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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Think like a cartoonist!

Do you know who Rube Goldberg was?  He was a cartoonist, as well as an author, inventor, sculptor, and probably many other things I’m neglecting to mention.  He is perhaps best known today for a series of cartoons he drew (almost a hundred years ago!) that depicted hilariously complex gadgets built to perform very simple tasks.  These gadgets came to be known as Rube Goldberg machines.  They aren’t high-tech machines like computers or ipads.  They typically involve a great many moving parts such as ramps, levers, springs, catapults, and so on.

Our son Elias and his friend Lukas built a Rube Goldberg machine in our basement recently.  It was their senior project — essentially the last school-related activity they completed before graduating from high school.  After constructing the machine and filming it in action, they then composed a piece of music to accompany the video.  The end result of the machine’s operation is that a dart gets thrown into a dartboard.  

When you click on the link below, you’ll see three things:  the video (at one-half speed) with music; the machine operating in real time; and a smoke ring cannon the boys built with a balloon and a McDonald’s Flurry cup.  (That last part doesn’t have anything to do with the machine; it was just something they did for fun.)

Elias has no plans to become a cartoonist, but he’s THINKING like a cartoonist — Rube Goldberg!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QVcv0orDng
Mon, 06/13/2011

Radio Radio

If you’ve seen the “sneak peek” in the back of Big Nate Boredom Buster giving you a few hints about the upcoming Big Nate On A Roll, you know that part of the story revolves around a fund-raiser.  You have to do a lot of that when you’re a kid — for your school, your team, your scout troop, your marching band, and so on.  Well, my days as a kid are long since over, but guess what?  The fund-raising never stops!  As an adult, you continue to participate in money-raising efforts for institutions you care about.  One of the ones I care about is the radio station where I volunteer.

We have on-the-air fundraising drives from time to time (we call them Begathons), which means we ask people who listen to the station to call us and pledge money to help us meet our expenses.  But you can’t ask people to give YOU something without giving THEM something in return.  So we always make sure we have t-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, etc. emblazoned with the station’s logo.  For each Begathon, we come up with a different theme; so for each Begathon, we need a different piece of artwork.  I’ve drawn a few of them over the years, and this is my favorite:  the theme was “Radio With Muscle.”

As my drawing style has changed during the years I’ve done Big Nate, it’s also changed the way I approach these Begathon drawings.  Years ago I enjoyed doing very complex, dense designs with a lot of detail.  But as I get older, I find that I like things simpler.  And the radio station has learned that people who are getting tote bags, coffee mugs and t-shirts also prefer a simpler, more cartoony look.  This drawing of a radio lifting a barbell, with the FM frequencies of the radio station on either side, is nice and simple.  And it looks good on a refrigerator magnet.

I tried to return to this theme recently when I submitted a cover idea for the next Big Nate activity book, Big Nate Fun Blaster.  Nate was hoisting a barbell over his head -- one-handed, no less!  But ultimately we decided on a different design.  Nate’s still holding something, but it’s not as heavy.  And that’s all you’re going to get out of me!

Thu, 06/09/2011

Comics at the Movies

A new big-budget superhero movie seems to come out just about every week.  We’ve already had “Thor” this spring, and recently I’ve seen commercials for the new X-Men movie, a Captain America movie, and a Green Lantern movie.  I guess the folks in charge of making movies must have been comic book fans when they were kids, just like I was.

Newspaper comic strips were my very favorite, of course, but I read my share of comic books, too.  The problem was buying them.  A single issue of “Spiderman” or “Batman” every now and then didn’t cost much...but the more of them you read, the more you wanted to buy.  That’s when they started adding up.  Having a really good collection of comic books would have cost more money than I had back then — even with the money I was earning from my thriving lawnmowing business!

Then, in the mid-1970’s, a company called Pocket Books did something great:  they started packaging classic comic books together and releasing them as paperbacks.  You’d get six entire issues of a particular series (like “The Fantastic Four,” pictured here) for only $1.95.  So they were affordable, but that wasn’t even the best part.  What was REALLY great was that the Pocket Books editions started at the very beginning — at Issue #1 of a particular comic book series.  I started reading Fantastic Four comic books in about 1975, but by then, they’d been going strong for almost fifteen years.  Issue #1 of the Fantastic Four came out two years before I was even born!  So the Pocket Books offered a great chance to go back in time and learn exactly how Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch, and the Invisible Girl got their unique super powers in the first place.  And as you can tell from the beat-up cover, I read this book many, many times.

