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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My Top Five Christmas TV Specials

In recent entries, I've made mention of a couple of classic Christmas TV specials, because -- well, because it's that time of year.  So today I decided to give you a Top Five list featuring my own personal favorites. 

5.  THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974): 
Frankly, this Christmas tale (a Rankin Bass stop-action production) isn't all that great.  Mickey Rooney as Santa Claus sneezes and snorts his way through the show, Shirley Booth's voice starts to get annoying, and the buck-toothed Thistlewhite family needs to go away.  But this special is saved by two of the all-time great supporting characters, Snow Miser and Heat Miser.  Their respective musical numbers (The Snow Miser Song and The Heat Miser Song) are two of the best moments of any Christmas TV special.

4.  SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN (1970):  Hosted by a genial Fred Astaire (as the mailman) and featuring a memorable cast of characters including the Burgermeister Meisterburger, Winter Warlock, and Topper the penguin, this stop-action animated special (another Rankin Bass Production) tells the story of Kris Kringle becoming Santa Claus and explains how many Christmas traditions came to be.  It ranks higher than "The Year Without A Santa Claus" because a.) Fred Astaire is a WAY better narrator than Shirley Booth, and b.) it's a better story, plot-wise.  But I'm not quite sure about that young Kris Kringle and his ginger Dustin Bieber hairdo.  Kind of sketchy.

3.  A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965):  Surprised that this isn't higher on my list?  Well, it was a tough call.  Obviously, I love Peanuts.  And this special has some magical moments, from the ice-skating sequence to the rollicking dance scene to Linus's quoting scripture to explain what Christmas is really all about.  And Vince Guaraldi's musical score is second to none.  BUT...the unfortunate fact of all the Peanuts TV specials is that the animation is not good.  I understand that this is a beloved TV special.  I understand that it's become iconic.  But the animation keeps it from being a masterpiece.  Plus, one year when I was about 6 or 7 I was watching this while snuggling with my mom, and I threw up all over the couch.  So -- some not-so-merry associations there.

2.  HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966):
  You want to talk animation?  This classic adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book was directed by the legendary Chuck Jones, who won multiple Academy Awards for his Looney Tunes shorts featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.  The man was a genius.  THAT'S animation.  You know the story:  the grinch is bad.  He tries to steal Christmas from the little village of Whoville.  When he realizes what the true spirit of Christmas is, he's transformed.  Add to this the fact that the narrator is none other than Boris Karloff (Dracula!!), throw in one of the best Christmas special songs of all time ("You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch"), and you've got an absolute classic.  From a sheer narrative standpoint, this is the best story on this list.

1.  RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964):  Not even the Grinch can top this.  It's probably the first Christmas special many of us remember watching, and it's chock-full of memorable characters.  Besides Rudolph himself (who, frankly, is a bit of a wet blanket), there's Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives), Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowman (the "Bumble") and the whole crew on the Island of Misfit Toys.  (Whoever created the character of Charlie-In-The-Box deserves some sort of honorary Emmy Award.)  Plus, there are some great songs here:  "We're A Couple of Misfits," "We Are Santa's Elves," and of course, "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas."  It's the oldest of all the specials on this list (50 years old this year!), and it's never been surpassed. 

SPECIAL BONUS PICK:  CHRISTMAS SPECIAL THAT IS GOOD, BUT NOT QUITE GOOD ENOUGH TO CRACK THE TOP 5

•    THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY

SPECIAL BONUS LIST:  5 CHRISTMAS SPECIALS THAT TURN UP ON MANY TOP TEN LISTS, BUT WHICH ARE ACTUALLY OVERRATED AND BORING
•    FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
•    T'WAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
•    MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL
•    JACK FROST
•    MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL

Tue, 12/16/2014

Bowdoin College

Tonight our daughter Dana received a happy email she's long been hoping for: a message from the Bowdoin Admissions Office that she's been accepted as a member of the class of 2019. What great news!

And now, inspired by this exciting turn of events, I offer you a few fun Bowdoin facts:

 

- Bowdoin, located in Brunswick, Maine, was founded in 1794. It was named for former Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin. (At the time, Maine wasn't a state. It was part of Massachusetts.)

- There are currently about 1,900 students enrolled at Bowdoin.

- At the time of its founding, Bowdoin was the easternmost college in the United States.

- In the Niche ranking of Best College Food (a very important category), Bowdoin is ranked #4 in the country, behind only Virginia Tech, Washington University of St. Louis, and UCLA.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe, "the little lady who started this big war," began writing her influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in Bowdoin's Appleton Hall while her husband was teaching at the college.

