Friday Mixed Bag
I think that among my final thoughts in my last blog entry was one that went something like this: I'll be writing you my next blog entry from Texas. Well, not exactly. I'm still in Maine. My talk at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature was postponed because of a looming snowstorm in and around Abilene. It's not too often that there's snow in Texas and not in Maine. But at any rate, the exhibition is still on display and will remain so through February; but my appearance will now take place in mid-February instead of today. (Now I just have to hope that there won't be a similar "weather event" in February which, although it's the shortest month, usually sees more snow than any other month!)
Today's blog is a bit of a mixed bag; here are a couple other items I'd like to share with you.
In Thursday's strip, Gina is shown clobbering Nate with a textbook. A reader on gocomics remarked that, although Nate rather routinely gets hit by girls, he would never respond in kind. And I agree: Nate would never hit a girl (except perhaps with a snowball). A different reader then said how unfortunate it is that this sort of casual violence is featured so often in comic strips. I understand the comment, but I also think it's important to maintain the distinction between real-life action and comic strip action. There's nothing funny about actual violence, of course, but in comic strips (and in many other forms of entertainment), there IS something funny about bonks on the head, slips on the ice, and assorted other pratfalls. As I've said many times, what fun is a comic strip where everything goes right? Falls, stumbles, accidents, fights -- they're all examples of things going WRONG. And things going wrong are funnier than things going right. Some of the great characters in comedy -- like Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden, Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown -- are routinely knocked down, humiliated, and beaten. But they always get back up. That's why we end up caring about them.
And speaking of caring, a friend of mine could use your thoughts and prayers. The cartoonist Richard Thompson, creator of the great comic strip Cul de Sac, has been living with Parkinson's Disease for a number of years. He had a fall on Sunday and broke his hip; the tenuous state of his overall health led his doctors to conclude that the best solution would be a full hip replacement. His surgery was today. Please keep Richard in your thoughts! And read Cul de Sac! http://www.gocomics.com/culdesac#.UqEKFxaTOrcFri, 12/06/2013
Big Nate Rocks Out
Hi, everyone. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and, if you celebrated it, a happy Chanukah. My friend David assures me that Thanksgiving and Chanukah will not occur on the same day, as they did this year, for something like 70,000 years. So 2013 has been a year worth celebrating in more ways than one!
BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL, which had its world premiere last Spring at Adventure Theater MTC, may very well be coming soon to a theater near you! The show recently played its second venue, this time at the Rose Performing Arts Center in Omaha, Nebraska, where it ran for three successive weekends. This picture shows Teddy, Nate, and Francis rockin' out as Enslave The Mollusk. I didn't travel to Omaha to see the show, but judging by this photo, the actors brought plenty of energy to their performances. And I like their hairstyles! Anyway, there's been some discussion recently of putting together a touring edition of the show. That simply means that a group of actors and stage crew folks travel around, performing the show in several different cities. If there's a place near you that frequently stages children's theater productions, ask them if they're planning to bring Big Nate to your town!
Seeing Nate pounding away on the drums reminds me of a little piece of Big Nate trivia. Do you know what instrument Nate played in the comic strip BEFORE he took up the drums? The answer is right on the cover of one of the activity books, BIG NATE FUN BLASTER -- he's playing a trombone. Years ago, when I decided to write some jokes about Nate playing music, I didn't have to stray far from my own family history for inspiration. My big brother Nate played the trombone for a number of years during elementary and middle school. I don't think he'll mind if I tell you that he wasn't very good. He didn't like the songs his teacher made him play. I can still hear him playing "On Top Of Old Smokey" over and over. And over. Plus, he hated the way his lip would get swollen and sore after he practiced. Eventually, he gave it up, had a brief dalliance with the bass guitar as a teenager, and then decided that music was not his passion.
