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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County and State Fairs

In BIG NATE (the comic strip), it's become a summer tradition for me to do a week-long story about Nate and his pals attending the 4th of July Fair. This year, Nate took it upon himself to cure Chad of his motion sickness problem. (Even the "Choo Choo Chipmunk" makes Chad feel queasy.)
 
But where I come from, it's FALL, not summer, that's the season for county and state fairs. I don't know if it's that way around the country, but here in Maine, September and October bring us, to name just a few, the Oxford County Fair, the Common Ground Fair, the Cumberland County Fair, and the Fryeburg Fair. Most of these are good old-fashioned fairs that don't change much over time. They offer the same attractions year after year: carnival rides and arcades, livestock competitions of all kinds, agricultural contests like "Biggest Pumpkin," harness racing, baking contests, musical performers -- you name it. And a lot of delicious, greasy food.
 
My own history with fairs is a bit spotty. Early on -- I was probably 6 or 7 years old -- I achieved a major triumph by winning a ten dollar bill at a ring toss at the Stratham Fair in New Hampshire. My weekly allowance at the time was one dollar per week, so this represented quite a windfall. But after that, things went downhill. My family went to live in Hawaii for my dad's sabbatical, and we attended the 50th State Fair, where my brother got violently ill on the Teacups ride. Unfortunately for me, I was sitting right next to him at the time. A few years later, back in New Hampshire, I went to the Deerfield Fair with my best friend Bob, and my wallet was stolen from my back pocket. Sadly, this instance of pickpocketing did not happen early enough in the day to prevent me from eating way too much fried dough. About twenty years ago, I attended the Deering Oaks Festival and made the mistake of riding "The Zipper" (shown here). That was the experience that proved to me forever that it is a bad idea to go on rides that move simultaneously upside-down and backwards.
 
Happily, though, these not-so-great memories of fairs gone by were more or less wiped away when our kids were younger. We took them to the Yarmouth Clam Festival, the Cumberland County Fair, and the Fryeburg Fair just about every year for awhile there, and there's nothing quite as much fun as seeing your children have a great time at a fair. One of my favorite events to watch was the Pig Scramble (shown here). But our kids never entered the Pig Scramble, because if and when you catch a piglet, you have to keep it. We weren't ready to adopt a pig at the time.
 
I can't spend so much time talking about fairs without mentioning one of the greatest books of all time, Charlotte's Web. As you'll no doubt remember, Charlotte manages to save Wilbur's life, once and for all, at the county fair!
Fri, 09/13/2013

Hijinks!

Here, in a drawing from BIG NATE FLIPS OUT, we see Nate giving Francis a wedgie. The online Urban Dictionary has a good, no-nonsense definition of a wedgie: when one's underwear is grabbed by the waistband and pulled up as high as it can go. It's a pretty common prank among kids and even young adults. I've always considered it pretty much a "boys only" activity, but I might be completely wrong about that. Maybe girls wedgie each other just as frequently as boys do. It's just that, for better or worse, most types of horseplay seem to originate when groups of boys get together. Here are some others, along with definitions I've found on various websites:
 
NOOGIE: Sometimes called a Monkey ScrubHippo Handing or Russian Haircut, a noogie is performed when the middle knuckles of the fore and middle fingers are rubbed vigorously against the surface of the scalp, stretching the skin and pulling the hair. A headlock may be applied for more exact or prolonged execution. This will trap the victim. An open-hand variant known as the Dutch Rub is performed with the heel of the hand.
 
RAT TAIL:  The prankster twists a towel along the diagonal (typically dampened to hold its shape). The prankster then "snaps" the towel as if cracking a whip, striking the victim with the end tip of the towel and causing pain. This prank is usually performed in communal showers or locker rooms, where wet towels and bare skin are both present in abundance. 
 
WET WILLY:  A prank whereby an assailant moistens one of his/her fingers with saliva, quietly sneaks up behind a victim and inserts the finger into the victim's ear hole. The victim usually cringes with disgust, after which a chase usually ensues.
 
