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.

Sign up for the Big Nate newsletter!

Chain Face Toy

A couple of months ago, I devoted two blog entries to writing about some of the details I add to the backgrounds of the drawings in the Big Nate books.  I do this mostly because I think it makes the drawings more interesting to look at.  But there’s another factor:  adding these sorts of details helps ME stay interested in what I’m drawing.  

Here’s an example.   You’re looking at what I call a “chain face” toy.  Have you ever played with one?  It’s a small disc on which appears a simple drawing of a person seen in profile.  But part of the drawing — from about the eyebrows to the chin — is missing.  In its place is a tiny chain attached to the drawing.  When you wiggle the disc, the chain changes shape, creating outrageously unlikely profiles.  

Why am I telling you about an obscure toy I bought many years ago for 25 cents?  Because recently I was working on a drawing for Big Nate Goes For Broke.  The drawing shows a new character walking into Mr. Rosa’s art studio at P.S. 38, carrying a tote bag.   I thought that tote bag looked a little dull, and I decided to draw something on it.  But what?  I didn’t want to just make a pattern; I wanted to add something that would be fun to draw.  Well, I did what I usually do when I’m stumped:  I looked around my office.  I noticed my little chain face toy, and that was that.  It went onto the tote bag.

The chain face drawing has absolutely nothing to do with the story, and it only appears one time in the book.  You could certainly argue that the book would be just as good without it.  But I disagree.  I think all those little details add up.  As a kid, I enjoyed looking at the illustrations in my favorite books again and again, because oftentimes, with each viewing, I’d see something I hadn’t noticed before.  That’s part of the fun.  And that’s all I have time for today!

Mon, 11/21/2011

Sherlock Nate

It doesn’t happen very often, but there are times that I’ll meet someone who confuses Big Nate with Nate the Great.  It’s completely understandable.   Both are kid characters.  Both star in their own book series.  They share the same name.  And, as this drawing clearly shows, MY Nate has occasionally donned the Sherlock Holmes costume associated with the OTHER Nate.
Wondering how and why that happened?  Here’s the story:

Once in this blog, I told you about a character I created years ago named Spang.  He starred in a pilot I wrote for Cartoon Network called Spang Ho! that never got turned into a TV show.  But I don’t think I told you something else about Spang:  in the first version of the story, he was a brainy yet dorky kid detective named Myron, P.I.  (P.I. stands for “private investigator,” by the way.)  Myron wore a Sherlock Holmes hat and cape and “smoked” a soap bubble pipe.  And, if I do say so myself, he was very funny.  He remains one of my personal favorites.

I changed Myron to Spang because Cartoon Network was not interested in a show about a 10 year-old private investigator.  But I remained very keen on the idea of a funny kid detective.  Then a few years ago, it occurred to me that I could turn Nate into a detective in the comic strip. I wrote a storyline in which Francis’s book fair money disappears from his locker.  Nate decides to solve the case — which means he has to dress the part, in Sherlock Holmes gear and smoking a bubble pipe, just like Myron.  As you might expect, the case gets solved DESPITE Nate, not because of him.  I had an absolute blast with the storyline and brought “Sherlock Nate” back again earlier this year to solve the mysterious case of Nate’s own missing “lucky socks.”

So that’s probably why folks might sometimes confuse Big Nate with Nate the Great.  And it’s also why I’ll never write an entire chapter book about Nate’s detective adventures — I just think it would create MORE confusion.  But as long as I confine Nate’s crime-solving to an occasional appearance in the comic strip, I trust that readers will be able to keep them straight.  Case closed!

Thu, 11/17/2011

Nice to Meet You, Artur!

I’m back in Maine after a short but very enjoyable visit to Kansas City, where Andrews McMeel Publishing is located.  While there, I was given a couple advance copies of Big Nate and Friends, their newest compilation that goes on sale next month.  This collection isn’t chronological like the earlier ones; instead, it features strips chosen specifically because they deal with the subject of friendship (or lack thereof).  That means that some of the strips included are quite old — going back all the way to 1997 in some cases!

As I flipped through the book, I realized I was reading some of these strips for the first time in many, many years.  As you might expect, and as I’ve written about before, the appearance of each character changes over time.  On page 105, I came upon the very first appearance of Artur.  This drawing is the first panel of the strip dated May 7th, 2001.  Here’s how the strip reads in its entirety:

Mr. Rosa:  Everyone, this is Artur.  He’s just moved to this country and wants to join our chess team!
Nate:  Hey, Artur!  I’m Nate!  I’m our team’s number one player!  I’d be happy to take you under my wing, show you a few moves, that sort of thing!
Artur:  Hello.
Mr. Rosa:  Artur was the boys’ age-group chess champion of Belarus!
Nate:  Belarus?
Artur:  Very small country.  Barely eleven million.