I've made a little bit more of an effort over the years to play music, but ultimately I haven't been any more successful than my brother was. In third or fourth grade, I started saxophone lessons. That lasted about four years, but I really wasn't diligent about practicing. I also had a teacher who used to get quite angry with me when he could tell I wasn't devoting much time to my sax, so that, needless to say, didn't do much to motivate me. I gave it up in eighth grade, and then went about ten years before I tried something else -- the guitar. I had three different guitar instructors at various times while I was in my 20's and 30's, and I also learned some claw-hammer banjo about 12 years ago. But I didn't have the discipline to stick with it. Maybe in my retirement I'll really get serious about trying to master an instrument, but for the moment I'm too busy to set aside the time. (I can, however, play a pretty good version of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" on the harmonica!)
And speaking of Texas, that's where I'll be when you read my next blog entry! I leave Thursday morning for Abilene and my appearance at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature. More about that next time!Tue, 12/03/2013
Big Nate Plush
Today I searched for "Big Nate" on Google Images in the hopes of finding some stuff to write about that was completely unrelated to either the comic strip or the books. Last time I did this, I was delighted to discover a Big Nate bass fishing tournament t-shirt, a logo for a Big Nate's Barbecue restaurant, a picture of San Francisco Giant - turned Philadelphia Phillie - turned Chicago Cub Nate Schierholtz, and a bunch of images that seemed completely random. The longer I searched, the less frequently the results had anything to do with Big Nate -- MY Big Nate, that is.
Look what I turned up this time. Someone has created a homemade Big Nate plush toy! It's hard to say exactly how big this little guy is, but I'd guess he's somewhere between 12 and 14 inches tall -- about the size of your average teddy bear. Unfortunately, this Nate is not quite as cuddly as a teddy bear. In fact, he's creeping me out just a little bit. Maybe it's the fact that his hair is disappearing into the dark background of the couch, making him look bald. Maybe it's his hands, which have bumps to indicate thumbs, but not much else in the way of digits. (How is the poor kid supposed to pick up a pencil?) Perhaps it's his feet, which look like the flesh-colored paws of a giant puma. Or it might be the shiny/sparkly quality of his clothing, which suggests that if he's a failure as a plush toy, he might very well have a future as a disco ball.
I'm kidding, of course. I'm very flattered that anyone would take the time to create a stuffed Nate. But it's still a bit unsettling to look at, because Nate was created as a 2-dimensional character. Some things about his appearance just can't translate into three dimensions. Like his hair, for instance. If you've spent any time at all reading Big Nate, you know that his hair always looks exactly the same, whether we're looking at him from the front, the side, or the back. But in three dimensions, it would be impossible to create hair like that. His ears and his eyes also present problems, a fact our daughter learned as a first grader when she tried to make a Big Nate sculpture at pottery camp. It's for reasons like this that I've always said a Big Nate movie or TV show would have to be created using traditional 2-D animation. But there's not very much
2-D animation being produced these days.
I initially had a similar odd feeling last Spring, when I attended the world premiere performance of Big Nate: The Musical at Adventure Theater in Glen Echo, Maryland. The characters were all being played by actors in their twenties, so I had to get used to not only seeing the characters in 3-D, but also seeing adults playing the roles of children. I quickly discovered that it was relatively easy to get used to that, because musical theater is very different from what I do. And the songs and storyline were so good that in no time at all, I forgot about the visual differences between the actors and my own 2-D characters.
Ultimately, I just think Nate doesn't work in 3-D. But other characters might. Does anybody out there want to try making a Spitsy plush toy?\
I'll be skipping my next blog entry because of the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!Tue, 11/26/2013
Quite a while ago, I told you about an event I'm going to be a part of at the National Center For Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas. It's an exhibition called BAM! It's A Picture Book: The Art Behind Graphic Novels. I suppose if I were a stickler for details, I'd point out that the Big Nate books aren't graphic novels, exactly. I prefer the word I've heard several bookstore owners use: hybrids. But sometimes you have to explain to people what you mean by "hybrid," so it's usually simplest just to refer to them as chapter books. That pretty clearly separates them from the two other types of Big Nate books out there: the comic strip collections and the activity books.