There are others, like flat tires, swirlies (which were known as "bowling" in my middle school), and spitballing. When pranks like these occur among friends like Nate and Francis, they're usually not much more than temporary annoyances. But of course, in real life these tactics are often used by some kids to intimidate or bully others. So it's probably best to keep these pranks confined to the pages of your favorite books!
Tue, 09/10/2013

The Wonder Years

Back when I started the comic strip, if you had asked me to compare "Big Nate" to something else, I wouldn't have chosen another comic strip. I would have chosen a TV show called "The Wonder Years," which was popular on ABC at about the time I was developing the comic strip. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about "The Wonder Years."
 
The series depicts the social and family life of a boy in a typical American suburb from 1968 to 1973, covering his ages from 12 to 17.  The main character is Kevin Arnold, son of Jack and Normal Arnold. Kevin's dad holds a management position a NORCOM, a defense contractor, while his mother is a homemaker. Kevin has an obnoxious older brother, Wayne, and an older sister, Karen, who is preoccupied with becoming a hippie. Two of Kevin's age peers and neighbors are prominently featured throughout the series: his best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, and his crush-turned-girlfriend, Gwendolyn "Winnie" Cooper.
 
If I had to choose one word to describe the show, it would be "nostalgic." It had a lot of appeal for baby boomers looking back at what it had been like to grow up during a very interesting time. And I thought "Big Nate" could mine that same vein of nostalgia in comic strip form. Of course, I didn't set my strip in the past -- Nate lives in the here and now -- but I thought that Nate's adventures in middle school would bring back a lot of memories for newspaper readers whose own middle school careers were behind them. As it turned out, I was half right. I heard from plenty of adult readers who liked the strip, but I got letters (and later, emails) from kids who enjoyed it. Without my really intending it, "Big Nate" became known in the "comics biz" as a kids' strip.
 
This picture shows Kevin on the right and his friend Paul on the left. I guess you could describe them as the TV versions of Nate and Francis. But the similarities between "The Wonder Years" and "Big Nate" start to diminish after that. Kevin had two parents and two siblings; Nate lives in a single-parent home with only one sibling. Kevin's crush, Winnie, is one of his closest friends; Nate's crush, Jenny, can't stand the sight of him. There are no equivalents in the TV show for characters like Artur, Gina, and Chad. And of course the biggest difference is that Kevin gets older over the course of the show. Nate never ages. The poor kid's been trapped in sixth grade for 22 years now.
 
It's been almost that long -- about twenty years -- since I've seen "The Wonder Years"; maybe I'll look for an episode on YouTube and see how it holds up!
Fri, 09/06/2013

Back to school...

Not much of an entry today.  After all, it's Monday as I write this, and it's a holiday!

I mentioned in the blog a while back that I'd written a haiku about Nate's first day of school.  So here it is.  And along with it is a poem I did just a couple days earlier.  As you know, I enjoy dropping some poetry into the strip every once in awhile, and the end of summer always seems a good time for it.

If you're back in school:  best wishes for a great year!  And if you're still on vacation:  enjoy those last few precious days!

Mon, 09/02/2013

Yearbook

You're looking at a page from my seventh grade yearbook, and I'm reasonably sure that it's the first time one of my drawings ever appeared in print. This was way back in 1976, when i was 12 years old, and calling our end-of-the-year album a "yearbook" might be stretching things a bit. It was more like a pamphlet. It wasn't a hardcover, like a high school or college yearbook, and it was probably all of 30 pages long. But it was all we had, and it was always fun on the final day of school to run around the building, getting as many people as possible to sign your book.
 
There are TWO drawings on this page, but only the hockey goalie is mine. Hockey goalies were my specialty back then. I never was a goalie myself, but I think I enjoyed drawing goalies more than regular players because their equipment was more interesting to look at. Often I drew goalies wearing University of New Hampshire or Boston Bruins uniforms, but in this case, the subject is wearing an ORYA jersey. ORYA stands for Oyster River Youth Association, the organization that ran all the youth sports leagues in town. The goalie's mask is made of molded plastic, which is how you know this drawing is pretty old; nobody's worn a mask like that in 25 or 30 years. But back then, they were standard issue for all goalies. He's also holding a stick that says VIC on it in giant letters. This isn't the goalie's name, but rather the way the manufacturer, Victoriaville, branded their goalie sticks back then.
 
