Love and Nate
Last time, I assured you that I have no plans to create a romance between Nate and his archenemy, Gina. Their toxic relationship has been the source of a lot of speculation on the gocomics comments page. Recently, one reader made a statement that went something like this: Nate will never end up with Gina, because Jenny's the only girl he's ever loved. Well, I agree with the first part, but not the second. In the comic strip, Nate's heart has been stolen by other girls besides Jenny over the years. Sometimes it's just been a momentary crush. Other times it's been more substantial.
Nate's first serious girlfriend was Angie. That spring, I had written a storyline in which Nate's poor Social Studies grade leads to him having to attend summer school. Very soon thereafter, I realized that summer school would probably be pretty boring for Nate without any of his pals around. So I brought a girl named Angie into the story. She was new in town, and during the process of moving had fallen behind on some schoolwork; she was attending summer school as a way to get caught up. Nate was smitten with her immediately and was too embarrassed to tell her that he was at summer school due to his poor grades. So he pretended that he was there to tutor other kids. Eventually, Angie found out the truth, of course, but she didn't hold it against Nate, and they started going steady. By 6th grade standards, it was a pretty long-lasting romance: six months, eleven days, four hours, and thirty-two minutes. (Nate timed it.) But eventually Angie's feelings changed, and she dumped Nate with the classic "I really like you as a friend" speech.
Later on, Nate had another serious relationship, and this one, too, heated up during the summer. Nate was at soccer camp (run by the psychotic Coach John) and met a girl named Kelly. Even though they were the same age, Nate didn't know her because she wasn't a classmate of his at P.S. 38; she went to Jefferson. Nate fell for her hard, and she returned his feelings; they started going out after soccer camp ended. Nate seemed to have found happiness with Kelly, until he discovered that his longtime crush Jenny had just dumped her boyfriend Ronnie (this was before Artur was in the picture). Convinced that the coast was now clear for HIM to romance Jenny, Nate dumped Kelly by writing a break-up note on the back of a detention slip.
Nate's had other crushes, of course. One summer he went to chess camp and fell madly in love with a girl whose chess skills earned her the nickname "The Brain." Another time, when he returned to school in the fall, Nate learned that he'd been assigned a locker partner: a "hottie" named Amanda Woodcock. And, if you've been reading the strip recently, you know that Nate had a major crush on a girl named Lila...until he found out she already had a boyfriend (whose name, in a cruel twist of irony, was Nate). Nate barely had time for heartbreak, though, before Jenny returned from Seattle. She and Artur are still an item...but Nate can dream, can't he?Fri, 06/14/2013
Nate & Gina
Remember this drawing? It's from page 185 of BIG NATE ON A ROLL, and it shows Teddy and Francis busting Nate's chops for being wildly in love with Gina.
He isn't, of course. Gina is right up there with Mrs. Godfrey in Nate's personal pantheon of yuck. But a lot of Big Nate readers don't see it that way. In fact, a lot of them think that Nate and Gina are destined to be P.S. 38's hottest couple.
I didn't realize how many people felt that way until the comic strip started appearing on gocomics. If you read Big Nate or other comics there, you know that each page has its own comments section. That means that if you have an extra strong opinion about today's Frazz or Lio or Pearls Before Swine, you can post a comment for other readers -- and cartoonists -- to see. I check the comments section on the Big Nate page two or three times a day, and sometimes I comment myself. Starting in June of 2011, when Big Nate joined gocomics, I began noticing comments like these: "When are Nate and Gina going to realize they're perfect for each other?" "It's a thin line between hate and LOVE." "It's so obvious they're going to end up together!" To which I respond: Really?
Folks are entitled to their opinions, of course, but I've never considered Nate and Gina to be anything but mortal enemies. They might have some similar characteristics -- both are somewhat self-absorbed, and both can be obnoxious at times -- but that doesn't mean they're well-suited for each other. Besides, if Nate and Gina ended up liking each other, one of the most interesting dynamics of Big Nate -- his ultra-competitive relationship with her -- would cease to exist.
