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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Stage Fright

It;s been a very long day, one that included our daughter staying home sick from school, a crew of three people stripping wallpaper at our house, a lot of work on chapter 2 of Big Nate In The Zone, a very nice phone conversation with my friend Jeff Kinney (I'm pretty sure you know who he is!), and last but certainly not least, a trip this evening to attend our son's holiday a cappella concert, where his group and five others performed.

Watching these kids sing up on stage reminded me of a Big Nate storyline from the comic strip. Nate's band, Enslave The Mollusk, gets the opportunity to play a song at a school assembly. With lead vocalist Artur temporarily out of commission due to chicken pox, the spotlight is on Nate to take over and be the lead singer. But when his big moment comes, he gets stage fright. He can't remember the words to the song (which, incidentally, is Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold"). You can see the entire series in Big Nate: Here Goes Nothing.

Nobody forgot the words to any of the songs at tonight's concert; but it DID happen at a concert earlier this year. A young woman was singing a solo, and suddenly she just hummed a couple of bars until she could circle back to the lyrics she DID remember. Maybe it happened because it was still a relatively new song in the group's repertoire; maybe she was filling in for someone else and wasn't that familiar with the solo part; or maybe she just got stage fright. I've had stage fright a few times, and when your nerves get the better of you, just about anything can happen.

I never get nervous speaking in front of kids, or at bookstore events. But in more "formal" settings, or in unfamiliar situations, I've experienced stage fright. It hasn't made me forget what I was going to say; it's just made my heart pound and my mouth feel very dry. It's not a very pleasant sensation. I'm happy to say, though, that it hasn't happened in quite awhile now. It's probably like a lot of things: the more frequently you speak (or sing) in front of people, the more comfortable you feel. So maybe one of these days, Nate will get another chance to remember those words!Thu, 12/06/2012

Graceland

Even though Thanksgiving is over, I find myself feeling very thankful that the weather in Maine isn't colder at the moment. It's been raining steadily for the past several hours, and if the temperature happened to be a few degrees colder, there would be a lot of snow out there for me to shovel. Normally, I like snow, but I just don't have the time to shovel it right now. So I'm glad for the rain!

Earlier today, before it REALLY started raining, I drove to McNeally's Christmas Tree Farm in Gorham, Maine, and cut down a beautiful balsam fir that is now standing in our sun room. I'm known in our family for always bringing home a big, wooly tree, but this time I may have outdone myself. It's not that it's TALLER than our trees of years past, but it's thicker and fuller. And heavier. I almost had a heart attack getting it into the house. Once we decorate it, I'll try to remember to take a picture of it and post it in a future blog entry.

The picture here has nothing to do with Christmas trees, of course. But, like my tree, it's big. It's a goofy model of Graceland, the mansion that Elvis Presley called home for most of his adult life. Why would I build a mini-Graceland, you ask? Well, in the summer of 1987, I spent 10 weeks at a wonderful place called the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. It's kind of an artist's colony - like art camp for adults. Artists (usually young people in their 20's) apply for a spot at the school; about 60 are accepted and, once there, they are given a place to sleep (cabins by a beautiful lake), a place to work (small studios scattered throughout woods and meadows), and three meals a day. It's an opportunity for aspiring artists to do nothing but focus on their work for almost an entire summer.

Except, inevitably, they end up doing other things, too. When that many energetic, artsy young people are together, there are bound to be fun things happening. There was a lot of singing, a lot of swimming, and I remember a very exciting boat race in which all the contestants designed their own vessels. And every so often, someone would throw a party. As July turned to August that summer, I realized that the 10th anniversary of Elvis's death (August 16, 1977) was fast approaching. So I decided to have an Elvis tribute party, and I built this replica of Graceland to make it more festive. I constructed it entirely of wood, wire, and cardboard, and then I painted it to resemble (not very closely, in all honesty) the real thing. Everyone who attended was invited to come dressed as Elvis. I do believe, as the saying goes, that a good time was had by all.

Since that summer, I've lived in 7 or 8 different places. But wherever I've been, I've always made sure that this picture of my little Graceland is tacked up on my bulletin board, as a reminder of a very happy time of my life.Mon, 12/03/2012

Action Shot

Hi again, everyone. Another day, another almost quarter century-old drawing to discuss. Actually, I'm guessing this drawing isn't quite 25 years old. Probably more like 23 and a half.

