immediately suggested Portland.  After some brainstorming, I decided to use seagulls as a motif.  Portland is a coastal city, and we have seagulls in abundance.  Then it was just a matter of deciding on poses for the seagulls while leaving enough room for all the hand-lettering (which was very time-consuming).  Another WMPG volunteer will add color in Photoshop.  And he or she will also add the letters WMPG on the four pilings.  We have an iconic logo that is highly recognizable around Portland, so rather than hand-drawing our call letters, I left those four spaces blank for our logo letters to be added later.

I enjoyed the project.  Seagulls are fun to draw, because it’s easy to make them look happy.  And I’ve been spending so much time lately drawing Nate and his pals in BIG NATE BLASTS OFF, it was great to take a short break and focus on something else.

If you’d like to listen to “South by Southwest,” just visit wmpg.org on any Monday morning between 8:30 and 10:30 EST, and you’ll find our live audio stream.  See you soon on the radio!

 

Fri, 08/28/2015

Off To College

Today’s entry will be very short, because there’s so much going on in our household.  We’re helping our daughter Dana pack her bags for college.  Tomorrow she officially begins her time as a member of Bowdoin’s class of 2019.  She’ll have four roommates — from Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey, and Connecticut — and will start her freshman year with an outdoor orientation trip to Mt. Katahdin.  After a few days spent camping and hiking with some of her classmates, she’ll return to campus, meet her academic advisor, and pick her classes.  She’s very excited.  Doesn’t she look it?

Bowdoin is only 30 minutes from our house, so transporting our girl to campus won’t be nearly as daunting as it would be had she enrolled at, say, Colorado College.  And Dana’s not daunted, either.  She already feels very comfortable at Bowdoin.  Her brother spent the last four years there, and Dana attended lacrosse camps on campus when she was younger.  So she already feels right at home.

 It’s a memorable moment when a parent sends a child off to college.  Dana has worked very hard to earn this opportunity, and I know she’ll make the most of it.  Have a wonderful time at Bowdoin, Dana!   We’re proud of you!

Tue, 08/25/2015

Hot and Sticky in Maine

It’s been hot and sticky here in Maine for the better part of a week, and my office is not air conditioned.  Thrifty New Englander that I am, I’ve never quite been able to justify spending money on an air conditioner that I’d probably use for only 15 or 20 days per year.  (For those of you currently suffering triple-digit temperatures:  the average high temperature in August in Portland, Maine is 77 degrees.  The all-time high temperature for August in Portland is 103 degrees, in 1975.)  But I’ll admit, the last few days I’ve been tempted more than once to visit my local Home Depot and buy an air conditioner.

I try to keep the temperature in my office manageable by using a small electric fan.  That keeps me from sweating all over my drawings, but a fan doesn’t have any effect on the humidity in the air.  Most of the materials I use, shown in the picture, are quite humidity-proof; but one of my most vital supplies IS affected my moisture in the air:  the PAPER.  Paper is absorbent, and that means that some of that water in the air migrates to the paper.  That doesn’t mean the drawings look any different, thank goodness.  But the paper FEELS different when it’s humid.  The surface is spongier, and my pens don’t move across it quite as freely as they usually do.  Drawing is more difficult.  I have to work more slowly and carefully.

The funny thing is, I never end up drawing comics about how hot it is when it actually IS hot outside.  That’s because a comic strip is created well in advance of when it appears in newspapers.  I’m usually somewhere between two and three months ahead of my strip’s publication date.  So during the hottest part of the year — July and August — I’m drawing strips that will appear in October and November.  It wouldn’t make sense for Nate and his pals to be complaining about a heat wave in November.  (Average high temperature in November in Portland, Maine:  47 degrees.)  If I want to make comics about the dog days of summer, I have to draw them in April or May.  

