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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In a Slump

As I write this, it's Thursday at 9:33 pm here in Maine.  Usually, my beloved Boston Red Sox would be playing at this time of night, but instead they played an afternoon game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  And the Red Sox were crushed, 8-0.  The final score, sadly, doesn't come close to conveying just how thoroughly the Sox were thrashed.  They managed only one hit in the entire game.  That's not very good, but it's only the latest bump in what has been a very rough road for the team this season.  The Red Sox are in last place in their division, and when you consider the fact that they won the World Series only 9 months ago, it's a little shocking that they're playing so poorly.  The fact is, nothing is going right for them.  They're in a slump.
 
Slumps are interesting things.  You usually hear them mentioned in connection to sports, but slumps can happen in any part of your life.  If you've read BIG NATE IN THE ZONE, you know that Nate suffers through a slump in which just about everything goes wrong.  Fortunately for him, that painful period is followed by a stretch in which everything goes impossibly RIGHT.  Suddenly, he's "in the zone."  I can't think of a single word that functions as the exact opposite of "slump," so "in the zone" will have to do.  
 
I played a lot of baseball when I was a boy, and, like just about everyone, I had my share of both highs and lows.  I remember going through stretches where I felt as if I could hit anything the pitcher threw at me; other times, I wondered if I'd ever get a hit again as long as I lived.  One game in particular stands out.  I was in the middle of a horrible slump.  The umpire didn't show up for the game, so my dad, who was sitting in the bleachers as a spectator, was asked to fill in behind the plate.  It was an all-time low to flail feebly at a ball that was a foot over my head, and to hear my own father bellow "strike three."  It seemed to me he said it with a little extra gusto.  Baseball is a game that can humble you!
 
I've also had a few cartooning slumps in my day.  Sometimes they're writing slumps -- times when, no matter how hard I think, I just can't come up with any good ideas.  And other times they're drawing slumps.  You'd think that after all this time, I'd be able to draw Nate and all the other characters in my sleep.  But there are some days when, for whatever reason, it's a struggle, when my pen just doesn't seem to do what I'm asking it to do.  Both types of slumps are frustrating, but writing slumps -- for me, anyway -- are far more common that drawing ones.
 
Happily, though, I'm not in a drawing slump at the moment.  It took me about half a day to get back into the groove after returning from vacation, but I've had a good week thus far.  Today I finished the last page of chapter 4 and am two pages into chapter 5.  That means I've got 76 pages done.  That's about 35% completed, 65% to go!
Fri, 07/25/2014

Soccer and a Lesson in Englishness

I returned to the US on Friday night (or, more accurately, at 3am on Saturday morning) after a wonderful vacation on the island of Nevis in the West Indies.  If you're looking for a place to get away from it all, Nevis is the place for you.  There was no television at the beach club where we stayed, nor did I bring my laptop or avail myself of the free wi-fi.  So we were in an almost complete news bubble.  Our only source of information from the outside world was a 4-page "newspaper" that was available to read at breakfast each morning.  And there was a full one-day lag between an event's occurrence and its appearance in this modest daily newspaper.  That meant that if something happened on a Sunday -- like Germany winning the FIFA World Cup, for example -- we didn't learn about it until Tuesday.

And speaking of soccer, it's the subject of today's blog.  While my wife and I were in Nevis, my pen pal from Japan, Kozo, sent me the cartoon shown above.  Here's what he wrote in his email:

Hi Lincoln, I noticed American people had shown more interest in World Cup this time than before.  Your eleven did a good and sportmanlike job until you lost to Belgium by 1-2.

Now please tell me the point of this cartoon.


And here's what I wrote back:

Hi Kozo,

My apologies for taking so long to get back to you.  My wife and I were out of the country on vacation, so I was completely cut off from email.  We went to the Caribbbean nation of St. Kitts & Nevis.

Yes, even though the US was thoroughly dominated by Belgium, they still had a chance to win that match.  Overall I enjoyed watching the World Cup, although I missed Germany's victory in the final because we had no television or internet where we were on vacation.

And now on to this cartoon:  I believe the key to the cartoon is the paper in the father's hand that says :  TEACH BRITISH VALUES.  The Brits, of course, like to think of themselves as a highly cultured and civilized group of people, so "British values" would suggest the very best in human behavior.  But unfortunately, it is often the case that British soccer fans behave in a very UNcivilized way at major competitions like the World Cup.  They are known for their drunken, thuggish, and sometimes racist behavior, and it has become a real embarrassment for England over the years.  So in the cartoon, the father is telling the son:  "We'd like to think of ourselves as representing the very best in sportsmanship, but the truth is we often represent the very worst."  That's the 'painful lesson in Englishness' the cartoon refers to.