- Bowdoin was all-male for the first 177 years of its existence. It went co-ed in 1971.

- Distinguished Bowdoin alumni include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Franklin Pierce. (I should note here, however, that Franklin Pierce is widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in US history.)

- The school colors are black and white.

- Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first-ever Olympic gold medalist in the women's marathon, is a Bowdoin graduate. As a senior in 1979, she entered the Boston Marathon as a virtual unknown and won while wearing a Bowdoin t-shirt.

- Bowdoin's newspaper is called the Bowdoin Orient.

We have a lot of ties to Bowdoin in our family. My wife taught there for a couple of years. Our son is a senior there. We have many dear friends on the faculty. I attended hockey camp there in the 1970's, and Dana attended lacrosse camp there a few years ago. So she'll feel right at home.

Fri, 12/12/2014

Kicking Off the Holidays

Most of you have probably seen the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas at some point in your lives.  If you have, you know that Charlie Brown is given the responsibility of finding a tree for the Christmas pageant.  He finds trees of all shapes and sizes for sale, but the one he chooses is a small, sickly-looking thing that looks unlikely to survive more than a few hours.  (The story continues from there, but if you haven't seen it, I won't tell you what happens and spoil the ending.)

In our family, I'm the one in charge of getting a Christmas tree.  We used to make a family event of it when our kids were younger, but with one of them in college and the other extremely busy with high school homework and sports, I've taken care of it on my own for a few years now.  

Charlie Brown bought a tree that had already been cut, and he purchased it at one of those parking lots where a Christmas tree depot magically appears every year right after Thanksgiving.  But our family tradition is to cut our own tree.  There are a number of Christmas tree farms within a short drive of Portland; for the past several years, I've gone to McNeally's Farm in Gorham, Maine.  At your typical Christmas tree farm, you wander through the rows of trees, looking for one that's the right fit for your house.  Everyone has a different idea of the perfect Christmas tree, I suppose, but I prefer trees that look a bit wild and wooly.  And I like them to be big and full.  (I also keep an eye out for birds' nests, because finding a birds' nest in your Christmas tree is good luck.)  Once you choose a tree (and have made sure it hasn't been tagged and reserved for someone else), you cut it down using a bow saw that you've brought from home or that the farm has provided.  Then you tie your tree to the roof of your car (or throw it in the back of your pickup), and take it home.  

It took me almost an hour of tromping through the fields at McNeally's yesterday, but I found a great tree.  It's about 9 feet tall and, as you can see, I couldn't quite fit the entire thing in the picture I took.  Putting up and decorating the Christmas tree is always the unofficial start of the holiday season, in my mind.  But if this blog entry hasn't put you in the Christmas spirit, here's something that could do the trick:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yon2YuXssvo

Tue, 12/09/2014

Singing A Cappella

Tonight my wife and I took a half-hour drive to Brunswick, Maine, where our son Elias is a senior at Bowdoin College.  He sings a cappella with a group called Ursus Verses, and this was their end-of-term concert.

A cappella singing, by definition, is done without instrumental accompaniment, so the focus is entirely on the performers' voices.  Traditional a cappella singing often emphasizes close harmonies.  If you've ever heard a so-called barbershop quartet, you've heard traditional a cappella singing.  But nowadays, a cappella groups are branching out in not-so-traditional ways.  They sing contemporary songs, often use their voices to imitate the sounds of musical instruments, and employ beat boxing for percussive effect.  When I attended Colby College thirty years ago, there were only two a cappella groups on campus:  the Colby Eight was an all-male act, and the Colbyettes were all-female.  But I'd guess that today, there are more than just two a cappella groups at Colby.  There certainly are at Bowdoin, and they're not all separated by gender, either.  Elias's group is co-ed, as is another group on campus.  There are also two all-male ensembles and two that are all-female, for a total of six a cappella groups in a student body of only about 2,000.  I enjoy going to the concerts, and I admire the students for getting up on stage and singing in front of a live audience.  I think if I ever tried that, I might freeze up -- like Nate did in Big Nate In The Zone.  If you've read that book, you know that Nate gets a case of stage fright at the worst possible moment.  Needless to say, it's not Enslave The Mollusk's finest hour.