Happily, the heat wave came to an end today.  Here’s the 5 day forecast for Portland:

•    Friday 8/21:  Scattered thunderstorms, high temperature 77 degrees
•    Saturday 8/22:  Scattered thunderstorms, high temperature 77 degrees
•    Sunday 8/23:  Scattered thunderstorms, high temperature 77 degrees
•    Monday 8/24:  Scattered thunderstorms, high temperature 77 degrees
•    Tuesday 8/25 Scattered thunderstorms, high temperature 76 degrees

Fortunately, the roof in my office doesn’t leak.  Stay cool, everyone!

Fri, 08/21/2015

FRAPPE vs FRAPPÉ

On Sunday, we visited some friends on Peak’s Island, one of the many small islands that dot Casco Bay here in Maine.  At the end of the day, we had some time to kill while waiting for the ferry to take us back to the mainland.  We visited the ice cream shop near the ferry landing, and I ordered a frappe.

That’s FRAPPE, not FRAPPÉ.  A frappé is an iced coffee drink that can be found everywhere from Starbuck’s to McDonald’s.  But a frappe (pronounced “frap”) is a combination of ice cream, milk, and flavored syrup.  (Some people also add malt powder to their frappes, but trust me, this is completely unnecessary.)  The perfect frappe would  include about three large scoops of ice cream, a generous splash (between 1/4 and 1/2 cup) of milk, and a healthy squirt of syrup.  You blend these ingredients together until they form a thick, creamy concoction.  My frappe on Sunday consisted of toasted coconut ice cream, milk, and coffee syrup.  And it was delicious.

“But wait a minute,” you might be saying.  “Isn’t what you’ve just described a milkshake?”  And the answer, at least to a New England ice cream traditionalist, is NO.  In fact, as any New Englander knows, a milkshake does not contain any ice cream at all.  Shocking, yes.  But true.

Think about it.  Dissect the word.  MILKSHAKE.  In other words, milk that’s been shaken.  But it’s not plain milk.  In New England, a chocolate milkshake is milk and chocolate syrup, shaken together vigorously.  

“But wait a minute,” you say again, completely confused.  “You’ve just described a plain old glass of chocolate milk.”  Not true.  There’s a big difference between simply stirring syrup into a glass of milk — that’s chocolate milk — and shaking or blending the two ingredients vigorously so that the resulting drink is frothy and foamy.  The latter is a traditional New England milkshake.

Traditions aren’t what they used to be, though.  There are plenty of ice cream places around New England that put ice cream in their milkshakes.  And there are plenty of New Englanders that don’t know the difference between a milkshake and a frappe.

EXTRA BONUS FACT:  In certain parts of Rhode Island (and southern Massachusetts) a frappe is called a CABINET.  And no, I’m not kidding.  Cabinets are usually coffee-flavored.

DOUBLE EXTRA BONUS TRIVIA:
  When I moved to Brooklyn in 1985, I learned that a popular drink in that part of the world was a mix of milk, carbonated water, and chocolate syrup.  What is this beverage called?

DOUBLE EXTRA BONUS TRIVIA ANSWER:  Even though this beverage contains neither eggs nor cream, it is called a chocolate egg cream.  

Tue, 08/18/2015

Character Struggles

Have you been reading Big Nate this week?  If so, you know I’ve taken a break from Nate’s ongoing quest to find the mystery girl he met at the fair back in July, and have focused instead on Chad and his unexpected weight loss.

Chad, who generates more affectionate commentary on gocomics than all the other kids at P.S 38 put together, is what is euphemistically called “pleasingly plump.”  But at the moment, he’s a shadow of his former self, having been shipped off by his tyrannical grandmother to Camp Beewell, a summer retreat for kids with weight problems.  The newly-svelte Chad doesn’t seem too happy about it, though.  I have the feeling he liked himself just fine the way he was.

A character like Chad presents an interesting dilemma for a cartoonist.  He’s overweight, and his fondness for food — especially candy and sweets — is one of the staples of the strip. (Every so often, one of the characters will use a figure of speech involving food, like referring to an easy task as a “piece of cake…” and Chad will pop in out of nowhere, saying cheerfully, “did somebody mention cake?”)  I love these sorts of gags, but I have to be careful not to create the impression that I’m making fun of overweight children.  There’s a real-life obesity epidemic among kids in the US, and I don’t want to make light of that in any way.  On the other hand, I don't want to do a comic strip in which the characters have no flaws, either.  As I’ve said in this blog many times, nobody enjoys reading a comic strip about perfect characters who get an A on every test and score the winning goal in every game.  All the characters in Big Nate have their struggles, and Chad’s happens to be his weight.

