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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Happy April Fool's Day!

How did YOU celebrate April Fool’s Day?  In our family, April 1st is more than just an excuse to play jokes on people; it’s our daughter Dana’s birthday.  She was born in the middle of a blizzard fourteen years ago.  (Blizzards in April aren’t all that unusual here in Maine.)  Anyway, the weather reports last week suggested that we might be in for another April Fool’s Day storm, so Dana’s birthday wish was for a snow day.  Sure enough, she got what she asked for; the storm blew through on Friday, and school was cancelled.  (She also got another one of her birthday wishes:  bacon for breakfast.)

Big Nate is more interested in the weather than most kids.  It affects his baseball and soccer games, of course, but that’s not what interests him.  Nate has a bizarre obsession with his local TV weatherman, Wink Summers.  If you know your Big Nate trivia, you know that there are two characters who’ve been part of the comic strip for a long time, but who have never actually APPEARED in the strip:  Chester the bully, and Wink Summers.  I’ve already declared in this blog that Chester will never make an appearance, because it’s much more fun to imagine him than to actually try to draw him.  Well, the same is true for Wink Summers; I have no plans to draw him, either in the strip or in future Big Nate books.  But I always tell kids THEY’RE welcome to try.  When I was on my book tour last fall, a student asked me what Wink looks like, and I answered by saying:  what do YOU think he looks like?  And she said she thinks he looks like Al Roker.

Back to that snowstorm:  We all know that April means baseball season, but when you get snow in April, that makes it sort of difficult to go out and play ball.  Right now my beloved Boston Red Sox are in Texas, and are on the verge of losing their third straight game to start the season.  As I type this, I’m listening to the game on my computer.  It’s not going well.  But it’s a long season!  Plenty of time to catch up.

Don’t forget, I’ll be speaking at Symphony Space in New York City this coming Sunday, April 10th, at 1:00 pm.  Hope to see you there!

Mon, 04/04/2011

Coach Calhoun

Here’s another first-time appearance by a character you’ll recognize from Big Nate Strikes Again:  Coach Calhoun.  This drawing is a panel from the strip where I first introduced him.  It was September 15th, 1993.  Here’s how the entire strip went:

NATE:  Hi there!  Are you the soccer coach?
COACH:  I sure am.
NATE:  I’m Nate Wright!  I want to try out for the team!
COACH:  Great!  The more the merrier!
COACH:  What position do you play, Nate?
NATE:  I want to be the star.
COACH:  Uh...”Star” isn’t actually a position.
NATE:  Whatever.  Just put me where I’ll be closest to the cheerleaders!

He wasn’t named Coach Calhoun at first.  I just called him “Coach”.  But at some point — maybe when I introduced Coach John to the strip — I decided he needed a last name, and “Calhoun” sounded a lot like the name of my own middle school gym teacher.  In this series of strips, Nate tries out for the soccer team for the first time — not because he’s played a lot of soccer, but because he’s trying to impress girls (especially Jenny).  And Nate wasn’t a goalkeeper right away.  He played one of the other positions on the field.  Eventually, though, I made him a goalie, because it just seemed as if there were more possibilities for humor with Nate defending the goal.  I also liked the fact that, in soccer, the goalkeepers dress differently from the other players; I thought that would appeal to Nate’s sense of individuality.

My drawing style was changing almost week to week back then.  In  Nate, the most noticeable difference is the bottom part of his face.  There’s almost no space between his nose and his chin, so his head looks kind of squashed.  And his mouth wasn’t as wide back then; when he smiles, his mouth doesn’t stretch back as far toward his ear.  Coach has changed a lot since then, too.  Besides the fact that he’s almost twice as tall as Nate, he doesn’t really look like an adult in this drawing.  His face looks very childlike.  And back then, I drew him with the same kind of thin neck that I used with nearly all my characters.  His legs are also way too short for his body.  But over the years, as my drawing skills have improved, I’ve tried to make Coach look older and more athletic.  Check out a drawing of him in Big Nate Strikes Again and compare it to this one.   You’ll see quite a difference!
Thu, 03/31/2011

Save Your Drawings

Recently I was speaking on the phone with some of the organizers of the Thalia Kids’ Book Club at Symphony Space, where I’ll be appearing in a couple of weeks.  They mentioned that, whenever artists talk at these events, the kids in the audience love seeing drawings the artists did when they were kids.  So earlier today I went digging deep into my archives and found quite a few items.  This drawing is one of them.

The town where I grew up — Durham, New Hampshire — is home to the University of New Hampshire.  I was, and still am, a huge fan of the UNH men’s hockey team.  (Go, Wildcats!)  And so it was natural that, as a kid who loved UNH hockey and loved to draw, I would combine the two.  I particularly enjoyed drawing goalies, even though I wasn’t a goalie myself.  I liked trying to master the details of the goalie equipment.  That equipment, by the way, looked a little different back then from the way it looks today.  Most goalies wore molded plastic masks that didn’t really provide all that much protection.  And goalie pads weren’t colored to match the uniforms of the players.  All the pads were brown.

Anyway, as you can see, I did this drawing on a sheet of my grandfather’s office stationery.  (He was a doctor in Newburyport, Massachusetts.)  I’m guessing I drew it in about 1974 or ‘75, at the height of my UNH hockeymania.  The goalie is sprawling to make a spectacular save (you can see the puck near his right knee).  It’s in pencil, which was my drawing tool of choice back then because it was erasable.  The goalie’s stick says “VIC” on it NOT because the goalie’s name was Vic, but because a popular stick back then was made by VICTORIAVILLE; their goalie sticks had VIC stamped on them in thick, dark letters.  Looking at the drawing 30-some years after I drew it, I can see a few problems:  the goalie’s legs are too short, for one thing.  And that lopsided goal is a total disaster.  But as a fifth grader, I probably thought it was pretty good.  Obviously I must have thought it was worth keeping!

