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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Peanuts

Nowadays, the only place you might be able to buy a book for fifty cents would be a yard sale.  And the book would likely be moldy, waterlogged, or damaged in some other way.  But years ago, fifty cents was the going rate for certain kinds of books, and that's the story behind the images you see here.

When I was in second grade, I fell in love with the comic strip Peanuts.  You couldn't help but know about Peanuts back then, because it was everywhere.  Peanuts characters were on t-shirts, lunch boxes, buttons, bumper stickers, and a host of other products.  Peanuts TV specials like "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" were appointment viewing.  And of course, the comic strip was in the newspaper every day.  But what sealed the deal for me and made me a lifelong Peanuts lover were the reprint books, like the one shown here on the left.  They were published by Fawcett, and each book contained 124 daily strips.  I loved being able to read that many strips in a row.  Reading a strip once a day in the newspaper is great in its own way, but when you're a kid, you often don't have the patience to wait until the next day to see what's going to happen.  You enjoy "binge reading," to use a current phrase.
 
Anyway, if you look in the upper left-hand corner of the cover, you can see the price:  yup, fifty cents.  (My allowance back then was one dollar per week, and I could usually be counted on to buy at least one Peanuts collection, if not two, with that dollar.)  As soon as I purchased a book, my mother would whisk it out of my hot little hands and write two things on the inside cover:  our family name (probably because she suspected I might lose the book, and that might increase the chances of it being returned to us), and the date of purchase (because that's just the sort of thing my mom would do).  The date she wrote inside the book shown here is 9/16/71—September 16th, 1971.  That's almost exactly 43 years ago, which means that I was seven years old when I bought this book.  It also tells me that I bought this book in Hawaii, because in September of 1971, that's where our family was living.  (My dad, a college professor, took a sabbatical at the University of Hawaii, and we went with him.  We arrived there in May of 1971, and returned to New Hampshire in November of that year.)
 
The final thing to point out is the fact that I added my own drawings to the inside cover, where pictures of several of the Peanuts characters are displayed.  As you can see, I made an attempt at drawing Lucy, Linus holding his security blanket, and—in the upper right hand corner—Peppermint Patty, who was not yet a character in Peanuts when the strips included in this book were originally created.  I apparently decided that Peppermint Patty deserved a place in the cavalcade of characters.
 
By the way, I've just conducted a quick search of online retailers, and have found a Peanuts collection that is roughly equivalent in content with my 43 year-old book.  The new one costs $8.99, or about eighteen times more expensive than my fifty-cent book.  
 
Fri, 09/12/2014

Fact or Fiction?

A question I'm sometimes asked during school visits or bookstore events is: Did any of the things that happen to Nate in the books happen to you in real life? For the most part, the answer is no. Nate leads a much more colorful life than I ever did at that age; if I were to depend on my own middle school experiences to provide the inspiration for Nate's adventures, the result would be some pretty boring books. But that doesn't mean the stories are 100% fiction.  In each book, there are a few events here and there that can be traced back to my own real-life past. Take the one depicted here, for instance.

It's from BIG NATE STRIKES AGAIN. Nate is recounting the story of how he ended up in the library instead of science class.  He and Chad were doing a project that involved a toy car, and Nate thought it would be cool to decorate the car like the Batmobile.  After that, the logical next step was to make himself look like Batman. Mr. Galvin, needless to say, was not amused. He sent Nate to the library (which wasn't so bad) and told him to come back after school (which is never good).
 
This sequence of events unfolded almost exactly like this in my own life years ago.  But I wasn't a sixth grader; I was in high school.  My friend Bob and I were doing a physics project that involved rolling a toy car down a ramp and trying to come up with a mathematical formula to determine the relationship between the slope of the ramp, the friction involved, and the distance the car would travel.  Bored out of my mind, I decided to decorate the car (which was essentially a flat metal box with four wheels) like the Batmobile.  I cut two triangles from the black plastic cover of my notebook and taped them to the car like tail fins.  Then I painted a Batman logo on the side of the car using a combination of White-Out, yellow chalk dust, and a black felt-tip marker.  I even created tiny Batman and Robin models by folding and coloring pieces of notebook paper.  We definitely had the coolest-looking car in the entire class.
 