For what it’s worth:  even though Chad’s grandmother clearly thinks he’s too heavy, I see him somewhat differently.  I just think that Chad’s a classic “late bloomer” who hasn’t lost his baby fat yet.  Plenty of kids are chunky as 9 or 10 year-olds, and shed those pounds once they start having growth spurts.  I think that’s what’ll happen to Chad.  (But not yet.)

Incidentally, Chad’s grandmother is another one of those characters, like Chester Budrick or Wink Summers, who never appear in the strip.  Some characters are funnier if they stay off-screen!

Fri, 08/14/2015

Brazil Nuts

I’ve often said that, even though I don’t consider “Big Nate” to be an autobiographical comic strip, there are certain aspects of Nate’s personality that match my own. There are certain things that both Nate and I like (ice hockey, dogs, cheez doodles) and dislike (figure skating, cats, egg salad). A few years ago, I added brazil nuts to Nate’s list of “dislikes.” And if you’re guessing that I don’t like brazil nuts either…you’re right.

Nate’s haiku in the strip shown here pretty much sums up my own feelings. Brazil nuts irk me. The only time I ever encounter brazil nuts is in a “mixed nuts” assortment — the kind people often serve at parties or on holidays. My question is: what are they even DOING there? Let’s look at your everyday can of Planters Mixed Nuts. You’ve got peanuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans — all of which are very tasty. And then you’ve got brazil nuts, which are NOT tasty. They’re bitter. As Nate rightly points out, they taste like dirt. They add absolutely nothing to the mixed nuts combination. It’s as if you had a box of delicious candies, and then someone decided to randomly mix in some rocks. And not small rocks, either. BIG rocks. See, that’s the other thing about brazil nuts: they’re enormous. They’re clearly the worst-tasting nut in the nut universe, yet they’re overrepresented in a typical can of mixed nuts, simply because they’re so large. That’s what Nate means in his haiku when he says “all they do is take up space.”

A few minutes of research on Wikipedia has unearthed some facts about brazil nuts:
• Brazil nuts aren’t botanical nuts like acorns or hazelnuts. They’re actually seeds harvested from the fruit of brazil nut trees.
• Brazil nut trees are among the largest trees in the Amazon rainforests. They can exceed 160 feet in height, and some have been known to live over 1,000 years.
• Brazil nut trees are a threatened species. In 1970, over 100,000 tons of brazil nuts were harvested in South America. Today, that yearly harvest is down to 20,000 tons.
• Brazil is not the largest exporter of brazil nuts. Bolivia is.

I’m convinced that most people feel exactly the way I do about brazil nuts, and that’s why Nate gets such a raucous round of applause from his classmates. As he says, he “struck a nerve.” And in the final panel, Teddy agrees by comparing brazil nuts to a professional football team, the Detroit Lions. Sorry, Lions fans, but when I did this strip, I wanted to equate brazil nuts with something that is as unlikable in its own orbit as brazil nuts are in theirs. The Detroit Lions fit the bill: they’re not very good, most people don’t give them much respect, and they are always overshadowed by other, more glamorous teams — just as brazil nuts are overshadowed by cashews, almonds, and so on.

If I still haven’t sold you on brazil nuts’ total lack of appeal, consider this: Have you ever purchased a can containing ONLY brazil nuts? Do you ever have a brazil nut butter and jelly sandwich? Is there a candy bar called “Brazil Nut Joy”? Is one of the greatest comic strips of all time called “Brazil Nuts”?

I rest my case!