So relax, Gina-haters. I have no plans to get these two kids together!Tue, 06/11/2013
Big Nate Poster!
If you haven't bought a copy of GENIUS MODE, the latest Big Nate collection of comic strips, you probably don't know that the book contains a special premium: a poster of Nate in the middle of one of his "lightbulb moments." Not a bad bonus gift!
You might remember that I blogged a few months ago about the gifts and prizes I used to buy from mail-order companies that advertised in comic books. Among those prizes were posters, and they usually cost about a dollar apiece. They often were posters of movie stars, athletes, or cartoon characters. Here are some of the posters I remember hanging on the walls in our basement playroom at various times during my childhood:
I think kids still like posters, so I'm delighted that they can get one for free with their copy of GENIUS MODE. Special features like that are becoming more common in the children's book realm, as is another exciting development: Big Nate comics in full color! By now, kids are accustomed to seeing comics in full color, seven days a week, on sites like gocomics.com. Soon, collections of your favorite comic strips in full color will be the rule, not the exception. In fact, I'm happy to let you know that the next Big Nate collection, MR. POPULARITY, will be in color. And it will have a poster as well!Fri, 06/07/2013
Connecticut and BEA!
Hi there, everyone. My apologies for skipping my blog entry last Friday. As you know, I always try to blog twice a week; I write them on Monday nights and Thursday nights. Last Thursday night, however, I was in New York City having dinner with some of my friends and colleagues from Andrews McMeel Publishing. They were kind enough to invite me to attend Book Expo America on Saturday, and I was happy to do so.
But before heading over to the Jacob Javits Center on Saturday for BEA, I took a trip to Connecticut on Friday. I got up at 5:30 am and walked to Grand Central Station, where I caught a train to New Haven. There, I was picked up by Karen Rosenthal of RJ Julia Booksellers, a wonderful bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. She drove me to Totoket Valley Elementary School in Northford, where I spoke to a gym full of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders. In addition to my usual talk about Big Nate and comics, I also had the chance to judge the top submissions in the school's first ever comic strip contest. Sixty-eight kids created their own comics, and I picked the five I thought were the most original. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks very much, TVES!
Later that afternoon, I spoke to an enthusiastic group of kids and parents at RJ Julia, then signed books for awhile. It was a very hot day, and I'd like to thank all the families who ventured out to attend the event. I signed copies of whatever books kids were purchasing or had brought from home, but the two titles that I saw the most of were the most recent compilations: GAME ON! and GENIUS MODE.
The next day at BEA, I spent an hour in the morning at the Andrews McMeel booth, signing copies of GAME ON, and I'm delighted to say that in one hour, we went through all the books we'd brought: 180 of them. Thanks to Shelly, Kathy, and Amy for all their help. Then, in the afternoon, I met my beloved editor from Harper Collins, Phoebe, and she sat with me in the "signing area" while I visited with folks who wanted a signed copy of BIG NATE FLIPS OUT. Phoebe is infamous for taking blurry photos with her smartphone, but this time she actually had a camera with her, and she took this photo of me at Table #10. This time, it took us less than an hour to give away all our books. So, thanks, everyone, for standing in line!