But I wasn't done.  For some reason, I decided that wearing a Batman mask myself would somehow make the experience more authentic.  So I told the teacher, Mr. Perry, that I had to use the bathroom...but instead of the bathroom, I went to the art studio, where I asked the teacher for a piece of black construction paper.  I brought the paper back to the physics room, cut it into the shape of a Batman mask, and taped it around my head, just as Nate is doing in the picture above.  That was the point at which Mr. Perry realized that I wasn't actually working on the project.  And, like Mr. Galvin, he was not amused.  I can't remember the specifics of my punishment.  I do remember, though, that Mr. Perry called me into his office (he had a small office near the classroom door, and it reeked of cigarette smoke), and told me that I needed to start taking my schoolwork a bit more seriously. He was right.  If I hadn't listened to him, I wouldn't be half the physicist I am today.
 

 

 

Tue, 09/09/2014

Get Well Soon, Scout!

It had to happen. 

For years and years I've been drawing and writing jokes about Spitsy, the dysfunctional dog who lives next door to Nate.  Spitsy, you'll recall, wears a ridiculous "halo collar" that resembles a small satellite dish.  After all this time and all those drawings, perhaps it was inevitable that my own dog, Scout,  would one day have to wear an identical contraption.  That day was today.

I wasn't home today; our daughter and I were in Williamstown, Massachusetts and Saratoga Springs, New York, to visit a couple of colleges she's considering.  So I was completely unaware of the doggy drama that was unfolding back in Maine.  My wife took Scout on her morning walk at the usual time, about 6:30 am, and noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  But later on, she noticed Scout chewing frantically at a spot on her back leg that she's been fussing over lately.  She took a closer look, and immediately decided to call our vet.  The spot, which the previous day had looked like just a patch of dry skin, now looked raw and infected.  And it was a lot bigger than it had been the day before.  To make a long story short, the vet shaved and treated the spot, put Scout on a 10-day course of antibiotics, and fitted her for a "Spitsy collar."  The point of these collars is to prevent dogs from doing exactly what Scout had been doing:  chewing at a "hot spot" and making it worse.  She'll have to wear the collar until the hot spot disappears.

I got the idea for Spitsy—and his collar—from a dog I knew when I was a kid.  Her name was Maxx, short for Maxxine, and she wore a giant cone around her head to keep her from chewing at her paws, which she did incessantly.  Maxx didn't wear a dorky knitted sweater with a bone one it like Spitsy does, but in all other respects, she was a lot like Spitsy.  Kind of an unusual dog.  Lovable, but not very bright.  And now my beloved Scout has joined their ranks.  To no one's surprise, she's not too happy about it.

I'm cutting this entry short, because after a long day of driving, I'm more than ready for bed.  Send Scout some "get well soon" vibes!

 

Fri, 09/05/2014

Celebrating Labor Day

Here in the USA, we've just celebrated Labor Day.  Here's what our old friend, Wikipedia, has to say about it:

Labor Day in the United States is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September.  It is a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers.  It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.

Well said, Wikipedia.  Labor Day also marks the unofficial end of summer.  The season doesn't officially end for three more weeks, of course, and we'll probably still have a couple of sweltering days that feel more like late July than early to mid September.  But September just doesn't feel like summer anymore, and that's because of school.  In many parts of the country, school has already been in session for a week or even two -- so for those folks, maybe some random day in the middle of August seems like the end of summer.  Here in the northeast, though, schools tend to start just after Labor Day -- often on the very next day.  That means that, for a kid, Labor Day is the most bittersweet of all holidays.  It's celebrated with family picnics or neighborhood potlucks, late-season baseball or early-season football or soccer games, and maybe even one last trip to the beach.  But the very fact that Labor Day has rolled around again means that it's back-to-school time.  Those burgers and hot dogs don't taste quite as good when you know you'll be standing on a curb waiting for the school bus the next morning at 7:15.