As a boy, I sang in our church choir, but not because I wanted to.  My parents insisted.  I liked some of the hymns we sang, but I hated everything else about it.  We had to wear long robes with tight white collars, and we spent one or two afternoons a week rehearsing.  Two of the most dreaded words in my vocabulary were "choir practice."  But I never got stage fright, because I was never a featured soloist.  I could always "hide" my voice within the group of voices.  That would be my strategy if I were part of an a cappella group:  stay in the background.  But in Ursus Verses, each member gets to sing the solo part in at least one song.  I've never seen a kid get stage fright, but I have seen one forget the lyrics -- not because she was nervous, but because the group was just learning the song and still didn't know it very well.

Tonight's show was a nice mix.  I won't be able to recall all the songs, but among the highlights were Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke, Beyonce's Halo, Maroon 5's She Will Be Loved, Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know, and another Stevie Wonder song, this one a holiday number, Someday At Christmas.  For us, though, the real treat was the final song of the night in which Elias sang the solo part:  Leaving Town by Dexter Freebish.  He brought the house down!

Fri, 12/05/2014

Coaching Sports: To Scream or Not to Scream?

Our daughter's basketball season is about to begin, and that means it's time to prepare myself for one of the unpleasant realities of high school sports:  screaming coaches.

I'm happy to say that Dana's coach does not belong to that category.  Not only isn't he a screamer, he's one of the calmest, most soft-spoken coaches I've ever seen on a sideline.  But he's the exception, not the rule.  Most of the other coaches of the opposing teams spend much of the game yelling -- at their players, mostly, but sometimes at the referees, too.  I'm not sure why this is, but basketball coaches seem to be the loudest coaches in any sport.  I sure don't remember any field hockey coaches or lacrosse coaches airing out their lungs like the hoops coaches do.  All these guys seem to think they're the next Pat Riley or Phil Jackson.  It's obnoxious.

The ironic thing is:  if you ask the players, they'll tell you they don't even hear much of what the coach is screaming at them.  There's a lot of crowd noise, the gyms don't have great acoustics, and the kids are trying to focus on what they're doing, not on whatever the coach is bellowing from the bench.  So why do coaches continue to scream?  I don't have the answer.  Maybe they're frustrated.  Maybe they're just imitating the behavior of their own coaches from years ago.  Maybe they're genuinely just trying to be heard.  But if they were on the receiving end of all this yelling, they probably wouldn't like it.

When I created Coach John, I decided to make him a stereotypical psycho coach, the kind who says to himself:  "Hmm, these kids aren't listening to me.  Maybe I should scream louder."  Does Coach John have a real-life counterpart?  Actually, he has TWO of them.  In appearance, he resembles my high school phys. ed. teacher, a man who'd coached at our high school for 35 or 40 years.  He was old, significantly overweight, and smoked like a chimney -- not exactly a paragon of physical fitness.  In demeanor, Coach John acts like my Babe Ruth baseball coach.  He'd played baseball in his youth, his sons were extremely talented athletes, he'd coached on the college level, and he was a former military man.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he was a screamer.  His behavior probably wasn't as extreme as Coach John's, but it was close.  He is almost singlehandedly responsible for my decision to stop playing baseball at age 16.  After two seasons of him, I'd had enough.

Years later, I became a high school baseball coach myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I made it through two entire seasons without yelling at anyone.  Except the umpires.

Tue, 12/02/2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi, everyone.  This will be my only blog entry this week, since we'll all be celebrating Thanksgiving in a couple of days.  And, truth be told, this isn't so much a blog entry as it is a little exhibition of some Turkey Day strips from years past.

If you've been around long enough to have read "Big Nate" fifteen years ago -- or if you're one of those folks who's read through the entire archive on gocomics -- then you know that for several years in the late 1990's and early 2000's, I paid tribute to the fourth Thursday in November by featuring Nate's interpretation (in comic strip form) of the Pilgrims' early Thanksgiving celebrations.  Nate's comics weren't exactly historically accurate, but they were a lot of fun to write and draw.  Most of them featured the puritanical Pilgrims of Plymouth letting their hair down, but every so often I'd create a strip from the turkeys' point of view.  Below are four of them.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tue, 11/25/2014

Krazy Kat

I'm not really a cell phone person.  I have one, as I guess most people do nowadays, but I don't use it as frequently as a lot of people use their phones.  I make and answer phone calls, and I read and send texts.  But most of the other features on my cell phone baffle me.