If the paper saying TEACH BRITISH VALUES were not included in the cartoon, then the joke would function on a very different level.  It would just be a commentary on the futility of England in World Cup competition.  England hasn't won the tournament since 1966.  So without the TEACH BRITISH VALUES piece, the father would simply be telling the son:  "I know you're excited about the World Cup, but we have no chance of winning."  That would be a different kind of 'painful lesson in Englishness.'  

So the cartoon can really work in two different ways, if you want it to.  Hope that helps, Kozo.  Thanks for writing.

Best,

Lincoln

Tue, 07/22/2014

Cover Stories

Last time, I wrote about the illustrations in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and described my dismay over the fact that the original drawings by Joseph Schindelman had been replaced -- more than once -- in the fifty years since the book's publication.  Well, another book I'm fond of mentioning whenever the subject of my favorite books comes up is Banner In The Sky, by James Ramsey Ullman.  This book, a mountain-climbing story that takes place in 19th-century Switzerland, has absolutely no illustrations in it whatsoever.  But it does have a cover, and six different versions are shown here.  (There probably have been more than six over the years, but these were the ones I could find.)

I think a lot about book covers, because part of creating a successful children's book is designing an eye-catching cover.  Think about it:  in a typical bookstore, you have hundreds or even thousands of books to choose from.  People shopping in the store don't have the time to read a bunch of books cover-to-cover, compare their relative merits, and then choose which one to buy.  Oftentimes, they're making more of an "impulse" purchase -- deciding very quickly as to whether they want to buy a certain book or not.  So you've got to get people's attention quickly, and a great book cover is one way to do it.  

Ironically enough, when I discovered Banner In The Sky in my middle school library, it didn't even HAVE a cover.  The cover had fallen off.  But later, when I bought my own copy of the book, it DID have a cover -- the first one shown here.  I really like this cover.  It very effectively conveys the danger and excitement of Rudi Matt's quest to climb The Citadel, and the strong diagonal of the cliff face makes for a very dynamic picture.  The one right next to that -- the one with the yellow lettering -- is probably my least favorite of these six examples.  I don't like the style or color of the lettering, I don't like the publisher's logo being shown so prominently, and I don't like how detailed Rudi's face is.  When a story has no illustrations, you end up picturing in your mind's eye what the characters look like.  You don't want the cover of the book telling you what the protagonist looks like.  None of the other five covers show Rudi's face in any detail, and I think that's appropriate.  Rudi might be the main character, but the mountain -- The Citadel -- is the most dominant figure in the story.  Which cover do YOU like best?

BLOG NEWS:  I'm going on vacation, which means I'll be taking a break from blogging.  There won't be any new entries next week.  Look for my next all-new entry on Tuesday, July 22nd!

Fri, 07/11/2014

Lincoln Peirce on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It's been fifty years since one of my favorite children's books was published.  It's called Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, and it appeared here in the states in 1964.  I learned about the book in the late 1960's, when my mother first read it to me.  Once I was old enough to read it on my own, I did just that -- many, many times between the ages of, oh, let's say seven and twelve.  Years later I returned to the book and read it again, over and over, to my own children.  It has never failed to cast a spell on me.

But here's an important point -- important to me, at least.  The book I read as a child and re-read decades later was a first edition copy, with illustrations by a gentleman named Joseph Schindelman.  He drew with a wispy, almost spider-web sort of line; his figures were not defined by solid outlines.  Instead, the characters and objects in his drawings were formed by many small, delicate marks combining to create areas of light and shadow.  His drawing of the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, shown here on the left, is a fine example of Mr. Schindelman's style.  And it captures very well the character of Mr. Wonka as Roald Dahl describes him:  Mr. Wonka was standing all alone just inside the open gates of the factory.  And what an extraordinary little man he was!  He had a black top hat on his head.  He wore a tail coat made of a beautiful plum-coloured velvet.  His trousers were bottle green.  His gloves were pearly grey.  And in one hand he carried a fine, gold-topped walking cane.  Covering his chin, there was a small, neat, pointed black beard -- a goatee.  And his eyes -- his eyes were most marvelously bright.  They seemed to be sparkling and twinkling at you all the time.   His whole face, in fact, was alight.
 
