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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Favorite Books and Other Stories

Today’s entry will have to be a shorty, because it’s almost 10:30 at night, tomorrow’s my wife’s birthday, and I still haven’t made a card for her yet!  So I’ll be burning the midnight oil after I finish telling you about a book.

Last time I wrote about Charlotte’s Web, a book I was very familiar with as a child.  But there are plenty of other stories I WASN’T aware of when I was a kid, and only discovered years later when my own children were small.  One of the great things about being a parent is finding out about wonderful books that weren’t around when you were young (like Holes and the Harry Potter books), or books that WERE around, but that you just didn’t happen to read.  This book is one of my very favorites in the latter category.

It’s called A Necklace of Raindrops and Other Stories by Joan Aiken.  We bought this book for our daughter Dana when she was little, and we used to love reading these stories to her at bedtime.  The book was originally published in 1968, but the edition I’m so fond of, with fantastic illustrations throughout by Kevin Hawkes, came out in 2001.  (The illustration shown here is from a story called “The Baker’s Cat.”)  I don’t know Kevin, but I understand he lives in Maine.  I look forward to running into him someday.  What a great artist!

So that’s my book recommendation for the day.  And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a birthday card to make!

Thu, 10/13/2011

Charlotte's Web Tribute

Recently I was among a group of authors and illustrators who were invited to write a few words about a wonderful book:  Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, which will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its publication next year.  I’m still considering exactly what I’m going to say and how I’ll say it...but whatever I write will certainly be admiring, because Charlotte’s Web is a great book and a beautiful story.  I read it many, many times as a child, and I recently read it again.  

This probably won’t surprise you, but part of my affection for Charlotte’s Web is rooted in the illustrations.  I’ve always been a visual sort of person, so when I was a kid and was starting a book, I’d always flip through it first to look at the pictures.  The drawings in Charlotte’s Web were done by a gentleman named Garth Williams (who also illustrated Stuart Little and the Little House On The Prairie books, among dozens of others), and I happen to think that Charlotte’s Web is one of those books where it would be unimaginable to read the story without the illustrations.  They’re just great.  I loved looking at them back then.  I still do.  E.B. White was a great writer, and Garth Williams a great artist.  Thank goodness they found one another.

In particular, I was fascinated by Williams’s drawings of the rat, Templeton.  The drawings of Wilbur — some pig! — are all cute, because WILBUR is cute.  There’s really nothing unlikable about Wilbur, and so the illustrations leave little doubt about how we are SUPPOSED to feel about Wilbur.  But Templeton is a different kettle of fish.  He is in many ways a loathsome character, but is also strangely admirable because he’s so true to himself.  His motives are largely selfish, but the fact remains that Templeton plays a vital role in saving Wilbur’s life.  The miracle of Williams’s drawings is that they succeed, in some mysterious way, in capturing all the facets of Templeton’s personality.  No less miraculous to a kid looking at the pictures for hours on end was that the drawings looked REAL.  I’d seen barn rats before, and Templeton definitely looks like a real barn rat — but one with a very complex personality.

If you’ve never read Charlotte’s Web — or even if you have, many times — go back and look at those drawings again.  Not just the drawings of Templeton, but ALL of them.  I’ll bet you can’t imagine the book without them.  I know I can’t.


Mon, 10/10/2011

Backgrounds

And now for a final word on backgrounds:

I’m showing you a close-up of a part of the background I wrote about last time.  It’s a rack of comic books that appears behind Nate as he’s visiting Gordie at Klassic Komix, the store where Gordie works.  Although it’s probably tough to make out all the details in a drawing like this, I thought it might be interesting for you to see that I try to have fun when I’m filling up some blank spaces with tiny background elements.  In this particular case, I needed to come up with some titles for the comic books I’d be drawing.  Here’s how I thought up those titles.

You can’t quite read ALL of the title in the book on the upper left, but it says “RANDOM.”   This was inspired by the Random Cartoons Shorts Project, which I took part in several years ago.  I mentioned it in a blog entry quite a while ago.  My cartoon was called SUPER JOHN DOE JUNIOR.  You can see part of Junior’s head, and his fists, on the cover.

To the right of that is a book called “WINDY.”  I used that as a title because, while I was working on this drawing and listening to an oldies station on the radio, a song called “Windy,” recorded by a group called The Association, started playing.