Big Nate’s a comics fan, too, obviously, but back when I started the comic strip I didn’t want to make him a fan of an actual comic book series, like Superman, X-men, etc. You have to be careful about mentioning in your own comic strip a creation that belongs to somebody else.  So I invented a superheroine called “Femme Fatality.”  Nate not only enjoys her adventures, he has sort of a crush on her, too.  I got the idea back when I was teaching high school, and had a comics-crazy student with a big crush on a fictional character called Red Sojna.

I’m focusing on the superhero stuff, but I read lots of other comic books, too:  Archie & Jughead, Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Tintin... And that reminds me:  there’s going to be a Tintin movie coming out soon, too!

Mon, 06/06/2011

Poetry Slam

Because I wanted to tell you all about the Reuben Awards right away, I delayed blogging about something that happened last Thursday, the night before I left for the weekend in Boston.  Here’s an account of my evening as a judge at the second annual Longfellow Elementary School Poetry Slam.

Longfellow is the school my own kids attended when they were younger; but back then they didn’t have a Poetry Slam.  So this was an entirely new experience for me.  I’d never been to any kind of poetry slam.  Here’s how it worked:

All the kids in the fifth grade participated.  They had spent many weeks forming teams and working on their poems.  In the first round, twelve teams (each consisting of 4 or 5 kids) took turns on stage, and each team recited its poem as a group.  Sometimes that meant they took turns speaking; other times they spoke in unison.  The poems were about all sorts of subjects:  math, siblings, arguments, summer, and so on.  The poems were great, and the kids were very expressive.

The difficult part, as you might expect, was the judging.  There were five judges, and we had to give each poem a score from zero to ten (including decimal points).  We had to take into account how well the kids knew their poems, how expressive and confident they sounded, what their body language was like, etc.  We whittled the first twelve teams down to six, and then those six recited a second poem.  It was very, very difficult to decide on a winner, but after tallying up all the scores, a team called the C.H.E.M. SLAMMERS took home the grand prize.  And guess what their winning poem was about:  CHOCOLATE!

That’s all for this time.  Has summer vacation started for any of you yet??  

Thu, 06/02/2011

Reuben Awards Banquet

ALL HAIL KING RICHARD!  That’s what everyone was saying in Boston this weekend at the annual Reuben Awards Banquet, after Richard Thompson won “cartooning’s Oscar” as the Cartoonist of the Year.  Richard is the creator of the wonderful comic strip “Cul de Sac” and also “Richard’s Poor Almanack” for the Washington Post.  I have long admired his work — as has everyone else who gathered in Boston this weekend — and it was a real treat to be there in person to see Richard collect his Reuben trophy.  Congratulations, Richard!  Thanks to Michael Cavna of the Post, here’s more about the weekend and some of the winners in the various division categories:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/comic-riffs/post/this-just-in-cul-de-sacs-richard-thompson-wins-the-reuben-award/2011/05/28/AGlParDH_blog.html

I had a great time in Boston, and not only because of Richard’s much-anticipated victory.  It was also a chance for me to meet some cartoonists in person for the first time — people whose work I’ve read and enjoyed for many years — and get re-acquainted with others that I hadn’t seen in quite awhile.  In the former category were the likes of Stephan Pastis (“Pearls Before Swine”), Mark Tatulli (“Lio” and “Heart of the City”), Lynn Johnston (“For Better Or For Worse”), the wonderful Mike Peters (“Mother Goose and Grimm” and award-winning editorial cartoons) and Jef Mallett (“Frazz”).  In the latter category were friends like Jim Meddick (“Monty”), Mo Willems (the “Knuffle Bunny” books among many others), Wiley Miller (“Non Sequiter”), and Hilary Price (“Rhymes With Orange”).

On both Friday and Saturday, there were presentations given by Bill Griffith (“Zippy the Pinhead”), illustrator R.O. Blechman, and my friend Jeff Kinney of “Wimpy Kid” fame.  Jeff’s talk was great, and I heard many who’d attended say that it was the best talk they’d seen in many years of Reubens events.  As part of his talk, Jeff spoke about writing to several cartoonists back when he was a college student, and he showed a page from one of the letters I wrote him all those years ago.  It was very kind of Jeff to go out of his way to mention that I was one of the people who offered him encouragement when he was just starting out.

But as much as I enjoyed myself, it’s good to be back home in Maine.  I fell behind in my work a little bit over the past three days, so I’ve got some catching up to do.  Big Nate On A Roll update:  The third book in the Big Nate series goes on sale August 16th, and you can pre-order it now at your favorite bookstore or online.  Big Nate Goes For Broke update:  I’ve written the first three chapters.  My goal is to have at least six chapters done by the end of June, ten chapters completed by the end of July, and be done writing by mid-August.  I’ll start in on chapter 4 on Wednesday, after I get caught up with the comic strip today and tomorrow.