Elsewhere on the page are a couple messages from classmates. Along the left margin is a sentence from my friend Colin. Someone else -- I have no idea who -- wrote "WHO'S THAT?" with an arrow pointing to the photo in the upper left, which happens to be a picture of me. There's also a picture of some 8th grade girl licking a lollipop, a piece of "clip art" depicting an overwhelmed student, a very nice note to me from a girl named Carol, and, at the bottom of the page, a message from my friend Hans. He filled my yearbook with several messages, each one directing me to turn to a different page.
 
I had two or three other drawings in that yearbook, but this one was my favorite.  
Fri, 08/30/2013

Pantomime Comic Strip

Ever seen a "pantomime"comic strip? That's the term used for a strip that has no dialogue -- no speech bubbles, no thought balloons, and usually not even any sound effects. I can think of a couple famous ones from the past: The Little King, by Otto Soglow, and Carl Anderson's Henry. There's also a popular pantomime strip around today, drawn by my friend Mark Tatulli. It's called Lio. &nbsut such comic creations are few and far between, probably because of how difficult it must be to come up with purely visual gags 365 days a year.  I know I couldn't do it. My brain just doesn't work that way. But there have been a handful of occasions over the years when I've thought of a visual gag and liked it enough to use it in the strip. This drawing is one of them.
 
This isn't the strip itself, of course. It's a sketch I did a couple of years ago for the cover of a wall calendar. But the gag is the same one I used in the strip years ago: the kids have just been handed back a test or quiz of some kind, and Nate obviously did not do very well. In fact, he did so poorly that a simple "frowny face" is not sufficient to indicate just how horribly he's failed. Instead, a very different face is used. You may or may not recognize it. It's from a very famous painting called "The Scream," by an artist named Edvard Munch. The painting depicts a tormented figure standing on a bridge, an agonized expression on his face. Even if you're not a fan of fine art or have never visited an art museum, "The Scream" is an iconic image, one which many people have seen at some point in their lives. Even if they don't know the source of the image, they recognize what it stands for. When I came up with the gag, I decided that the image was universal enough that most people who saw it would understand the joke. And I've always been proud of the joke, because it's simple, straightforward, and very effective. Even though my brain could never think of enough visual gags to do a pantomime strip, on this one occasion I was able to pull it off.
 
And while we're on the subject of pantomime, here's a joke by Steven Wright: Last night I played a blank cassette at full blast. My next door neighbor got really mad. He's a mime.
Tue, 08/27/2013

Enslave the Mollusk!

Don't you think this would make a good t-shirt? I drew this Enslave The Mollusk logo for the folks at Adventure Theatre in the days leading up to the premiere of Big Nate: The Musical. I think the original plan was to put this image on the bass drum that Nate plays during the show -- which is why it's a circular design -- but that never happened. What DID happen, though, was that the small cartoon image of the mollusk -- it's on Nate's drum in this drawing -- ended up on t-shirts that the actors playing Nate, Francis and Teddy wore during the "Battle of the Bands" part of the musical. They were pretty handsome t-shirts; I'd definitely wear one. So I'm going to look into creating my own Enslave The Mollusk t-shirts for friends and family. Our son Elias assures me that he has tons of friends at college who'd love an Enslave The Mollusk t-shirt. We'll see.
 
Speaking of Elias, he is (indirectly) the reason that Big Nate's band is called Enslave The Mollusk. Back in sixth or seventh grade, some friends asked him to join a band. I confess I found this kind of surprising, because Elias didn't play an instrument you'd associate with a rock 'n roll band back then; he played the viola. But his friends didn't want him as a violist, they wanted him as their lead singer. The mastermind behind this band was Elias's friend Owen. Owen named the band Enslave The Mollusk, and their glorious career lasted, I believe, for one rehearsal. But I loved the name so much, I brought it into the strip soon thereafter.  
 
Incidentally, in order to create an Enslave The Mollusk storyline in the first place, I had to expand Nate's musical horizons. Up to that point in the strip, Nate had played the trombone. But I didn't think I'd get much mileage out of Nate playing trombone in a rock 'n roll band. Besides, I hate drawing trombones. So I made Nate a drummer, Teddy a keyboardist, and Francis a guitar player. Presto! Instant band!
Fri, 08/23/2013

Peirce vs. Pierce

You might -- or might not -- know that my last name is pronounced "purse." And it is spelled P-E-I-R-C-E. Except in Latvia, apparently. There, it is spelled P-I-R-S-S. And my first name in Latvian is L-I-N-K-O-L-N-S. You learn something new every day.
 
