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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A Question from Kozo

It's been awhile since I've heard from Kozo, my 80 year-old pen pal in Japan who sometimes writes with questions about comics.  He is devoted to reading comics from the US and the UK as a means of improving his English, but sometimes the humor eludes him.  The other day, Kozo sent me a very nice email, letting me know he's recently moved to the historic city of Nara, near Kyoto.  He also included the Hi & Lois strip shown here, and asked this question:

Please tell me the point of the comic below.
 
Does a catcher use something to send a sign to the pitcher?

And here was my response:

Hi Kozo, it's always good to hear from you.

Now, let's talk about this cartoon.  It's a pretty straightforward gag, and it has nothing to do with the signs that a catcher gives the pitcher. 

Two gentlemen are eating in a restaurant called Charlie's Diner (which we know because the name is painted on the glass window in the background).  One of the men sees some muffins underneath a glass case, and calls down to Charlie, the owner of the diner:  Could I get a muffin down here?  Obviously, when you order food in a diner, you expect it to be served to you -- that it will be brought to where you're sitting and placed in front of you.  But in the second panel, we see that the man is  catching a muffin up above his head.  In other words, the muffin has been thrown to him.  In the third panel, the man who caught the muffin provides the explanation:  Charlie was a minor league pitcher.  Charlie is using a skill from his former job, pitching, to do his current job, owning a diner.  To reinforce the fact that Charlie threw the muffin, the cartoonist shows Charlie placing the cover back on the glass case.

I think there are two problems with the cartoon.  First, the middle panel doesn't make it all that clear that the muffin flew through the air and was caught.  Second, even after we understand that the muffin was thrown across the room, it's not very funny.  

Hope that helps, Kozo.  Write anytime.

Best,

Lincoln


Before I sign off, I'd like to tell you where I'll be early next week.  I'm flying to Memphis, where I'll be part of Color Me Well, the first-ever National Cartoonists Society Foundation Cartooning for Kids event at St. Jude Research Hospital for Children.  My friends and fellow cartoonists Rick Stromoski, Stephan Pastis, Tom Richmond, Bill Morrison, Jeff Keane, Steve McGarry, and Greg Cravens will all be there, along with plenty of other volunteer members of the NCS Southeast Chapter.  We'll be drawing for approximately 250 kids who are patients at the hospital, and handing out NCS goody bags.  I can't wait.

Because of this event, I'll skip my usual Monday night blog entry.  I'll tell you all about Color Me Well in my next entry, one week from today!

Fri, 04/24/2015

The Babadook

There have been hundreds of children's books that have been turned into movies.  Some that come immediately to mind are WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, HOLES, CORALINE, THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, and so on.  But until today, I'm not sure I could name a movie in which a children's book was essentially a character in a movie -- and a frightening character at that.  I'm talking about a movie called THE BABADOOK.  A character from a mysterious children's book features prominently in the plot, but this definitely isn't a movie for kids.  It's too scary.

THE BABADOOK tells the story of a single mom, Amelia, and her 6 year-old son, Samuel.  Samuel has an overactive imagination and is plagued by nightmares and childhood fears.  Amelia is overwhelmed by Samuel's needs and is still heartbroken by the death of her husband, Oscar, who was killed in a car accident on the day Samuel was born.  One night, after Samuel is awakened by a nightmare, Amelia offers to read him a book to help him go back to sleep.  It's their normal routine, and there's nothing unusual about this particular night -- until Samuel goes to his bookcase and returns with a book Amelia has never seen before.  It's called MISTER BABADOOK, and it's a terrifying pop-up book that tells the tale of a monstrous, top-hatted creature who has the power to enter people's bodies and grow inside them.  As the picture shown here makes clear, this ain't exactly PAT THE BUNNY.  Amelia tries to destroy the book, and eventually succeeds.  But that doesn't mean she and Samuel have escaped the Babadook.