And finally:  beginning on Wednesday, June 1st, you’ll notice a difference when you read Big Nate comics online.  The website comics.com is merging with gocomics.com, and the result will be the biggest and best collection of comics on the web.  The Big Nate homepage will be updated, but otherwise everything will remain the same:  Nate will still be having fun and getting in trouble — but usually not at the same time!
Tue, 05/31/2011

The Reubens

Why is Nate so dressed up?  Maybe, like me, he’s going to be attending the Reuben Awards Banquet in Boston this weekend!

What are the Reubens?  They’re sort of like the Academy Awards of the cartooning world.  Once a year, the National Cartoonist Society holds a weekend celebration to honor the accomplishments of some of its members.  Awards are handed out in several different categories, including editorial cartooning, comic strips, animation, graphic novels, book illustration, greeting card illustration, magazine cartoons, and so on.  And the Reuben award, for “cartoonist of the year”, is the high point of the event.  Richard Thompson, who draws the great comic strip “Cul de Sac,” is one of the nominees for the Reuben this year.  There are also talks and seminars featuring different cartoonists throughout the weekend.  Jeff Kinney, of “Wimpy Kid” fame, will be one of the featured speakers this year.

So what does this have to do with getting dressed up?  Well, the Reuben Awards Banquet is a black-tie event, which means that everyone who attends must wear formal attire.  For the women, that means fancy dresses, and for the men, it means tuxedos.  I counted, and I’ve worn a tuxedo five times in my life:  at my high school prom (where I wore a hideous tan tux), at my brother’s wedding, at a formal dance before my college graduation, at my own wedding, and at the 1996 Reuben Awards.  I’ve never been a huge fan of getting dressed up, but it can be kind of fun to do on rare occasions.  I’m looking forward to the Reubens, and I’ll tell you all about the weekend in my next entry!

Incidentally, here’s why Nate’s dressed up in this drawing:  it’s part of a storyline in which Nate is somehow elected class president.  And on school picture day, he wears a suit and tie because he thinks it makes him look more presidential.

Thu, 05/26/2011

Mr. Rosa

Hi, everyone.  If I were a tech-savvy person, I would have taken some cell phone photos earlier today of the Maine Comic Arts Festival, uploaded them to my computer, and posted them on this blog.  But I’m not tech-savvy, as I’ve probably told you before.  So it will have to be enough for me to tell you that it was a great event, very well attended, and a lot of fun.  My table, where I was selling Big Nate books of all kinds, was right next to a table shared by two cartoonist friends of mine, John Klossner and Mike Lynch.  I met a lot of VERY nice people, and signed books for a lot of VERY nice kids.  All in all, a great day.  Many thanks to Rick Lowell and Casablanca Comics for a successful festival.  Thanks also to Kirby, Steve, Laura, and the rest of the event staff for keeping everything running so smoothly.

And now to switch gears:  The picture shown here is the first time Nate’s art teacher, Mr. Rosa, appeared in the comic strip.  Even though my drawing style has changed and improved, as I’ve written about in past entries, there’s a lot about Mr. Rosa that’s remained the same over the past twenty years.  He still has a mustache and oversized, oval-shaped glasses.  He still wears the same plaid shirt.  And he’s still frequently puzzled or exasperated by Nate’s behavior...AND Nate’s artwork!

I’ve always been fond of Mr. Rosa, probably because in many ways he’s the character I identify with most.  Like him, I was an art teacher.  Like him, I sometimes felt a little bit burned out after a long day in the art room.  And, like him, I was the advisor of a student club.  What student club?  Well, I’m currently writing about it in Big Nate Goes For Broke, so I’m not ready to tell you just yet.  But you’re welcome to take a guess.  What kind of club do YOU think Nate would join?

Mon, 05/23/2011

Add More Babes!

Since I started writing Big Nate books for Harper Collins, I’ve grown accustomed to referring to Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself as the “first Big Nate book.”  But is it really?  Well, sort of.  It’s true that In A Class By Himself is the first Big Nate CHAPTER BOOK, but the winner of the “first Big Nate book” contest actually belongs to the one shown here:  ADD MORE BABES!  The book is a collection of Big Nate comics from the strip’s first year, and the rather strange title comes from a specific strip in which Nate is drawing a picture of himself surrounded by a mob of adoring girls.  When his sister Ellen, rolling her eyes, comments that the drawing isn’t very realistic, Nate asks:  “Think I should add more babes?”

