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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Sweet Tooth!

I’m writing this time about Book 5 in the series, BIG NATE:  IN THE ZONE.  When I began brainstorming for this story, I thought at first that most of the plot would be driven by some sort of fitness initiative at P.S. 38.  And in fact, the school’s focus on fitness and healthy eating did comprise a big part of the story.  But I realized quickly that I’d need more storylines to sustain a 216-page novel.  My colleagues at HarperCollins and I had already agreed on the book’s title before I even began writing it, and the phrase “in the zone” is what inspired me to include in the plot a story thread about Nate’s luck — impossibly bad in the early chapters, and then (thanks to an unlikely good luck charm) incredibly fantastic later on.  There’s also stuff about Chad’s crush on a girl named Maya, a crisis surrounding Nate’s band Enslave The Mollusk, school-wide crazes involving empty soda bottles and decorated sneakers, a run-in with a trendsetting bully named Marcus, and a climactic Field Day competition.  Of all the books, this might have been the one with the most complicated plot.

But for this blog entry I decided to write about the “healthy eating” aspect of the story because in recent years so much has been said about kids being heavier now than they were in the old days.  And that’s true — there’s currently what’s often called an Obesity Epidemic going on in the US.  I’m sure there are people who think candy is a major culprit, but I tend to think that the major contributors are fast food, soda, and the amount of time kids spend on the computer or watching television.  Whatever the causes, schools have tried to do their part, educating kids about how to eat healthier and often replacing the high-sugar, high-fat offerings in their vending machines with better options.  P.S. 38 is no exception, and in the picture shown here, Nate and Chad have just discovered that the snack machine in the cafetorium has been stocked with some unexpected items.  They’re too small for you to read the labels, so what follows is a partial list of the offerings:  Nutty & Nice, Sunshine Raisin Bar, Tasty Soy, Mueslix Mix, Rice Cakes, Grainiac, Strawberry Roll, Seedsation, Nature’s Best, Touch O’ Flax, Carrot Craze, Fiberlicious, Beet Bites, Veggie Village, and a few partially-obscured items with the words Gluten Free and Fish Oil faintly visible.  What a line-up!

As an avowed candy enthusiast, Chad is appalled by this turn of events.  I’m a little like Chad:  I’ve got a sweet tooth.  And for much of my adult life, I bought and ate several candy bars a week.  My thinking has always been:  if you’re eating healthy overall, and getting a proper amount of exercise, a candy bar is not going to kill you.  But I’ve had to make concessions to age.  As you get older, your metabolism slows down and you can’t eat quite the way you did when you were younger.  So I’ve cut back on my candy bar consumption.  But friends and family know that I can discuss the relative merits of all kinds of candy until I’m blue in the face.  I know that in the past I’ve written about candy in this blog — my fondness for Mounds, Butterfingers, Peanut M&M’s, Starbursts (the original flavors, not those tropical ones), Junior Mints, Sugar Babies, Good & Plentys, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.   Skor bars are also tasty.  And there are just as many candies about which I’m completely indifferent or even hostile:  Charleston Chews, Sno-Caps, Bit-O-Honeys, Three Musketeers, Fifth Avenue bars, and anything that tastes like sour apple.  All-time worst candy:  Jolly Ranchers.

Anyway, you may look at Chad’s rather rotund shape and think that he needs to cut down on his sweets…and you’re probably right.  But I never think of Chad as a kid who’s going to become an obese adult.  I think of him as a late bloomer who hasn’t grown out of his baby fat yet.  His day will come!

Two more blog entries next week, and then it’s the end of the road!

