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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Putting the "Fortune" in the Fortune Cookie

 If you've read BIG NATE:  IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF, you might remember the comic Nate draws about going out for dinner with Dad and Ellen at Pu-Pu Panda, and getting a fortune that makes absolutely no sense:  An unlit candle frightens no monkeys.  I've never been lucky enough to find something quite that bizarre inside a fortune cookie, but I've blogged on a few occasions about receiving strange, nonsensical, or unintentionally hilarious messages after a meal of Chinese food.  Here's a brief sampler:

•    One is not sleeping, does not mean they are awake.
•    Birds are entangled by your feet and men by their tongue.
•    People in your background will be more cooperative than usual.
•    Like hockey players, bookworms are called for icing.

And now comes the latest addition to my collection:  People try thing, because they just don't want it enough.

What?

This fortune makes no sense.  Sometimes -- perhaps because the fortunes are written in Chinese, then translated into English? -- a hard-to-understand fortune has clearly been made more cryptic simply because of grammatical problems.  In other words, you sort of get what the fortune is TRYING to say, and if you correct the grammar, the whole thing makes sense.  But that's not the case here.  Let's tweak this sentence so that it's more readable.  The two problem words are "thing" and "it."  Suppose we make "thing" plural, and then change "it" accordingly.  In that case, the fortune would go like this:  People try things, because they just don't want them enough.  Grammatically, it's a much better sentence now.  But it STILL makes no sense!  If people don't want things enough, why do they try them in the first place?  Sometimes you hear similar phrases, like "didn't want it enough," in a sports context.  For example, you might hear a sportscaster say "the Red Sox could have won the game, but they just didn't want it enough."  It implies a lack of desire, or determination, or motivation.  So perhaps, somehow, this fortune is encouraging people to become more motivated.  But it's hard to be motivated by something you don't understand.  I'm stumped.

And I'm annoyed, too, because the very term "fortune cookie" has become a complete misnomer.  I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "fortune," I assume that what follows will be some sort of prediction regarding future events, like "You will meet someone who will have a huge impact on your life."  That's not specific, but at least it gives you something to look forward to.  Fortune cookies seldom make predictions, though.  Instead of fortunes, they're usually "words of wisdom."  I've learned that if I'm looking for predictions, I'm more likely to find one by reading my daily horoscope in the morning newspaper.  And the good news is:  the horoscope is often printed right alongside the comics, so you can get everything you need to start your day without flipping through a lot of pages.  Happy reading, everybody!

Tue, 08/19/2014

The Jericho Mile: Then and Now

I suppose today's blog entry is aimed more at adults than children, because the subject is the way something -- in this case, a movie -- can make a very different impression on you when you experience it as an adult, years after first seeing it as a kid.  The movie in question is called "The Jericho Mile," starring Peter Strauss.  It wasn't a go-to-the-theater movie; it was a TV movie that aired in early 1979, when I was 15 years old.  It's a movie about running, among other things, and the reason it came to mind recently was an email exchange I had with my friend Brian Daly, a writer here in Portland.  Brian ran track in high school and college, and over the past couple of days he and I have compared notes on sports movies in general and running movies in particular.  I mentioned that I'd recently watched "Prefontaine," a biopic about the gifted runner from Oregon who died in an automobile accident in 1975 at the age of 24.  In Brian's response, he mentioned "The Jericho Mile," and I immediately recognized the title.  Here's what I was able to remember about it:  it was the story of a prisoner who could run fast; and when I watched it as a 15 year-old, I thought it was just about the best movie I'd ever seen.