BNITZ UPDATE: I've had to do a lot of traveling lately -- to Washington, Pittsburgh, and New York in just the last month -- but that's all done with for now. So I can focus on the artwork for BIG NATE IN THE ZONE.Tue, 06/04/2013
As I mentioned last time, this past weekend the annual Reuben Awards banquet was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I don't attend the Reubens every year, but I've managed to be there for two out of the last three. (I skipped it last year when it was held in Las Vegas.) At the ceremony, the members of the National Cartoonists Society gather and pay tribute to their colleagues who've been singled out for outstanding achievement in various cartooning categories during the past year. I won't list all the winners, but here are a few names you might recognize:
Graphic Novels: Chris Ware, "Building Stories"
Gag Cartoons: b>Roz Chast
Newspaper Panel: Hilary Price, "Rhymes With Orange"
Newspaper Comic Strip: Brian Basset, "Red And Rover"
The highlight of every Reubens weekend is the Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. There are always three nominees, and this year those very talented gents were Rick Kirkman ("Baby Blues"), Brian Crane ("Pickles"), and Stephan Pastis ("Pearls Before Swine"). And, in an almost unprecedented occurrence, there was a tie! The two winners were Rick Kirkman and Brian Crane -- which is why the picture you see here shows TWO winners standing on stage. I must admit, though, that I felt bad for Stephan, who's been nominated several times but still hasn't won. I'm going to make a bold prediction right now: he'll win next year.
Meanwhile, I have only a couple of days home in Maine before I head off on another trip, this time to New York City for Book Expo America. I'll also stop in at an elementary school and a bookstore in Connecticut on Friday. Congratulations to all the Reuben winners! That's all for now.Tue, 05/28/2013
Today's entry is about a particular kind of character that appears again and again in comics history -- the sidekick. Of course, sidekicks aren't confined only to comics. You find them everywhere in books, movies, theatre, television, and so on. But in my humble opinion, some of the "second bananas" you see in comic strips and comic books are among the most memorable sidekicks anywhere -- like the fellow shown here: Jughead Jones, the hamburger-loving scene-stealer from the "Archie" comics.
First of all, what IS a sidekick? I'm not sure any of the definitions I've found online tell the entire story. They all mention that a sidekick is generally a close friend or companion who is usually regarded as subordinate to the character he or she is allied with. In other words, there's a star, and then there's a co-star. That's a good description of some classic sidekicks, like The Lone Ranger's Tonto or Batman's Robin. But there are plenty of sidekicks who go far beyond this co-starring role. They might not be featured as prominently as their more celebrated companions, but they often manage to upstage them.
Let's go back to Archie and Jughead. Most of the stories in "Archie" comics focus on the title character and the various difficulties he gets into, often involving dream girls Betty and Veronica. But when you get right down to it, Archie is not a particularly memorable character. He's somewhat bland. Jughead, on the other hand, is not bland at all. He's absurdly lazy, always hungry, and unlike the rest of the gang at Riverdale High School, is not the least bit interested in romance. When I used to read "Archie" comics as a boy, I always thought Jughead was much more interesting, and funnier, than Archie. I still do.
Then there's "Peanuts." When the strip started in 1950, Snoopy was Charlie Brown's dog, pure and simple. He was a sidekick. But obviously, over the years, Snoopy became much more than a pet. He was a World War I flying ace, an astronaut, a home run-hitting shortstop, an author…the list goes on. Clearly, his personality was much larger and more colorful than Charlie Brown's. It reached the point where you really couldn't call Snoopy a sidekick any longer. In fact, Snoopy arguably became the "star" of Peanuts and eventually got a sidekick of his own: the little yellow bird, Woodstock.
Now, what about Nate? Who's HIS sidekick? Well, I'd describe both Francis and Teddy as sidekicks, but not of the Jughead variety. Nate's personality is too big for him to be upstaged in the way that Jughead routinely upstages Archie. But in the next chapter book, Big Nate In The Zone, Nate creates a new sidekick in comic strip form: he gives Ultra-Nate, his superhero alter ego, a crime-fighting partner. But who is it? You'll have to wait for the book to find out!
One final note: I'm of to Pittsburgh on Friday to attend the Reuben Awards Weekend. I'll tell you all about it in my next entry.