I made this drawing after I'd been offered a syndication contract for the Big Nate comic strip, but before the strip actually started appearing in newspapers. At the time, my drawing skills were not all that great, and I was concerned that I might not be able to adequately draw the pictures to match the jokes I was writing. So I filled up several sketchbooks with drawings like this one. It's not part of any specific strip; it's just a drawing of Nate getting bullied. I was probably thinking to myself, "I'd better practice drawing Nate in a variety of poses." So the sketchbooks include a lot of "action" drawings: Nate running, jumping, skating, swinging a baseball bat...and, in this case, getting pushed to the ground.

I usually don't like my drawings from way back then, but this one's not so bad. Nate looked very different, of course - much lankier than he is now. And his nose was bigger, his ears smaller, and his hair flatter. But that's old news; I've written about that before. What I'm more interested in is the guy pushing Nate. He's not a character I ever developed; he's just some random bully. But I think he's funny because he doesn't really even look like a kid. The drawing looks like Nate getting shoved to the ground by a middle-aged guy with a receding hairline. Probably not what I intended!

It's way past my bedtime, so that's all until next time!Thu, 11/29/2012

Cartoon Dogs!

Hi, everyone.  I hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving had a wonderful holiday.  Because of that holiday, I skipped my usual mid-week blog entry, but now it’s time to get back on schedule.

Since dogs — and especially a dog named Old Yeller — were the theme of my last entry, I decided to continue on that subject today.  When you read as many comics and watch as many cartoons on TV as I did as a boy, you’re bound to see a lot of dogs.  Some of the cartoon dogs I remember, in no particular order, are:  Deputy Dawg, Droopy Dog, Astro (from “The Jetsons”), Scooby Doo, Snowy (from “Tintin”), Bandit (from “Johnny Quest”), Sandy (from “Little Orphan Annie”), Mr. Peabody (of “Peabody & Sherman” fame), Marmaduke, Offissa Pup, Beauregard Bugleboy, Hot Dog, Fred Basset, Huckleberry Hound, Otto, Pluto, Barfy, Daisy...the list goes on.  If I sat down and thought really hard, I could come up with many more.  Like Lady & The Tramp.  Belvedere.  Underdog.  (As I said, the list goes on!)

And then, of course, there’s one of the greatest dogs ever and perhaps the most influential comic strip character of all time:  Charlie Brown’s beloved beagle, Snoopy.  This picture shows you what Snoopy (and Charlie Brown) looked like when the strip started, in 1950.  Snoopy much more closely resembles a real dog here than he did later.  As I’ve written before, it’s almost inevitable that a cartoonist’s style will evolve over the years, and that the appearance of characters will change.  Snoopy probably changed more than just about any comic strip character you can think of — not only in the way he looked, but in his personality.  Snoopy didn’t have the power of words in the early days of the strip; he didn’t think to himself using thought bubbles.  Once that started happening, Snoopy quickly developed a very rich fantasy life, one in which he could imagine himself as a World War I flying ace, a member of the French Foreign Legion, a world-famous athlete, or the ultimate ladies’ man, Joe Cool.  Modern-day comic strip dogs, like Grimmy, Satchel (from “Get Fuzzy”), or the mutts in “Pooch Café,” likely wouldn’t exist if Snoopy hadn’t come along first and blazed the trail.

Speaking of Snoopy, here’s some exciting news:  when I go on tour in February for Big Nate Flips Out, I’ll be making a stop at The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.  I’ll do a cartooning workshop for kids in the morning, and then in the afternoon I’ll give a talk about Big Nate and the impact “Peanuts” has had on my life and work.  It will be a real honor for me to speak at an institution dedicated to the creativity and legacy of my hero, and I’d like to thank the museum for inviting me.  More info to come as the tour inches closer.

Progress report:  started writing Big Nate In The Zone this weekend!
Mon, 11/26/2012

Old Yeller

This weekend, our family has been dog-sitting for some friends.  Sometimes that means going to someone else’s house and doing the feeding & walking on the dog’s home turf.  But in this case, we decided to keep the dog here, with us.  Of course, we weren’t entirely sure how that would work out, because our own dog, Scout, can sometimes be snippy with other dogs.  But it’s going great.  Scout is a 6 year-old hyperactive female whoodle, and Merlyn is a mellow, elderly male golden retriever.  I think they’re in love.

Anyway, this ties in nicely with what I told you I’d write about this time:  one of my favorite books, Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson.  In case you haven’t read it, Old Yeller is a dog.  Like many of the books I enjoyed as a boy, it’s not a contemporary story; it takes place in the late 1860’s in Texas, and its narrator is a boy named Travis.  Old Yeller, a stray, wanders onto Travis’s family’s homestead.  Travis has little use for Old Yeller at first and thinks the dog is just a thieving scoundrel.  But over the course of the book, Travis — who is temporarily the man of the family while his father is away on a cattle drive — learns that not only is Old Yeller a good dog, he is one of uncommon intelligence and courage.