Certainly that's how Nate feels about it.  Over the years, I've written a number of Labor Day poems that bring into focus the conflicting emotions that Nate feels about the holiday.  Here's one from 2007 that appeared on Labor Day itself:

The Monday known as Labor Day is cause for celebration:
A tribute to the efforts of all those who've built the nation.
How is this day devoted to the "working man" observed?
We leave our jobs behind and take a rest most well deserved.
I say to you:  Enjoy yourself!  And seize the day, my friend.
For when tomorrow rolls around...
The grind begins again.

And here's my favorite, which accompanied Nate as he walked to school on the day after Labor Day in 2003:

On Labor Day, we celebrate the hands that built this land.
That dug the ditches, shoveled coal, and tilled the soil and sand.
The hands that fought; the hands that healed; the hands that held the tools.
But must we celebrate the hands that built these stinkin' schools?

Tue, 09/02/2014

Mii Characters

As you probably know by now, I'm pretty much a technophobe.  And a social media-phobe, if I may coin a new phrase.  There are plenty of things that are facts of everyday life for many people -- like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. -- that I don't understand.  I recognize their importance and usefulness to others, but I've always been a little intimidated by all that stuff.  Plus, my life is going okay without them.  So I have no plans to join the Twitterverse.  Or whatever it's called.

BUT!...today I found myself becoming curious about a couple of technical and/or multimedia things I'd never seen or heard of before.  I stumbled across them while doing a Google Image search; each of them is, in its own way, a re-imagined version of Big Nate.  The first is a miicharacter.  Did I have any idea what a miicharacter is?  No, I did not.  But after consulting wikipedia (a piece of technology I don't mind at all), I learned this:  Mii characters are created and stored in the Mii Channel or the Mii Maker.  While the user can assign a gender, name, birthday, and favorite color to a Mii, the majority of the interface used for Mii creation focuses on the appearance of its face and head.  The user is given a variety of different hairstyles, eye, nose, and mouth shapes, and other features such as facial hair or wrinkles, to select from.  Most of the facial features can be further adjusted, including their size, position, color, and alignment.  

So, there's someone out there who cares enough about Big Nate to create a miicharacter in his image.  I'm flattered, of course.  But it's worth pointing out that some of Nate's features aren't accurately presented here.  Let's talk about the hair.  I've always known that Nate's spiky hair would be almost impossible to depict in three dimensions, because those seven spikes look exactly the same no matter which way Nate is facing.  That's not the way 3-dimensional hair works, which is one reason this miicharacter doesn't look all that much like Nate.  The other two major problems is that this "miiNate" isn't bald on the sides like the real Nate, and his eyes are round circles instead of straight lines.  

The other image shown here is a multimedia "bulletin board" created and posted by someone through an interactive social network called glogster.  Apparently, glogster was created as a platform for kids to share interests, complete school assignments, and present projects by accessing different types of media.  This Big Nate bulletin board is a tribute to the second novel, Big Nate Strikes Again.  The elements included here are:  pictures of Nate, Francis, Teddy, Gina, and Jenny; references to SPOFFs (Sports Played Only For Fun) and the Scribble Game; a picture of a Psycho Dog (Nate's preferred name for his fleeceball team); a tag reading Kuddle Kittens (Gina's name for the team), and a picture of the one and only Ben Franklin (the subject of the report Nate and Gina must work on together).  I'm a fan of real-life bulletin boards -- I have two of them in my office -- so this glogster thing sort of appeals to me.  I'm not going to run right out and create my own glogster bulletin board, or my own miicharacter, for that matter.  But at least now I know a little bit about what these types of technology have to offer.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, everyone!

Fri, 08/29/2014

Kenosha Festival of Cartooning

Do you live in or near Kenosha, Wisconsin?  Or -- if you live in another part of the country -- are you perhaps experiencing a growing urge to travel to America's Dairyland in late September?  If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then I suggest you get on up to Kenosha ONE MONTH FROM NOW, September 25 - 27, for the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning.  I will be there as one of this year's special guests, and I'm really looking forward to it.  