Since his debut, Artur has changed a bit.  His hair was messier back then, and his nose was a little pointier.  Also, since then I’ve gradually made his head slightly longer, and I’ve reduced his eyes to simple dots (in this drawing, they’re taller than they are wide).  But one thing HASN’T changed:  as you can see, Nate and Artur were set up to be rivals from the very start.

MORE ARTUR INFO:  While I was writing the final chapter of Big Nate On A Roll, I came to the part where the scoutmaster announces the winner(s) of the fund-raising grand prize.  It occurred to me that, at such a moment, the scoutmaster would use full names...and I’d never given Artur a last name during the past ten years!  I jumped on my computer to investigate some Belarusian surnames, and came up with Pashkov. So now you know!

Mon, 11/14/2011

Soccer Star from the Past

At the risk of completely embarrassing myself, I’ve raided my files again and hauled out yet another drawing from my past.  I’d completely forgotten this, but it turns out that I contributed several drawings to my 8th grade yearbook.  At the time, I had two very different drawing “styles.”  There were drawings I tried to make look real (I did a drawing of a hockey goalie for the yearbook that’s not half bad), and then there were drawings like this one, done in a simple, cartoony style.  Since this is a very typical example of the way I drew back then, I thought I’d provide a few more details about this particular drawing.
  • BEST UNIFORM EVER – He’s a soccer player (obviously), and he’s wearing the uniform my middle school team wore:  blue socks, blue shorts, and a jersey with blue and white stripes.  We were the only team around with striped jerseys, and we thought they were absolutely awesome.  On the front of the jersey, if you look carefully, you can see the letters ORYA:  Oyster River Youth Association.
  • STYLISH FOOTWEAR – As a young kid, I never thought too much about sneakers.  I just wore whatever my parents bought me, or that my brother had outgrown.  But in 4th grade, a kid who became one of my closest friends, Marco Restani, moved to town — from GERMANY, which to the rest of us townies seemed pretty exotic.  We all agreed right away that Marco was cool, which meant that everybody started trying to act like Marco...and that included wearing the same kind of sneakers he wore, which were Adidas.  Not only did I start begging my parents for Adidas sneakers, but whenever I drew a sports cartoon like this one, I’d draw the character wearing Adidas.
  • HE HAS NO FOREHEAD – None of the people I drew back then had foreheads.  It was a phase I went through.
  • HE HAS AN ENORMOUS NOSE – What can I say?  I’ve always liked drawing big-nosed people.
  • IT’S A SLOPPY DRAWING – I’m always surprised to see how careless my drawing was when I look at old artwork.  For that same reason, I don’t really like looking at BIG NATE strips from the 1990’s, because I think they look messy and poorly drawn.

BLOG NOTE:  This will be my only entry this week, because I’m leaving Wednesday morning for Kansas City to visit my friends at Universal Uclick, the company that publishes BIG NATE (the comic strip).

BOOK NOTE:  Several new BIG NATE books are just around the corner:  BIG NATE AND FRIENDS, a collection of strips chosen specifically because they feature Nate and his pals; BIG NATE GOES FOR BROKE, book #4 in the chapter book series, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?, a collection of recent Big Nate strips, and BIG NATE FUN BLASTER, another fun activity book.

That’s all for this time.  See you next week!
Tue, 11/08/2011

What a mess!

Hi everyone, and sorry for being a day late with this entry.  I usually blog on Wednesday nights, and the entries show up at bignatebooks.com on Thursday.  But I just wasn’t able to fit it in the other night.  Better one day late than never!

I’ve been working on the drawings for Chapter 4 of Big Nate Goes For Broke and, although I’m not prepared yet to give you a sneak peek of any finished art, I can show you a rough drawing from that chapter — VERY rough!  (As you can see, I’m changing the dialogue in Nate’s thought bubble from “What a MESS I got myself into!” to the simpler, more straightforward “WHAT A MESS!”  Now, can you play detective and try to figure out what might be happening in this chapter?