Fri, 02/05/2016

Uncle Pedro

We’ve reached Book 5, BIG NATE FLIPS OUT, in our journey through the first seven books in the series.  I really enjoyed working on this book.  I mentioned when I was writing about BIG NATE GOES FOR BROKE that the storyline was an amplification of something I’d previously done in the comic strip.  The same was true here.  In the strip a few years earlier, I’d done a series in which Nate agrees to be hypnotized in an attempt to stop being a slob.  But that was only a 2 or 3-week arc.  He was hypnotized by Francis, eventually drove everyone crazy with his newfound obsessive-compulsive neatness, and was un-hypnotized shortly thereafter.  End of story.  But in the book, the plot becomes far more complex.  There’s a major disagreement between Nate and Francis.  There’s a missing piece of valuable school property.  There’s a school yearbook component.  There are Nate’s own comics featuring the likes of Ultra-Nate, super sixth grader, and Luke Warm, Private Eye.  And there are a couple of new characters:  Nick Blonsky, an obnoxious classmate; and the fellow shown in the picture above:  Teddy’s Uncle Pedro.

This is the only book in which Uncle Pedro appears, but that’s not to suggest that he’s not an important character.  He plays a key role in FLIPS OUT, and I fully anticipated while working on this book that Uncle Pedro would reappear in future books.  It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I still love the guy.  As you can tell by looking at the combination totem pole & signpost in front of his house, Uncle Pedro is a man of many talents:  palm reading, carpentry, roofing, landscaping, and so on.  This signpost is the sort of thing you see whenever you’re traveling in rural areas.  I notice them in Maine, and I’m sure you see them whenever you’re out driving in the country.  People in those parts of the world often don’t work traditional 9-to-5 jobs.  They need to master a variety of skills to get by.  Like repairing engines, giving music lessons, or selling live bait.   

Then there’s the colorful totem at the top of the post.  That was my attempt to give a tip of the cap to Teddy’s Hispanic roots.  Although I have never gone into it in much detail, Teddy’s heritage is a mixture of Puerto Rican and Mexican.  I thought it would make the drawing more interesting to add a decorative element, so I did some research on Mexican totems.  As I’ve said many times, it’s always a fun challenge to draw something you’ve never drawn before.

LITTLE-KNOWN BIG NATE FACT:
  In the comic strip, Nate has actually been hypnotized TWICE:  once for his sloppiness problem, and once to unlock the secret of why he’s afraid of cats.  As it turned out, both those aspects of Nate’s personalities were front-and-center in BIG NATE FLIPS OUT.  If Nate weren’t afraid of cats, his team never would have won the Trivia Slam.  And if you don’t know what I’m talking about…go read the book!

Up next:  Book 6, BIG NATE:  IN THE ZONE.

Tue, 02/02/2016

Dee Dee the Drama Queen

I’m continuing my chronological journey through the first seven Big Nate novels, and today’s entry focuses on my favorite book in the series: BIG NATE GOES FOR BROKE, published in March of 2012.

I’ve written before about the reasons behind my fondness for this particular book: the fact that it’s the only one in the series to take place in winter; the compelling rivalry between P.S. 38 and its arch rival, Jefferson Middle school; and above all, the introduction of a new character: Dee Dee Holloway, the sixth grade’s resident drama queen.

I enjoy all the characters in Big Nate — some because they’re a lot of fun to draw (like Coach John and Spitsy) and others because their personalities are appealing in some way (like Chad and Mr. Rosa). But Dee Dee occupies her own special place, because she filled a void that really needed filling. I was in the process of writing the third book when I realized (with the help of a young girl I met at a bookstore in St. Louis) that the female characters in Nate’s world were either Nate’s rivals/enemies (Gina, Mrs. Godfrey, Ellen), grandmotherly types (Mrs. Czerwicki, Mrs. Shipulski), or unattainable dream girls (Jenny). What was clearly missing was a female peer of Nate’s who was neither a villain nor a potential love interest — someone who’d be just a friend. So I created Dee Dee. It was too late at that point to fit her into Book #3, but I decided that she’d have a major role to play in Book #4. I didn’t think readers would buy it if I depicted her and Nate as fast friends right away. Instead, Nate goes from being rather annoyed and baffled by Dee Dee at the book’s outset to realizing by the story’s conclusion that she is a trusted friend. I was pleased with how natural it felt to bring Dee Dee into the fold. Even though she was a new character, writing her dialogue came very easily to me. By the time I finished the book, it seemed as though Dee Dee had been a part of Nate’s world for years…but in fact, it had only been a few short months.