Back then (20 years ago), the syndicate that owned the Big Nate comic strip and sold it to newspapers had its own little publishing company.  So they printed compilations for all their strips after they’d been around for about a year.  I was VERY excited to have a Big Nate book published, but it didn’t end up selling very well in bookstores.  It DID sell very well through school book clubs, though.  Scholastic and Trumpet book fairs/clubs both sold a lot of copies.  Until then, I hadn’t really considered Big Nate a “kids’ comic strip,” but I adjusted my thinking a little bit after that.  It was a great feeling to know that there were a lot of elementary and middle school kids who enjoyed the strip.  (I’d point out that those kids are now in their late twenties or early thirties, but that would make me feel old.)  Anyway, you won’t find ADD MORE BABES in any bookstores; it’s been out of print for years and years.  But if you come across it at a yard sale, buy it!  It’s sort of a collector’s item.

What did I accomplish today?  Not all that much as far as Nate is concerned -- I drew a couple of strips.  But I also installed some new light sconces in my house, ran a bunch of errands, and baked two rhubarb pies.  Tomorrow I’ll start working on chapter 3 of Big Nate Goes For Broke.  More news next time!

Thu, 05/19/2011

More Big Nate!

If you find yourself in Portland, Maine, on Sunday, May 22, drop by and see me at the Maine Comic Arts Festival at the Ocean Gateway.  http://mainecomicsfestival.com/Home_Page.html

Dozens of cartoonists, writers, illustrators, and graphic novelists will be on hand, selling and signing their work.  This festival is a labor of love for the owner of Casablanca Comics, Rick Lowell, and I appreciate his inviting me.  This will be my second time there.  I attended two years ago (this picture is my nametag from that day), but couldn’t make it last year.  I’ll have copies of all the Big Nate books, and at 11:30 I’ll do a Q&A session, hosted by Rick, for whoever is interested.  Hope to see you there!

I don’t know if I’ve officially announced this news here on the blog; if I have, my apologies for repeating myself.  The wonderful people at HarperCollins have asked me to write two additional Big Nate chapter books, bringing the total to eight!  That will keep me busy for the next three or four years.  Also, Harper will be publishing a series of new Big Nate compilations, the first of which will be called What Could Possibly Go Wrong?  I’ll keep you posted here on the blog about when to look for it.  And finally, if you enjoyed the activity book Big Nate Boredom Buster, there are more of those to come, too!  

I spent most of today working on chapter 2 of Big Nate Goes For Broke.  For the first three books, I had a very specific idea of how I wanted each story to unfold.  But with this one, I’m not quite sure yet what’s going to happen.  Right now I have the feeling that I might not be able to fit everything into the book that I’d like to, but I won’t know for certain until I get a little farther into it.  I’m hoping I don’t reach chapter 9 or 10, and then realize I need to go back and make a lot of changes to earlier chapters.  Time will tell!

BIG NATE FUN FACT:  One of Nate’s funniest discoveries came when he realized that if he scrambled the letters of his art teacher’s name (Ken Rosa), it spelled “ARK NOSE.”

Mon, 05/16/2011

Interesting and Attractive?

You know how fond I am of fortunes.  Well, here’s the one I got the other night when our family ordered Chinese food.  Interesting and attractive?  Clearly I picked a cookie intended for someone else.

But I HOPE I was interesting on Wednesday morning, when I visited some students at Memorial Middle School in South Portland, Maine.  I was invited by teacher Nancy Hutto to speak to a large group during the first hour, and a smaller group during the second hour.  I had expected to be speaking to sixth graders in the first session, but instead the entire eighth grade filed into the library!  I don’t speak to eighth graders all that often when I visit schools, because by that age, kids might have started to grow out of the Big Nate books.  But this particular group was very happy to be there, had a lot of great questions, and followed right along with me as I did some cartooning demonstrations on the whiteboard.  I met some great kids like Alexa, Victoria, and Alex; and I want to thank Vincent, my reluctant volunteer, who was a good sport and let me drag him up in front of his classmates to be my assistant.

It was a smaller — and younger — group during the second hour.  We moved upstairs to Mrs. Hutto’s classroom, where I spoke to about a dozen sixth graders.  They had spent some time preparing for my visit by writing their questions down on the whiteboard, and I’m pretty sure I answered them all by the time the hour was up.  I can’t remember each and every name, but it was a blast talking about cartooning with Aaron, Jason, Jin, Caitlin, and Demetria.  And a special thanks to Autumn, who introduced me to the class.

AND...Mrs. Hutto was kind enough to send me home with a very spiffy Memorial Middle School water bottle!  Thanks again to all, and I hope to see you again soon!

Thu, 05/12/2011