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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Have you ever heard of GISHWES?

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

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

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

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

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

All for now.  Have a good weekend!

Fri, 08/08/2014

Going Bananas

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 08/05/2014

Read!

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

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

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

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

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

And remember:  READ!

Fri, 08/01/2014

Recovering!

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

 

Tue, 07/29/2014

In a Slump

As I write this, it's Thursday at 9:33 pm here in Maine.  Usually, my beloved Boston Red Sox would be playing at this time of night, but instead they played an afternoon game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  And the Red Sox were crushed, 8-0.  The final score, sadly, doesn't come close to conveying just how thoroughly the Sox were thrashed.  They managed only one hit in the entire game.  That's not very good, but it's only the latest bump in what has been a very rough road for the team this season.  The Red Sox are in last place in their division, and when you consider the fact that they won the World Series only 9 months ago, it's a little shocking that they're playing so poorly.  The fact is, nothing is going right for them.  They're in a slump.
 
Slumps are interesting things.  You usually hear them mentioned in connection to sports, but slumps can happen in any part of your life.  If you've read BIG NATE IN THE ZONE, you know that Nate suffers through a slump in which just about everything goes wrong.  Fortunately for him, that painful period is followed by a stretch in which everything goes impossibly RIGHT.  Suddenly, he's "in the zone."  I can't think of a single word that functions as the exact opposite of "slump," so "in the zone" will have to do.  
 
I played a lot of baseball when I was a boy, and, like just about everyone, I had my share of both highs and lows.  I remember going through stretches where I felt as if I could hit anything the pitcher threw at me; other times, I wondered if I'd ever get a hit again as long as I lived.  One game in particular stands out.  I was in the middle of a horrible slump.  The umpire didn't show up for the game, so my dad, who was sitting in the bleachers as a spectator, was asked to fill in behind the plate.  It was an all-time low to flail feebly at a ball that was a foot over my head, and to hear my own father bellow "strike three."  It seemed to me he said it with a little extra gusto.  Baseball is a game that can humble you!
 
I've also had a few cartooning slumps in my day.  Sometimes they're writing slumps -- times when, no matter how hard I think, I just can't come up with any good ideas.  And other times they're drawing slumps.  You'd think that after all this time, I'd be able to draw Nate and all the other characters in my sleep.  But there are some days when, for whatever reason, it's a struggle, when my pen just doesn't seem to do what I'm asking it to do.  Both types of slumps are frustrating, but writing slumps -- for me, anyway -- are far more common that drawing ones.
 
Happily, though, I'm not in a drawing slump at the moment.  It took me about half a day to get back into the groove after returning from vacation, but I've had a good week thus far.  Today I finished the last page of chapter 4 and am two pages into chapter 5.  That means I've got 76 pages done.  That's about 35% completed, 65% to go!
Fri, 07/25/2014

Soccer and a Lesson in Englishness

I returned to the US on Friday night (or, more accurately, at 3am on Saturday morning) after a wonderful vacation on the island of Nevis in the West Indies.  If you're looking for a place to get away from it all, Nevis is the place for you.  There was no television at the beach club where we stayed, nor did I bring my laptop or avail myself of the free wi-fi.  So we were in an almost complete news bubble.  Our only source of information from the outside world was a 4-page "newspaper" that was available to read at breakfast each morning.  And there was a full one-day lag between an event's occurrence and its appearance in this modest daily newspaper.  That meant that if something happened on a Sunday -- like Germany winning the FIFA World Cup, for example -- we didn't learn about it until Tuesday.

And speaking of soccer, it's the subject of today's blog.  While my wife and I were in Nevis, my pen pal from Japan, Kozo, sent me the cartoon shown above.  Here's what he wrote in his email:

Hi Lincoln, I noticed American people had shown more interest in World Cup this time than before.  Your eleven did a good and sportmanlike job until you lost to Belgium by 1-2.

Now please tell me the point of this cartoon.


And here's what I wrote back:

Hi Kozo,

My apologies for taking so long to get back to you.  My wife and I were out of the country on vacation, so I was completely cut off from email.  We went to the Caribbbean nation of St. Kitts & Nevis.

Yes, even though the US was thoroughly dominated by Belgium, they still had a chance to win that match.  Overall I enjoyed watching the World Cup, although I missed Germany's victory in the final because we had no television or internet where we were on vacation.