Having read the book so many times, these illustrations became fixed in my mind.  It was impossible to imagine the story of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory without Joseph Schindelman's drawings.  But, in fact, Mr. Schindelman was only the first illustrator to bring Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket, and all the other characters to life.  There have been others.

In 1967, the book was published in the United Kingdom, and for reasons known only to the publisher, Mr. Schindelman's illustrations were not used.  Instead, a woman named Faith Jaques did the drawings.  Later, in 1985, illustrations by Michael Foreman were featured in the US edition.  And in 1995, the renowned British cartoonist/illustrator Quentin Blake took over.  His drawing of Willy Wonka is shown here on the left.

I must confess to feeling very conflicted about this.  I understand that as "classic" books age, publishers might like to update them from a visual standpoint -- to make them look more contemporary, or more accessible to today's readers.  But what did Roald Dahl think of this?  He died in 1990, which means that he never lived to see and approve Quentin Blake's illustrations.  But he WAS alive when Faith Jaques did her drawings in 1967, and in 1985 when Michael Foreman did his.  Was he troubled by the illustrations being changed?  Or was he largely indifferent?  

I certainly don't know how he felt.  But I know I have a strong preference for the Joseph Schindelman drawings.  Those are the ones I grew up with, and I think they enhance the story in a way that other illustrations don't.  (This isn't just a Charlie And The Chocolate Factory issue, by the way.  I feel the same loyalty to Louis Darling's original illustrations for Beverly Cleary's books from the 1950's and 1960's.)

And finally, don't get me started on the movie starring Johnny Depp.  That would be a rant that might never end!

Tue, 07/08/2014

Reading the Funnies

If you're reading this and you're a kid, I have a question for you:  Do you read the comics in your local newspaper?  (That's assuming, of course, that your family subscribes to a daily newspaper.  Many people have stopped doing it, preferring to get their news via the internet, or Twitter, or whatever.)  Anyway, I'm just curious about how many kids today read newspaper comics.  I suspect it's not all that many.  But when I was a kid, the comics pages in both the newspapers my family subscribed to (The Foster's Daily Democrat and The Boston Globe) were essential reading.  I was fascinated by "the funnies," and whenever a familiar strip was replaced by something new, it always felt like a seismic shift.  

Nate's an aspiring cartoonist, of course, and if you've followed the strip over the years or read any of the Big Nate novels, you know that his greatest creation is Doctor Cesspool.  Nate draws Doctor Cesspool comics first and foremost for his own enjoyment, but he has bigger dreams for his comic strip.  In the strip from a few years ago, Nate tries to convince the editor of The Daily Courier that Doctor Cesspool would be a worthy replacement for "Freckles And Gabby."  Somehow, I don't think the editor is convinced.

When I was Nate's age, I never would have dared to show any of my comics to an editor -- but I spent a LOT of time thinking about the comics lineup in my local papers.  I read all of them, even the ones I didn't care for, and I had very strong opinions about which strips were great, which were merely good, and which were awful.  I had no idea, though, about how many strips were out there.  The fact is, the only strips I was familiar with were the ones in the newspapers that were delivered to our home every day.  There was no internet back then, so I couldn't read all the comics I wanted just by clicking a mouse or tapping away on a keyboard.  As far as I knew, the strips in the Daily Democrat and the Globe were my only options.  Here were some of the strips I saw every day:

Momma, The Amazing Spider-Man, Mutt & Jeff, Beetle Bailey, Doonesbury, Li'l Abner, The Wizard Of Id, Dondi, Apartment 3-G, Mark Trail, Blondie, Archie, Tank McNamara, Eek & Meek, Shoe, Marmaduke, The Family Circus, Peanuts, and Mary Worth.  Some of these strips are still around, and others have gone away.  But whether they're contemporary comics or "classics," the good news is that many of them are easily accessible online.  And if, like me, you're interested in comics history, gocomics.com has just started a feature called Origins Of The Sunday Comics.  You can see great examples from cartooning's first "golden age" here: http://www.gocomics.com/origins-of-the-sunday-comics#.U7IugRZCdSU

Happy reading!

Tue, 07/01/2014

Get to Know Lincoln Peirce

Sometimes, when I can't think of anything to blog about, I resort to simply describing the events of my day.  But I'm afraid today was completely unexceptional.  I walked my dog a couple of times, worked on the drawings for Big Nate Lives It Up, and ate fish chowder and french fries with my daughter at our favorite seafood joint, Susan's Fish & Chips.  Not much to write about there.