Below that, there’s a comic book called “BAD BRUIN”, inspired by my favorite pro hockey team, the Boston Bruins.  When I was a kid and the Bruins were the best team in the NHL, people referred to them as the “big, bad Bruins.”  (Note to hockey fans:  The banner proclaiming the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup Champions will be raised to the rafters at the Boston Garden tonight!)

To the left is something called “DJ COMIX.”  I’ve told you that one of my hobbies is hosting a country music show once a week at my local community radio station, WMPG.  I drew the top half of my head (you can tell it’s me because I’m wearing a beanie-style winter hat, which I wear from November through March), and a speech bubble that contains a few chicken scratches and then the word PLATTERS.  (“Platters” is funky DJ-speak for records.  Of course, not many DJ’s play records anymore, but that’s another story.)

On the bottom left, you can see part of a word ending in “ERATE.”  Frankly, I don’t have the foggiest idea what I was thinking of at the time.

To the right of that is a comic book called “THE VICAR.”  “Vicar” is a common term in Great Britain for a parish priest.  It’s a word I learned when I was a little boy by reading a comic strip called “Andy Capp,” which takes place in Britain.  Over the title banner I wrote “SAINTS PRESERVE US!”

In the lower right hand corner is a comic book called “DOVER BOWL.”  There really was a Dover Bowl; it was a bowling alley in Dover, New Hampshire that I visited frequently as a boy.  (It was tenpin bowling.  Personally, I prefer something we have here in New England called candlepin bowling, which I’ll have to tell you about another time.)  Below the title there’s a speech bubble that reads “GIT OVAH!”, which is what any self-respecting bowler yells at a pin that’s teetering between falling and staying upright.

And finally, behind the rack of comic magazines, I drew a box with a toy PINTO PONY in it.  That’s for my Dana, who loves horses.  That’s all for now!
Thu, 10/06/2011

Klassic Komix

It takes a lot of people to make a book.  My part is to come up with a good story and make all the drawings, but at my publisher, HarperCollins, there are people whose job it is to read a Big Nate book very, very carefully — many, many times! — and point out things that might need tweaking.  Maybe I used the word “up” too many times on one page.  Maybe a sentence needs to be two or three words shorter so that it will fit on the end of page 44 instead of bleeding onto page 45.  

Or maybe I haven’t been consistent with the artwork.  For example:  if Nate’s backpack is white in one drawing and black in another, that’s a problem.  Because there are so many drawings in each book, it’s inevitable that I’ll overlook a few things.  Shoes are a frequent issue.  In book 1, I drew Jenny’s shoes black on some pages and white on others.  That’s why it’s helpful to have other people going over the book so carefully before it’s published.

But there’s one category where I don’t make much of an effort to be consistent:  backgrounds.  I draw a lot of classroom scenes, for example.  But do I try to make sure that Mrs. Godfrey’s classroom looks exactly the same each time I draw it?  Not really, because that wouldn’t necessarily make for a good drawing.  Sometimes I might need to add a bulletin board or a file cabinet next to Mrs. G’s desk to fill up an empty space — but that doesn’t mean that bulletin board or file cabinet will be next to her desk in another drawing.  Most of what I decide to do with a background has to do with how much space is taken up by characters and speech bubbles.

This drawing of Nate and Gordie in Klassic Komix is from page 161 of Big Nate On A Roll.  The background is similar to the one on page 159 of the same book — but it’s not exactly the same.  I added a few more details on the left side that aren’t there on page 159 — a poster that includes the words “OF THE NIGHT” and a box containing a toy pony.  I did that because there was an empty space there, and I wanted to make it more interesting.  I realize I’m not being 100% consistent from drawing to drawing, but it doesn’t bother me at all; and it’s not affecting the story in any way.  Plus, I think there might be some kids out there who enjoy looking for little differences like this from page to page.

Next time:  Klassic Komix...under the microscope!

Mon, 10/03/2011

Background on Backgrounds

The other day, as I was working on a drawing for chapter 1 of Big Nate Goes For Broke, I asked myself:  “Why, oh why did I decide to draw these floor tiles??”  Here’s what I meant:

I keep the artwork in the Big Nate comic strip relatively simple, mostly because of the size of the drawings.  When newspaper comic strips appear in print, they’re very, very small...so it doesn’t make much sense to fill up the backgrounds with a lot of details.  But the Big Nate chapter books are a different matter.  There, I have more room to work with.  The printing and paper quality is very high, which means that I know my drawings will look very crisp and clean.  So it makes sense to devote a lot of time and attention to the artwork in the books — not only because it looks nice, but because it helps make the story more interesting.