And now on to this cartoon:  I believe the key to the cartoon is the paper in the father's hand that says :  TEACH BRITISH VALUES.  The Brits, of course, like to think of themselves as a highly cultured and civilized group of people, so "British values" would suggest the very best in human behavior.  But unfortunately, it is often the case that British soccer fans behave in a very UNcivilized way at major competitions like the World Cup.  They are known for their drunken, thuggish, and sometimes racist behavior, and it has become a real embarrassment for England over the years.  So in the cartoon, the father is telling the son:  "We'd like to think of ourselves as representing the very best in sportsmanship, but the truth is we often represent the very worst."  That's the 'painful lesson in Englishness' the cartoon refers to.

If the paper saying TEACH BRITISH VALUES were not included in the cartoon, then the joke would function on a very different level.  It would just be a commentary on the futility of England in World Cup competition.  England hasn't won the tournament since 1966.  So without the TEACH BRITISH VALUES piece, the father would simply be telling the son:  "I know you're excited about the World Cup, but we have no chance of winning."  That would be a different kind of 'painful lesson in Englishness.'  

So the cartoon can really work in two different ways, if you want it to.  Hope that helps, Kozo.  Thanks for writing.

Best,

Lincoln

Tue, 07/22/2014

Cover Stories

Last time, I wrote about the illustrations in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and described my dismay over the fact that the original drawings by Joseph Schindelman had been replaced -- more than once -- in the fifty years since the book's publication.  Well, another book I'm fond of mentioning whenever the subject of my favorite books comes up is Banner In The Sky, by James Ramsey Ullman.  This book, a mountain-climbing story that takes place in 19th-century Switzerland, has absolutely no illustrations in it whatsoever.  But it does have a cover, and six different versions are shown here.  (There probably have been more than six over the years, but these were the ones I could find.)

I think a lot about book covers, because part of creating a successful children's book is designing an eye-catching cover.  Think about it:  in a typical bookstore, you have hundreds or even thousands of books to choose from.  People shopping in the store don't have the time to read a bunch of books cover-to-cover, compare their relative merits, and then choose which one to buy.  Oftentimes, they're making more of an "impulse" purchase -- deciding very quickly as to whether they want to buy a certain book or not.  So you've got to get people's attention quickly, and a great book cover is one way to do it.  

Ironically enough, when I discovered Banner In The Sky in my middle school library, it didn't even HAVE a cover.  The cover had fallen off.  But later, when I bought my own copy of the book, it DID have a cover -- the first one shown here.  I really like this cover.  It very effectively conveys the danger and excitement of Rudi Matt's quest to climb The Citadel, and the strong diagonal of the cliff face makes for a very dynamic picture.  The one right next to that -- the one with the yellow lettering -- is probably my least favorite of these six examples.  I don't like the style or color of the lettering, I don't like the publisher's logo being shown so prominently, and I don't like how detailed Rudi's face is.  When a story has no illustrations, you end up picturing in your mind's eye what the characters look like.  You don't want the cover of the book telling you what the protagonist looks like.  None of the other five covers show Rudi's face in any detail, and I think that's appropriate.  Rudi might be the main character, but the mountain -- The Citadel -- is the most dominant figure in the story.  Which cover do YOU like best?

BLOG NEWS:  I'm going on vacation, which means I'll be taking a break from blogging.  There won't be any new entries next week.  Look for my next all-new entry on Tuesday, July 22nd!

Fri, 07/11/2014

Lincoln Peirce on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It's been fifty years since one of my favorite children's books was published.  It's called Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, and it appeared here in the states in 1964.  I learned about the book in the late 1960's, when my mother first read it to me.  Once I was old enough to read it on my own, I did just that -- many, many times between the ages of, oh, let's say seven and twelve.  Years later I returned to the book and read it again, over and over, to my own children.  It has never failed to cast a spell on me.