That doesn't mean, though, that I want my phone to be just a generic piece of technology.  If I'm going to carry something around with me wherever I go, I want to personalize it at least a little bit.  When I got my first cell phone, I paid $1.99 for a personalized ring tone -- the opening bars of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day" -- but eventually discovered that I had my phone on "vibrate" most of the time.  So the ring tone was kind of useless.  When I got my second phone -- an iPhone that's already practically obsolete -- I decided to personalize the screen with a picture of my choice instead of using one of the pre-loaded images that came with the phone.  And here's the picture I selected -- a drawing of Krazy Kat, one of the all-time great comic strip characters, created by George Herriman.  

I could have chosen a picture of my family or my dog or my house or something like that, but I wanted the picture to pay tribute in some way to cartooning, which has been so important to me and brought so many blessings to my life.  But to choose an image of Big Nate would seem sort of egotistical.  I wouldn't walk around town wearing a Big Nate t-shirt, so why put Nate on my phone?  I also knew I didn't want to choose something drawn by a living cartoonist, because that would seem a tiny bit stalker-ish.  I narrowed down my choices to a few possible characters -- Charlie Brown, Popeye, Paw Perkins (from "Polly & Her Pals), a couple others...and Krazy Kat, of course.  Something about this beautiful black and white image spoke to me.  Not only do I love the drawing, I also love the fact that Krazy is playing a makeshift banjo and singing into a microphone.  It's a tip of the cap to one of my hobbies, which is hosting a local radio show devoted to vintage country music.  (If you look closely, you'll see I made one tiny alteration to the drawing:  I replaced the original call letters on the microphone with those of the community radio station where I volunteer -- WMPG.)

By the way:  I did a drawing of Krazy Kat recently.  You'll find it in the pages of Big Nate Lives It Up when the book comes out in March!

Fri, 11/21/2014

Drawing Big Nate + A Teaser

I'm frequently asked which of the Big Nate novels is my favorite.  My standard response is that I like all of them.  But when I'm asked a slightly different question -- which book was the most fun to draw? -- the answer is easy:  book #4, Big Nate Goes For Broke.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before in earlier blog entries, one of the reasons Goes For Broke was such fun to draw was that it's the only one of the novels that takes place during the winter months.  I've always enjoyed winter, and I like drawing snowy scenes.  It's a nice change of pace to draw the characters wearing knit caps and mittens instead of of their usual wardrobes.  If you've read the book, you know there are a lot of fun "snowy" drawings depicting a snowball fight, a snow tubing mishap, and of course the climactic snow sculpture contest -- or, as Nate calls it, the Ultimate Snowdown.

But there's another reason Goes For Broke is near and dear to my heart:  in addition to Nate's comics, the storyline required me to create drawings by two other characters:  Nate's sister Ellen, and his new friend (she made her debut in this book) Dee Dee.  Ellen's drawings accompany a report she wrote about the Myth of Achilles.  Dee Dee's drawings appear in a few different spots.  We first see her artistic talents on a poster advertising the upcoming Beach Party Dance.  Later, we see the drawing Dee Dee produces during a game of "Add-On" at a meeting of the Jefferson Middle School Cartooning & Illustration Club.  And finally, there's the drawing you see here, part of a comic collaboration between Nate and Dee Dee.  It's a Doctor Cesspool adventure, but only the first four panels are drawn by Nate.  After that, Dee Dee takes over.

This drawing was so much fun to make.  I really enjoyed the challenge of creating a drawing style that was noticeably different from Nate's, but still appealing in its own way.  Dee Dee uses a finer line than Nate, and obviously the way she draws the characters is different.  Her speech bubbles are more block-like, her handwriting is a bit less angular, and she uses a ruler to draw her panels.  It's one of my favorite pages of all the books.

Which leads me to the following teaser:  book #7, Big Nate Lives It Up, includes comics drawn by someone besides Nate -- but it's not Dee Dee.  It's not Francis or Teddy, either.  In fact, the character who drew these comics has never been to a meeting of the P.S. 38 Cartooning Club, aka the Doodlers.

Who do you think it could be??

Tue, 11/18/2014

Copying in Cartooning

On the left is a drawing I recently received from a young man named Jackson who enjoys reading (and drawing) Big Nate.  On the right is the inside front cover of a Peanuts book I bought as a 7 year-old (almost 8!) in 1971, on which I tried my best to draw Lucy and Linus (on the left) and Peppermint Patty (in the upper right).  Both drawings are copies.

"Copying" is a word that gets a bad rap, for obvious reasons.  You're not allowed to copy answers from another student in the middle of a test, and teachers are always quick to remind you that you'll never learn anything if you copy a friend's homework.  But, as I always tell kids when I visit schools, copying is a-ok in cartooning.  It's how you learn.