You might recognize the drawing shown here.  It’s from page 166 of Big Nate On A Roll, where Nate’s just walked out of Klassic Komix into the larger expanse of the mall.  It took me a long time to draw, because of all the foreground and background details:  people, clothing, shopping bags, patterns, shading, and so on.  But I think all those details are absolutely necessary.  If I hadn’t drawn all those people, how could you tell that the mall was crowded?  If I hadn’t drawn the storefronts in the background, how could you even tell that Nate was in the mall?  A picture of Nate standing along, or with maybe just one other person, would have been quicker to draw.  But it would have been pretty boring.  And since so much of the action in the Big Nate books is told through the artwork, it wouldn’t be very smart of me to make a lot of boring drawings.  So I try to make them as interesting as I can.

But that doesn’t mean I’m always happy about it!  That brings me back to the floor tiles I mentioned earlier.  In the drawing I was working on, Nate and some of his pals are in Mr. Rosa’s art studio.  I thought there was too much blank space at the bottom of the page, so I decided to draw floor tiles.  Well, it ended up being a lot more complicated that I thought it would be!  That’s when I started asking myself  “why, oh why.”  But in the end, I’m glad I added that detail, because it made the drawing better.  More on backgrounds next time!   

Thu, 09/29/2011

WHAM vs DOOF

In the comic strip the other day, Nate (in his role as goalkeeper for the P.S. 38 soccer team) got hit in the face with the ball.  To punctuate this point, I chose to use the word “WHAM” as a sound effect.  Very shortly thereafter, I heard from a couple of readers in the “comments” section at gocomics.com.  Both of them wanted to know:  why didn’t you use “DOOF”?

Apparently, over the years I’ve employed the word “doof” quite a few times when depicting Nate (or another character) getting hit by something or someone.  Well, there’s a reason I use it so frequently:  I like “doof.”  I think it sounds funny, which is always an important consideration in comics.  And it’s also very versatile.  I use it a lot when Nate gets frustrated with Francis and “doofs” him on the head with a notebook or something.  Or, as you can see in this picture, it works very well for occasions like Nate getting hit with a baseball.

So why did I use “WHAM” instead of “DOOF” the other day when Nate got hit with the soccer ball?  Well, I wanted people to recognize that Nate got hit VERY hard, and I think WHAM sounds harder, and more painful, than DOOF.  Other people might disagree — after all, it’s not like there’s a sound effects dictionary out there somewhere, telling cartoonists which words to use in which situations.  For me, it’s just sort of a gut instinct.  I do a drawing first, then decide what word or words might work best as a sound effect.

For example:  If Nate were to get hit lightly by a fleeceball or a nerf ball, I wouldn’t use DOOF, and I certainly wouldn’t use WHAM.  I’d use something like PIFF or DIFF.  By the same token, I’d never use PIFF or DIFF to illustrate Nate running into a wall.  That’s where I’d use WHAM or SMASH or another “louder” word.

I have a couple of other favorites besides DOOF.  I like “NARF” when someone’s chewing in sort of a sloppy manner.  And a lot of times Spitsy ways “WURF” instead of “ARF” or “WOOF”, just because WURF sounds a little bit goofy, and Spitsy’s a goofy dog.  And when Nate is hitting himself gently on the head with an empty plastic bottle (which he does to relieve stress), I like to use “THUNKA THUNKA THUNK.”  Like I said, there’s no sound effects dictionary to follow.  So, if you’re drawing your own comics, and you’re not sure what sound effect to use in a certain situation...just make one up!

Mon, 09/26/2011

Li'l Abner's Sadie Hawkins Dance

Last time, I said I’d tell you what was going in that “Li’l Abner” panel.  Well, here goes (in sort of a roundabout way):

Back when I was in middle school, some friends and I walked into school one morning and saw posters advertising an upcoming dance.  But it wasn’t just ANY dance; it was something called a “Sadie Hawkins” dance.  My friends didn’t know who Sadie Hawkins was or what she had to do with a middle school dance.  But I knew...because I’d read about her in “Li’l Abner.”