But here's an important point -- important to me, at least.  The book I read as a child and re-read decades later was a first edition copy, with illustrations by a gentleman named Joseph Schindelman.  He drew with a wispy, almost spider-web sort of line; his figures were not defined by solid outlines.  Instead, the characters and objects in his drawings were formed by many small, delicate marks combining to create areas of light and shadow.  His drawing of the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, shown here on the left, is a fine example of Mr. Schindelman's style.  And it captures very well the character of Mr. Wonka as Roald Dahl describes him:  Mr. Wonka was standing all alone just inside the open gates of the factory.  And what an extraordinary little man he was!  He had a black top hat on his head.  He wore a tail coat made of a beautiful plum-coloured velvet.  His trousers were bottle green.  His gloves were pearly grey.  And in one hand he carried a fine, gold-topped walking cane.  Covering his chin, there was a small, neat, pointed black beard -- a goatee.  And his eyes -- his eyes were most marvelously bright.  They seemed to be sparkling and twinkling at you all the time.   His whole face, in fact, was alight.
 
Having read the book so many times, these illustrations became fixed in my mind.  It was impossible to imagine the story of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory without Joseph Schindelman's drawings.  But, in fact, Mr. Schindelman was only the first illustrator to bring Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket, and all the other characters to life.  There have been others.

In 1967, the book was published in the United Kingdom, and for reasons known only to the publisher, Mr. Schindelman's illustrations were not used.  Instead, a woman named Faith Jaques did the drawings.  Later, in 1985, illustrations by Michael Foreman were featured in the US edition.  And in 1995, the renowned British cartoonist/illustrator Quentin Blake took over.  His drawing of Willy Wonka is shown here on the left.

I must confess to feeling very conflicted about this.  I understand that as "classic" books age, publishers might like to update them from a visual standpoint -- to make them look more contemporary, or more accessible to today's readers.  But what did Roald Dahl think of this?  He died in 1990, which means that he never lived to see and approve Quentin Blake's illustrations.  But he WAS alive when Faith Jaques did her drawings in 1967, and in 1985 when Michael Foreman did his.  Was he troubled by the illustrations being changed?  Or was he largely indifferent?  

I certainly don't know how he felt.  But I know I have a strong preference for the Joseph Schindelman drawings.  Those are the ones I grew up with, and I think they enhance the story in a way that other illustrations don't.  (This isn't just a Charlie And The Chocolate Factory issue, by the way.  I feel the same loyalty to Louis Darling's original illustrations for Beverly Cleary's books from the 1950's and 1960's.)

And finally, don't get me started on the movie starring Johnny Depp.  That would be a rant that might never end!

Tue, 07/08/2014

Reading the Funnies

If you're reading this and you're a kid, I have a question for you:  Do you read the comics in your local newspaper?  (That's assuming, of course, that your family subscribes to a daily newspaper.  Many people have stopped doing it, preferring to get their news via the internet, or Twitter, or whatever.)  Anyway, I'm just curious about how many kids today read newspaper comics.  I suspect it's not all that many.  But when I was a kid, the comics pages in both the newspapers my family subscribed to (The Foster's Daily Democrat and The Boston Globe) were essential reading.  I was fascinated by "the funnies," and whenever a familiar strip was replaced by something new, it always felt like a seismic shift.  

Nate's an aspiring cartoonist, of course, and if you've followed the strip over the years or read any of the Big Nate novels, you know that his greatest creation is Doctor Cesspool.  Nate draws Doctor Cesspool comics first and foremost for his own enjoyment, but he has bigger dreams for his comic strip.  In the strip from a few years ago, Nate tries to convince the editor of The Daily Courier that Doctor Cesspool would be a worthy replacement for "Freckles And Gabby."  Somehow, I don't think the editor is convinced.

When I was Nate's age, I never would have dared to show any of my comics to an editor -- but I spent a LOT of time thinking about the comics lineup in my local papers.  I read all of them, even the ones I didn't care for, and I had very strong opinions about which strips were great, which were merely good, and which were awful.  I had no idea, though, about how many strips were out there.  The fact is, the only strips I was familiar with were the ones in the newspapers that were delivered to our home every day.  There was no internet back then, so I couldn't read all the comics I wanted just by clicking a mouse or tapping away on a keyboard.  As far as I knew, the strips in the Daily Democrat and the Globe were my only options.  Here were some of the strips I saw every day:

Momma, The Amazing Spider-Man, Mutt & Jeff, Beetle Bailey, Doonesbury, Li'l Abner, The Wizard Of Id, Dondi, Apartment 3-G, Mark Trail, Blondie, Archie, Tank McNamara, Eek & Meek, Shoe, Marmaduke, The Family Circus, Peanuts, and Mary Worth.  Some of these strips are still around, and others have gone away.  But whether they're contemporary comics or "classics," the good news is that many of them are easily accessible online.  And if, like me, you're interested in comics history, gocomics.com has just started a feature called Origins Of The Sunday Comics.  You can see great examples from cartooning's first "golden age" here: http://www.gocomics.com/origins-of-the-sunday-comics#.U7IugRZCdSU

Happy reading!