Tue, 08/11/2015

Archie Comics: Then and Now

I’ll be honest:  it’s been an awfully long time since I bought a comic book.  I look at newspaper comic strips every day, and in recent years I’ve read quite a few graphic novels and so-called “hybrid” books for young readers.  But I’m not sure I can remember the last time I read a good old fashioned comic book — the kind I used to buy for 25 cents an issue when I was a kid.  Besides a few high-profile superhero titles, I don’t think I could name too many of the popular comic strips nowadays.  I’m thoroughly out of the loop.

Despite my woeful level of comic book ignorance, however, I did stand up and take notice recently when I saw an announcement that Archie Comics, one of the iconic franchises in comic book history, has been given a major makeover.  The first issue came out last week and, although I didn’t buy it, I was able to see a number of excerpts online.  The talented folks in charge of reimagining and reenergizing the Archie universe are writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples.  This effort to make Archie relevant to today’s comic book buyers is actually part of an ongoing transformation.  Archie Comics changed management teams in 2009, and immediately began creating new concepts and storylines to freshen up the classic Archie formula.  For example, did you know there’s a series of comic books called Afterlife With Archie, in which Archie becomes a zombie hunter?  No, I didn’t know that, either.  Nor was I aware of  Archie vs. Predator.  As the title suggests, this is a series that depicts Archie and his pals from Riverdale High School battling the monster from the Predator movies.  By all accounts, these new ventures have been well-received, and sales of Archie Comics have grown during the last five years.  Not too shabby for a character who made his first appearance in Pep Comics in December of 1941!

It’s okay to miss the old Archie, though. I know I’m going to miss him, despite the fact that I haven’t been a regular reader for years.  My own personal “Archie Era” was from the early to late 1970’s.  At that point, Archie had already been “modernized.”  He no longer wore the bow tie, sweater vest, baggy pants and saddle shoes that had been his personal wardrobe for decades.  Here’s the thing, though:  I much preferred the OLD Archie.  I liked the bow tie, the sweater vest, and so on.  More to the point, I thought the artwork and storytelling were much stronger in the storylines of the 40’s and 50’s than in later years.  A typical Archie comic book of the 1970’s would include several stories, some of which were classic Archie adventures from years earlier.  In other words, they were reruns.  I didn’t mind, though.  I had never seen them when they’d first been published, so they were new to me.  Most of them featured straightforward plots that reflected small-town values.  Archie’s biggest problem was choosing between Betty and Veronica.  There were no zombies or predators in sight.

I’m curious to see more of this new Archie.   For one thing, this means that there’ll be a new Jughead, a new Reggie, a new Betty and Veronica, and so on.  I was glad to read the creators’ explanation that even though just about everything within Archie Comics is changing, Archie’s personality will remain intact:  he’ll still be a loveable screw-up whose heart’s in the right place.  That actually sounds a bit like Big Nate!  But don’t worry, I won’t be “rebooting” Nate anytime soon.  I’ll just keep booting him along in the same general direction!

Tue, 08/04/2015

Cartoons and The New Yorker

I’ve never met Barry Blitt, but I’m a huge admirer of his artwork.  He created the hilarious cover of the most recent edition of The New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines.  I enjoy reading the articles and columns in the magazine, but just as important to me is the fact that The New Yorker is one of the only periodicals remaining that features cartoons and illustrations on a regular basis.  And the cover is always a drawing or a painting, never a photograph.  I always especially enjoy Barry Blitt’s covers.  He’s a great caricaturist, has an instantly recognizable style, and — best of all — is very, very funny.  This cover illustration, called “Belly Flop,” depicts Republican Presidential candidate and billionaire blowhard Donald Trump making a characteristically understated entrance into a pool of other presidential hopefuls.  Clear the decks, everybody.

Magazine illustrations are not my thing, but I did make one attempt, almost twenty years ago, at selling a drawing to The New Yorker.  I called it “Greetings from New York City.”  (I’m almost certain I’ve blogged about this before, by the way.  My apologies for repeating myself.)  Anyway, this drawing is somewhat reminiscent of the kind of doodles I like to do in my little sketchbooks.  It’s symmetrical, black & white, and jam-packed with obscure details.  Somewhere buried in my desk, I still have this drawing.  And I still like it.  Back then, I submitted it to the magazine and within only a couple of weeks, I got a very nice handwritten reply from a New Yorker editor complimenting me on the drawing, but confirming (as I already suspected) that it wasn’t quite right for them.  That’s okay.  I gave it the old college try.

