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

Lincoln Peirce lives with his wife and two children in Portland, Maine.

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Coaching Sports: To Scream or Not to Scream?

Our daughter's basketball season is about to begin, and that means it's time to prepare myself for one of the unpleasant realities of high school sports:  screaming coaches.

I'm happy to say that Dana's coach does not belong to that category.  Not only isn't he a screamer, he's one of the calmest, most soft-spoken coaches I've ever seen on a sideline.  But he's the exception, not the rule.  Most of the other coaches of the opposing teams spend much of the game yelling -- at their players, mostly, but sometimes at the referees, too.  I'm not sure why this is, but basketball coaches seem to be the loudest coaches in any sport.  I sure don't remember any field hockey coaches or lacrosse coaches airing out their lungs like the hoops coaches do.  All these guys seem to think they're the next Pat Riley or Phil Jackson.  It's obnoxious.

The ironic thing is:  if you ask the players, they'll tell you they don't even hear much of what the coach is screaming at them.  There's a lot of crowd noise, the gyms don't have great acoustics, and the kids are trying to focus on what they're doing, not on whatever the coach is bellowing from the bench.  So why do coaches continue to scream?  I don't have the answer.  Maybe they're frustrated.  Maybe they're just imitating the behavior of their own coaches from years ago.  Maybe they're genuinely just trying to be heard.  But if they were on the receiving end of all this yelling, they probably wouldn't like it.

When I created Coach John, I decided to make him a stereotypical psycho coach, the kind who says to himself:  "Hmm, these kids aren't listening to me.  Maybe I should scream louder."  Does Coach John have a real-life counterpart?  Actually, he has TWO of them.  In appearance, he resembles my high school phys. ed. teacher, a man who'd coached at our high school for 35 or 40 years.  He was old, significantly overweight, and smoked like a chimney -- not exactly a paragon of physical fitness.  In demeanor, Coach John acts like my Babe Ruth baseball coach.  He'd played baseball in his youth, his sons were extremely talented athletes, he'd coached on the college level, and he was a former military man.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he was a screamer.  His behavior probably wasn't as extreme as Coach John's, but it was close.  He is almost singlehandedly responsible for my decision to stop playing baseball at age 16.  After two seasons of him, I'd had enough.

Years later, I became a high school baseball coach myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I made it through two entire seasons without yelling at anyone.  Except the umpires.

Tue, 12/02/2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi, everyone.  This will be my only blog entry this week, since we'll all be celebrating Thanksgiving in a couple of days.  And, truth be told, this isn't so much a blog entry as it is a little exhibition of some Turkey Day strips from years past.

If you've been around long enough to have read "Big Nate" fifteen years ago -- or if you're one of those folks who's read through the entire archive on gocomics -- then you know that for several years in the late 1990's and early 2000's, I paid tribute to the fourth Thursday in November by featuring Nate's interpretation (in comic strip form) of the Pilgrims' early Thanksgiving celebrations.  Nate's comics weren't exactly historically accurate, but they were a lot of fun to write and draw.  Most of them featured the puritanical Pilgrims of Plymouth letting their hair down, but every so often I'd create a strip from the turkeys' point of view.  Below are four of them.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tue, 11/25/2014

Krazy Kat

I'm not really a cell phone person.  I have one, as I guess most people do nowadays, but I don't use it as frequently as a lot of people use their phones.  I make and answer phone calls, and I read and send texts.  But most of the other features on my cell phone baffle me.

That doesn't mean, though, that I want my phone to be just a generic piece of technology.  If I'm going to carry something around with me wherever I go, I want to personalize it at least a little bit.  When I got my first cell phone, I paid $1.99 for a personalized ring tone -- the opening bars of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day" -- but eventually discovered that I had my phone on "vibrate" most of the time.  So the ring tone was kind of useless.  When I got my second phone -- an iPhone that's already practically obsolete -- I decided to personalize the screen with a picture of my choice instead of using one of the pre-loaded images that came with the phone.  And here's the picture I selected -- a drawing of Krazy Kat, one of the all-time great comic strip characters, created by George Herriman.  