I’m extremely proud of Dee Dee. Even though my novels are often referred to as “boys’ books,” I knew from my visits to schools and bookstores that there were plenty of girls reading and enjoying Big Nate, too. I felt I owed it to these young ladies to create a positive female character who could take her place alongside Teddy and Francis as Nate’s true blue companions. I’m proud, too, that to meet this challenge I didn’t turn Dee Dee into a tomboy, a bookworm, or a boy-crazy squealer. She takes a back seat to no one. Dee Dee can hold her own with all the other characters, and it’s clear that, despite her frequent histrionics, she is more emotionally mature than Nate (as girls often are at this age). Readers liked her right away. I consider Dee Dee one of my real successes as a cartoonist and writer.

She’s so much fun that I can’t imagine saying goodbye to her with the conclusion of the book series. I’m bringing her into the comic strip. In fact, yesterday (1/28/16) marked her debut appearance. And in typical Dee Dee fashion, she had a real drama queen moment!

Next time: some thoughts on Book #5, BIG NATE FLIPS OUT.

Fri, 01/29/2016

Bumble Boy

What you’re looking at in the image here is a pivotal moment from Book 3, BIG NATE ON A ROLL. It depicts the end of a narrative flashback in which Nate is explaining to Francis and Teddy exactly how he was able to raise so much money for his Timber Scout troop. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t give away all the details…but as you can see, it involves a comic book called Bumble Boy. There is no such comic book in real life, of course. It’s an imaginary title that I invented just for this story. But there’s nothing imaginary about Nate’s love of comics. His own comic characters, like Doctor Cesspool, Ultra-Nate, Moe Mentum and others, play a very important role in all the Big Nate novels. First of all, they demonstrate just how creative and clever Nate really is. He may be a bit of an underachiever academically, but his comic creations make it clear that he’s a born storyteller. Additionally, Nate’s comics are a nice change of pace. Not only do they look different from other illustrations in the books, but they feature a different kind of humor — cornier and more farcical, with an emphasis on bad puns and cheesy melodrama. Just the sort of humor a sixth grader would love.

But Bumble Boy isn’t one of Nate’s own creations; it’s a superhero comic book, and considering its essential role in the plot of ON A ROLL, I wanted it to look like one. The problem is, I’m not very good at drawing superheroes. I never mastered the heavily muscled bodies of crimefighters like Superman or Captain America. But I did the best I could, and the result is what you see here: the cover of Issue #12 of Bumble Boy (Half Man! Half Bee!), which clearly contains an adventure pitting our hero against a villain called The Hammer. In the style of a true villain, he’s saying to Bumble Boy: “Face it, you insect! You’re no match for THE HAMMER!” I’m not sure that a hammer is all that effective a weapon to use against a bee in real life, but that’s okay. I was happy with the way this drawing came out.

Drawing Bumble Boy and The Hammer wasn’t the only artistic challenge for me in this book. As you may remember, Nate and his fellow Timber Scouts are trying to raise money by selling sicky-sweet wall hangings called WARM FUZZIES. For me, that meant I had to draw things like adorable kittens, precious babies, and beautiful unicorns. None of those are my strong points, but I ended up enjoying the process. I love drawing Nate and all his friends and teachers, but all of them are pretty familiar to me by now. It’s fun, every once in awhile, to try drawing stuff you’ve never drawn before — like a Granny Peppers mural in BIG NATE LIVES IT UP, or a suit of armor in BIG NATE GOES FOR BROKE.

And speaking of GOES FOR BROKE, I’ll be writing about it in my next entry — along with a very special character!