I won't reveal the rest of the plot, but this movie did get me thinking about children's stories.  There's no doubt that many classic children's books, like GOODNIGHT MOON or FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS, are very comforting.  But kids outgrow soothing books like those.  Stories are always more interesting when there's some sort of conflict or difficulty -- or even a villain! -- and there have been plenty of stories for kids that have scary parts and scary characters.  Think of Miss Trunchbull in MATILDA, or Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker in JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.  Or what about the wolf in LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD?  They may not be as frightening as the Babadook, but they might have given a few kids nightmares over the years.

The reason it's okay to have villains in children's books, I think, is that kids trust that, in the end, good will triumph over evil.  They seem to understand that Mom or Dad wouldn't be reading this book to them if the bad guys were going to win at the end.  MISTER BABADOOK breaks the unspoken pact that children's book authors have with their readers -- that everything is going to turn out okay.   That's why in real life, a book like MISTER BABADOOK would never be marketed as a children's book.  It would probably be in the Horror section of your local bookstore -- far away from 6 year-old eyes!
 

Tue, 04/21/2015

Nate At The Bat

Today's entry features two of my favorite things:  baseball and poetry.

Even if you're not a baseball fan, there's a good chance you're familiar with the poem "Casey At The Bat," by E.L. Thayer.  It tells the tale of Casey, a beloved slugger for a baseball team from Mudville, and his failure to get a big hit at a critical moment of an important game.  While Thayer's composition might not end up in an anthology of great poems, it's certainly one of the most popular in the history of America.  And its final line -- Mighty Casey has struck out! -- has been recited by generations of schoolchildren, bringing to mind an era when kids often recited poetry in class.

I was going through some old Big Nate strips the other day and found a Sunday page from 1995 that I'd completely forgotten about.  It's called "Nate At The Bat," and it's my tribute to Thayer's poem.  Enjoy!

The ball game wasn't going well.
In fact, the scene was awful.
The score was thirteen for the Cubs
To twelve for Joe's Falafel.

The bottom of the ninth was moving
Fast from bad to worse.
As Francis flied to center field,
And Ed was nipped at first.

The end was near, or so it seemed.
Our chances looked quite meager.
But then our shortstop, Bobby Kane,
He lined a Texas Leaguer.

Next Jim received a base on balls.
The Cubs began to sag.
And when Cal slapped an infield hit,
We'd men at every bag.

The crowd erupted when they saw
Who next strode to the plate.
The Cubs turned pale and shook with fear.
Who was it?  MIGHTY NATE!

His biceps bulged like cords of steel.
He took a practice swing.
He dug his cleats into the earth,
And watched the pitcher fling.

With hawk-like vision, Nate observed
The placement of the ball.
A little high, thought Mighty Nate.
STRIKE ONE! the ump did call.

The next one almost hit the plate
As it came roaring through.
That's not my pitch, said Mighty Nate.
The ump declared:  STRIKE TWO!

"It takes just one to hit it out,"
The crowd heard Nate proclaim.
And then they knew he'd surely be
The hero of the game.

The pitcher rocked and hurled the ball.
Nate watched it fast approach.
And looking on in silent awe
Were teammates, fans, and Coach.

He took a swing, did Mighty Nate --
A swift, heroic cut.
The ball flew high above the field.
It reached the heavens...BUT...

No happy shouts, no raucous cheers,
No clapping can be heard.
There is no joy between the lines.
Mighty Nate has popped to third.

 

Fri, 04/17/2015

Big Nate Fan Art

Today was a quiet day.  Nothing much happened that would be worth blogging about, and I didn't have any great ideas for a blog topic either.  So for inspiration, I did what I've sometimes done in the past.  I conducted a google image search for BIG NATE and, after scrolling through a few screens, I found some newly-posted Big Nate drawings by kids.  Let's take a look at them, shall we?