That’s a phrase that might apply to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  I’m not sure he has a real chance of winning, but he’s going to try very hard.  And that’s great news for cartoonists.  Editorial cartoonists love public figures who are fun to draw and/or have outrageous, larger-than-life personalities.  Trump fits the bill on both counts.  Drawing his hair alone will keep plenty of cartoonists employed for months to come.  Here’s what Barry Blitt had to say about The Donald:

“Donald Trump has entered the fray of Republican Presidential candidates with all the grace of a bully doing cannonballs and belly flops at the local swimming pool,” said Barry Blitt about his cover for next week’s issue. “I’ll certainly be watching the first televised debate, just around the corner, on August 6th. Trump never fails to provide hours of slack-jawed amazement.”

Fri, 07/31/2015

Baseball Hall of Fame

If you’re a baseball fan, you probably know that this past Sunday, four recently retired players were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. And if you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, as I am, you DEFINITELY know that one of those players was the great Pedro Martinez, who spent seven wonderful seasons with the Red Sox, helping the team win its first World Series in 86 years back in 2004. Tomorrow night at Fenway Park in Boston, the Red Sox will formally retire Pedro’s number 45. A large plaque bearing his number will be mounted on the roof facade in right field, joining other retired numbers like Ted Williams’s #9, Carl Yastrzemski’s #8, and others. And the exciting part is…I WILL BE THERE! It will be exciting to see the festivities in person, and there will undoubtedly be a lot of love for Pedro on display. He left the team after the 2004 season, but he remains one of the most popular and charismatic Red Sox players of all time.

The word “charisma” isn’t one you’d associate with a very different kind of ballplayer — namely, JOE SHLABOTNIK. Joe Shlabotnik was a fictional baseball player featured in Charles Schulz’s immortal comic strip, Peanuts. He was also, for reasons that are never quite clear, the favorite player of the strip’s main character, Charlie Brown. Joe Shlabotnik was first mentioned by name in Peanuts in 1963. Readers never saw Joe, of course — adults do not appear in Peanuts — but Schulz made it clear right from the start that he was not a very good ballplayer. The panels shown here are the beginning of a Sunday page in which Charlie Brown composes a fan club newsletter chronicling Joe Shlabotnik’s baseball exploits. We learn that Joe is currently playing for a team in the Green Grass League and is batting .143, that he has made several “spectacular catches of routine fly balls,” and that he “threw out a runner who had fallen down between first and second.” Charlie Brown, of course, shares these facts in a genuine, un-ironic way. Although it was funny to read about Joe’s disastrous performance on the baseball diamond, Charlie Brown’s devotion to him was actually quite touching.

Sports are like that. Obviously, the best players receive more than their share of adulation. But over the years, some of the players I’ve become most fond of are the journeymen — the players whose skills are somewhere between poor and moderately good, and who usually play for several teams over the course of their careers. Some of my favorite Red Sox journeymen over the years have been:

Rich “El Guapo” Garces, a stocky (okay, he was actually pretty fat) middle-innings relief pitcher;
Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, a starting pitcher on the Red Sox of the mid 1980’s;
Bob “Beetle” Bailey, a backup catcher who almost never played;
Dalton Jones, another little-used backup catcher;
Bernie Carbo, who cemented his legendary status by hitting a pinch-hit 3-run homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against Cincinnati;
Rogelio Moret, a pitcher for the Sox from 1970 to 1975. His career ended in bizarre fashion in 1978 when he was discovered in the locker room of his team at the time, the Texas Rangers, in a catatonic state, holding a bedroom slipper in his pitching hand.

All these players had their moments of glory. They might not have been great major leaguers, but the fact that they made the major leagues at all qualifies them as among the very best athletes in the world. It also means that all of them were better than Joe Shlabotnik!

Tue, 07/28/2015