I was curious to see if I'd still enjoy it, so I watched it today on youtube while I was drawing.  Not surprisingly, there was a bit more to the movie's storyline than I remembered.  Here's a quick recap:  Rain Murphy is spending life in prison.  Years ago, he killed his father for abusing his step-sister.  Rain is an honorable man, not a hardened criminal, and he keeps to himself, steering clear of the different gangs of inmates within the prison.  The prisoners are allowed an hour each day to exercise, and Rain uses his time to run laps in the prison yard.  The warden notices Rain's dedication and, when he secretly times him, is astonished to find that Rain can run a mile in world-class time.  The warden decides to encourage Rain's running, eventually inviting some accomplished runners to race Rain inside the prison yard.  Rain wins, and his time qualifies him for the Olympic Trials.  The warden is thrilled, because such an accomplishment by an inmate will create all kinds of positive PR for the prison system.  But the US Olympic Committee balks.  They're afraid that having a convicted murderer try out for the Olympic team would mean bad publicity.  They deny Rain his opportunity to run in the Olympic Trials, and the race goes on without him.  The winner is one of the runners Rain defeated in the match race at the prison a few weeks earlier.  When he hears the winning time on a radio broadcast -- 3:50:06 -- Rain walks out to the prison yard with a stopwatch.  He runs his own private Olympic Trials, with no opponent except the clock, inside the prison walls.  He beats the winning time, proving to himself and everyone else that, had he been given the chance, he could have been an Olympian.  Rain gazes at the stopwatch, then hurls it over the prison wall.  It smashes to the pavement.  The end.

So now I'd seen the movie a second time, 35 years after seeing it when it first aired.  Did I still think it was the best movie I'd ever seen?  Well, no.  Parts of the story seemed completely implausible.  Other parts reinforced some unpleasant stereotypes.  What felt authentic and gritty when I was 15 now seemed cheesy.  And -- the cardinal sin of a sports movie -- Peter Strauss, the actor playing Rain Murphy, simply did not look the part of a world-class miler.  He appeared to be in fine shape, but his running style was definitely not Olympian.  The movie wasn't horrible by any stretch.  In fact, it was probably quite groundbreaking for television in 1979.  But it hasn't held up well.  (Peter Strauss claimed he was in such good shape during the filming that he could run a 4:30 mile in real life.  My friend Brian's response:  not bloody likely.)

Happily, I've had occasion to write entries in this blog about things that DO hold up when you revisit them years later -- books like "Charlotte's Web" or "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory," movies like "Pinocchio," and comic strips like "Peanuts."  If you're a kid, I hope that if and when you pick up a "Big Nate" book a few decades from now, you'll still find it entertaining.  Maybe you'll pass it on to your own kids!

 

Fri, 08/15/2014

Finding Team Spirit

If you've ever been a member of a team, you know that finding ways to create spirit and camaraderie are important.  In recent years, as our daughter has played on three different high school teams (field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse), I've watched some of the things she and her teammates do to foster bonding:  buying modest "buddy gifts" for each other, selecting a team song to play during warm-ups, having team dinners and sleepovers, and so on.  There's no doubt that when athletes feel close to their teammates, they not only enjoy games and practices more, they actually play better.

My high school days are about 35 years in the past, but -- as I've mentioned before in this blog -- I'm still part of a team.  I play men's league hockey for a team called Buffalo Wild Wings (named for the restaurant that sponsors us).  Before that, we were called Bayside Bowl.  And before that, we were Buck's Naked Barbecue.  During our Buck's Naked Barbecue heyday, one of our teammates created an award that has become the centerpiece of our most cherished bonding ritual.  It's called the Buck Up Award, and after a win, it's given to the player who, by general acclimation, was a crucial part of the victory.  That might mean scoring the winning goal, playing stellar defense, or providing great goaltending.  The trophy itself, which is every bit as magnificent as the Stanley Cup, is a deer antler mounted atop a wooden pedestal with a hockey puck attached.  Carved lovingly into the puck are the words "BUCK UP AWARD."

Rituals evolve over time, of course.  A few years ago, whoever won the award usually just stashed it in his hockey bag until the next game rolled around.  But over time, it became traditional for the recipient to photograph the award while it was in his possession, preferably in some sort of memorable setting.  Well, last week my teammates kindly saw fit to give me the award after our 2-1 victory, and I had it with me last night when our family took some out-of-town friends to The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  I propped it on top of a sightseeing viewer and snapped this photo.  (Artistic note:  I would have preferred the background to be devoid of people, but several unthinking tourists obviously didn't care that I was trying to create a photographic masterpiece.)