I could have chosen a picture of my family or my dog or my house or something like that, but I wanted the picture to pay tribute in some way to cartooning, which has been so important to me and brought so many blessings to my life.  But to choose an image of Big Nate would seem sort of egotistical.  I wouldn't walk around town wearing a Big Nate t-shirt, so why put Nate on my phone?  I also knew I didn't want to choose something drawn by a living cartoonist, because that would seem a tiny bit stalker-ish.  I narrowed down my choices to a few possible characters -- Charlie Brown, Popeye, Paw Perkins (from "Polly & Her Pals), a couple others...and Krazy Kat, of course.  Something about this beautiful black and white image spoke to me.  Not only do I love the drawing, I also love the fact that Krazy is playing a makeshift banjo and singing into a microphone.  It's a tip of the cap to one of my hobbies, which is hosting a local radio show devoted to vintage country music.  (If you look closely, you'll see I made one tiny alteration to the drawing:  I replaced the original call letters on the microphone with those of the community radio station where I volunteer -- WMPG.)

By the way:  I did a drawing of Krazy Kat recently.  You'll find it in the pages of Big Nate Lives It Up when the book comes out in March!

Fri, 11/21/2014

Drawing Big Nate + A Teaser

I'm frequently asked which of the Big Nate novels is my favorite.  My standard response is that I like all of them.  But when I'm asked a slightly different question -- which book was the most fun to draw? -- the answer is easy:  book #4, Big Nate Goes For Broke.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before in earlier blog entries, one of the reasons Goes For Broke was such fun to draw was that it's the only one of the novels that takes place during the winter months.  I've always enjoyed winter, and I like drawing snowy scenes.  It's a nice change of pace to draw the characters wearing knit caps and mittens instead of of their usual wardrobes.  If you've read the book, you know there are a lot of fun "snowy" drawings depicting a snowball fight, a snow tubing mishap, and of course the climactic snow sculpture contest -- or, as Nate calls it, the Ultimate Snowdown.

But there's another reason Goes For Broke is near and dear to my heart:  in addition to Nate's comics, the storyline required me to create drawings by two other characters:  Nate's sister Ellen, and his new friend (she made her debut in this book) Dee Dee.  Ellen's drawings accompany a report she wrote about the Myth of Achilles.  Dee Dee's drawings appear in a few different spots.  We first see her artistic talents on a poster advertising the upcoming Beach Party Dance.  Later, we see the drawing Dee Dee produces during a game of "Add-On" at a meeting of the Jefferson Middle School Cartooning & Illustration Club.  And finally, there's the drawing you see here, part of a comic collaboration between Nate and Dee Dee.  It's a Doctor Cesspool adventure, but only the first four panels are drawn by Nate.  After that, Dee Dee takes over.

This drawing was so much fun to make.  I really enjoyed the challenge of creating a drawing style that was noticeably different from Nate's, but still appealing in its own way.  Dee Dee uses a finer line than Nate, and obviously the way she draws the characters is different.  Her speech bubbles are more block-like, her handwriting is a bit less angular, and she uses a ruler to draw her panels.  It's one of my favorite pages of all the books.

Which leads me to the following teaser:  book #7, Big Nate Lives It Up, includes comics drawn by someone besides Nate -- but it's not Dee Dee.  It's not Francis or Teddy, either.  In fact, the character who drew these comics has never been to a meeting of the P.S. 38 Cartooning Club, aka the Doodlers.

Who do you think it could be??

Tue, 11/18/2014

Copying in Cartooning

On the left is a drawing I recently received from a young man named Jackson who enjoys reading (and drawing) Big Nate.  On the right is the inside front cover of a Peanuts book I bought as a 7 year-old (almost 8!) in 1971, on which I tried my best to draw Lucy and Linus (on the left) and Peppermint Patty (in the upper right).  Both drawings are copies.

"Copying" is a word that gets a bad rap, for obvious reasons.  You're not allowed to copy answers from another student in the middle of a test, and teachers are always quick to remind you that you'll never learn anything if you copy a friend's homework.  But, as I always tell kids when I visit schools, copying is a-ok in cartooning.  It's how you learn.

Jackson's drawing, which I like very much, is his copy of the cover of Big Nate:  Genius Mode.  I'm flattered that he thinks enough of Big Nate to re-create one of my drawings.  More importantly, Jackson's discovering something I found out when I was his age:  copying another cartoonist's drawings is a great pathway to developing your own style.  For example:  let's say you're a young cartoonist, and you don't quite know how to draw people walking.  You don't know where their feet should go, what's happening with their arms while they walk, and so on.  By copying my Genius Mode drawing, you'd learn that when I draw people walking, their back feet are flat on the ground, while the toes of their front feet are pointing upward.  You'd learn that when the left LEG is back, the left ARM is forward.  You'd even learn how I draw the shadows under people's feet.   Now suppose that tomorrow, you copy a drawing by a completely different cartoonist -- we'll call him Joe -- who has a very different way of drawing people walking.  You might decide you prefer Joe's way to mine, and you might incorporate it into your own drawing style.  The point is:  when you copy, you're gathering information that you might or might not use someday in your own cartoons.  Every cartoonist in the world starts out by copying.  