Tue, 07/01/2014

Get to Know Lincoln Peirce

Sometimes, when I can't think of anything to blog about, I resort to simply describing the events of my day.  But I'm afraid today was completely unexceptional.  I walked my dog a couple of times, worked on the drawings for Big Nate Lives It Up, and ate fish chowder and french fries with my daughter at our favorite seafood joint, Susan's Fish & Chips.  Not much to write about there.

So instead, I'm going to print a few questions & answers from an interview a did a number of years ago with my fellow cartoonist, Scott Nickel.  He asked me twenty questions, but if I showed you all my responses, this entry would be way too long. So I'll just pick out a few highlights of our Q & A.  Here we go!

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

I think it was in 1988 or so. A friend of mine was opening a sports bar in Brooklyn (I lived in Brooklyn and taught high school art in Manhattan at the time), and he asked me to create a little character for the menus and advertising. The bar was called the Brooklyn Dodger and the character I came up with was sort of an Artful Dodger type.

Then my friend and his partners got sued by the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team (which had formerly been called the Brooklyn Dodgers, of course), who thought that the Artful Dodger character infringed on their rights as the owners of the Dodger name.  I was subpoenaed and had to give testimony...it was very dramatic.

I can't remember what my friend paid me, but it wasn't enough.

5. What’s your favorite rejected strip or gag?

When I first started BIG NATE, one of the devices I employed quite frequently was Nate writing and drawing his own comics in his school notebook. I'd draw the way a sixth-grader could draw, and I wrote the sort of sophomoric jokes a sixth-grader would write.
One of Nate's comic creations was ACTION CAT. The gag was that the only thing Action Cat ever did was get hit by cars. I found these gags hilarious, but my editor told me that people didn't want to read about roadkill with their morning coffee.

7. Newspaper comics are considered pretty tame compared to TV and other media. Do you find this limiting or do you welcome the challenge?

Both.

8. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

Ben Katchor, Tom Toles, Richard Thompson, Jim Meddick, Darby Conley. Those are my faves among contemporaries. But I'm also a huge fan of a lot of strips from cartooning's golden era: KRAZY KAT, POLLY & HER PALS, LI'L ABNER, etc. Popeye is probably my all-time favorite comic strip character.

And a totally forgotten cartoonist named Francis W. Dahl, who did very clever cartoons/social commentaries for the Boston Herald back in the 30's, 40's and 50's, was a huge favorite of mine when I was a boy. My grandparents had some collections of his work, and I read them over and over.

9. Who’s stronger, Superman or The Hulk?

Duh. Superman.

11. Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?

I worry about running out of FUNNY ideas. I come up with plenty of unfunny ones.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films? (Yes, that counts as one question.)

Well, in the books and TV show categories, the ones I remember most vividly are from my childhood. Two books that were very significant to me were Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman and A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The first I read for the first time when I was about 12, and I read it many, many times throughout my teens. The second was published in 1980, when I was a junior in high school, and (this sounds a little corny) it really changed the way I looked at the world.

I watched a fair amount of television as a child and watch almost none now. Back then I loved Bonanza, Hawaii Five-0, and the Bob Newhart Show. I was very fond of the show Barney Miller. I watched reruns of old shows like The Rifleman and Perry Mason. I loved staying up and watching The Tonight Show. And, of course, those early years of Saturday Night Live were pretty great. In recent years, the only show I really watched religiously was a show called Homicide.

I host a radio show every week devoted to vintage country music, so I have hundreds of favorite songs. But if I had to choose one, it would be Neil Young's "Heart of Gold."

My favorite movie is Tender Mercies, starring Robert Duvall.

15. What are your tools of the trade?

Non-photo blue pencils, Staedtler pigment liners, smooth-plate 2-ply Bristol board, a ruler, and a radio. And the computer, I guess. That's about it.

19. How important are awards?

I've never won any, so I'll say not at all.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

With only one more hole in my JiffyLube punch card, I will receive a free oil change.

Fri, 06/27/2014