Tue, 01/26/2016

The Scribble Game

In my last entry, I wrote about an illustration from Book 1: a depiction of Nate and Teddy’s “Yo Mama Smackdown.” I’m proceeding in chronological order, which means that today it’s Book 2’s turn. What you see here is a page from Big Nate Strikes Again in which Nate and friends play one of my longtime favorites: The Scribble Game.

Years before I began writing novels, I taught cartooning at an assortment of summer camps and schools. I always used the Scribble Game as a warm-up activity, and I learned that most kids had already played some version of the game at some point in their lives — even if they referred to it by a different name. Whatever you choose to call it, the Scribble Game is pretty simple. Someone closes his eyes and makes a scribble. He then hands that scribble to a friend, whose job it is to turn that scribble into something. In the drawing shown here, Nate deftly turns Teddy’s scribble into an elephant riding a skateboard.

The best games don’t have too many rules to keep track of, and the Scribble Game fits that description. The first rule (more like a suggestion, actually) is that whoever does the initial scribble shouldn’t make it too complicated. The game’s less fun if the scribble you’re working with looks like someone went nuts with a Spirograph. To combat this, I always told the kids to count to three when they were making their scribble, and then stop. The second rule: no erasing allowed. The point is to transform the scribble into a drawing by adding to it, not by eliminating the more challenging parts. And the third rule is: you can’t simply cover up the scribble if you don’t like it. If Nate, in the drawings above, had simply scribbled on top of Teddy’s scribble, covering it up and turning it into a giant blob, that wouldn’t really be in the spirit of the game. But Nate played the game the way it’s meant to be played. He took Teddy’s lines and added to them, enhancing the original scribble instead of obscuring it.

I grew up playing this game with my brother when we were kids, and I still play it just about every day as a warm-up exercise. I was pleased to be able to include it in one of the novels, because the Scribble Game has so many positive associations for me. It’s also a fun visual and demonstrates, in a way readers can appreciate, that Nate has some creative cartooning flair. (But not as much as Artur does, apparently. A couple pages later, Artur effortlessly transforms a scribble into a masterful drawing of a knight battling a dragon.)

Next week, I’ll write about some selections from Books 3 and 4: Big Nate: On A Roll and Big Nate Goes For Broke (which is probably my favorite of all 8 books). Have a great weekend, everyone!

Fri, 01/22/2016

Yo Mama

For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about something from each of the first seven Big Nate novels that I found particularly significant, or interesting, or just plain fun.  This first item, from Book #1, BIG NATE:  IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF, falls into the “fun” category.  Yes, friends, it’s the one and only YO MAMA SMACKDOWN.

In case you’re not aware, Yo Mama jokes are humorous insults, usually (but not always) exchanged between friends.  The insults aren’t aimed at the friend, though.  They’re aimed at the friend’s MOTHER — which isn’t very polite and, these days, perhaps not even socially acceptable.  But I happen to think that most people, if given truth serum, would agree that Yo Mama jokes — which are sometimes called snaps — can be very funny.  They also require a quick wit.  Most of us don’t have the type of mind that can quickly invent creative or funny put-downs in the middle of a conversation.  I certainly can’t do it.  I’m more the sort of person who thinks of the perfect comeback three hours AFTER the argument, when it’s completely useless.  

Maybe that’s why I’ve depicted several Yo Mama Smackdowns in the comic strip over the years:  because I secretly wish I could think as quickly on my feet as Nate.  He’s the master of the Yo Mama joke, and Teddy’s not too shabby, either.  Insult humor works very well in a short-format comic strip because the gags are quick and punchy; they’re less well-suited to a chapter book.  Nevertheless, when I saw the opportunity to insert a couple of Yo Mama jokes into Book 1, I jumped at the chance.

