Big Nate, Big Projects
Today is as good a time as any to give you updates on a few Big Nate projects.
Teachers = Heroes
I blogged about heroes in my last entry, and a question I received recently in a letter from a Big Nate fan named Alan in Canada allows me to continue in a somewhat similar theme. The question was: Who was your favorite teacher?
Well, Alan, a year or so ago I blogged about my favorite high school teacher: Frank Milliken, my Latin teacher. And in future blogs, I can tell you about my favorite middle school and elementary school teachers. But today I'll tell you a bit about the first teacher I ever had who was not only a mentor, but a close friend: my painting teacher in college, the one and only Abbott Meader. As the picture here attests, he's an interesting guy!
Calling Abbott a painting teacher really doesn't do him justice. He's a painter, a writer, a poet, an award-winning filmmaker, an outdoorsman, a fisherman, a sculptor…the list is endless. And, fortunately for me, he was also a member of the faculty at Colby College in the early- to mid-1980's when I was there. I remember very well one of the first conversations we ever had, because -- in the course of talking about painting and certain artists who were important for various reasons -- he started discussing Walt Disney cartoons. I remember being amazed that a college professor like Abbott was speaking about cartoons (one cartoon in particular: Dumbo) in such a scholarly way. He quickly learned of my interest in comics and cartooning, and during the rest of my time at Colby, he and I had many talks about comics. He helped me to consider aspects of cartooning I hadn't even thought of before. And, just like Frank Milliken back in high school, Abbott became a major encouragement and a big supporter of my work. And he's also a huge Red Sox fan!
Which brings me back to what I was blogging about last time: heroes. Sports heroes like Carl Yastrzemski can exert quite a hold on a kid's imagination, but I think we can all agree, especially in this day and age, that the term "hero" is perhaps not the most appropriate term to apply to sports figures. But a great teacher really IS a hero, in the best sense of the word. Here's to Abbott and all the other great teachers out there!Fri, 04/12/2013
When I visit schools, kids often ask "Who was your hero when you were a kid?" I imagine, since I'm there to talk to them about cartooning and writing, that they are asking about cartoonists or authors. And of course I DID have cartooning heroes, most notably Charles Schulz of "Peanuts." And I had author heroes, too, like E.B. White. So I usually answer the question by telling the kids about people like that, people who had a direct influence on my own cartooning and writing.
But because today happened to be the home opener for my beloved Boston Red Sox, it seems a good time to mention that I had other heroes, too -- sports heroes. And one of them was the player pictured here, Carl Yastrzemski -- or, as we was known throughout the baseball world, Yaz. He started playing for the Red Sox two years before I was born, and he retired from the team when I was a junior in college. That's quite a lengthy career!
Becoming a fan of an athlete is a very different process from becoming a fan of a cartoonist or author. Charles Schulz became my hero because I liked and admired his work. "Peanuts" brought me countless hours of enjoyment and pleasure, as did E.B. White books like "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little." But Yaz, over the years, brought me more heartache and disappointment than joy. Part of that is because of the nature of baseball; failure is a huge part of the game. Even the best batters get a hit only one time out of three. Part of it is because Yaz himself never quite seemed to be enjoying himself. He was a great player, and he played very hard. But he always looked like he was sucking on a lemon out there. And part of it, of course, was that the Red Sox never won during Yaz's career. They came agonizingly close on several occasions, but weren't able to win a World Series. So even though he won every individual award he could have won, even though he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yaz never won a championship.
That's changed, thank goodness. The Sox have won two world championships during the last decade and are off to a good start this season. In the months ahead, as I work on the finished drawings for Big Nate In The Zone, I'll be listening to the Red Sox on the radio whenever they're playing. But I no longer have any heroes on the team. As an adult, you still enjoy watching certain players perform, and you still have your favorites. But you don't have sports heroes in quite the same way you did when you were a child.
By the way, the Red Sox beat the Orioles today, 3 to 1!Tue, 04/09/2013
We had a birthday in our family the other day. Our daughter, Dana, turned 16 on April Fool's Day. So I did what I always do to mark special occasions: I made her a card.
Dana has always enjoyed puzzles. In the morning before school, she usually tackles a KenKen or a Sudoku in the newspaper. And she also likes Jumbles. That inspired me to create a Jumble birthday card. A Jumble, as you can see, is described as "that scrambled word game." The puzzle solver must first unscramble several words, each of which contains at least one circled letter. The next step is to assemble these circled letters to form the answer -- which, in this case, is a pun on Dana's name.
Making this card was quite a challenge. First, I wanted it to look like a real Jumble puzzle. That involved some careful measuring so that the dimensions would be just right. Next, I had to actually invent the puzzle -- the clue, the scrambled words, and the solution. Coming up with the scrambled words was a bit tricky; you've got to make sure that the letters, when unscrambled, can't spell other words besides the one you intended. So a scrambled word like RHETE wouldn't be a good choice, because it can be made to form two words: ETHER and THREE. I wanted the puzzle to be challenging; of the four words I chose -- train, admit, hymnal, and shield -- only the first was on the easy side.