In 1937, Li’l Abner’s creator, Al Capp, started a tradition.  He wrote a storyline about an annual event in the backwoods community of Dogpatch, USA:  Sadie Hawkins Day.  Years earlier, a homely hillbilly gal named Sadie Hawkins was having trouble finding a husband.  Her father, afraid that she’d become an “old maid,” gathered all the unmarried men together in the center of town.  He told them that the first one of them that Sadie managed to capture would have to marry her.  Well, Sadie DID catch herself a husband, and Sadie Hawkins Day became a yearly event in Dogpatch — and in “Li’l Abner” — from then on.  Ever since, the name “Sadie Hawkins” has become synonymous with women pursuing men.  A “Sadie Hawkins Dance,” in other words, is one where the girls ask the boys (which, by the way, was somewhat unusual back in the day).

Li’l Abner, to his dismay, was Dogpatch’s most eligible bachelor.  As a simple country boy, Abner was afraid of women — even one as beautiful and charming as Daisy Mae, who’d been hopelessly in love with Abner since they were children.  In the panel I showed you last time, Daisy Mae had just captured Abner on Sadie Hawkins Day — which means they’re destined to get married, right?  Well, not so fast.  On this particular occasion, a misunderstanding drove Daisy Mae away from Dogpatch for awhile, and she and Abner DIDN’T tie the knot.  In fact, Al Capp spent the next 15 years or so finding ways for the two of them NOT to get married...until eventually, in 1952, he  gave in.  Daisy Mae finally got her man.  It’s an indication of just how wildly popular “Li’l Abner” was that Abner & Daisy Mae appeared on the cover of “Life” magazine to celebrate their wedding.  Remember, there were no computers, kindles, iPhones, etc. back then.  And there were very few television sets.  Newspaper comic strips were much more a part of people’s everyday routines than they are today.  And that’s the end of the history lesson.

Big Nate Goes For Broke update:  I’ve started the final drawings, and am plugging away on chapter 1.  Today I’ve done drawings that include Nate, Francis, Teddy, Chad, Artur, Coach John, and Mr. Rosa.
Thu, 09/22/2011

Memories of Li'l Abner

My memory's always been very good for useless things like song lyrics, sports trivia, etc. But it fails me when it comes to remembering more important things -- like real conversations with real people. Here's what I mean: recently I had a conversation about Big Nate books. I can remember what the conversation was about. But I can't remember where I was, or with whom I was speaking. How embarrassing.
 
But anyway...in this conversation, I was asked if I'd ever thought of doing Big Nate picture books -- books for very young children, in other words. The person suggested that maybe I could create a younger version of Nate, like a toddler Nate perhaps, who could have a whole separate set of adventures from the Big Nate you're familiar with. I replied, "sort of like 'Li'l Archie!" Li'l Archie, in case you don't know, is the little kid version of Archie Andrews, perennial Riverdale High School student and star of "Archie" comics. (Comics trivia: Archie first appeared in "Pep" comics way back in 1941!)
 
The "li'l" in front of Archie's name got me thinking of my very favorite comic employing that name: "Li'l Abner," by Al Capp, one of the all-time great comic strips. Li'l Abner, the title character, was a good-natured but dim-witted hillbilly who lived in a backwoods community called Dogpatch, USA. When I was a kid, "Li'l Abner" was still around; I read it every day in the Boston Globe. But that was the early 1970's, when the strip was on its last legs. The picture shown here comes from a very early strip from 1937. What's going on in the picture? You'll have to wait until next time to find out!
 
 
Mon, 09/19/2011

Marvelous Massachusetts (Last Stop on the Big Nate Tour)

Here's the final word on my just-concluded book tour for Big Nate On A Roll, which came to an end yesterday in South Hadley, Massachusetts at Odyssey Bookshop.  More on that in a moment.

Granite Valley Middle School in Monson wins the prize for creating the best, brightest, and most welcoming banners I’ve seen on my tour.  The sixth graders created posters and banners featuring their drawings of Big Nate, their own artwork, references to some of my favorite things (like the Red Sox and ice hockey!), and so on.  Deborah Nevill, who teaches language arts, is starting her students off this year with a lesson on comics and storytelling, so my visit fit right in.  Where were teachers like Mrs. Nevill back when I was in school?  Needless to say, nobody was encouraging us students to draw comics back then!