Some Yo Mama jokes that I’ve used in the strip have been around for decades and can be loosely defined as belonging in the “public domain.”  Others, like the one that Teddy uses on Nate in the picture shown here, I’ve written myself.  It would take me too long to comb through my files and find ALL the Yo Mamas I’ve used over the years, but here are a few gems:

•    Yo Mama’s so fat, when she talks to herself, it’s a long-distance call.
•    Yo Mama’s so hairy, she braids her elbows.
•    Yo Mama’s so ugly, when she looks in a mirror it says “Viewer Discretion Advised.”
•    Yo Mama’s so fat, she eats with three utensils:  a knife, a spoon, and a forklift.
•    Yo Mama’s so hairy, her knuckles have sideburns.
•    Yo Mama’s so ugly, her face is closed on weekends.
•    Yo Mama’s so big, her cereal bowl has its own lifeguard.
•    Yo Mama’s so hairy, Jane Goodall has set up base camp in her bathroom.

Thanks for reading!  But don’t show this to your mother.

Tue, 01/19/2016

Blast Off With Big Nate Next Month

One month from tomorrow, on February 16th, book #8 in the series, BIG NATE BLASTS OFF, will go on sale.  On that very day I’ll begin a book tour that will take me to Philadelphia, Dayton, Raleigh, New Orleans, Austin, and Chicago.  I’ll be visiting elementary schools, stopping by some of my favorite bookstores, and meeting a lot of wonderful kids, teachers, and parents who have been Big Nate’s most enthusiastic supporters.  I’ll sign books, play Big Nate Trivia, and perhaps even hand out a few t-shirts.  And when I return home from that trip in late February, do you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to take a break.  BIG NATE BLASTS OFF is the final book in the series.  

I’m not tired of Big Nate, or bored, or anything like that.  It’s just that I think this is a good time to set the novels aside.  When I started the first book in 2009, I’d never written a novel before, and it quickly became clear that the process would be exhilarating, rewarding…and an awful lot of work.  For the previous 18 years, writing and drawing the comic strip had been my full-time job.  Now I was embarking on a new adventure that, exciting as it was, added the equivalent of another full-time job to my schedule.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit of a shock to my system.  But I quickly learned that I loved writing Big Nate novels.  The format provided me with the chance to do a lot of things I was never able to do in the strip: tell longer stories, create more ambitious artwork, introduce a bunch of new characters…the list goes on.  And of course, to say I was thrilled when kids embraced the books would be an understatement.  The Big Nate novels have been an enormous blessing in my life.

So why am I stopping?  Well, because the novels are becoming more difficult to write.  There’s a finite number of stories you can write about a sixth-grade boy, even one with as active an imagination as Nate’s.  I want to bring the series to a close before I start to repeat myself.  No author wants his books to become predictable.  And no author wants something he cares so much about to decline in quality.  While working on books 1 through 8, I’ve always felt 100% confident that I had a great story to tell.  But would I still feel that way if I were working on Book 9?  Or 11?  Or 15?  I don’t think any book series can — or should — go on indefinitely.  And I’d be disappointed in myself if I allowed a Big Nate novel to be published that I knew wasn’t up to par.  

I’ll continue to do the comic strip, and there will be new Big Nate compilations coming out for many years to come.  But BLASTS OFF will mark the end of the novels.  It’s been a great run, and I’m very proud of all eight books.  In this blog over the course of the next month, I’ll be writing about some of my favorite parts of the series.  Then, when I leave to start my book tour, this blog will also come to an end.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

 

Fri, 01/15/2016

WHACK!

I’ll bet you didn’t expect to be looking at pictures of penguin figurines in this blog, did you?

There’s a story behind these, and it begins at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1987.  The Skowhegan School is a summer art colony in Skowhegan, Maine, and I was fortunate enough to spend 9 weeks there right after I finished grad school.  It’s also where I met two wonderful friends, Scott and Anne, who are now married and living happily ever after in Brooklyn, NY, with their two boys, Thibeau and Odin.  Scott and Anne are both very talented artists…and they share my sometimes offbeat sense of humor.