So instead, I'm going to print a few questions & answers from an interview a did a number of years ago with my fellow cartoonist, Scott Nickel.  He asked me twenty questions, but if I showed you all my responses, this entry would be way too long. So I'll just pick out a few highlights of our Q & A.  Here we go!

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I think it was in 1988 or so. A friend of mine was opening a sports bar in Brooklyn (I lived in Brooklyn and taught high school art in Manhattan at the time), and he asked me to create a little character for the menus and advertising. The bar was called the Brooklyn Dodger and the character I came up with was sort of an Artful Dodger type.

Then my friend and his partners got sued by the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team (which had formerly been called the Brooklyn Dodgers, of course), who thought that the Artful Dodger character infringed on their rights as the owners of the Dodger name.  I was subpoenaed and had to give testimony...it was very dramatic.

I can't remember what my friend paid me, but it wasn't enough.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

When I first started BIG NATE, one of the devices I employed quite frequently was Nate writing and drawing his own comics in his school notebook. I'd draw the way a sixth-grader could draw, and I wrote the sort of sophomoric jokes a sixth-grader would write.
One of Nate's comic creations was ACTION CAT. The gag was that the only thing Action Cat ever did was get hit by cars. I found these gags hilarious, but my editor told me that people didn't want to read about roadkill with their morning coffee.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?

Both.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

Ben Katchor, Tom Toles, Richard Thompson, Jim Meddick, Darby Conley. Those are my faves among contemporaries. But I'm also a huge fan of a lot of strips from cartooning's golden era: KRAZY KAT, POLLY & HER PALS, LI'L ABNER, etc. Popeye is probably my all-time favorite comic strip character.

And a totally forgotten cartoonist named Francis W. Dahl, who did very clever cartoons/social commentaries for the Boston Herald back in the 30's, 40's and 50's, was a huge favorite of mine when I was a boy. My grandparents had some collections of his work, and I read them over and over.

9. Who’s stronger, Superman or The Hulk?

Duh. Superman.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

I worry about running out of FUNNY ideas. I come up with plenty of unfunny ones.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

Well, in the books and TV show categories, the ones I remember most vividly are from my childhood. Two books that were very significant to me were Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman and A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The first I read for the first time when I was about 12, and I read it many, many times throughout my teens. The second was published in 1980, when I was a junior in high school, and (this sounds a little corny) it really changed the way I looked at the world.

I watched a fair amount of television as a child and watch almost none now. Back then I loved Bonanza, Hawaii Five-0, and the Bob Newhart Show. I was very fond of the show Barney Miller. I watched reruns of old shows like The Rifleman and Perry Mason. I loved staying up and watching The Tonight Show. And, of course, those early years of Saturday Night Live were pretty great. In recent years, the only show I really watched religiously was a show called Homicide.

I host a radio show every week devoted to vintage country music, so I have hundreds of favorite songs. But if I had to choose one, it would be Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

My favorite movie is Tender Mercies, starring Robert Duvall.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Non-photo blue pencils, Staedtler pigment liners, smooth-plate 2-ply Bristol board, a ruler, and a radio. And the computer, I guess. That's about it.

19. How important are awards?

I've never won any, so I'll say not at all.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

With only one more hole in my JiffyLube punch card, I will receive a free oil change.

Fri, 06/27/2014

Character Development

I received a very good question about the comic strip in a letter from a reader the other day.  Emily from Illinois wanted to know:  When you invent a new character, how do you decide whether to keep them or throw them out?  I'll begin my answer by talking about the different kinds of characters in a comic strip.  The way I see it, there are five types:

TYPE A:  These characters are the stars of the strip and appear on a regular basis.  Nate is the strip's #1 star, of course; he's in it nearly every single day.  But you don't necessarily have to make daily appearances to be a Type A character.  You just have to be a major part of the proceedings.  Francis and Teddy are good examples of Type A characters.

TYPE B:  These are the supporting players.  They're not in the strip nearly as often as Type A characters, but they appear on a frequent basis.  There are many Type B characters in "Big Nate":  Dad, Gina, Mrs. Godfrey, Chad, Artur, Principal Nichols, and so on.  You don't see them every day, but you know they're there.

TYPE C:  To use a TV phrase, Type C characters are the "special guest stars."  They can be very colorful characters, so their appearances are often memorable.  They might be the focus of an entire week's worth of strips, then disappear for six or eight months.  Some good examples of Type C characters in the comic strip are Spitsy, School Picture Guy, Coach John, Mrs. Czerwicki (the detention monitor) and Peter, the first-grade genius who's Nate's "book buddy."