Old Yeller might have been one of the first stories I ever read that deals with real sadness and loss.  Somehow, the book does manage to end on a hopeful and heartwarming note, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t shed a few tears when I first read it.  In fact, I was bawling.  I also seem to recall needing a few tissues when I saw the movie version of the book, which was probably filmed in the late 1950’s.  This cover shows the actor who played Arliss, Travis’s little brother, sitting on a fence.  And to the right is Old Yeller.  I still can’t understand why Arliss is on the cover.  The story is really Travis’s — of how he learns to love and depend on Old Yeller, and in doing so starts to become a man.

If you’ve ever had a dog, you probably understand what I mean when I say there’s nothing quite like a story about a kid and a dog.  There have been plenty of them, but for my money none has ever done it better than Old Yeller.  So look for it at your local library or bookstore.  And make sure you have a few tissues on hand!
Tue, 11/20/2012

Assisi

I usually write my mid-week blog entry on Wednesday night, but today I'm tackling it a bit earlier in the day. That's because tonight I'll be at a reception for my wife Jessica and two other artists at a gallery here in Portland. My wife's a painter and has been making art her whole life. In fact, that's how she and I met. We were both at Brooklyn College in the mid-1980's, earning our Master of Fine Art degrees. She continued to paint after we graduated, but I gave it up shortly thereafter to focus on comics. And, happily, within a couple of years I got "Big Nate" up and running. But if that hadn't happened, who knows? Maybe I'd be teaching drawing and painting to college students instead of doing the strip and writing Big Nate chapter books. It's probably a good thing for all concerned that things worked out the way they did.

This is one of my wife's paintings and, in real life, it's not much bigger than it is on your screen. It's 6 inches square. That's smaller than most of the drawings I just finished for Big Nate Flips Out! It's an oil painting on a wood panel, and it's very different from a lot of the paintings she made in the past. For many years, she did paintings of athletes - not current athletes you watch on TV, like Kevin Garnett or Lionel Messi. She painted athletes from 60 or 80 or even 100 years ago, using old photographs as her inspiration. Baseball players and boxers were her specialty - athletes like Jimmy Foxx, Jack Johnson, Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Joe Louis, and so on. But after awhile she got tired of making those paintings and wanted to try something different. So she did some experiments in her studio, and eventually started painting abstractions, like this one. What do you think?

I'm proud to say I gave this painting its name, which is "Assisi." That's the name of a small city in Italy. Jessica never names her paintings until after they're done, and once she'd finished this one, she didn't know what to call it. In fact, there were about a dozen paintings she wanted to name, so she asked me and our two kids to look at them and write down our suggested names on a sheet of paper. Even though this painting is abstract, it looks sort of like a landscape to me. It reminds me of the the trip Jessica and I took to Italy in 1988. The rolling hills around Assisi were very beautiful, and that's what this painting reminds me of.

That's all for now. Next time: one of my favorite books!

Wed, 11/14/2012

Raking Leaves

Poor Nate. Here he is (in a Sunday page from 2011) raking leaves for his grandparents. I know how he feels. Today was probably the most epic day of leaf-raking I've ever had in my life - an 8:00am to 5:00pm marathon that resulted in 52 bags of leaves lined up in front of my house. I'm exhausted.

Of the three major yard jobs - mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and raking leaves - I'd rank raking as my LEAST favorite. That's probably because the other two jobs take, at most, a couple of hours. If I'd stopped after two hours today, I would have only had 20 or 25% of the work done.

Maybe my dislike for raking goes back to my youth, when it was part of my yard care business. As a teenager, I mowed lawns for 5 different familes (6, counting my own) and then, in the fall, I raked their leaves. I can't emember what I charged, but it wasn't enough. One woman's yard was so large that it took me two full days to rake her leaves. I still remember how many bags I filled: 97.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Nate and his pals, Francis and Teddy, also have a yard care business. What is it called?

This subject reminds me of Big Nate On A Roll, in which Nate, desperate to keep pace with Artur in the race to see who can sell the most "Warm Fuzzies" for their Timber Scout troop, decides to earn money however he can. After dog walking, painting, cleaning, arranging lawn gnomes, and selling his own cartooning creations don't add up to enough cash, he lucks out in a big way. If you've read the book, you remember how! If you HAVEN'T read it, give it a try!