The first drawing is all about girl power.  (THIN girl power.  I think these ladies need a snack!)  There are five images here, and each depicts characters that are either definitely part of Big Nate's world or look like they could be.  On the far left is Jenny, immediately identifiable by her blonde hair and black hair band.  Jenny's also one of the only main characters who routinely wears a black shirt and black shoes, as you see here.  Next to Jenny is another easy-to-identify character:  Gina.  Gina's bangs, top-knot pony tail, and square oversized glasses are her trademarks.  And in this particular drawing, she's carrying a book -- also very typical of Gina.  Next to Gina is a character who I'm guessing is supposed to be Dee Dee.  She has Dee Dee's rectangular glasses, pony tail, and striped top.  But when I draw Dee Dee, I always show her wearing a top that's more of a dress than a shirt.  Plus, the hair on this character isn't bumpy/curly like Dee Dee's is.  So although I THINK this is Dee Dee, I can't be 100% sure.  Next comes a girl who looks like Maya, the girl Chad has a crush on in BIG NATE IN THE ZONE.  She has the same dark hair as Maya and is also wearing a barrette like Maya does.  So let's go ahead and declare that character #4 is Maya.  But who is character #5?  I have no idea.  Her hair is quite unique (it doesn't extend very far down the side of her head, so she appears partially bald), and she's wearing the kind of glasses that one would normally associate with an older person, not a kid.  I can't ever remember drawing a character who looked like this.  Perhaps it's a self portrait of the artist who posted this particular drawing!

In the second drawing, it's easy to tell who's who:  Dee Dee, Francis, Nate, Teddy, and Chad.  But there are a few anomalies.  First, I think Francis might object to the size of his head in this drawing; it's rather small, especially when compared to Dee Dee's and Nate's.  And speaking of Nate...I think he's dyed his hair!  The "spikes" of his hair haven't been colored in, so although it's still clearly a drawing of Nate, it looks somewhat incomplete.  Next there's Teddy, who looks like himself except that his sneakers are white instead of black.  And finally there's Chad, who's a bit taller here than he is in my drawings of him.  He also is wearing a white shirt with white sneakers instead of his usual black/black combo.  Overall, though, a very nice effort!

Which brings us to the third drawing, which has a lot of style.  It depicts the same five characters as drawing #2 did, and throws in Artur for good measure.  I like the way each character is striking a pose that seems appropriate.  Dee Dee the drama queen is doing "jazz hands."  Francis is waving an index finger as if to punctuate an important factoid.  Nate is flexing his muscles in heroic fashion.  Teddy, hands in pockets and whistling innocently, looks as though he might be up to no good.  Chad looks cheery, as usual, and flashes a peace sign.  And Artur, who always thinks the best of everyone and everything, is giving us a thumbs up.  These characters all have bigger feet with more verticality to them than mine do; and in the case of Dee Dee, Francis, and Nate, their hair is a little bigger, too.  (Dee Dee's hair is particularly fascinating; what is she hiding under there??)

It's always flattering when kids think enough of your characters to try drawing them, so I'd like to thank the young artists behind these images.  Keep drawing, and keep reading!

 

Tue, 04/14/2015

Wanted Poster Drawings

Here's a story about the way certain ideas can occur to us, and how those ideas can reappear--and come in handy--years later.

There were no cartooning classes--at least none that I knew about in my small hometown--when I was growing up.  If you wanted to be a cartoonist, you more or less tried to teach yourself by copying images from comic books and newspapers.  At a certain point, my cartooning progress seemed to be hitting a rough patch.  I was 8 or 9 years old, and I was having a lot of trouble drawing consistently.  Specifically, I couldn't seem to draw a character from two different angles.  Whenever I'd try, I'd end up with two different drawings--one from the front, one from the side--that looked like two completely different people.  I knew I had to practice to get better, but didn't really know how.

Our local post office was just a short bike ride away, and my mother sometimes sent me there to buy stamps or mail a letter.  I don't know if some post offices still do this, but back then, our post office displayed "wanted posters" on a bulletin board in the lobby.  I'd never really paid much attention to them, but one day, they happened to catch my eye.  I looked at the format--two photographs of the same person, one from the front, one from the side--and realized that here was the answer to my drawing problem.  I decided to start making my own wanted posters as a way of practicing.  I drew two boxes side by side and used a ruler to make very light horizontal lines across the boxes to act as a guide.  Then I'd draw a character from two different angles, taking care to make sure that all the facial features lined up consistently from one box to the next.  And you know what?  It worked!  I definitely improved as a result of this exercise.  Years later, when I was teaching cartooning at a summer art camp, I decided to make wanted posters one of our projects. 