Are you familiar with Parade magazine?  It’s part of a lot of Sunday newspapers, and it sometimes includes advertisements for collectibles:  wall hangings, decorative clocks, and so on.  Well, one Sunday during that summer of 1987, Scott and Anne and I bought a Sunday newspaper.  I can’t remember which one of us first noticed it, but in that particular issue of Parade, there was an ad for a whimsical penguin figurine by “renowned artist" Michelle Emblem.  Needless to say, none of us had ever heard of her.  The porcelain figurine (shown in the picture on the left, above), produced by the Franklin Mint, featured a cute little penguin slipping on a chunk of ice, and it had an unforgettable title:  “WHOOPS.”  Apparently it was part of an ongoing series of penguin sculptures, all of them with “W” titles:  “WHEE,” “WHOOSH,” “WOW,” and so on.  Scott, Anne and I found this utterly hilarious.  But, tragically, we lost the ad and within a few days had already forgotten Michelle Emblem’s name.  So we decided to invent a new name for her:  Nina McFadden.  Nina wasn’t real, of course, but that didn’t stop us from creating an imaginary life story for her, and during the rest of the summer we cracked ourselves up by remembering the cheesy hilarity of “WHOOPS.”

Jump forward a couple of years to May of 1989, when my wife and I were married on a beautiful day in Rhinebeck, NY.  It’s customary to give a wedding gift to the bride and groom, of course, and our friends and family were more than generous.  There was no gift from Scott and Anne, though.  Instead, there was a package addressed to Lincoln and Jessica from NINA McFADDEN.  When we opened it, we discovered the hilarious sculpture shown on the right, above:  a Nina McFadden original (she may have had a little help from Scott and Anne) entitled “WHACK!”  It depicts two penguins, which means it’s twice as good as “WHOOPS.”  And one of the penguins has just hit the other on the head with a baseball bat.  What it lacks in whimsy, it makes up for in gratuitous violence.  Best wedding gift ever.

Years later, when Scott and Anne were married, I returned the favor and gifted them with yet another Nina McFadden masterpiece.  I don’t have a picture of it, but I can tell you that it featured a hockey stick and was called “WHAM!"

Tue, 01/12/2016

25 Years of Big Nate!

Nate appears to be in a celebratory mood, and with good reason.  Earlier this week he celebrated 25 years in print.  The Big Nate comic strip debuted in newspapers on Sunday, January 6, 1991 — a quarter century ago!

I remember very little about that particular day, so I thought it might be fun to look online and see what I could find out about the events of the date.  I eventually landed at a site called takemeback, where the facts compiled about January 6, 1991 convinced me of one thing:  this was one of the most boring days in recorded history.  There was a decided lack of news that day, so I’m afraid I can’t report on all the seismic episodes that were occurring around the world.  But I did uncover a few nuggets:

•    How about the most popular movies on that date?   I wouldn’t call any of them Academy Award-worthy.  There was Lionheart, starring Jean Claude van Damme, aka the Muscles from Brussels; Not Without My Daughter starring Sally Field; Kindergarten Cop with former Mr. Universe and future governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger; The Godfather Part III, a movie that never should have been made; and Mermaids, starring Bob Hoskins, Cher, and Winona Ryder in her pre-shoplifting days.  (By the way, going to see a movie in 1991 cost about $4.25.)
•    Let’s look at the pop charts.  The top five songs in the USA that day were:  The First Time by Surface; Justify My Love by Madonna; Love Will Never Do (Without You) by Janet Jackson; High Enough by Damn Yankees; and Sensitivity by Ralph Tresvant.  Full disclosure:  the only one of those songs I’m remotely familiar with is the Madonna tune.
•    Bart Simpson was on the cover of Time magazine that week.  I’d say Big Nate still has quite a long way to go before he ends up on the cover of Time.  Or Popular Mechanics, for that matter.
•    Some of the best-selling books of the day:  Scarlett, the ill-fated “sequel” to Gone With The Wind by Alexandra Ripley; The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy; Needful Things by Maine resident and Red Sox fan Stephen King; and No Greater Love by schlocky romance novelist Danielle Steele.
•    Other fun facts:  A gallon of gas cost, on average, $1.12 in 1991.  A dozen eggs cost 85 cents.  And it cost $1.15 to ride the subway in New York City, where I lived at the time.
•    And finally, what about the comics world that Big Nate entered on that day?  Well, some of the most popular comic strips in 1991 were Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, For Better Or For Worse, Doonesbury, The Far Side, and Garfield.   Other soon-to-be popular strips that were still relatively new were Dilbert, Mutts, Pickles, and Fox Trot.  Current strips that weren’t around back when Big Nate started include Zits, Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, Lio, Red & Rover, and Non Sequitur.  All those strips are more popular than mine, but thanks to the novels published first by HarperCollins and now by Balzer & Bray, Big Nate has found a wider audience.  I’m awfully lucky to have been writing and drawing these stories for nearly half my life.  Thanks for reading, everyone!