A word to the wise, though:  copying and tracing are very different things.  When you trace a drawing, you're not really using your eyes or your brain to take visual measurements, record spatial relationships, or note important details.  In other words, you're not learning anything.  It's like you're lip-synching a song instead of singing it with your own voice.

If you're a kid who's really into copying cartoons, one of two things will probably happen.  1.) You'll eventually get tired of copying someone else's stuff, and you'll start creating your own characters, eventually growing more and more accomplished and ultimately becoming a rich and famous cartoonist.  Or 2.) You'll decide that there are other things that interest you more than copying cartoons, and your drawing sessions will becoming less and less frequent until, eventually, you don't draw at all.  Most people fall into category #2, although I've met a lot of people who are never quite able to leave the cartooning behind completely.  They're the folks who are always doodling on napkins!

Fri, 11/14/2014

Big Nate: The Musical Recap!

I had a wonderful couple of days at the Merrill Auditorium here in Portland on Friday and Saturday.  Big Nate:  The Musical was in town, and I got the chance to see both performances.  I'll weigh in with a few thoughts on the play itself, but first I want to introduce you to the talented actors who bring the characters to life.

Of course, there are more than just these seven roles in the show, so all the actors (except for David Landstrom) had to play multiple characters.  For example, A.J. Whittenberger played not only Artur, he also took on the role of Nate's Dad.  AND he was the lead singer of "Calvin & The Galvinators" during the Battle of the Bands.  Mary Anne Furey, believe it or not, played both Jenny and Coach John!  So needless to say, these are some very versatile performers!

Friday's performance was for school groups, and hundreds of kids -- all elementary schoolers, I think -- were bused to the Merrill Auditorium for the show.  I haven't seen any of the other theaters the show has visited on tour, but I'm guessing this had to be the biggest stage of the bunch.  The Merrill holds 1,900 people, which is a lot more than most children's theaters can accommodate, and the stage is correspondingly large.  So the set was somewhat dwarfed by its surroundings.  But on the plus side, the actors had a lot of room to move around up there during their dance numbers!  By the way, there weren't 1,900 kids at the Merrill on Friday, but I'll be there were about a thousand.  Saturday's show was for the general public, and a lot of our friends here in town -- even the ones without kids -- came to watch.  That was very nice of them.  

It's been a year and a half since I saw the world premiere at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland, but the show is the same fun, high-energy experience I remember.  David Landstrom as Nate is a live wire, and that's a good thing.  It's a pretty demanding role.  He's on stage for virtually the entire show, and has to do a lot of dancing, jumping, and running around.  Joshua Dick as Francis is the only actor from the original production -- he's outstanding.  Dani Stoller as Gina is hilarious, and Ian Anthony Coleman makes a great Teddy.  And a special shout-out to Awa Sal Secka in the somewhat thankless role of Mrs. Godfrey.  I thought she nailed it.  A.J. Whittenberger found Artur's sweet spot, and he and Mary Anne Furey as Jenny made a perfect couple.

After Saturday's show, I signed books -- some that kids had brought from home, others that were on sale at the theater thanks to Longfellow Books.  I'd like to thank Longfellow for its involvement and support.  The biggest thank you, though, goes to my friend Gretchen Berg and all the great folks at Portland Ovations who had a hand in bringing Big Nate to Portland.  It was a real thrill to see the show with my friends and family in my own hometown.  Good luck to the actors during the rest of their tour!

Tue, 11/11/2014

Raking Leaves

Here's a strip from a year ago.  It was the first day of a storyline about Pickles, Francis's cat, but that's not the subject of this blog entry.  I chose this strip because it shows Nate in the midst of an exhausting annual task:  raking and bagging leaves.

Depending on where you live, leaves may or may not be a big part of your autumn.  Here in the northeast, they're everywhere.  They're beautiful to look at as they change color -- in fact, "leaf-peeping" tours are a major part of the New England tourist economy -- but a leaf that changes color eventually falls off the tree.  And if that tree happens to be in your yard, then you'll probably have some raking to do.  There are quite a few trees in our yard.  Beside the garage is a cluster of enormous oak trees, which shed not only leaves, but acorns.  (2014 has been a heavy acorn year.)  I don't want to be too critical of oak trees, but their leaves aren't much to look at.  They're brown and very drab.  Directly in front of our house, though, are two beautiful maple trees -- a Big Leaf Maple and a Red Maple.  These trees' leaves become incredibly colorful each October.  It's not uncommon for people to stop in front of our house to take pictures of our maple trees.