TRIVIA ANSWER: NFT Yard Care. (for Nate, Francis, Teddy). But maybe I should change the name and use the initials from their LAST names: Pope, Ortiz, Wright). POW!Mon, 11/12/2012

Cover Art

Here we are, still three months away from the publication of Book 5 in the Big Nate series, and do you know what I did this evening? I drew the cover of BOOK 6, which won't be published until February of 2014! Now that's planning ahead.

Remember in my last entry, when I mentioned that one of the "extra" jobs I had to do while working on the artwork for Book 5 was to create a "sneak peek" about Book 6? If you've read the other books in the series, you've probably seen the "sneak peeks" I did for Books 3, 4, and 5. And you probably know that at the end of each sneak peek is a small picture of the next book in the series. (In other words, in the sneak peek at the end of Goes For Broke, you see what the cover of Flips Out will look like.) So of course that means that I have to draw each cover way in advance, long before I've even started to write the book.

I can't show you the Book 6 cover yet, but I CAN tell you a little bit about what goes into designing a cover. In this case, I submitted a pencil sketch featuring Nate in a dynamic pose. But I thought, and my friends at Harper Collins agreed, that this design might look too much like the cover of an earlier book. So we decided to consider a few different possibilities for Nate's facial expression. I labeled that first drawing "Option A," and here you see options B through G. When there's a decision like this to be made, many people weigh in with their opinions. There are editors, assistant editors, art directors, salespeople...and then there's me, too. Eventually we reached a decision, and I was given the go-ahead to make the finished cover drawing. Which option do you think was the winner?

Thu, 11/08/2012

Lincoln Returns!

Hi everyone, I'm very happy to be returning to the blogosphere after a hiatus of more than two months. First and foremost, I'd like to thank my beloved editor, Phoebe, the Energizer Bunny of Harper Collins, who guest-blogged for me during that time. It was an enormous help as I worked to finish the drawings for Big Nate Flips Out.  And, as Phoebe told you last week: mission accomplished! The drawings are done.

It's been a busy couple of months. In addition to the Flips Out artwork, I've been keeping up with my comic strip deadlines. For the most part, I devoted my weekdays to the book and my weekends to the strip. There were a few occasions, of course, when I couldn't keep to that schedule - like New York Comic Con, which I attended last month - and there were also a few other jobs to take care of. Some of those jobs, in no particular order, were: writing and drawing the "sneak peek" for Big Nate In The Zone that will appear at the end of Flips Out; drawing the covers for a couple of upcoming compilation books; and drawing large panels that will be part of the 2014 Big Nate wall calendar. (Yes, I did say 2014!)

Each monthly page features a strip selected by the good folks at Andrews McMeel, who will publish the calendar. For each of the twelve strips, I re-drew one of the panels on a much larger scale. The drawing you see here is one of those large-format panels, and it's taken from a strip in which Nate sets out to create a "fight song" for P.S. 38. Do you like the lyrics? (I'm with Chad; I don't think I really know what a spleen is.)

Finally, I'd like to say thanks to Portland's own Casablanca Comics, where I spent a few hours on Saturday, signing books and chatting with Big Nate readers of all ages. Rick and Laura did a wonderful job organizing the event, and I'd like to thank them for inviting me.  

That's all for now. It's good to be back!Mon, 11/05/2012

Happy Halloween, Nate!

Dear Big Nate Fans,
 
You probably think I’m confused.  It’s November 1, not October 31st!  And you might also be wondering why I missed the Monday blog.  We have Storm Sandy to thank for that.  Unfortunately, our offices have been closed for the last three days.  But this doesn’t mean Nate wasn’t able to celebrate Halloween.  And actually, the day AFTER Halloween might even be better than Halloween – because you might have a pillowcase full of Halloween treats.  Here’s what ranks high on Nate’s Trick or Treat favorites:
 
1.       Good n’ Plenty (also happens to be a favorite of Lincoln Peirce, our Big Nate creator
2.       Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (Big Nate Harper team favorite)
3.       Snickers bars (See above)
4.       Black Jelly Beans
5.       Cheez Doodles
6.       NOT RICE CAKES
 
This is a bittersweet day for me but lucky for Big Nate fans.  It gives me great pleasure to inform you that Lincoln is returning to the blog.  You know why!  It’s because he has finished the last chapter of…BIG NATE: FLIPS OUT, coming your way in February 2013!
 
Welcome back, Lincoln!
 
Phoebe the Big Nate Editor
Thu, 11/01/2012