I met with three different groups of sixth graders, all of whom were happy to share their knowledge about comics with me.  Charlie, Allie, and Bryson were my three helpers, and all of them were great sports when I made it look as though they were channeling Sarge (of “Beetle Bailey” fame) and using some questionable language.  Other kids jumped in with a lot of great suggestions during our drawing activities...so thanks to Allison, Rachelle, Henry, Jared (despite his NY Yankees t-shirt), Holly, John, and Ashley.  You guys were a lot of fun.  Have a great school year!

Then it was on to Mosier Elementary School in South Hadley.  The final presentations of my tour were also the largest.  I spoke to two groups — 3rd and 4th graders — and each group was about 120 kids.  And, unfortunately, we didn’t have all that much time per session.  But the kids were very well behaved, and we made the most of the time we had.  With groups that large, of course, I had to use the school’s “Elmo” (document camera) and a wireless microphone so the kids could hear what I was saying.  They rose to the occasion, and I’d like to thank Arianna and Jake, my two helpers, along with Nick and Genevieve (clearly a couple of cartooning experts!) and Jason.

Later, at Odyssey Bookshop, which is every bit as cozy and inviting as a bookstore should be, I spoke to about a dozen kids about Big Nate’s early days, played a couple of drawing games, and drew pictures of Nate, Mrs. Godfrey, Randy Betancourt, Spitsy, and the very first character I ever invented myself, Super Jimmy.  Afterwards, I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Markey, who writes the Super Sluggers books for Harper Collins and lives in the area.  Great meeting you, Kevin.  Let’s hope the Red Sox can right the ship soon.

A huge thank you to the staff of Odyssey — Emily, Sydney, and Marika — for their help, and also to my beloved editor, Phoebe, who was my traveling companion during yesterday’s tour stops.  I’m going to take a few days off from blogging, then return to my regular schedule:  I’ll blog on Sunday and Wednesday nights, and the entries will be posted on Mondays and Thursdays.  Next entry will appear on Monday, September 19th.  By then I’ll be knee-deep in the drawings for Big Nate Goes For Broke.  All for now!
Tue, 09/13/2011

Day 10--Beautiful Boston

You're reading this on Monday, but I'm writing it on Saturday night, after a busy couple of days in and around one of my favorite cities, Boston, Massachusetts.
 
When the day began on Friday, I was still in Memphis, Tennessee.  I flew from there to Boston, and then went straight from the airport to Hardy Elementary School in Wellesley.  Lisa Rogers, the Library Teacher, greeted me with iced tea and chocolate cookies!  Talk about a warm welcome.  Then I spoke to about 60 fourth graders about Big Nate, cartooning, and whether or not Nate Wright and Greg Heffley will ever meet.  Katie was my helper during my demonstration, and there were several kids in the room I'd describe as Big Nate authorities, including Nicholas and Matthew.  Thanks, everyone, and I look forward to coming back to Hardy on another day when I can spend a bit more time at your fantastic school.
 
An hour later, I spoke at the Wellesley Free Library, and this event was a particularly memorable one.  Why?  Because it was attended by the largest group that's ever come to a Big Nate event:  160 people!  I enjoyed every minute of it, and I hope the kids and parents felt the same.  (There was one part of my talk that I KNOW the parents appreciated, and that's when I reminded the kids to practice their handwriting.  Messy handwriting and comics don't mix.)  I'd like to give a special thank you to Allison Hoch from Wellesley Books for all her hard work; I'm sure the large crowd was due in large part to her efforts.  And thanks also to the Wellesley Free Library for hosting the event.  I was still signing books when they closed at 6:00 pm!
 
Today there were no schools to visit, of course, but I did drop in on the Barnes & Noble in Burlington.  Dee Mandolese, who coordinated the event, is a force of nature.  This particular store is the 4th largest Barnes & Noble in the country, and even on a beautiful day like today, it was very crowded.  A happy group of Big Nate readers joined me on the second floor, one of whom is actually part of BIG NATE ON A ROLL.  To be more specific, he's on the back cover.  His name's Christian, and I heard about him from my editor at Harper Collins.  He read the first BN book 57 times, and so I included his blurb in my "Big Raves For Big Nate" drawing on the back.  Christian didn't realize until today that he was part of the book; when he found out, he was excited -- to say the least!
 
As you read this on Monday, I'll be at a couple of schools in central Massachusetts for the final day of my tour.  Then it's back to Portland, Maine -- home, sweet home!
Mon, 09/12/2011