Big Nate and Friends in College?
Greetings from Minnesota! Usually, when I'm writing from another part of the country, it's because I'm on some sort of book tour. But that's not the case. My daughter Dana and I are in Minnesota (at the moment, we're at the home of some friends who live in Minneapolis) because she is in the process of visiting colleges. A few months from now, she'll be applying to schools, and it's always helpful to have seen them in person. Today we spent the morning and most of the afternoon at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Dana really liked it.
This made me wonder what sort of colleges or universities Big Nate and his friends might apply to someday. (Yes, I know Nate and his friends don't age and have been trapped in the sixth grade for over two decades, but bear with me.)
Tomorrow we leave Minnesota and head to Pennsylvania, where we'll be visiting a couple schools in the Philadelphia area. And after that it's on to Massachusetts. That's where I'll be blogging from next!
Last time, I told you that one of the admirable things about meteorologist Al Roker is that he's good at his job. Unfortunately, not all meteorologists are capable of meeting Al's high standards. Take Wink Summers, for instance. Wink is the local TV weatherman who is the unwitting object of Nate's attention. You'll notice I didn't say "object of Nate's affection," because Nate's feelings about Wink are all over the place. At times, Nate seems to admire Wink and enjoys watching his broadcasts regularly. At other times, Nate resents the imperfect quality of Wink's weather forecasts, and is not shy about calling Wink at work to chew him out. (Like many people, Nate sometimes assumes that Wink is somehow capable of actually controlling the weather.) And on other occasions, Nate acts as a self-appointed media critic, providing commentary on Wink's weight, clothing, on-air demeanor, and social life.
Anyway, getting back to Wink's job performance: Big Nate readers have never seen Wink (he's one of those characters better left to the imagination), but it's fairly clear that he's not very good at his job. And as I've said many times before on this blog, failure is one of the staples of comedy. A meteorologist who perfectly predicts the weather 100% of the time doesn't provide much comic inspiration. But what if you're a weatherman who's frequently wrong? What if your wife leaves you and runs off with the sports anchor? What if you're prone to emotional meltdowns while on camera? What if you're fired from your job as the chief meteorologist (in favor of a guy named Chip Cavendish) and demoted to mop-up duty as the weekend meteorologist? Those are just a few of the trials poor Wink has had to endure.
I'm not really sure when weathermen have become kind of a running theme in my own life. It's certainly not because I'm all that interested in the weather, or in the science of meteorology. And I never watch those Weather Channel shows about people chasing hurricanes and whatnot. But there's always been something fascinating to me about people standing in front of a camera and telling us how they think the sun, wind, and clouds are going to behave over the course of the next few hours or days. Maybe it all goes back to the great Don Kent. Where I grew up in New Hampshire, we didn't have a local TV station of our own, so we watched the news -- and the weather -- from the nearest major market: Boston. Don Kent was THE weatherman in Boston for my entire childhood, and he was a competent, comforting TV personality. Not exactly Mr. Charisma, but back in those days, folks on the TV news weren't expected to be colorful. They were just supposed to tell you what was going on. And in the case of weathermen (there weren't any women meteorologists on TV back then), it didn't hurt if you could draw a little bit, too. Before there were fancy video displays and digital screens, there was basically a blackboard. The weatherman would draw arrows, clouds, raindrops, etc., like a teacher in front of a classroom.
Since I'm talking about the good ol' days, here's one more thing: you can tell by looking at this drawing of Nate that I drew it quite a few years ago. Check out the size of that phone! AND it has an antenna. It's probably almost as old as Don Kent's blackboard.
Big Nate Breaks a World Record!
Hi, everyone. I'm back in Maine after a very exciting day last week. When my last blog entry was posted, I was getting ready to fly to New York City, where I was scheduled to appear on The Today Show as part of their "Spring Breakers" theme: all week long, people were attempting to break world's records live on the show. I was part of a team effort, along with Harper Collins Publishers and countless kids around the world, to set a new record for the world's longest comic strip. And if you saw the show, you already know that WE DID IT! In the aerial picture shown here, you can see the strip as it snakes its way around Rockefeller Plaza, onto the skating rink, across 49th Street and over to the outdoor location where I spoke to the folks from the show. The on-air personalities -- Matt, Carson, Natalie, and Al -- put the final four panels in place, and then Mike, the representative from the Guinness Book of World Records, confirmed that we had, in fact, broken the record by several hundred feet. The crowd went wild.
It took a lot of very dedicated folks to put that comic strip in place. The Today Show hits the airwaves at 7:00 am, but it was 1:30 in the morning when a combination of NBC staffers and dedicated HarperCollins employees started laying down the panels, taping them together, and anchoring them in place using weights that were rented from a deep sea diving company. Those weights were essential, because the wind was whipping around quite a bit on Friday morning. And even with the weights, a bunch of people had to stand on some of the panels -- especially the ones on the skating rink -- to make sure they didn't fly away. I can't imagine it was much fun to stand on the ice for several hours on a chilly morning, so those folks certainly deserve a great deal of credit and thanks.