The Buck Up Award is such an important symbol, I even included it in a Big Nate Sunday page a few years ago.  I changed the narrative slightly, so that instead of a men's league trophy, it's depicted as a priceless keepsake from Dad's high school hockey days.  (Then, after Dad trips and impales himself on the antler, it quickly becomes a lot less priceless.)

My team plays tonight.  Hopefully, we'll win and I'll pass the trophy along to someone else!

Tue, 08/12/2014

Have you ever heard of GISHWES?

Have you ever heard of GISHWES?  I hadn't, until about 11:30 this morning.  A young man named Antonio whom I hadn't seen in several years (he used to be part of a string quartet with our son) called and asked if I could help his GISHWES team.  I couldn't really understand what he'd said over the phone.  GISHWES, when vocalized, sounds more like a sneeze than anything else.   But as it turns out, it stands for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.  Here's a bit more about it from the GISHWES wikipedia page:

GISHWHES, pronounced gish-wes, is an annual week-long competitive media scavenger hunt originally held each autumn, but more recently each summer.  Teams of 15 competitors earn points for submitting photos and videos of themselves completing prompts from a list they receive at the beginning of the week.  Actor Misha Collins officially founded GISHWES in 2011 after a publicity stunt to help the television series Supernatural -- on which Collins appears -- win a People's Choice Award.  The competition holds a world record for being the largest media scavenger hunt ever to take place.  The current hunt began on August 2 and will conclude on August 9.

So there you have it.  By the time you read this, GISHWES 2014 might already be over.  If you didn't get around to entering, there's always next year.  And the good news is, your entry fee will be donated to Random Acts, a non-profit group that encourages random acts of kindness.

Anyway, you might be wondering just how I was able to help Antonio and his team.  Well, apparently GISHWES provides its contestants with a massive list of tasks to complete.  In 2011, for example, contestants were asked to photograph a group of firemen who were wearing nothing but kale.  There are nearly 200 items on the list, and apparently it's virtually impossible for any team to successfully complete each and every task.  But they do as many as they can, and each one they're able to check off the list is worth a certain number of points.  Antonio called me because of item #177 on this list:  Video a New York Times bestselling author, or Tony Award-winning actor or actress doing a dramatic reading of The California Department of Motor Vehicles Driver Handbook.  I'm not sure how dramatic my reading was, but Antonio shot about 30 seconds of me reading a paragraph involving "Right Of Way" regulations.  And he was able to hold his video camera steady even as my dog Scout was aggressively licking his leg.  This was worth 112 points for Antonio's team, which he told me was a pretty high point total.  I was happy to be able to help.

This reminds me that a Scavenger Hunt is a key part of the upcoming Big Nate novel, Big Nate Lives It Up.  The book won't go on sale until March of 2015, but this gives me a chance to update you on my progress.  I've finished the drawings for the first five chapters.  I'm hoping to have seven chapters done -- or close to it -- by the end of August.

All for now.  Have a good weekend!

Fri, 08/08/2014

Going Bananas

All this week in the comic strip, I'm dealing with a very important subject:  bananas.  

There are many foods that people have strong feelings about -- I think I've made it quite clear over the years that I love Cheez Doodles and detest egg salad -- but I've noticed that bananas seem to be a lightning rod for very strong opinions.  It's not that there are a lot of people out there who don't like bananas.  In fact, Americans consume more bananas than any other fruit.  No, it's the RIPENESS of bananas that elicits passionate opinions.  People have very different ideas about exactly when in its "ripeness cycle" a banana is ready to be eaten.