Dana enjoyed the card, and especially liked the solution: DANAMITE! And, if I do say so myself, the drawing of her is a pretty good likeness. Maybe I should go into the card design business!Fri, 04/05/2013
Big Nate Search!
Recently, after I stumbled across a couple of youtube videos some kids had made about Big Nate, I found myself wondering: if you do a google images search for BIG NATE, what will you find? So that's exactly what I did. I typed BIG NATE into my google search engine, clicked on images, and waited. Here's what I discovered.
There were many, many pictures of Big Nate book covers. There were almost as many Big Nate comic strips. There were images from Big Nate Island on poptropica.com and screenshots from the Big Nate Comix By U app. In other words, there were plenty of images that I was already familiar with. As I scrolled down the screen, every image for the first 40 rows or so had something to do with Big Nate, the character you recognize from either the comic strip or the chapter books -- or both!
But what was REALLY interesting was the stuff that started to pop up as I kept scrolling down. As you know, the deeper into an internet search you go, the less likely it is that what you find will resemble what you were originally searching for. Here's a listing at some of the images that began to appear as my search continued:
I'm not a poker player, nor am I a bass fisherman. But I'm intrigued by this event. According to the logo, it's held on Tuesdays at 7pm. Who goes fishing at 7:00 at night? And where does the poker come in? Are people supposed to play poker and fish at the same time? Do they play poker in their boats? Or do they fish while sitting around a poker table? The mind reels at all the possibilities. Somehow I get the feeling I'll never learn exactly what Big Nate's World Poker And Bass Fishing Tour is all about!Tue, 04/02/2013
Hi, everyone. As you probably know if you've ever read a Big Nate book, there are a LOT of drawings in each one. And as I've said before in this blog, the process of doing all those drawings becomes much more fun for me when I add little details to the background or foreground. Sometimes the details can be random, but many times they have some sort of personal significance. In the past, I've "zoomed in” on drawings of Klassic Komix and Mr. Rosa's kitchen, and told you the story behind some of those background items. Well, here's another drawing to dissect. It's Nate's messy room, as pictured on page 127 of Big Nate Flips Out. Here are some details you might have missed the first time:
What other details can you find in this or other drawings? Keep looking! There are plenty more!
Recently I received some letters that were chock-full of interesting questions from Big Nate readers. Many of the questions were ones I've answered before in this blog, but one was entirely new. It came from a young lady named Maddy, who asked: Did you ever go to museums when you were a kid? And the answer is: hardly ever!
For one thing, I didn't really live close to any big museums. In Dover, New Hampshire, a town near my own hometown of Durham, there was a small museum of oddities and historical artifacts called the Woodman Institute. It's still there, and I'm sure I'd find it very interesting were I to visit it today, because I'm sort of a history buff. But that wasn't the case when I was 8 or 9 years old. It just seemed like a bunch of display cases filled with old bottles and model ships. The only other museums I remember visiting were the Boston Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. &At the aquarium, I liked the seals and the penguins. At the science museum, I particularly remember looking at a tiny book under a magnifying glass. The book contained hundreds of pages, but was no larger than a postage stamp.
But this wasn't the kind of museum Maddy was asking about. She was asking about ART museums. And I don't think I ever visited an art museum when I was young. My parents were not artists, and I didn't grow up discussing art or hearing the names of famous artists at home. I liked MAKING art, but knew nothing about art history. That changed when I went off to college. I studied art and art history, and learned about all kinds of art that I'd previously known nothing about. And I became particularly fond of many artists, including the one who made the painting you see here. His name was Henri Rousseau, and he is sometimes called a "naive" artist because he had no formal training.
This painting is called The Sleeping Gypsy, and Rousseau painted it in 1897. In college, I was only able to see this painting in books and slides. But when I moved to New York in 1985, I was able to see it in person at the Museum of Modern Art. I went to see it many times. Recently, when our family visited my in-laws over the holidays, my wife and I spent a morning at the Museum of Modern Art, and I was able to see the painting for the first time in years. It's still one of my favorites. Thanks for the question, Maddy!Tue, 03/26/2013
When you draw a comic strip every single day over the course of many years, mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes you notice the mistake right away and correct it. Sometimes you NEVER notice the mistake. And sometimes you're unaware of the mistake until months or even years later. I've blogged before about mistakes -- specifically, about the way I drew Principal Nichols's ears differently from one strip to another. Or the way, in two different strips years apart, I gave Gina two entirely different last names: Hemphill and Toms. Today I'm showing you another mistake.
Take a look at these drawings of Mr. Eustis, Nate's next-door neighbor. The first drawing, in which he's glaring at Nate, dates from May of 2001. The second drawing is from February of 2002. Obviously, he has two different noses! Why? I don't have the foggiest idea. I think that when I first created the character of Mr. Eustis, he had a round nose. Then, at some point, I decided I wanted to make his nose bumpy. I changed it to the way it looks here in May 2001. So why, just a few months later, did I revert back to giving him a round nose? I must have just momentarily forgotten that detail. That wouldn't happen with a character I draw more frequently; but with someone like Mr. Eustis, who might appear in the strip only once or twice a year, the character isn't quite so clear in my mind. That's the way it is. I'm forgetful.