Anyway, back to this exhibition in Abilene. There are four other artists included besides me: Mark Crilley, creator of Akiko, Miko Falls, and Brody's Ghost; Matthew Holm, who with his sister Jenny has created the very popular Babymouse series; Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author/illustrator of the Lunch Lady series; and Raina Telgemeier, whose best-known book, the wonderful Smile, really IS a graphic novel. The exhibition officially opened on November 14th, and will be on display until the end of February. During that time, each artist will make the trip to Abilene to give a talk about his/her work. Matthew Holm is there right now, and I'll be there in a couple weeks.
The drawing shown here is part of the exhibition. If you know your Big Nate chapter books, you know this is from Big Nate Goes For Broke, and depicts the rockin' dance floor at the Beach Party Dance at P.S. 38. Later in the chapter, of course, an event occurs which means the closing (temporarily) of the school, and the relocation of all the students and teachers to Jefferson Middle School. But at this point in the story, nobody sees that coming. They're just having fun dancing to a tune by Sandy and the Surfriders.
This was a fun (and pretty time-consuming!) drawing to make. There's a lot packed into it, including a kid wearing an old-fashioned Jules Verne "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" diving helmet, another with a more conventional snorkel and goggles, and still another kid holding an inflatable horse float over his head. In addition, a number of recognizable characters are dancing up a storm. If you look carefully, you can find Jenny and Artur, Francis, Teddy, and even Gina. Also, in the foreground a kid named Seth Quincy (nickname: Q-Tip) is elbowing Chad in the head.
You might think I got the name Surfriders from one of the great real life surf bands, The Surfaris. They recorded a song back in the 1960's called "Wipeout," which became the unofficial theme song of my beloved UNH Wildcats hockey team. "Wipeout" was played over the intercom whenever the team skated onto the ice at the start of each period. But -- surprise! -- the Surfaris are not the inspiration for the name. The real inspiration was the town of Kailua, Hawaii, where I lived for six months as a third grader. I attended the elementary school, obviously, but the high school was right nearby. And the high school's teams are known as the Kailua Surfriders. On Friday nights, we'd sometimes go to watch the Surfriders' football games. (A quick google search reveals that this year's Surfriders are having a rough season. Their record is 2 wins, 7 losses, and they are ranked 5,780th in the country.)
That's all I have time for tonight. More next time!Fri, 11/22/2013
Big Nate Calendar
For today's entry, I'm falling back on my tried-and-true blogging rule: when you can't think of anything to say, write about whatever happened that day.
Hey, that rhymes!
I'm showing you this drawing from the 2014 Big Nate Wall Calendar because one of today's activities was...making drawings for the 2015 Big Nate Wall Calendar! Yup, I'm in 2015 already. It seems a little crazy, but no crazier than designing a cover for a book a year before the book is published, or drawing a comic strip 3 or 4 months before it appears in the newspaper. I'm used to thinking months or even years ahead by now.
These calendar pictures are specific panels taken from strips that I've drawn over the course of the year -- but I redraw each panel, because I want them to look good in this large format. Each page of the calendar is twelve inches square, you see, which means that each one of these panels is about 9 inches high and 8 inches wide. Individual panels from the comic strip look a little raggedy when they're blown up to that size, so that's why I do these redraws. If people are going to pay $14.99 for a calendar, they should get the best drawings I can give them. Anyway, that was how I spent part of my day: I did three calendar drawings.
I also visited the Maine College of Art (we call it MECA) here in Portland, where I spoke to a group of students. I'm more accustomed to speaking to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, so these kids were a little older than my regular crowd. I did a powerpoint slideshow and talked a little bit about how I got started in the business, different ways I've earned money over the years, and so on.