In Monday's strip, Nate makes his feelings known:  he thinks a perfectly yellow banana is already past its prime.  As the rest of the strips unfold this week, Nate will elaborate on his personal theories of banana ripeness.  He thinks the the skin of a perfect banana is yellowish green.  And here's a shocker:  I agree with Nate.  A banana with faint traces of green is firm, and it tastes and smells delicious.  But once the banana is entirely yellow, it starts to seem mushy...and it smells and tastes different, too.  Once brown marks begin to appear on the peel, the fruit in question no longer even resembles a banana.  It's vile.  I'd never consider eating a banana with brown spots on it.  And don't get me started on BRUISED bananas.  They gross me out.

If you think my opinions are a little extreme, just engage someone in a conversation about bananas.  You'll be hard-pressed to find anybody who has no opinion on the subject.  And believe me, the folks in the "brown spotted banana" camp are just as rabid as I am about yellowish-green bananas.  (I should point out here that if you try to eat a banana that's TOO green, you'll be out of luck.  You can't even peel them when they're like that.)

What kind of banana person are YOU?  Check out www.gocomics.com/bignate/ all this week, and share your opinion in the "comments" section!

Tue, 08/05/2014

Read!

If you've spent any time in libraries -- especially school libraries -- you're probably familiar with the series of posters sponsored by the American Library Association encouraging people to read.  Often, but not always, these posters are designed to appeal to young readers and feature beloved characters from children's literature.  Sometimes they feature celebrities from the worlds of entertainment or sports, holding copies of a book that's made a major impression on them.  A quick examination of this years ALA graphics catalog turns up posters featuring the likes of Elephant & Piggy, Judy Moody, Snoopy, Captain Underpants, Babymouse, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Timmy Failure, Wimpy Kid, Pete the Cat, Babar, and Corduroy.  In the celebrities category, among those encouraging reading are Taylor Swift, Hugh Jackman, Drew Brees, Alan Rickman, Rachel Maddow, Kelly Ripa, Yo Yo Ma, and Cedric The Entertainer.

I was very flattered a few months ago when I was asked by the ALA to create a Big Nate poster and bookmark this year.  I agreed immediately.  I thought there might be very specific guidelines governing what a poster could and should look like, but in fact the only requirement was that the word "read" or "reading" be prominently featured.  My goal was to come up with a design that was reminiscent of the covers of the Big Nate novels -- simple, dynamic, and fun.  I also wanted, in some small way, to pay tribute to Nate's origins in the funny pages.  Remember, he was a comic strip character before ventured into the world of tween novels.  

This was one of those very happy occasions when I came up with an idea I liked almost immediately, and the idea changed very little as I worked through it.  The black-and-white image above was the original rough drawing I submitted to the ALA.  The image of a lightbulb hovering over someone's head has its roots in comics, and I felt satisfied that my design was appropriately "cartoony."  The ALA approved the design, after which I did the finished art.  The only change I made was to the books Nate is holding.  In the rough version, he's sporting a couple of Big Nate books.  In the final version, he's holding the "Big Book of Comics" and "Cartooning."  

The final step was to choose a color scheme.  The folks at ALA Graphics several different treatments, and the one I liked best was the one with the bright red background.  It's cheery, and the light bulb really jumps off the page.  Incidentally, the color image above is the bookmark, not the actual poster.  The poster is not quite so tall and skinny.

If you want a poster for your classroom, library, or bedroom, you can check out all the ALA offerings at http://www.alastore.ala.org/SearchResult.aspx?CategoryID=291

And remember:  READ!

Fri, 08/01/2014

Recovering!

Welcome to what might be my shortest blog entry ever!  Normally, I would have written it last night (Monday), and it would have been posted on Tuesday.  But as I type this, it's already Tuesday afternoon.  I spent the last 16 hours driving from Maine to JFK International Airport in Queens, New York, picking up our daughter after her month-long stay in Thailand, and driving her back home.  She had the experience of a lifetime, as the picture here makes clear.  But she's understandably exhausted.  It's 4:22 pm in Maine, which means it's 3:22 am in Thailand.  I have a feeling her body clock will be a bit off for a few days!  As for me, I'm also exhausted, even though I don't have the time change as an excuse.  So I'm going to keep today's entry brief and get some rest before I get back to work tomorrow morning!

 

Tue, 07/29/2014

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