A while back, I told you that I sometimes get email from Kozo, a friend from Japan who enjoys comics and cartoons of all kinds -- and uses them as a way of improving both his English and his understanding of humor in other countries. Whenever he comes across one that he doesn't understand, he emails me for clarification. I enjoy these exchanges -- first, because it's always fun to talk with someone who is a comics fan; and second, because trying to explain a joke makes me consider more carefully whether or not the jokes I tell in my own work are effective. After all, no cartoonist ever wants to hear that awful four-word phrase: I DON'T GET IT. If anyone tells me after reading Big Nate that they didn't get it, it means I must not have done my job well enough (unless the reason they don't get it is that they just didn't read it carefully; that's a completely different issue).
Anyway, here's the email exchange Kozo and I had about this cartoon.
Kozo: Please explain the point of this editorial cartoon. Thank you.
Lincoln: This cartoon is not making any kind of political statement. It's just a simple visual gag. The woman is a maid/housekeeper who is reading a book. As the cover indicates, the book features Sherlock Holmes, literature's greatest detective, who excelled at solving crimes by carefully examining every last piece of evidence. The maid is so engrossed in the book that she's not paying attention to what she's doing -- and, as a result, she's destroying evidence of an ACTUAL crime scene, indicated by the chalk outline of a murder victim on the ground. In the background are other signs that a murder has been committed: a detective, a policeman, and a TV cameraman, along with an ambulance. So the gag is that the maid is absent-mindedly hampering a criminal investigation that is probably very much like the one she's reading about with such interest.
One last thing: Tomorrow, CHILLAX, the first ZITS novel by the talented cartoonists Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman goes on sale. Here is a link to the book trailer. But you'll need to check out the book to find out why I said "Zits is plugged in and ready to rock!"Mon, 05/20/2013
Tall Tale Radio
When you're in the cartooning business, you get the chance to meet some interesting people. Like Tom Racine. Actually, I haven't met Tom in person yet. But he and I had a long conversation by phone the other day, and if you're interested, you can listen to it.
Tom is the host of Tall Tale Radio, a long-running weekly podcast on which he conducts weekly interviews with folks in and around the cartooning industry. Most of his guests are ink-stained wretches like myself, but from time to time he'll also speak with editors, animators, and so on. Tom's a cartoonist himself, so he understands the business from the inside out, and he asks great questions. He's also got a killer radio voice. "Great pipes," as we amateur DJ's like to say.
Tall Tale Radio recently joined gocomics, and Tom posts a new interview there every Monday. He and I spoke for so long, though, that he's going to present our conversation in three parts. Here's a link to part 1 http://www.gocomics.com/tall-tale-radio/2013/05/13
You can also visit the TTR home page, where you'll find an archive of past interviews: http://www.talltaleradio.com
Tom's a West Coaster, which means that I'll have the chance to meet him in person when I go to the San Diego Comic Con in July. I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, enjoy the interview!
Big Nate: The Musical
I told you I'd write a bit more about Big Nate: The Musical in today's entry, so here goes:
My wife took this picture following the afternoon performance. That's me in the middle, with the cast and crew. Also in the photo are the lyricist, Chris Youstra (second from left in the black shirt), the writer, Jason Loewith (to the right of Chris, wearing glasses and a black shirt), and the director, Michael Baron (far right, red sweatshirt). These are the talented folks who, along with a great group of actors, brought Big Nate to the stage in such memorable fashion. Here are some of the moments in the show that I'll remember most clearly for a long time to come:
"Zip it, Francis!" This is a line that's spoken more than once, and it gets a laugh every time. It also tells you that Francis tends to go a bit overboard with his "fun facts" and "timeless trivia."
Love Is A Four Letter Word Nate's band, Enslave The Mollusk, participates in an epic Battle of the Bands toward the end of the show, and this is the title of the song they perform. (There are songs by two other bands, but not surprisingly, Enslave The Mollusk rocks the hardest.)
Spitsy & Pickles They're not exactly actors, and they're not quite puppets, either. All I can tell you is that Spitsy and Pickles still manage to share a romantic moment during the show. It's hilarious.