But wait -- it gets worse! In recent days I've been reviewing strips for an upcoming Big Nate collection of Sunday pages, and I found OTHER Mr. Eustises. In one strip, he had square glasses instead of round. In another, he had bumpy ears (like Mr. Nichols's or Coach John's ears) instead of smooth. And believe me, my mistakes aren't confined just to this one character. I've mixed up the way I draw Ellen's and Gina's pony tails. I've been inconsistent with the way I've drawn Mrs. Shipulski, the school secretary. I'm sure the list of errors is a mile long.
Many times when I was a kid, I noticed mistakes in comic books, in TV cartoons, and so on. There are websites devoted to finding mistakes in movies -- like an airplane appearing briefly in the sky of a movie that takes place before airplanes were even invented. In other words: these things happen, and it's not that big a deal. Everyone makes mitsakes!
See what I did there?Fri, 03/22/2013
Greetings From New York City!
Just one more blog entry about a drawing from the distant past! Last time I wrote about submitting some "spot illustrations" to The New Yorker magazine. There was one other time I submitted something to the magazine -- not spot drawings, but a proposal for a cover. The drawing you see here is the one I sent. It's called "Greetings From New York City."
I don't think this drawing ever had a chance to be accepted. First of all, it looks nothing like a typical New York cover. Second, I drew the entire thing in ballpoint pen, which isn't exactly standard operating procedure for a cover artist. I knew that many New Yorker covers are created using watercolors, gouache paints, or pastels -- none of which I'm very good with. So I decided to stick with something I was comfortable with.
Anyway, I still like this drawing, and here are some reasons why. First of all, it's the same kind of densely-packed, symmetrical drawing I'd always enjoyed doing in my sketchbooks. Second, it's filled with images that have interested me for virtually my entire adult life, and which turn up over and over again in my doodling: horseshoes, light bulbs, crowns, wings, windows, a ladder, Papaya King, and so on. And third, I like the drawing because it includes so many things I'd NEVER drawn before. There's the Brooklyn Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. There are a couple of art deco eagles from the Chrysler Building. There are some New York City subway cars. There are the facades of Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field (which had been demolished 30 years before I moved to New York). And there's the hand of the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch. I made this drawing in 1996, before I even had a computer, so I wasn't researching these items on the internet. I was finding pictures of them in magazines and newspapers to determine what they looked like, and whether I could draw them or not.
Other things included in this drawing are: Patrick Ewing and Mark Messier, two iconic New York City athletes; a small crossword grid; a disposable coffee cup displaying the words "We Are Happy To Serve You," a stylized New York City skyline seen from New Jersey, with the Empire State Building on the left and the World Trade Center towers on the right; pizza, pretzels, bagels, and a hot dog; a football; a blimp; an umbrella; a snow shovel...the list goes on.
Ironically, when I made this drawing I was no longer living in New York City. I had happily put down roots here in Maine a few years earlier. But looking at the drawing reminds me of the happy years I spent in the Big Apple, and how much I still enjoy visiting there.Tue, 03/19/2013
Last time I wrote about writing and drawing a single-panel cartoon as part of an April Fool's gag many years ago. It was an experience I enjoyed, but also one that didn't necessarily come naturally to me. Which brings me to the subject of today's blog: a kind of drawing (which ALSO doesn't come naturally to me!) called a "spot illustration."div>Fri, 03/15/2013
Spot illustrations are usually black-and-white; they're usually quite small; and they usually are included within the pages of magazines, catalogues, brochures, and so on. Sometimes they illustrate what the text is referring to, but the kind of spot drawing I'm more familiar with is the type that's there simply to take up some space, to break up the text, or create some visual interest. I see spot illustrations most frequently in a magazine my wife and I subscribe to called The New Yorker. I've always admired the spots that appear in its pages -- usually somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen per issue.
I'm not really an illustrator, but that doesn't mean I haven't given it a try once or twice over the years. Almost twenty-five years ago, I decided to submit some spot illustrations to The New Yorker. It was March, baseball Spring training was going on, and so I decided a series of drawings about baseball might be a good fit. I did ten or twelve different drawings, and this was the one I liked the best. It's about as close to "realistic" drawing as I've ever come. And it's tiny. It's not even close to the size of a real baseball.
I sent my baseball illustrations to The New Yorker, and within a few weeks they sent them back, along with a nice handwritten note from the art director that read: "Nice work, but not quite right for us." In retrospect, I think this particular drawing is a bit too detailed. Spot illustrations generally are simpler than this, with cleaner, bolder lines. Still, I felt pretty good about getting a personalized response from The New Yorker on my first try. And then…that was it. Soon after that I got Big Nate going, and I never submitted anything to a magazine again.
That's all for this time!