Granted, there aren’t a lot of details in this drawing...but that doesn’t mean there are no clues!  The biggest clue is the background:  it’s dark outside.  But Nate is wearing his backpack.  We know he wouldn’t be walking to school at night — not for classes, anyway.  So where’s he going?  And if he’s not going to class, what’s in his backpack?  And then of course there’s the biggest question:  exactly what kind of mess did Nate get himself into this time?  Whatever it is, he’s definitely not very happy about it.

Way back when I got the idea for BN Goes For Broke, I told you that the story would take place in the wintertime, and that I was looking forward to making some snowy drawings.  I was right — it IS fun to draw winter scenes.  But here’s another question for you to ponder:  if this story takes place during the winter, why do you think I’ve spent a lot of time this week making drawings of tropical fruit???

You’ll know the answer when you see chapter 4 of Big Nate Goes For Broke!

Fri, 11/04/2011

Halloween Big Nate Style

If you’ve been reading the comic strip the last few days, you know that Nate dressed up as a lawn gnome for Halloween this year.  (Obviously I must have been inspired by the Lawn Gnomes chapter in Big Nate On A Roll!)  Usually I don’t put too much emphasis on Nate’s Halloween costume each October, because I’m usually concentrating on what has become an annual gag in the strip:  the incredibly lame items that Nate’s Dad hands out to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.  This year, he tried homemade Rice Krispy treats — using real rice.  

Pop quiz time:  Which of the following has Nate’s Dad NEVER handed out on Halloween?
  1. Zesty ranch soy nuts
  2. Rice cakes
  3. sugar-free fruit roll-ups
  4. egg salad sandwiches
  5. dried apricot trail mix

Anyway, back to the subject of Nate’s Halloween costumes.  Obviously, in the picture shown here, Nate’s dressed as Dracula.  This strip is from 2005.  Off the top of my head, I can remember some other costumes from years past.  Nate has been:  a mummy, a cheez doodle, a wizard (although he looked more like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments), his Dad, and a devil.  

Kids nowadays seem to put more thought into their Halloween costumes than we did 40 years ago — more than I did, anyway.  Just about every year that I can remember, I’d dress up as a hobo.  It was a simple costume that required almost no planning whatsoever.  I’d find some old clothes and a hat, throw on one of my Dad’s worn-out jackets, draw whiskers on my face with a felt-tip pen, and that was that.  

Quiz answer:  4

Incidentally, we always make sure to hand out good candy at our house.  This year it’s Reese’s peanut butter cups, peanut M&M’s, Snickers bars, Kit Kats, Butterfingers, and Milk Duds.  Happy Halloween, everyone!
Mon, 10/31/2011

Girl Trouble

Several years ago, when my friend Jeff Kinney’s first Diary Of A Wimpy Kid book was just starting to take off, I went to a presentation he did here in Maine at the Portland Public Library.  He was showing the audience some of the illustrations from the book, and mentioned that Greg Heffley’s drawings of girls all look very similar, whereas his drawings of boys have many more differences.  He explained that this mirrors Greg’s pre-adolescent worldview, in which girls don’t quite register as individuals.  One is nearly indistinguishable from the next.

I understood just what Jeff meant.  When I was a kid, I almost NEVER drew girls.  As a result, when I DID try to draw them, I couldn’t do it very well.  That problem persisted for many years, even long after I’d started drawing comics professionally.  I’ve improved, thank goodness, but the fact is that in many cases — especially when you’re drawing kids like Nate and his classmates — the only major differences between girl characters and boy characters are their clothing and their hair.  I’ve always had trouble drawing girls’ hair.

About twenty years ago, when Nate’s sister Ellen looked like the drawing on the left, I showed a bunch of Big Nate strips to a friend who’d never read the strip before.  As he breezed through them, he asked questions about the characters, and I explained who each of them was.  Then he asked:  “Who’s this guy in the coonskin cap?”  He was pointing at a picture of Ellen!  That was a somewhat humbling way to find out that I obviously hadn’t done a very good job of drawing Ellen’s hair.  But I didn’t change it right away.  I thought it would seem odd if, all of a sudden, Ellen had a different hairstyle.  I just kept doing the strip and gradually, as my drawing skills got better, Ellen’s overall look evolved.  I’m still not crazy about drawing girls’ hair, but at least these days Ellen (in the drawing on the right) looks more like a teenage girl and less like a guy in a coonskin cap!