Dad's Moment Nate's dad (played by Tim Rogan, who was also Artur) makes the most of a brief appearance, singing a song that manages to be extremely funny (Nate's reactions to the song are also a riot) and touching at the same time.
Cubes After the show, I was signing books at a table outside the theater when up stepped a young man named Quinn who was a dead ringer for one of my best friends from childhood, Hugh Kennedy. That's because Quinn is Hugh's son. The Kennedy family came to the show, and it was the first time I'd seen Hugh in 32 years. When we were kids, I gave Hugh the nickname "Cubes," and he probably hasn't been called that for…well, for about 32 years. It was great to see him after all that time, and it was a wonderful end to a fantastic weekend.
And speaking of weekends... Sunday is Mother's Day. Don't forget!Fri, 05/10/2013
Big Nate: The Musical!
Hi, everyone, I'm back from my trip to Washington, DC and Glen Echo, Maryland, where I was pleased and proud to attend two performances of BIG NATE at Adventure Theatre MTC. My review of the show is: it's outstanding! I'll admit I wasn't quite sure what to expect, because I've never imagined my characters in a musical until now. But almost as soon as I saw the set, which was extremely eye-catching and fun, I had a good feeling. And once the actors took the stage, the show was everything I could have hoped for and more.
Speaking of the actors, they were an extremely versatile and talented bunch. Here are their names and the parts they played:
Jenny/ Coach John/Galvinator #2: Shayna BlassTue, 05/07/2013
Francis/Mrs. Hickson: Joshua Dick
Ellen Wright/Mrs. Godfrey/Galvinator #3: Ayanna Hardy
Teddy “√” Ortiz/Mr. Galvin: David Little
Nate Wright: .Sam Ludwig
Gina Hemphill - Toms/Mrs. Czerwicki/Galvinator #1: Angela Miller
Artur Pashkov/Marty Wright/Mr. Staples/Spitsy/Calvin: Tim Rogan
As you can see, each of them (except for Sam in the role of Nate) had to play multiple parts, and they all did tremendous work. Here are a few words about each actor in his/her primary role:
SAM LUDWIG as NATE: He had the hardest job -- finding a balance between Nate's brash self-confidence and his vulnerability -- and he pulled it off beautifully. He's also a great physical performer, which was perfect for the part. Just one of many highlights: the look on Nate's face when the intercom asks: "Are you destined for greatness?"
ANGELA MILLER as GINA: She was spot-on as Gina. In the strip and books, Gina is mostly a "straight man." She doesn't get many funny lines. But Angela brought out the humor in Gina. She was hilarious.
JOSHUA DICK as FRANCIS: Josh had some of the funniest moments in the show. The script really emphasizes Francis's almost compulsive need to point out bits of trivia and other useless information, and Josh has great comic timing.
DAVID LITTLE as TEDDY: Teddy's a jokester, and the script gives him a chance to make some really funny observations throughout. But David really shone in a more serious moment, when Teddy convinces Francis that the two of them need to support Nate in one of his hair brained schemes. It was great stuff.
SHAYNA BLASS as JENNY: I loved what Shayna did with this part. She has to play Nate's dream girl as an angel -- literally an angel, and on roller skates, too! -- but also has to make the audience understand her feelings for Artur...not to mention her misgivings about Gina.
AYANNA HARDY as MRS. GODFREY: Ayanna played such a vital role, because Mrs. Godfrey holds Nate's fate in her hands more than once in the show. It would have been easy to depict her as an all-out villain, but Ayanna accomplished something I didn't think was possible: she showed the audience Mrs. Godfrey's human side (and her Godzilla side, too).
TIM ROGAN as ARTUR: I thought Tim was the unsung hero of the show. He was completely charming and extremely funny as the kind-hearted, guileless Artur. The kids sitting near me clearly thought the same thing. He was an audience favorite.
That's all I have time to write today. I'll follow up with more about the play in my next entry!
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