TYPE D:  These characters are one-offs.  In other words, they are introduced for one specific storyline, and they go away once that storyline is over.  Substitute teachers make good Type D characters.  So do girls that Nate becomes smitten with, like Lila, a young lady who briefly was the star pitcher for Nate's baseball team last summer.

TYPE E:  The unfortunate souls who are part of this group would be called "extras," I guess.  They usually don't have names and are included in the strip to provide some visual interest in the background, or because the gag requires that Nate interacts with a person he doesn't know well, like a cashier at a store.

So, getting back to Emily's question:  when I bring a new character into the strip, how do I know if he or she will be a character who sticks around -- a Type B or a Type C, let's say -- or a Type D or E who isn't likely to last very long?  Well, Emily, the answer is that when I invent a new character, I often have no idea what that character's long-range prospects are.  If they're easy to draw and fun to write about, they'll probably be back at some point.  Chad's a great example of a character who started out as a Type E, and very gradually worked his way up the ladder to a Type B.  The more jokes I wrote for Chad, the better I liked him.  And I could tell readers liked him, too.  At the other end of the spectrum was a character named Mr. Corey, who was part of the strip for a week about five or six years ago.  Mr. Corey was based on my friend, the cartoonist Corey Pandolph, and I found him very tough to draw.  I knew from the start that Mr. Corey was a Type D character.  I included him as a tip of the cap to a friend, but I had no interest in making him a recurring character.

Then there's the kind of character who moves DOWN the ladder while characters like Chad are climbing up.  These are characters who I initially thought would play larger parts in the strip -- they might have even been major players for awhile -- but their roles have diminished over time.  Nate's sister Ellen is a good example.  A onetime Type A character, she's now at the very low end of the Type B spectrum.  Jenny, Nate's dream girl, is another character who's not featured as prominently as she used to be.  Nate's still wild about her, of course.  But sometimes, a cartoonist just starts to run out of ideas for certain characters.

And speaking of running out of ideas, that's all I can think of for today.  So long!

Tue, 06/24/2014

World Cup Fever

I write about sports quite frequently in this blog, for the simple reason that I'm a huge sports fan. But since I began writing Big Nate novels a few years ago in addition to my regular comic strip job, I find I have very little time to actually sit and watch sporting events on TV. Occasionally, though, there's a sporting event that's so big, and so compelling, that I try my best to carve out some time to watch. When that event is World Cup soccer, which officially kicked off last week, watching in the quiet and solitude of my living room just doesn't cut it. So I go to the soccer barn.

My friend Peter lives with his family here in Portland, and they share a driveway with the family that lives next door. At the end of that driveway is a barn. Even though Portland is a fairly large city by Maine standards, it still has some leftover trappings of its more rural past. Many houses, even those in the middle of the city, have barns -- a reminder of days when most Portland families owned horses and/or other livestock.) Peter's neighbor is a German gentleman, and as you may know, Germany is a soccer-crazy country. So whenever there is a major soccer competition -- EuroCup, Olympics, and definitely World Cup -- this fellow puts a giant TV in his barn and invites anyone and everyone to come watch soccer. Every single World Cup match, whether it be a high-profile crowd pleaser like USA vs. Ghana on Monday (a scintillating 2-1 USA win) or a more obscure match like Colombia vs. Ivory Coast, is shown live in its entirety at the soccer barn. And there's usually a pretty good crowd.

Watching sports with a large group of people -- some friends and some complete strangers -- is fun. The soccer barn is the next best thing to being at a World Cup match in person. Over the years, I've been at the soccer barn for thrilling moments (like Landon Donovan's stunning last-minute goal in the 2010 World Cup vs. Algeria, a 1-0 US win) and devastating ones (the US women's loss to Japan on penalty kicks in the 2011 Women's World Cup). And no matter what the result, sharing the experience with a bunch of people in a 150 year-old barn is a blast.

Soccer has always been a major part of Big Nate (the comic strip). It's a sport that tons of kids play, so I think they can identify with the adventures of Nate and his teammates. And parents who read the strip might recognize some of the triumphs and tragedies depicted in these soccer strips. Nate's the goalkeeper for P.S. 38, and once referred to himself as the "anchor" of the team -- until Francis pointed out that an anchor is an immobile object that impedes progress.(By the way, that's a pretty good definition of Spain's goalkeeper, who allowed 5 goals against the Netherlands in their match last week.)