Speaking of earning money, the best job I've ever had is the one I have now. The worst job I've ever had was cleaning sewer lines.
Later, I picked up my daughter at basketball practice (readers of this blog might remember that her team is the defending Maine Class C State Champions), ate dinner, and then returned to my office -- which is temporarily located in my son's bedroom while he's in Sri Lanka -- to get some more work done while listening to the Boston Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1. (Unfortunately, the other local team in action tonight, the New England Patriots, lost their Monday Night Football game to the Panthers, 24-20.)
Then, when my wife tried to take a shower, we realized that we currently have no heat or hot water in the house. I'll be calling the plumber in the morning.Sat, 11/16/2013
As sometimes happens, I'm beginning this blog entry with the disclaimer that I can't remember whether or not I've shown you this picture before. It's from Neighborhood Comix, the never-published comic strip I submitted to all the major syndicates in 1989, and which led, eventually, to Big Nate.
Neighborhood Comix was inspired, in part, by my own childhood in Durham, New Hampshire. We had a small neighborhood with a lot of kids who were somewhat close in age. When I was in high school, I started drawing a sporadic comic book about those kids and their very colorful personalities, and I called it Neighborhood Comix, but it was very different from what I'd end up submitting for publication years later. Those early comics were very specifically about real-life people named Scott, Gary, Bob, Bill, Urchin, Jow, Ann, Monica, Jennifer, Nate, and Lincoln. Some random parents were also included on occasion. But, frankly, most of those comics were probably entertaining only to me and a few of my neighborhood friends who understood all the obscure references and inside jokes. If you didn't grow up on either Coe Drive or Beard's Landing during the 1970's, you wouldn't know what you were reading.
That's why, years later when I submitted Neighborhood Comix to the syndicates, it was a completely different animal. There was only one character remaining who was named for a real-life character: that was Nate, the blonde kid in the middle of this picture. Nate, of course, is my nickname for my brother Jonathan, and he was a main character in Neighborhood Comix -- but by no means was he THE main character. Alongside him in this picture are Francis on the left and Fang on the right. Together, they formed a trio that was very similar to what Nate, Francis and Teddy share in the strip today. In this version of the strip, Nate also had a little brother named Marty -- probably the most overtly autobiographical character I've ever written. Nate, incidentally, also had both a father and a mother at this point, and both played major roles in the strip.
The feedback I received about Neighborhood Comix was positive, with a couple of very specific suggestions. Suggestion #1 was to eliminate a few of the characters; there were just too many of them. Suggestion #2 -- assuming that he was one of the characters I'd keep -- was to change Nate's appearance. The syndicate didn't want him to look too much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. So by the time I submitted more strips, I'd gotten rid of Marty (along with a couple other minor neighborhood characters), and I'd changed Nate's appearance completely. He now looked like...FANG! Yes, Nate (for a very brief time) was pudgy, with a strange "soup bowl" haircut. Fortunately for everyone concerned, I got feedback from the syndicate with a good news/bad news message. The good news was that Nate no longer looked like Calvin. The bad news was that he now looked like an overweight, middle-aged man. So back to the drawing board I went, and after quite a bit of trial and error, I arrived at a Nate who looked more or less the way he looks today. But once you've drawn something, it never goes away completely. Even though Fang/pudgy Nate is long gone, Nate eventually ended up with a pudgy friend (Chad) and another friend with a bizarre soup bowl haircut (Artur). I've come full circle!Fri, 11/15/2013
It's college football season, which means it's also fight song season. Many colleges with high-profile football programs share a tradition: during games, whenever their team scores a touchdown or does something positive on the field, the marching band plays a rousing rendition of the school fight song. In some cases, these fight songs can really fire up a crowd. Some of the more noteworthy fight songs are Notre Dame's Victory March, the University of Michigan's "Hail To The Victors," and my own personal favorite, the University of Southern California's "Fight On." Check it out:
As a kid, I rather randomly chose Southern Cal as my favorite college football team. In retrospect, it probably had something to do with their fight song. And their awesome uniforms.