Thu, 10/27/2011

Showdown

About a year ago, I received a very nice letter from a woman named Theresa Deckebach, who teaches at Shady Grove Elementary School in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Quite a few of her students had recently become Big Nate fans, and — once they found out that BN is a comic strip as well as a book series — wanted to know how they could get Big Nate in their local paper, the Philadlephia Inquirer.  Ms. Deckebach encouraged them to write letters to the newspaper, and it turned into sort of a school project.  She was kind enough to send me copies of some of those letters, and needless to say, I really appreciated those kids advocating on Big Nate’s behalf.

Well, those kids from Shady Grove Elementary (along with their friends at Wissahickon Middle School) are a little bit closer to their goal.  Recently the Inquirer started a contest they’re calling the Inquirer Comics Showdown, in which readers are encouraged to call the newspaper to vote for strips that are being considered for inclusion on the Inquirer’s comics page.  I’m not sure how many strips were in the running to begin with, but after three rounds, they’ve come up with three top vote-getters...and Big Nate is one of them!  

I was in Philadelphia this weekend for a family wedding, and so I was able to see the Inquirer for myself.  They ran Sunday’s Big Nate strip (in which Nate was selecting a pumpkin) alongside the two other finalists:  The Argyle Sweater by Scott Hilburn and Pooch Café by Paul Gilligan.  Of course, I’m hoping Big Nate wins the Showdown, but readers of the Inquirer will enjoy whatever strip comes out on top.

Want to get involved?  Call the number you see here (215-854-2202) and follow the prompts.  All you have to do is push a button to cast your vote.  I’ll keep you posted!

Mon, 10/24/2011

Warm Fuzzies Inspiration

Just a quick entry today to follow up on what I wrote about last time:  the iron-on patches that inspired the “Warm Fuzzies” in Big Nate On A Roll.  This is just a small selection.  A typical comic book contained dozens of patches to choose from.  And what a bargain:  the ad for these patches specifies that they cost $1.00 each, or 4 for $5.00.

As I said before, this was the 1970’s, so there was an emphasis on peace signs, love, and flower power.  Also on display in this picture are patches featuring a couple of cartoon characters:  the Road Runner and the Pink Panther.  Both were stars of Saturday morning cartoon shows back then.

Sorry today’s entry is so short, but I’m getting ready to go to Philadelphia for a family wedding.  I still have some packing to do.  So I’ll catch up with you next week!

Thu, 10/20/2011

Warm Fuzzies

If you’ve read Big Nate On A Roll, you’ll recognize this drawing:  it’s a picture of the “Warm Fuzzies” that Nate and his fellow Timber Scouts have to sell as a fund-raiser.  I think I wrote about this way back when I drew it.  I dropped a few hints about some of the things included in the drawing, and I probably mentioned that it took me a long time to finish.  

When I was writing the story for On A Roll and I realized that part of the plot would involve Nate trying to sell some sort of cheesy product, I turned to two sources of inspiration.  One was a fundraiser I was a part of as a kid.  I can’t remember what I was raising money for, but I remember very well what I was trying to sell:  ugly wall hangings.  But they were the sort of wall hangings that would have been really difficult to draw for the book.  Most of them (as I remember them, anyway) were much too detailed for me to do them justice:  pictures of fawns drinking from a pool of water, or waterfalls, or sunrises...that sort of thing.  So I had a bit of a dilemma:  what kind of pictures should I draw for the “Warm Fuzzies?”  That’s where my second source of inspiration came in:  iron-on patches.

Just about every comic book I read as a kid contained ads for iron-on patches.  I’m not sure if they’re around anymore, but back then they were quite the rage.  You’d send a couple of bucks to a post office box somewhere in New Jersey, and you’d get back a bunch of patches which your mom would then iron on to your jeans, your jacket, whatever.  It was the seventies, so some of the patches were pretty groovy:  Keep On Truckin’, Flower Power, Peace, stuff like that.  The images were quite simple and bold, just what I thought a “Warm Fuzzy” should look like.  But all those seventies images wouldn’t make sense in a Big Nate story.   Plus,  I didn’t want to just copy images from an advertisement and pretend I’d thought of them myself; that wouldn’t be right.  Instead, I created my own pictures and slogans after spending some time looking over the ads for inspiration.  My goal was to make the sort of images that certain people might think were cute, but that OTHER certain people (like Nate, for instance) would find incredibly lame.  How’d I do?

Next time, if I remember, I’ll show you a picture of some of the iron-on patches behind Nate’s “Warm Fuzzies”!

Mon, 10/17/2011