Kenosha might seem an unlikely place for a world-class cartooning event, but it actually makes a lot of sense.  John Hambrock, a mighty talented cartoonist ("The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee") and his wife, Anne Morse Hambrock, the founder and director of the Festival, live in Kenosha.  Here, in Anne's own words, is the slightly abridged version of how the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning was born:

When I was growing up cartoonists were celebrities. They were on the news, they were on late night talk shows, they were guests at the White House.

But they were also at a distance. You never thought you could actually meet someone like Charles Schulz or Cathy Guisewite in person.

There were no comic art festivals, comic cons or other opportunities to meet the faces behind your favorite comic strip or comic book. And very little chance to ever hear them give a lecture or slide show about their work and all the cool stuff that goes into making this kind of art.

But now cartoonists travel all over the world getting to know their fans and giving them more opportunity to have an insider's view of their work.

Over the past six years I have had the good fortune to attend a number of comic festivals.  And I have seen how hungry the public is to meet these artists and see how they create their art and hear why they decided to become cartoonists and how they achieved their dreams.

I have had such a terrific experience at the festivals I've attended that, in 2011, I jumped in with both feet and created the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning.


Thanks, Anne.  This year's festival promises to be a busy few days.  I'm going to have the chance to visit some local schools while I'm there, in addition to giving a talk to a larger group of parents and kids at the Kenosha Public Museum.  Not only that, I'll be included as part of a comic art exhibit called More Than Funny 2, which will feature the work of some absolute legends in the cartooning biz -- including my fellow guests at this year's festival:  Scott Stantis ("Prickly City" and editorial cartoons), Jeff Keane ("The Family Circus"), Denis Kitchen (legendary cartoonist, author, editor, and comics authority), Todd Clark ("Lola"), Terri Libenson ("The Pajama Diaries"), and Rick Stromoski ("Soup To Nutz").  That's a pretty good line-up!

If you want to learn more about the festival and the schedule of events, you can visit the website:  http://kenoshacartoonfest.blogspot.com

Hope to see you there!

Tue, 08/26/2014

Rhymes With Orange

I spent some time this morning reviewing old Big Nate strips that are going to be included in an upcoming ebook, and I came across these two selections.  I'm not even sure how old they are, but based on the artwork, I'd guess that these were published about fifteen years ago, give or take.

Each is interesting for its own reason.  In the strip on the left, Nate attempts to write a love poem about Cheez Doodles (an idea I revisited years later in Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself).  As you can see, he runs into a problem:

I think that I shall never munch
A more delicious crispy crunch.
As nectar summons lovestruck bees,
You call to me, my curl of cheez.
Your taste, sublime.  Your texture, bold.
All other cheese snacks leave me cold.
Your color is a fiery orange...


Here's where Nate encounters the age-old dilemma of poets everywhere:  what rhymes with orange?  I've heard claims that "door hinge" is an acceptable rhyme, but I'm not buying it.  The fact is, nothing does the job, a fact my friend Hilary Price obviously understood when she chose to name her comic panel Rhymes With Orange.  

The second strip is -- I THINK -- the first appearance of Gina in "Big Nate."  As I've said more than once in this blog, characters usually look quite different when they first appear than they do years later, and Gina is no exception.  She's missing her pointy nose, and her pony tail and bangs are different from the way I draw them now.  She's also wearing a dark sweater instead of her trademark white v-neck top.  About the only things that have remained the same are that 1.) she's wearing her oversized square glasses, and 2.) she's a blonde.

A couple more things.  First:  Don't forget the BIG NATE SUPER FAN SWEEPSTAKES!  It's you chance to appear as a drawn character in the next book, Big Nate Lives It Up.  Click on the sweepstakes button at www.bignatebooks.com and check it out.  And HURRY!  The deadline for entering is AUGUST 31st!

And speaking of Big Nate Lives It Up:  I'm officially more than halfway through the drawings.  I finished chapter 6, which means 113 pages are complete.  Only 103 to go!

Fri, 08/22/2014

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