Plus, the maple leaf is not only the featured motif of the flag of Canada, it's also got a hockey team named after it.
I've obviously got leaves on the brain, and here's why:  yesterday, I raked leaves from 7:00 am to 3:15 pm.  I filled 35 giant recyclable leaf bags.  Yes, I had a feeling of accomplishment by the time I finished, but it was tempered somewhat by the fact that, when I looked up, I saw that there all still many leaves yet to fall.  So I'll have to rake again in two or three weeks.  Sigh.

I usually include a couple of leaf-raking gags in the comic strip each year.  Nate, Francis, and Teddy have an unofficial yard care business, so the boys going door-to-door and looking for customers can lead to some funny situations.  You can see an example by clicking here:

And finally:  just a reminder that Big Nate:  The Musical is here in Portland this weekend!  I'll be attending both performances -- the show for school field trips on Friday, and the open-to-the-public show on Saturday -- and will tell you all about it in my next entry!

Fri, 11/07/2014

Lawn Gnomes

Last week I listed a few of the costumes Nate's worn on Halloweens past, and one of the selections was lawn gnome.  In this Sunday page from 2011, you can see for yourself what he looked like.  Why did I choose to make Nate a lawn gnome that particular year?  Well, there are a couple reasons.  First of all, I happen to think lawn gnomes are very funny.  I think that must have started many years ago, when I sometimes tuned in to watch Late Night with David Letterman.  Someone began anonymously sending letters to David Letterman from locations all around the globe, and these letters included photographs of a garden-variety lawn gnome posed in, on, or alongside famous tourist attractions.  There was something hilarious about a picture of a lawn gnome standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or beside the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Mr. Letterman obviously thought so, too, because he shared several of these photos with the TV audience.  In the days before social media, these gnome pictures were almost like a prehistoric version of Twitter or Instagram.
It didn't take long for someone to commercialize the idea of a well-traveled lawn gnome.  The website travelocity did just that with a series of commercials featuring a lawn gnome's amusing observations from different locations around the globe.  Not surprisingly, these were some of my favorite commercials back in the day.  
But probably the most compelling reason I made Nate a lawn gnome back in October of 2011 was because, only a couple months earlier, Big Nate On A Roll went on sale.  In that story, Nate is trying to find ways to earn money and outperform Artur in a Timber Scout fundraiser.  At one stage in the story, Nate is hired by a woman to move a bunch of lawn gnomes around her yard.  At that point, I don't think I'd ever drawn a lawn gnome, but I quickly warmed to the task and ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience.  Drawing lawn gnomes is a blast.  
So, imagine my delight on Friday night -- Halloween -- when a neighborhood kid dressed as a lawn gnome came trick-or-treating to our front door!  It was a good costume -- my favorite of the night, needless to say.
And speaking of costumes...some very talented actors will be wearing them this Friday and Saturday here in Portland, Maine, during Big Nate:  The Musical.  If you live in or around Portland and are interested in attending, you can learn more by clicking on this link:
Tue, 11/04/2014

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everybody!  I'm afraid I don't have as much time as I thought to devote to this blog entry, because I got so involved in carving my Halloween pumpkins.  The fellow on the right has a patch of little twigs under his nose to make it look like he has a mustache; and the guy on the right has a half a potato for a nose and an actual lightbulb above his head (which will be all lit up when the trick-or-treaters arrive tomorrow evening).

Now...let's talk Halloween candy.  If you've read some of my Halloween comic strips over the years, you know that Nate's dad is infamous for handing out lame candy every year on October 31st.  In fact, most of the time it's not even candy.  Over the years he's given kids rice cakes, soy nuts, tofu kabobs, sugar-free fruit roll-ups, homemade granola with dried apricots, etc.  At our house, I try to counteract Dad's underwhelming reputation by handing out the very best candy.  This year, the selections are:

•    Reese's peanut butter cups
•    Butterfinger
•    Snickers
•    Skittles
•    Peanut M&M's
•    Kit Kat
•    Junior Mints
•    Baby Ruth
•    Tootsie Pops   

Usually I like to include Sugar Babies in my candy lineup, but I couldn't find any this year.  I think Sugar Babies might have gone out of style.