Big Nate, Big News!
Several times over the last few months, I've reminded you about the ongoing effort to break the world's record for the longest comic strip created by a team, and I've encouraged you to keep an eye on this website -- and this blog -- for updates. Well, consider this a MAJOR update. Hold onto your hats for some incredibly exciting news!!
But first, a little background:
HarperCollins, the publisher of the Big Nate books, first proposed the idea of breaking this record well over a year ago; since then, there's been a lot going on "behind the scenes." It turns out that there's more to setting this record than simply asking a bunch of people to draw panels and then taping those panels together. Here are a few of the steps HarperCollins has had to take:
That last one leads right into my major update, because we've all felt since the beginning that a project this big should be seen by as many people as possible -- and that means getting it on television. So guess what? WE WILL ATTEMPT TO OFFICIALLY BREAK THE RECORD LIVE ON NBC'S TODAY SHOW ON FRIDAY, APRIL 11TH!! Our Big Nate comic strip, all 4,000 feet of it, will be on display for all to see at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, and officials from the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to -- fingers crossed! -- tell us if we've surpassed the previous mark. Watch it if you can! If you can't watch it, record it! And tell your friends!
This is thrilling news for any number of reasons. First, it means we will be trying to break the record in front of a television audience of millions of people. Second, it means that all the kids, teachers, and librarians who contributed to the strip will be able to see the results of their efforts. Third, it might introduce Big Nate to some folks who weren't familiar with him before.
And fourth, I'll get to meet Al Roker!
Al, as you may know, is the chief meteorologist of the Today Show, and I've been a fan of his for many years. I've just always thought he was very good at his job, while at the same time being a warm, gracious, and entertaining TV personality. And I've also heard that he's a huge comics fan and is something of an amateur cartoonist himself. Anyway, when I have strong feelings about something -- or someone -- it often shows up in my comic strip. The strip above is an example of the way I've managed to slip Al's name into BIG NATE a few times over the years.
In a normal week I blog twice, and those entries are posted on Tuesday and Friday. This week, though, I'm going to skip my second entry because I'll be in New York City to be on the show. A week from now I'll be back with a new entry, and I'll tell you everything about my visit to the Today Show, and what it felt like to be part of -- hopefully! -- a new world's record!Tue, 04/08/2014
Last month BIG NATE: IN THE ZONE went on sale, and I'd like to thank all of you who went out and bought it at your local bookstore or borrowed it from your friendly neighborhood library. In case you're done with it and are looking for something else to read, may I suggest BIG NATE: MR. POPULARITY? It's the newest compilation of Big Nate comic strips, and it's a great way to check out some of Nate's funniest adventures, especially if you've never seen them in your hometown newspaper or online on gocomics.com or right here at bignatebooks.com.
I like this cover. As you know, the covers of all six Big Nate novels are drawings of Nate in some sort of action pose: jumping out of a speech bubble, flipping upside-down, or leaping over a high hurdle. But in all those examples, Nate's alone. The compilation books give me the chance to design covers with multiple characters. This one features Nate, Teddy, Francis, and Gina, and it was inspired by a series of strips in which Nate runs for class president. (As you can see, Gina has added a little something to one of Nate's campaign posters!) Does Nate win the election? Check out the book and find out!
The other picture was taken tonight at an art gallery here in Portland. That's me on the right and my friend and mentor, Abbott Meader, on the left. I've written before about Abbott and how important he was to me during my years in college. He was my painting professor and academic advisor -- but in addition to being an excellent teacher, he's also a great artist in his own right. Tonight was the opening of a 2-person art show. Abbott's paintings, collages, and pastels were on display; and his wife Nancy exhibited her raku pots. But as is always the case whenever he's around, it was Abbott himself who was the main attraction. He's a great conversationalist and storyteller. It was wonderful to see him and Nancy, and to catch up with some other friends who were at the opening.
One last thing: Have you been following the progress of the attempt to set a new world's record for the longest comic strip ever created by a team? Well, check back here next week. There will be an update and some BIG NEWS!Fri, 04/04/2014
Big Nate and Yoda
Last week was a bit of a strange one for Nate -- the comic strip version, that is. He paid a visit to Gordie at the comics store, Klassic Komix, and ended up having his loyalties tested. Nate's always been a fan of the vampire super heroine FEMME FATALITY, but when he arrived at the store, Gordie told him that all the copies of the latest issue had already been sold. He showed Nate a comic book featuring a different super heroine, VEEVA La BOMBSHELLE, and Nate was -- shall we say -- intrigued. But that wasn't the strange part. The weirdness came later in the week, when Nate met up with (in this order): Gordie's mumbling and very hairy boss, Wayne; a random guy wearing a Yoda mask; and an elderly gentlemen who was hanging out at the mall with his ventriloquist's dummy.