 

Fri, 01/08/2016

Mrs. Shipulski's Hair

The blog entries have been few and far between lately, due to family obligations and the holidays, but I’m back today with a hair-raising tale.

As you might have already guessed by looking at the pictures shown here, this entry is going to be about Mrs. Shipulski’s hair color.  But first, here’s a little background.

When I started the comic strip, and for many years thereafter, daily comics — that is, comics appearing in newspapers on Monday through Saturday — were always black and white.  Color was reserved only for the Sunday comics section.  That, along with the fact that they appeared in a longer format, was what made Sunday comics special.  When I brought Mrs. Shipulski into the strip (and I honestly can’t remember when that was), she was strictly a Monday through Saturday character.  I didn't include her in a Sunday page until she’d already been around a few years.  So I never gave much thought to what her hair color was.  In a black-and-white comic strip, hair could be one of three colors:  black (if I colored it in); white (if I left it blank); or something in the middle (if I shaded it in).  Mrs. Shipulski’s hair, obviously, was white.

Fast-forward a few years, and big changes came to the comics biz.  A growing number of newspapers began running comics in color seven days a week.  The first papers to do this did the coloring themselves, but that led to major problems because cartoonists had no say in the color choices.  Eventually, the syndicates — the companies that sell comic strips to newspapers — took on the responsibility of coloring the dailies.  From that point on, the syndicates would not only provide color comics for their newspaper clients; they would also publish the comics in full color online. The syndicates gave the cartoonists a choice:  either the cartoonists could do the coloring, or the syndicate would.  Well, I already was in charge of coloring my own Sunday pages, and was not at all interested in taking on the task of coloring six dailies a week.  Writing and drawing them was more than enough!

When the syndicate started coloring Big Nate dailies, I compiled a “color guide” for them.  I tried to provide color choices for all the major characters, along with my preferred colors for backgrounds, furniture, grass, and so on.  But there were already an awful lot of characters in Big Nate by this time, and Mrs. Shipulski wasn’t exactly a major one.  She slipped through the cracks, and it took a while for her color scheme to get nailed down.  I wasn’t much help to the syndicate in this area, I’m afraid.  I always liked my daily comics to be black-and-white (and, in fact, there are still plenty of newspapers out there who have colorless comics pages on Monday through Saturday), and when I drew those daily strips, I pictured them in my mind as black-and-white, not color.  Once I sent them to the syndicate, it was a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”  I usually didn’t even bother to check the website to see how the colors looked.  So that’s why Mrs. Shipulski, in the three pictures above, appears with sandy brown, then blonde, and finally gray hair.  It was just a matter of a series of colorists over the years making different choices.  But we’ve finally got it figured out now.  Mrs. Shipulski’s gray hair is the color I prefer.

And finally, a trivia question:  How did Mrs. Shipulski get her name?  Well, like many things in my life, it goes back to sports.  A player named Jason Shipulski was a member of the University of New Hampshire ice hockey team that came within a whisker of winning the 1999 NCAA championship.  I followed that team closely and always liked the way young Mr. Shipulski played the game.  So I stole his name.  There you have it!

Tue, 01/05/2016