A friend of my wife's is traveling in Latvia, apparently, because she emailed this picture today with the caption "At a popular bookstore in Riga, Latvia." I've seen most of the foreign editions of Big Nate, but I don't remember seeing these Latvian versions before. I always get a kick out of the foreign editions and enjoy seeing the way the different translations look. In this case, the covers are identical to the US editions, except for the fact that "Big Nate" is now "Lielais Neits."  
 
I've always had a love-hate relationship with my own name. I like the name "Lincoln," but the name "Peirce" is problematic. For every Peirce in the world, there are probably dozens and dozens of Pierces. Pierce (pronounced just how you'd think) is a much more common name. But that wasn't always the case, at least here in New England. My brother, who has spent a fair bit of time researching our family history, has discovered that in New England -- and especially in Massachusetts, where my Dad's side of the family lived for several generations -- there were as many Peirces as Pierces if you go back about 120 or 140 years. Eventually, though, the Pierces took over. Who knows why these things happen? I only know that, as a kid, I was instructed by my parents to always correct people whenever they mispronounced my name. It always made me self-conscious to correct my friends or my coaches or teachers, and I spent a lot of time wishing I could change my name to something that was sort of like Peirce, but wouldn't be mispronounced. I settled on "Price." When I was 10 or 11, I decided that I'd change my name to Lincoln Price as soon as I was legally able to. But then it occurred to me that I wasn't just Lincoln Peirce; I was Lincoln Peirce III, named after my dad and my grandfather. I realized that changing my name would seem like a rejection of my family history. So I kept it. But I still think it's kind of a pain.
 
That's one reason I gave Big Nate such a simple, straightforward name: Nate Wright. It's easy to pronounce and simple to remember. And I didn't even complicate matters by giving Nate a middle name; unlike Francis, who's saddled with the unfortunate middle name "Butthurst," Nate doesn't have one. I'm not going to tell you my middle name. It's even easier to mispronounce than my last name.
 
Big Nate In The Zone update: I've finished the first six chapters of final art! 119 pages down, 97 to go!
Tue, 08/20/2013

Sparky!

It's been awhile since I wrote about one of my favorite subjects, "Peanuts" by Charles Schulz. Nobody who knew him called him Charles. His nickname was "Sparky." Anyway, because I've recently had the chance to spend time with other cartoonists (at the Reuben Awards in Pittsburgh, at Book Expo America, and at the San Diego Comic Con), I've had a couple of long conversations about Sparky and why he is one of the greatest and most influential cartoonists of all time.
 
Sparky really changed the way characters expressed themselves in comics. Before "Peanuts," it was virtually unheard of for comic strip characters -- especially children -- to have deep, meaningful conversations. The kids in "Peanuts" talked about "kid stuff" plenty, but they also talked about things that never showed up in other comic strips until Sparky had made it OK to do so: subjects like theology, classical music, philosophy, loneliness...the list goes on. Sparky was very well read, and you could sometimes tell what he was reading based on what the "Peanuts" characters were discussing in the strip.
 
Sparky also invented a kind of writing I'll call "play-by-play" narration. Sparky grew up before television, but as a sports-crazy kid in Minnesota, he certainly would have spent time listening to games on the radio, and he couldn't have failed to absorb the way the play-by-play men described the action on the field. Later, in his comic strip, he had his characters -- especially Snoopy -- use this same kind of play-by-play to describe the events unfolding in their rich inner lives. The absolute pinnacle of this was, of course, Snoopy narrating the exploits of a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron in the skies over Europe. Snoopy also provided play-by-play for his excursions -- some imaginary, some real -- into the worlds of tennis, figure skating, the French Foreign Legion, and (as you see here) outer space.
 
You don't need to look far to see how influential this type of writing became. Garry Trudeau's Mike "the Man" Doonesbury was fond of narrating his big-man-on-campus misadventures play-by-play style in the early days of "Doonesbury," and in the great "Calvin & Hobbes," Calvin's altar ego Spaceman Spiff isn't too far removed from Snoopy's flying ace. All of us who are fortunate enough to make our livings as cartoonists these days owe a huge debt to Sparky!
Fri, 08/16/2013

Jeff Kinney and Lincoln Peirce!