I'd never drawn Yoda before, and I'm certainly not enough of a STAR WARS fan to picture in my mind's eye what he looks like. So I did a Google Image search and found a bunch of Yoda pictures. To my surprise, there were slight differences between the "first"Yoda (from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in 1980) and Yoda in later STAR WARS films. I didn't get too hung up on the details. I ended up drawing sort of a "generic" Yoda -- one who's recognizable as Yoda, but is clearly not a dead ringer. It's fun to draw stuff you've never drawn before, but it can be time-consuming. A 4-panel strip would normally take me between one and two hours to draw. But this one, with four different drawings of Yoda, took me well over three hours.
Anyway, back to Yoda. I saw THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK when it first came out (I was sixteen years old and about to start my senior year of high school), and I remember very clearly my reaction to Yoda. Yoda was a puppet, of course, and he was controlled and voiced by the great Frank Oz. Well, as a watcher of SESAME STREET (years earlier) and THE MUPPET SHOW (which was still in production in 1980), I immediately recognized that Yoda's voice sounded mighty familiar. You see, in addition to acting as the voice of Yoda, Frank Oz was the voice of Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear. I enjoyed THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK very much, but I couldn't get past the feeling that whenever Yoda spoke, I was listening to Fozzie Bear. Wocka wocka wocka!
There's more strangeness on tap for Big Nate this week as baseball season begins. If you follow the comic strip, you know that Nate's baseball team -- sponsored by Cressly's Bakery -- is called the Cream Puffs. Except now the bakery is giving them a choice: they can stick with the horrible name they've got, or opt for a NEW horrible name -- the Cupcakes. In case you're thinking this might be an early April Fool's joke, it's not. Nate's team has had many ridiculous names over the years, each one seemingly worse than the last.
It's not only the opening of Nate's baseball season, it's opening day for my beloved Boston Red Sox, the defending World Series champs! I'll be listening as they take on the Orioles in Baltimore. If you're a baseball fan, good luck to whatever team you root for. Go, Sox!Tue, 04/01/2014
Big Nate: In the Zone Feedback
Well, now that Big Nate: In The Zone has been out for a couple of weeks, it seemed to be a good time to read what the reviewers have to say about it. And by "reviewers," I mean "kids who have read the book." I'm mildly interested in what adults have to say about the Big Nate series, but what really matters to me is how the kids respond to the books. After all, they're the ones I write them for!
My favorite review so far -- and BY far -- comes from someone who identifies himself or herself simply as "Kindle Customer." Now, I have no way of knowing for sure how old this person is, but most of the online reviews tend to come from children. Anyway, the review reminds me of one of Nate's haikus. Here it is:
I like book
it good book
I like book
very good book
books have words and pictures
See what I mean? Sheer poetry!
I found this review on the book's Amazon page, where 59 readers have weighed in with a review and/or a rating. As you may know, the Amazon site allows you to rate items you've purchased -- it doesn't have to be a book; it can be a skateboard, a radio, or just about anything else -- on a scale of one to five stars. Of those 59, 55 give In The Zone five stars, and the other 4 give it four stars. So that's not too shabby!
But it didn't seem fair of me to just cherry-pick the best reviews, so I went looking for someone who's not so crazy about In The Zone. I came across an educational website for parents that rates books based on a variety of criteria. The site aims to provide guidance for parents about the books that might -- or might not -- be appropriate for their kids. Here's the book description:
Parents need to know that Big Nate: In the Zone addresses the middle-school herd mentality: what's cool, what isn't, and who decides. Nate often sees himself as a victim -- of bad luck, overbearing teachers, a clueless father -- but readers will readily see that Nate's hardly blameless. There are good lessons on personal responsibility, being a good friend, and working as team. They're served up with fart jokes, name calling, and over-the-top authority figures, making it a sure hit with kids on the brink of middle school themselves. It's a little sarcastic for 8-year-olds, the lower end of the publisher's recommended age range. We think it's a better fit for kids 9 and up, who are closer to middle school.