Of course, you don't need to be a football power to have a good fight song. Purdue isn't exactly a threat to win a national title, but its fight song, "Hail Purdue," is a keeper. Oklahoma hasn't won a national title for awhile, but "Boomer Sooner" should be in the hunt every year for the "Best Fight Song" award.
Then there's the more obscure subject of fight song LYRICS. I confess that, until I did a google search a few moments ago, I didn't even know that "Fight On" actually has lyrics -- and so does just about every other fight song. But usually the only people who know them are folks who attended the school. And it's no wonder, because if the dozen or so examples I researched on the internet are any indication, fight song lyrics are pretty forgettable. Take "Boomer Sooner," the lyrics of which go like this: Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, Boomer Sooner, O-K-U! Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, O-K-U!
Not so imaginative. But easy to memorize.
I attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and I'm pretty sure we didn't even HAVE a fight song. The only "official" school anthem is the sort of song that's played on more solemn occasions. It's called "Hail Colby, Hail," and it's set to the same melody as Canada's national anthem, "Oh, Canada." It's a handsome song, but not one that really gets the blood pumping, if you know what I mean.
And speaking of blood...Leave it to Nate to try composing a fight song for P.S. 38. This is a drawing I did for the 2014 Big Nate wall calendar, in which Nate reads the first verse to Teddy and Chad. There's no telling if the melody's any good, but I like the lyrics. Very vivid. It gives you the idea that the school mascot -- the bobcat -- is ready to pounce. Blood will definitely be spilled. But I'm with Chad -- I have absolutely no idea what a spleen is.Tue, 11/12/2013
Big Nate In the Zone is Complete!
Hi everyone, just a short entry today, I'm afraid. I spent the evening thoroughly enjoying myself (more on that in a moment), and if I want to get any sleep at all tonight, I can't devote the time I usually do to my blog.
A couple pieces of Big Nate-related news: I'M FINISHED WITH BIG NATE IN THE ZONE! It's always a great feeling when all those loose ends are finally tied up. There will probably still be a word here and there that needs changing, and I also might have to correct a couple of art mistakes before printing...but the lion's share of the work is completed. And remember, the on-sale date is MARCH 11th!
Also, yesterday I did a rough mock-up of the back cover for the next Big Nate activity book, LAUGH-O-RAMA. The drawing you see here is part of it. Sometime during the next week or so, I'll do the finished art.
So, if you're interested in knowing how I spent my evening, I was at a production of The Crucible at our daughter's school. She wasn't in the play, but some of her friends, of whom we're very fond, had major roles. And they were tremendous! It was one of the best high school plays I've ever seen. Very professional. But by the time we watched the play, congratulated the performers, drove home, and had a late bite to eat, it was past everyone's bedtime. I still have some work to do tonight once I finish this entry, so I’ll sign off until next time. Good night!Fri, 11/08/2013
When I was a kid, one of the only times I can remember being genuinely mad at my best friend, Bob, was when he made fun of my father's haircut. Of course, that was after I'd made fun of HIS father's oversized ears. I think we gave each other the mutual silent treatment for several days after that. It wasn't easy to avoid each other, since we lived about fifty yards apart and attended a school of only a couple hundred kids. We were bound to run into each other, and eventually we let bygones be bygones. (Incidentally, my dad's had the same haircut for his entire adult life. I'd call it a "flat top" when he was a younger man; now, in his golden years, it's a simple crew cut. Brush cut. Buzz cut. Whatever you want to call it.)
Which brings me to the subject of this blog, which is: insult humor. Obviously, the fact that Bob and I got angry with each other back then meant that we're just like a lot of people who don't appreciate it when you insult their parents. Insults about mothers can be particularly nasty. But -- let's face it -- insult humor can also be very funny, and a good "yo mama" joke, in my book, is one that is more comical than insulting. Nate considers himself the master of the "yo mama smack down," and in this picture he's letting Randy Betancourt have it with both barrels.