Trick-or-treating, by the way, hasn't been around as long as I thought.  The term "trick or treat" didn't even exist until the 1920's, when it was first used in Canada.  In the United States, the first mention of trick-or-treating doesn't appear until 1934.  So even though Halloween (or All Hallows Eve or an assortment of other names) has been around for a couple thousand years, the practice of kids dressing up and going from house-to-house asking for candy is a pretty recent one.

And speaking of dressing up:  Here, off the top of my head, are some of the costumes Nate's worn on Halloweens past:

•    A cheez doodle
•    Dracula
•    A lawn gnome
•    Francis
•    Frankenstein
•    His Dad
•    A cowboy
•    The Mummy
•    A Bunny
•    ...and if you've been reading the comic strip this week, you know that Nate, Francis, and Teddy all agreed to dress as super villains this Halloween.  Teddy is Electro, Francis is The Riddler, and Nate is...Gina.  Have fun tonight, everyone!

Fri, 10/31/2014

Big Nate Returns to the New York Times Bestseller List!

Last week I heard the unexpected but very welcome news that Big Nate had returned to the New York Times Bestseller List for the first time in awhile.  As I learned when I first started writing the chapter books, there are several different categories of bestselling books.  The first two books -- Big Nate In A Class By Himself and Big Nate Strikes Again -- landed on the Children's Middle Grade list.  But as soon as a third book featuring the same character or characters is written, that franchise officially becomes a series, and belongs on the Children's Series list.  For me, that's meant that every book since Strikes Again has added to the total book sales that account for Big Nate's presence on the Children's Series bestseller list.  That's why specific book titles don't show up on the series list.  The #10 spot in this week's list isn't occupied by a single book like Big Nate In The Zone or Big Nate:  Mr. Popularity.  It simply says Big Nate, meaning that any and all books featuring Nate -- chapter books, comic strip collections, and activity books -- are part of the same series.  It's a tough list to crack.  Here's this week's top ten:

1.    HEROES OF OLYMPUS by Rick Riordan
2.    THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner
3.    HOUSE OF NIGHT by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
4.    DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth
5.    DORK DIARIES by Rachel Renée Russell
6.    GIVER QUARTET by Lois Lowry
7.    DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney
8.    OLD KINGDOM by Garth Nix
9.    UNWIND DYSTOLOGY by Neal Shusterman
10.    BIG NATE by Lincoln Peirce

There are basically two kinds of books here.  Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9 on the list are tales of teens trying to survive in fantasy worlds or dystopian realms.  Numbers 5, 7 and 10 are stories of pre-teens trying to survive middle school, told through some combination of text and cartoon illustrations.  And I don't think it's a coincidence that these three latter series were among the first to achieve success in this format.  The enormous success of Jeff Kinney's series made it almost inevitable that someone would create a "female version" of the Wimpy Kid books -- the result was the Dork Diaries books.  And I was fortunate that the Big Nate chapter books followed soon thereafter.  When parents walked into bookstores and said, "my (son)(daughter) loved Diary Of A Wimpy Kid.  What else do you have like that?"...well, Big Nate was one of the very few choices booksellers would reach for.

But just a few years later, it's a very different world out there.  Today I happened to visit my local indie bookstore, Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, and it's amazing to see how many middle grade books there are now that feature cartoony illustrations.  (I refer to them as "hybrid" books.)  There are many, MANY more options to choose from than there were in 2010 when Big Nate In A Class By Himself was published.  That's great for book buyers, but it makes it tougher for authors to land on the New York Times Bestseller List.  There are some books out there that deserve to be bestsellers, but get lost in an avalanche of hybrid books.  And I'm sorry to say that there are quite a few hybrid books that are awful.  I'm a cartoonist and have spent many years learning my craft, so I feel qualified to say that simply sticking a few speech bubbles and sound effects in your illustrations doesn't mean you understand comics.  Yes, I'm guilty of being a comics snob.  So sue me.

Happily, there's also been an explosion of graphic novels (which are different from hybrid books), and I enjoyed looking at some of those today, as well.  Some of the very best in this genre are memoirs -- highly personal and often autobiographical stories -- like Smile by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece Bell, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.  Someday I'd like to try my hand at writing & drawing a graphic novel, but I don't think it would be autobiographical.  My life hasn't been interesting enough for that!

Anyway, thanks, everyone, for continuing to read and enjoy Big Nate, and for getting him back on that bestseller list!

Tue, 10/28/2014