But that's not the end of the story, because--despite the fact that there aren't any hardened criminals in the Big Nate novels--a wanted poster did, in fact, appear in one of my books.  In BIG NATE FLIPS OUT, the fifth book in the series, a valuable camera is stolen from Nate's locker.  To illustrate the fact that Dee Dee suspects a boy named Nick Blonsky, I drew a wanted poster.  It shows Nick from two different angles and even lists his "crime" down below:  CAMERA THEFT.

It was great fun to be able to revisit an idea from so many years before and use it in the here and now!
 

Fri, 04/10/2015

It's Baseball Season!

It's baseball season!  Yes, I know that the drawing shown here isn't strictly baseball; it's a scene of the climactic FLEECEBALL game in book #2, BIG NATE STRIKES AGAIN.  Fleeceball, as I've mentioned before in this blog, is indoor baseball.  But it's played with a soft, puffy ball instead of a hardball; and the bat isn't the kind you see in a baseball game.  It's more like a sawed-off broomstick.  Anyway, the fleeceball scenes in STRIKES AGAIN are the closest I've come to writing about baseball in any of the novels, so that's why I chose to include this drawing today.  (It's also the only time Gina's done anything remotely athletic in the entire history of Big Nate!)

The Major League Baseball season officially began on Sunday night, but my beloved Boston Red Sox kicked off their 2015 campaign today (Monday).  And they won 8-0 against the Philadelphia Phillies, tying a record by hitting five home runs in an Opening Day game.  Of course, it was only the first of 162 regular season games, so let's not get too excited.  But considering the Sox finished in last place in 2014, I'm grateful for any good news involving my team.

I've always loved baseball, and I've drawn comics about it since I was a kid, creating stories in which my favorite Red Sox player, Carl Yastrzemski, played the hero against the hated New York Yankees.  Sadly, these comic fantasies were just that -- fantasies.  When I was born in 1963, the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in 45 years.  And they waited 41 more before finally breaking through and winning it all in 2004.  I also coached high school baseball for a couple years when I lived in New York City.  Considering the time and attention I've devoted to baseball during my life, I always knew I'd include it in Big Nate once I got the comic strip started.  Nate plays Little League baseball, and his current team, sponsored by Cressly's Bakery , is called the Cupcakes.  Before that, they were called the Cream Puffs.  Over the years, his teams have had an array of embarrassing names.  Poor Nate.

Talk about a sporty time of year.  Not only is the baseball season getting underway, the men's and women's college basketball tournaments are taking place (Duke just won the men's tournament), the NHL playoffs are only a week away, the Masters will be played this week, and the college hockey "Frozen Four" is happening this coming weekend in Boston.  If you like sports, enjoy!  If you don't like sports...well, hang in there.  The dog days of summer are just around the corner.

Tue, 04/07/2015

Climb into the Time Machine

Climb into the time machine and return with me to the golden days of 1968.  That September, I started kindergarten at Oyster River Elementary School in Durham, New Hampshire.  What you see here on the top is my school picture, glued into a keepsake book entitled "Lincoln's School Years," in which my mother saved all the memorabilia (good and bad) of my trajectory from grades K through 12.  On the bottom is my first report card in which my teacher, Mrs. Rollins, recorded her assessments of my performance in certain categories.  More on that in a moment.