When I turned to the Books section of my Boston Sunday Globe a couple of days ago, I found myself looking into the eyes of my friend Jeff Kinney, author of the phenomenally successful Wimpy Kid series. He was the subject of this week's "New England Writers At Work" column, in which local writers share some of the nuts and bolts of their creative process. There are a number of similarities between Jeff's books and mine, of course. Both series use comics to tell their stories, both feature middle school boys who get into trouble quite frequently, and so on. But after reading the column about Jeff, I realized that my method of working is very different from his. Here are a few examples. In each case, the first quote is from Jeff, and the second is my response.
 
Jeff Kinney: I work in the house next to where I live. We bought a smaller house that I use as my office and the place where my two employees work.
 
Lincoln Peirce: My office is a room on the first floor of our house, accessible through our dining room.  Judging from the photo shown here, Jeff's office looks quite a bit neater than mine!
 
JK: My office doubles as a karaoke den for the neighborhood. There are strobe lights and Rock Band plastic guitars, a disco ball and a fog machine and some other things. I have a really long workday, and you might find me doing karaoke by myself late at night.
 
LP: I also love music in my office, and I definitely have been known to sing (not well) in the shower or the car -- but I don't sing in my office, unless a particularly good song comes up on my Spotify account. I love Spotify. In fact, I'm listening to it right now. Aretha Franklin is singing "Spirit In The Dark." I do identify with Jeff's long work days, though. He and I both work between 13 and 17 hours a day, and every so often you've got to let off some steam. But no karaoke for me. My dog wouldn't stand for it, I'm afraid.
 
JK: I draft on the computer. I have a really giant screen that attaches to my laptop, and then I have a humongous digital drawing tablet called a Cintiq.
 
LP: Everyone who knows me understands that I'm a technophobe. For example, many cartoonists (Jeff included) have an alphabet of their own unique handwriting font loaded on their computer or tablet. That means they don't have to do hand-lettering in every drawing; they just type the dialogue and it formats automatically inside their speech bubbles. I'm a hand-letterer and see no reason to change.I must admit, though, that some technology has proven very helpful. Years ago, I never could have imagined that I'd be able to scan my Sunday page, color it in Photoshop, then upload it to an FTP site. The fact that I have no idea what an FTP site is or how it works doesn't really concern me. I have no interest in how technology works. None. Zero.
 
JK: I write in reverse. Rather than come up with a narrative and write jokes for that narrative, I write jokes independently of the narrative, then I try to fit them in.
 
LP: Like Jeff, I don't invent an entire narrative at first. I write my books a chapter at a time, and usually I have no idea how they will end until I'm at least halfway through.  But I do conceive of each individual chapter as a unique story arc. The arc comes first, and then I re-write to include more gags and make it funnier.  
 
JK: I sometimes work all day and all night and come up with no pages at all, and sometimes I'll go on a tear and write 50 pages.
 
LP: ;I identify completely with the first part of Jeff's quote, and I'm incredible jealous of the second part. 50 pages??? The man is a creative tsunami.
 
JK: ;Whenever I stop or come to an impasse, which is very often, I'll surf the Web because it's right there on my desktop. I go on liberal and conservative websites like the Daily Beast and Drudge Report, CNN and USA Today, and ESPN. I don't really wander off of those sites. I like to read different points of view before I form my own opinions.
 
LP: If I hit some sort of creative wall during the day, I might play with my dog, work on a crossword puzzle, read a chapter of a book (I'm working my way through "The Daniel Clowes Reader") or go out for a bike ride. I do sometimes turn on Netflix on my laptop, but that's only if I'm strictly drawing. I can't have Netflix on while I'm brainstorming or writing.
 
JK: There's nothing on the walls of my office. I try to work in a blank room because I tend to fixate on things hanging on the walls.
 
LP: I like a cluttered office. Unfortunately, I usually cross the line between "cluttered" and "filthy."
 
LP: "And now, as I finish this entry, it's 1:22 am and Warren Zevon is singing "Desperadoes Under The Eaves" on Spotify. Good night!
Tue, 08/13/2013