The site then goes on to award In The Zone 3 stars out of 5 -- not horrible, but not great, either. Why didn't it score better? Well, once again on a scale of 5 stars, the site gave the book only 3 for "positive messages," 3 for "positive role models," and a dismal 1 star for "educational value." (On the bright side, the book was deemed unobjectionable in the areas of violence, sex, consumerism, language, and drugs & drinking.) I guess I can see their point about educational content -- Big Nate Strikes Again is probably my all-time most educational book, with all that good Ben Franklin info included -- but I think In The Zone deserved better than 3 stars for "positive messages." Read it and tell me if you agree!Fri, 03/28/2014
Grasping at Straws
Today's entry was inspired by an email from my friend in Japan, Kozo. You might remember my mentioning Kozo in a couple of earlier blog entries. He is always working to improve his understanding of the West -- the language, the culture, and the sense of humor. So he reads comics from the US and the UK, and when he doesn't understand what they mean, he asks me to explain. He has more questions about editorial cartoons than he does about comic strips or gag cartoons, and I guess that makes sense. Politics and current events can be confusing in ANY language.
Kozo's question today was about the cartoon on the left. It refers to Flight MH370, the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet that disappeared soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8. The plane has still not been located. Here's what Kozo wrote:
Help me again ｐｌｅａｓｅ. Malaysia Airline MH370 is still missing. Is this cartoon suggesting a man called Waldo join the search? Who is Waldo？ Straw in this case is a clue? Thank you very much.
And here's what I wrote back:
Waldo is a character created for a series of activity books for children. The series is called "Where's Waldo?" and each page of the books features a very complicated drawing filled with many, many characters, many of whom are dressed much like Waldo. (I've attached an image of a typical page from a "Where's Waldo?" book.) So it's a fun, challenging, and sometimes very time-consuming activity for kids. The cartoon implies that the people searching for the plane have exhausted almost all the possibilities, and are so desperate to find it that they're asking for help from Waldo, who's an expert at disappearing or blending into his surroundings.
You also asked about the word "straw." There is an expression here in the US -- "grasping at straws" -- that means "making a desperate and almost certainly futile attempt to accomplish something." Here's the expression used in a descriptive scene: "When Mrs. Godfrey asked Nate who the tenth president of the US was, he guessed a half dozen names. But it was clear he didn't know the answer. He was grasping at straws."
I didn't know where this expression comes from, so I did a little research, and here's what I found: Samuel Richardson, in his novel "Clarissa" (1748), wrote: "A drowning man will catch at a straw, the proverb well says." The "straw" in this case refers to the sort of thin reeds that grow by the side of a river, which a drowning man being swept away by a fast current might desperately grasp in a futile attempt to save himself.
I hope my answer helped Kozo, and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
"A Home Song"
I arrived home late Wednesday night. I'll resume my regular blog entries next week. In the meantime, enjoy this poem.
It's called "A Home Song" by Henry Van Dyke:
I read within a poet's book
A word that starred the page:
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage!"
Yes, that is true; and something more
You'll find, where'er you roam,
That marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.
But every house where Love abides,
And Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home:
For there the heart can rest.
Big Nate in Texas!
Just a short entry tonight. It's already on the late side, and I still have some comic strip work to do before I get some sleep.
I woke up at 4:10 am (west coast time) this morning and flew from Portland, Oregon to Dallas, Texas. Dallas wasn't my final destination, just a stop on my way to Austin. But I had a bit of time to kill in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and so I stepped into one of the Hudson News bookstores that dot airports all over the country. In the children's book section, I snapped the first picture shown here. It looks like Big Nate: In The Zone has been selling well in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, because -- as you can see -- there was only one copy left where there appeared to have originally been five or six. But that's not what really tickled me; what I particularly enjoyed was my placement on the shelf. On one side is the newest Timmy Failure book by Stephan Pastis, one of my favorites...and on the other side is a book by Rush Limbaugh, who's NOT one of my favorites.
Once I arrived in Austin, I proceeded to Bluebonnet Elementary School in Round Rock, where I spoke to a group of kids and parents as part of a continuing after school program in the school library. Bluebonnet is a bilingual school -- English and Spanish are both spoken -- and Frank, the store rep from Barnes & Noble, was on hand to sell Big Nate books in both languages. I owe a huge thank you to Charity Seals, the school librarian, for troubleshooting some technical difficulties we had with the school's computer. Otherwise, there would have been no powerpoint!
This evening I was at the Barnes & Noble store in Round Rock for an easel talk and book signing. It's always nice to end a tour on a high note, and that's what tonight's event felt like. It's sometimes hard to estimate the size of a crowd, but this looked to me like the largest crowd I've had on this tour. And making the evening extra special was the fact that some family members dropped by as I was finishing up the signing. My wife has three cousins who live in Texas, and two of them came tonight, one with her husband in tow. He took the second picture you see here, as the end of a long line was working its way toward the signing table. You can't really see me, but I'm way off in the distance, signing books at the back of the store. After I'd finished the last book, the cousins treated me to a nice meal and dropped me back at the hotel. And now here I am, working on my blog entry -- the very last one of this tour. Tomorrow I'll squeeze in one final school visit, and then it's back home to Maine!Wed, 03/19/2014
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