I was a young kindergartner.  My birthday is in October, so unlike most of my classmates who'd already turned five, I was still four when school began.  In the space marked "age," my mother initially wrote 4 ¾.  Then, for some reason, she crossed that out and wrote "4 yr."  Finally, at some point after I'd turned five, I did some more crossing out before adding a number 5 in red felt-tip pen.  Obviously, once a boy turns 5, he no longer wants to be identified as a 4 year-old.  My mom didn't fill in my height and weight, but I'm going to guess that on the first day of school, I clocked in at about three and a half feet tall and weighed a solid 40 pounds.  As for the picture, which was taken in either late September or early October, it's mildly surprising that I don't have a buzz cut.  Back then, I usually kept my hair buzzed all summer, then let it grow out during the winter months.  The shirt I'm wearing I remember very well.  I didn't want to button it up all the way because it felt too tight around my neck, but I was under strict instructions to keep it buttoned until after the picture had been taken. 

The report card includes developmental benchmarks like WORK AND PERSONAL HABITS, SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT, and so on.  Next to these are line items such as WORKS INDEPENDENTLY, EXERCISES SELF-CONTROL, LISTENS AND RETAINS INFORMATION, and EXPRESSES IDEAS WELL.  In the box next to each of these lines, Mrs. Rollins entered a letter grade:  M for "most of the time," P for "part of the time," and N for "not yet."  As you can see, I was a good kindergartner and received an M in every single category...except one.  I only got a P in the the box next to this line:  Enjoys expressing himself with art materials.  Wow.  That's hilarious.  Apparently my art skills needed work even then.  I guess I hadn't yet decided I wanted to be a cartoonist!

...Which brings me to the most archaic part of this keepsake book.  On the back of this page were lines where my parents could record additional information about the school year:  New Friends, Activities, Achievements, and Awards.  (For the record:  Achievements and Awards have been left blank.)  At the bottom of the page is a section that indicates the gender distinctions that were part of everyday life back in 1968.  Under the heading WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE... here are the possible career choices for boys and girls:

BOYS                    GIRLS
Fireman                Mother
Policeman             Nurse
Cowboy                School Teacher
Astronaut             Airline Hostess
Soldier                  Model
Baseball Player     Secretary

I think this trip in the time machine has lasted long enough!

Fri, 04/03/2015

Light Bulbs in Comics

The house I live in was built in 1922.  When we moved in, I was delighted to find two light bulbs that appeared to be as old as the house itself.  Both were in working condition, probably because they were in parts of the house where they weren't used very often.  One was in a small storage room in the attic, the other in the closet of the bedroom we've since turned into my wife's art studio.  Being tickled by the discovery of these ancient light bulbs is in character for me.  I'm a fan of old things in general.  And no, it's not because I'm getting old myself!  I was a fan of old stuff even when I was a kid.  I liked the look of classic cars.  Old houses always seemed to be handsomer and more sturdy than their modern counterparts.  I even started collecting wheat pennies, the classic 1-cent coins minted from 1909 to 1956, because I thought they were so much better looking than regular pennies.  (BTW, the oldest wheat penny in my "collection" -- I put the word in quotes because I'm certainly not a coin collector or coin expert -- dates from 1918.)  Anyway, back to light bulbs.  I think the 1922 light bulb is far more appealing to look at than the 2015 bulb in the picture above, don't you?  It would look perfectly at home as part of Dr. Frankenstein's machines.

But light bulbs are significant to cartoonists for another reason, of course:  their symbolic meaning in the visual vocabulary of comics.  As we all know, a bulb lighting up directly over a character's head means that character is having a moment of inspiration:  a great idea.  I use this symbol all the time during my easel talks to kids when I visit schools; even the youngest kids know exactly what the symbol means, despite the fact that most light bulbs no longer look like the one glowing above Nate's head in the picture shown here.  They're more apt to look like curly fries nowadays.  But when kids ask which cartoonist was the very first to use a light bulb to signify the occurrence of a good idea, I have to plead ignorance.  Rudolph Dirks, the brilliant cartoonist who created the Katzenjammer Kids, is credited with popularizing many cartooning symbols like motion lines and sweat beads.  But light bulbs are never mentioned.  