Being a "yo mama" expert means you have the ability to think on your feet. That's not me. Sometimes it can take me hours to come up with a joke to put in Nate's mouth. Of the many "yo mamas" that Nate sometimes tosses around in the strip, some are ones I've heard from other people over the years (like "yo mama's so fat, when she gets in an elevator she HAS to go down"), and some are ones I've written myself (like "yo mama's so hairy, Jane Goodall has set up base camp in her bathroom.") And although I'm certainly not encouraging kids to go around insulting each other's parents, I think these episodes in Nate's life are too cartoony to be taken seriously. They're an over-the-top version of reality. Yes, kids are sometimes mean to one another, and yes, they sometimes say nasty things about other kids' families. But most real-life kids Nate's age don't have the time or the inclination to think up elaborate "yo mama" jokes.
And of course, in Nate's case, his own mother isn't even part of his life. She's never been a part of the strip, and from that we can infer that he doesn't even know her very well. So maybe that's why he's the king of the "yo mama smack down." When somebody insults his mother, it doesn't sting the same way it would if he knew his mom. But then again, growing up without a mom must hurt in a way all its own. Maybe that's part of the explanation for Nate's sometimes outrageous behavior. I'm sure a psychiatrist would have plenty to write about after a few sessions with Nate!
World Series Champions!
Hi, everyone. THE RED SOX ARE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!!!! I'm very excited. Almost as excited as our closer, Koji Uehara, shown here celebrating after working yet another 1-2-3 inning to make it official. I listened to most of the World Series on the radio, but when it became pretty clear they were going to win Game 6, I turned on the TV and carved a couple of jack-o-lanterns while watching the final two innings and the wild celebration that followed.
The question is: will I include anything about this wonderful event in the comic strip? There are a couple of problems with trying to do so. The first, obviously, is that the strips I create today don't appear in newspapers or on gocomics.com until three months from now. That's early February. The Red Sox winning the World Series, as fantastic as it is, won't be on people's minds when Groundhog Day rolls around. So there's a timing issue in the short term.
And there's a long term issue, too. Take a look at the "Peanuts" comic strip beneath Koji.
This strip appeared in newspapers on December 22nd, 1962. A little more than two months earlier, on October 16th, 1962, the New York Yankees beat the San Francisco Giants, 1-0, in Game 7 of the World Series. With the tying run on third base and the winning run on second, the game ended with future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey lining out to Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson. Charles Schulz, the creator of "Peanuts" and a Giants fan, must have drawn this strip very soon thereafter. In the first three panels, Charlie Brown and Linus sit, dejectedly and without speaking, on a sidewalk curb. In the final panel, Charlie Brown shouts in frustration, "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?" On one hand, the strip works beautifully; it implies that Charlie Brown and Linus have been depressed for more than two months about the loss, and that after nine weeks, Charlie Brown just can't take it anymore.
But on the other hand, comic strips live in print forever, and with each year that passes, there are fewer and fewer people that understand Schulz's reference to Willie McCovey. After all, that was 51 years ago! Most kids, if they were to read this strip today in a "Peanuts" treasury, wouldn't know to what event Schulz was referring. That's always a risk when an otherwise "timeless" comic strip includes a contemporary reference: that reference will eventually seem dated. Over the years, on rare occasions, I've mentioned athletes in the comic strip. (Nate, like me, is a fan of all Boston teams.) Carl Yastrzemski, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia, Tiger Woods, Patrice Bergeron and Kevin Garnett are a few that come to mind. All are, or were, very big names in sports. But that doesn't necessarily make them great comic strip subjects, so I try to be careful about how often I make such references.
Incidentally, below it is the strip that appeared about five weeks later. Poor Charlie Brown still wasn't over it!Fri, 11/01/2013
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