Jackson's drawing, which I like very much, is his copy of the cover of Big Nate:  Genius Mode.  I'm flattered that he thinks enough of Big Nate to re-create one of my drawings.  More importantly, Jackson's discovering something I found out when I was his age:  copying another cartoonist's drawings is a great pathway to developing your own style.  For example:  let's say you're a young cartoonist, and you don't quite know how to draw people walking.  You don't know where their feet should go, what's happening with their arms while they walk, and so on.  By copying my Genius Mode drawing, you'd learn that when I draw people walking, their back feet are flat on the ground, while the toes of their front feet are pointing upward.  You'd learn that when the left LEG is back, the left ARM is forward.  You'd even learn how I draw the shadows under people's feet.   Now suppose that tomorrow, you copy a drawing by a completely different cartoonist -- we'll call him Joe -- who has a very different way of drawing people walking.  You might decide you prefer Joe's way to mine, and you might incorporate it into your own drawing style.  The point is:  when you copy, you're gathering information that you might or might not use someday in your own cartoons.  Every cartoonist in the world starts out by copying.  

A word to the wise, though:  copying and tracing are very different things.  When you trace a drawing, you're not really using your eyes or your brain to take visual measurements, record spatial relationships, or note important details.  In other words, you're not learning anything.  It's like you're lip-synching a song instead of singing it with your own voice.

If you're a kid who's really into copying cartoons, one of two things will probably happen.  1.) You'll eventually get tired of copying someone else's stuff, and you'll start creating your own characters, eventually growing more and more accomplished and ultimately becoming a rich and famous cartoonist.  Or 2.) You'll decide that there are other things that interest you more than copying cartoons, and your drawing sessions will becoming less and less frequent until, eventually, you don't draw at all.  Most people fall into category #2, although I've met a lot of people who are never quite able to leave the cartooning behind completely.  They're the folks who are always doodling on napkins!

Fri, 11/14/2014

Big Nate: The Musical Recap!

I had a wonderful couple of days at the Merrill Auditorium here in Portland on Friday and Saturday.  Big Nate:  The Musical was in town, and I got the chance to see both performances.  I'll weigh in with a few thoughts on the play itself, but first I want to introduce you to the talented actors who bring the characters to life.

Of course, there are more than just these seven roles in the show, so all the actors (except for David Landstrom) had to play multiple characters.  For example, A.J. Whittenberger played not only Artur, he also took on the role of Nate's Dad.  AND he was the lead singer of "Calvin & The Galvinators" during the Battle of the Bands.  Mary Anne Furey, believe it or not, played both Jenny and Coach John!  So needless to say, these are some very versatile performers!

Friday's performance was for school groups, and hundreds of kids -- all elementary schoolers, I think -- were bused to the Merrill Auditorium for the show.  I haven't seen any of the other theaters the show has visited on tour, but I'm guessing this had to be the biggest stage of the bunch.  The Merrill holds 1,900 people, which is a lot more than most children's theaters can accommodate, and the stage is correspondingly large.  So the set was somewhat dwarfed by its surroundings.  But on the plus side, the actors had a lot of room to move around up there during their dance numbers!  By the way, there weren't 1,900 kids at the Merrill on Friday, but I'll be there were about a thousand.  Saturday's show was for the general public, and a lot of our friends here in town -- even the ones without kids -- came to watch.  That was very nice of them.  

It's been a year and a half since I saw the world premiere at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland, but the show is the same fun, high-energy experience I remember.  David Landstrom as Nate is a live wire, and that's a good thing.  It's a pretty demanding role.  He's on stage for virtually the entire show, and has to do a lot of dancing, jumping, and running around.  Joshua Dick as Francis is the only actor from the original production -- he's outstanding.  Dani Stoller as Gina is hilarious, and Ian Anthony Coleman makes a great Teddy.  And a special shout-out to Awa Sal Secka in the somewhat thankless role of Mrs. Godfrey.  I thought she nailed it.  A.J. Whittenberger found Artur's sweet spot, and he and Mary Anne Furey as Jenny made a perfect couple.

After Saturday's show, I signed books -- some that kids had brought from home, others that were on sale at the theater thanks to Longfellow Books.  I'd like to thank Longfellow for its involvement and support.  The biggest thank you, though, goes to my friend Gretchen Berg and all the great folks at Portland Ovations who had a hand in bringing Big Nate to Portland.  It was a real thrill to see the show with my friends and family in my own hometown.  Good luck to the actors during the rest of their tour!

Tue, 11/11/2014