I decided to see what I could discover on the internet.  After a few dead ends and a couple of wild goose chases, I stumbled upon a site that makes this claim:  

A character thinks and thinks...then, suddenly, has a great idea!  A light bulb turns itself on directly above the character's head -- often with the character pointing one index finger upward.  This trope has been subverted for decades.  It became a cliché almost as soon as it was invented (in the 1920's, for the black-and-white Felix The Cat cartoons).

Is this true?  I have absolutely no idea.  But if it is, the cartoon symbol for a great idea is almost exactly as old as the light bulbs I found in my house.  How illuminating!

Tue, 03/31/2015

Anagram Kick

I'm still on this anagram kick.

The example from BIG NATE STRIKES AGAIN that I mentioned in my last entry (ETHAN R. TWIG as an anagram for NATE WRIGHT) wasn't the first time I played around with anagrams.  In the comic strip many years ago, I mentioned that Nate's name is also an anagram for NIGHT WATER.  And I once wrote a joke involving Nate's discovery that Mr. Rosa's name -- KEN ROSA -- could become the anagram ARK NOSE.  Mr. Rosa did not share Nate's enthusiasm.

Let's play around with some other characters and see if we come up with anything interesting!

• CHAD APPLEWHITE = HEAL WHIPPED CAT
• CLARA GODFREY = DEFY ORAL CRAG
• FRANCIS POPE = FORENSIC PAP
• ARTUR PASHKOV = VAPOR RAT HUSK
• GINA HEMPHILL-TOMS = LOATHING LIMP MESH

How about Mr. Nichols, the principal?  I'd never given him a first name until I wrote BIG NATE LIVES IT UP.  In the last chapter, he's being interviewed on television, and I realized it would make sense for the caption on the TV screen to include a first name for Mr. Nichols.  So I gave him one:  Wesley.  Let's plug him into the anagram machine.

• WESLEY NICHOLS = NICELY WE SLOSH = SEE LOWLY CHINS = WHINES CLOSELY (plus many more!)  Turns out Wesley Nichols is an excellent name for anagrams.  Who knew?

And finally, there's Nate's dream girl, Jenny.  Let's see what happens with her name:

• JENNY JENKINS = NO ANAGRAMS COULD BE MADE

Okay, I'm all anagrammed out -- I promise.  Next time, I'll blog about something else!
 

Fri, 03/27/2015

Anagrams

Hi, everyone.  My apologies for being late with this blog entry.  I was asked to write the introduction to an upcoming Peanuts tribute book, and I couldn't tear myself away from that project until I'd finished it.

First things first:  I'm back from the BIG NATE LIVES IT UP book tour, and I'd like to thank all the kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and bookstore folks I met along the way.  It was the best tour yet, and even though it's good to be home, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting so many schools, bookstores, and libraries.

Now, on to today's entry!  If you've read BIG NATE STRIKES AGAIN, you know that Nate, inspired by Ben Franklin, created "Poor Nate's Almanack,"  a cartoony collection of news, gossip, jokes, and so on.  The page shown here is the "advice column" page, and it features a mystery columnist named ETHAN R. TWIG -- an anagram for NATE WRIGHT.  I hadn't thought much about anagrams until the other day, when I heard some DJs on a sports radio station talking about anagrams for famous athletes.  One of them mentioned a website where you can type in a name or a phrase and click a button.  In a second or two, the website will generate all the possible anagrams of your word or phrase.  I found the website and tried it with NATE WRIGHT.  A bunch of anagrams popped up, but of course many of them don't make much sense.  Here are a few I liked:

•    WEIGHT RANT
•    WHITER GNAT
•    THREW GIANT
•    NIGHT WATER
•    THAT WINGER

Then I tried it with my own name, LINCOLN PEIRCE:

•    PRINCE ONCE ILL
•    NO PENCIL RELIC
•    EL PICNIC LONER
•    NO LEPER CLINIC

I like this one for Nate's pal, TEDDY ORTIZ:

•    DOZED.  TRY IT!  (I added punctuation.)

Try it with your own name.  It's fun!

Wed, 03/25/2015