I took this picture the other day, about 15 minutes before the US match vs. Ghana began. Sadly, I couldn't stay for the actual game, because that evening happened to coincide with our daughter's lacrosse team dinner. But I'm hoping to see plenty of the remaining matches at the soccer barn. I'll be rooting for the USA, even though they don't have a very realistic chance of winning. Whoever DOES win the World Cup is sure to have many fans at the soccer barn. It's a very international crowd!

Fri, 06/20/2014

Big Nate: The Musical Is Coming To A Town Near You!

Hi, everyone. I'm afraid I have time for only a short blog entry today. I'll shortly be heading out the door to attend the end-of-the-season potluck for our daughter's lacrosse team, and I'm going straight from there to the rink for my hockey game later tonight. So it's going to be a busy evening!

How about a BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL update? It was only a little over a year ago that I traveled to Glen Echo, Maryland, to watch the world premiere of the musical at Adventure Theatre MTC. I was delighted with the show, as you may remember from the blog entry I wrote afterwards. And Adventure Theatre was pleased, too -- so much so that the artistic director, Michael Bobbitt, began exploring the possibility of putting together a touring company. I'm very happy to tell you that a tour of the musical will soon be a reality. Check the local children's theater in your town to see if it's one of the tour stops!

My only misgiving about this tour was due to the fact that the original cast from last year's production will not be reprising their roles (with the exception of Joshua Dick, who plays Francis). Those actors were so great, I was briefly worried that the touring company cast wouldn't be able to measure up. But no worries! A terrific cast is being assembled, and Michael assures me that they'll be second to none. I'll be able to see for myself in the fall. BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL is coming to Portland, Maine in November, thanks to a great organization called Portland Ovations. I'll be there to sign books, answer some questions from the audience, and watch the show. Hope Nate and his friends come through your town, too!

Tue, 06/17/2014

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day, everyone! It won't be Father's Day until Sunday, of course, but this is my last blog entry before then. Do something special for your dad this weekend!

When I started the comic strip back in 1991, I imagined that Nate's dad would play a very large role. I was planning to make "Big Nate" a "domestic humor" comic strip, in the tradition of others like "For Better Or For Worse" and "Fox Trot."  In short order, though, I realized that the jokes and stories I most enjoyed telling were the ones about Nate's life at school. That obviously meant that Dad's contributions to the strip would be somewhat reduced. But unlike Nate's sister Ellen -- who is almost never in the strip anymore -- Dad has carved out a small but significant space for himself in the comic strip as well as the chapter books. How about a few Dad Fun Facts?

  • Dad is divorced from Nate's mom, who has never appeared in the strip or the books, and hasn't even been mentioned for years and years. But based on a couple of references in the very early days of the comic strip, we get the message that the divorce was definitely not Dad's idea.
     
  • Dad is a food hypocrite. He tries to force healthy, no-fat foods down Nate's throat (witness his lame attempt to substitute Cheezy Weezies for Nate's beloved Cheez Doodles), but he himself is a junk food junkie.  Remember the song "Junk Food Junkie" by Larry Groce? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQnIL-XPerQ
     
  • Continuing on the food theme: Dad embarrasses Nate every year by insisting on handing out healthy snacks to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Some of the stuff he's handed out over the years: rice cakes, dried apricots, zesty ranch soy nuts, and bouillon cubes.
     
  • Sports are another area where Dad causes Nate significant embarrassment. He sometimes tries to join Nate and his friends in their games of basketball or football, but it's clear from the results that athletics are not Dad's strength. He also tries to provide some baseball coaching for Nate, but even a simple game of catch seems beyond him. He's just not very good.
     
  • And speaking of sports, Dad enjoys golf, but is terrible at the game. He drags Nate along to caddy for him whenever he plays.
     
  • In the comic strip (but not the books), Dad's family of origin adds some color to the proceedings. Dad's parents are called Marge and Vern (Nate calls them Gram & Gramps), and his unemployed younger brother is Nate's Uncle Ted. (Note: Uncle Ted will be paying Nate a visit this summer. Keep an eye on the comic strip!)
     
  • Dad's first name is Martin. In real life, that was my uncle's name.
     
  • On a couple of occasions, Dad has mortified Nate by flirting with sales ladies during back-to-school shopping excursions.

I'm not sure what my kids have in store for me on Sunday, but I'll act appropriately surprised. And I'll be driving down to New Hampshire later in the day to take my 84 year-old father (and my 82 year-old mom) to lunch. Enjoy your day, dads!

Fri, 06/13/2014