Which reminds me:  whenever I visit schools and speak to kids, I always tell them:  SAVE YOUR DRAWINGS!  You’ll be happy you did.  And who knows — you might end up blogging about them years later!

Mon, 03/28/2011

Picking Teams

The other day I played a game of pick-up hockey.  About twenty guys showed up at the rink to skate during their lunch hour.  We weren’t members of any specific teams; we were just there to get some exercise.  But to play, of course, we had to organize ourselves into two sides.  So we did what hockey players often do in these situations:  we all threw our sticks into a pile at center ice, and then one guy separated the sticks at random into two  groups.  Whoever’s stick ended up in your group was on your team.  This method doesn’t necessarily lead to two evenly matched teams, but it’s a fast and effective way of choosing sides.

It got me thinking about all the ways kids choose sides when they play sports, or decide who’s “it” when they play games like Tag or Kick The Can.  Maybe the most common method we used when I was a kid was called “Shoot” or “Odds & Evens.”  That’s when you and an opponent face each other; one of you chooses “odds” and the other “evens.”  Then, swinging your closed fist (or holding it behind your back), you both chant:  “Once, twice, three times, SHOOT!”  When you say the word shoot, you stick out any number of fingers from one to five; then you and your opponent add up the sum of your fingers.  If the sum is seven, for example, then whichever of you chose “odds” would be the winner.  I imagine kids still do this, but it’s been awhile since I played a game of Kick The Can, so I can’t be sure.

There were also rhymes we would recite as a way of determining who was “it” or “not it” before a game.  Everyone in a group would stick a foot into a circle, and then one person would tap each foot in succession while saying the rhyme.   Here’s one I remember:

Inka, Binka, Belinda,
The monkey washed the window.
The window broke,
The monkey got soaked.
Inka, Binka, Belinda.

If the person saying the rhyme was pointing at your toe when the rhyme ended, you were “it.”

Sometime I’d like to find a way to write about this ritual in a Big Nate book.  I’m sure Nate would enjoy thinking up his own rhymes!

Thu, 03/24/2011

The Evolution of Gina

In one of my recent entries, I showed you a drawing of Nate and Charlie Brown shaking hands, and I pointed out that Nate’s appearance has changed a little bit since I did that drawing ten years ago.  Well, that got me thinking about some of the other characters in Nate’s world, and what they looked like when I first started drawing them.  So I went through some old Big Nate strips and found one of the very first appearances of Nate’s arch enemy, Gina.  This might not be the VERY first time I drew Gina...but it’s close.  I drew this back in 1999.

The biggest difference between the 1999 Gina and the 2011 Gina is her hair.  Eleven years ago, she had a “low” ponytail that starts down by her ear; nowadays, her ponytail starts much higher.  Her nose is pointier now than it was then, and her mouth is different, too.  Back then, I drew her with what I call a “muppet” mouth.   When her mouth is open, as it is here, it looks like a muppet’s mouth.  Gina doesn’t have a muppet mouth anymore, but I still draw mouths that way on some minor characters.  Mr. Galvin, for example, has a muppet mouth.  Years ago, I also experimented with a muppet mouth for Mrs. Godfrey, but that didn’t last long.

When I first created Gina, she didn’t have much of a personality.  She was just a girl who was anxious to answer every question in class, which Nate found very annoying.  But over time, she turned a little meaner, and she and Nate developed a real dislike for each other.  Instead of being someone who just wanted to get good grades, Gina became a character who took pleasure in Nate’s difficulties and enjoyed trying to get him in trouble.  She’s more interesting now than she was back then!

From time to time, I’ll dig out old drawings of some of the other characters to show you.  So stay tuned!

And happy Spring, everyone!

Mon, 03/21/2011

Children's Choice Book Awards

As this drawing makes very clear, Nate’s feeling good about himself today.  And here’s why:  The Children’s Book Council (an association of children’s book publishers also known as the CBC) sponsors the Children’s Choice Book Awards each year.  I’m very pleased to announce that Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself is one of the five books nominated in the 5th – 6th Grade Book Of The Year category.  

Often, prizes of this kind are awarded by panels of librarians, booksellers, or publishers.  But as the name suggests, the winners of the Children’s Choice Book Awards are decided by the kids who’ve read the books and know them best. That means you!   Soon there will be a button you can click right here on the website that will enable you to vote for Big Nate.  In the meantime, you can vote at the Children’s Book Week site, which you’ll find here:

http://www.bookweekonline.com/

Children’s Book Week, by the way, is May 2 – 8, 2011.

Here’s the question of the day from Jackson in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:  I read on a website that you live in Iowa.  Does Nate live in Iowa, too?  Thanks for the question, Jackson.  The answer is that I was BORN in Iowa, but I didn’t live there very long.  When I was only a few months old, my family moved to New Hampshire, and that’s where I grew up.  I now live in Portland, Maine, which is about half the size of Cedar Rapids.  I’ve never specified where Nate lives, either in the books or the comic strip.  But over the years, I’ve provided enough details so that you can narrow down the possibilities.  Remember a couple weeks ago when I drew some strips about Nate playing pond hockey?  Well, kids don’t play pond hockey in Florida, Texas, Hawaii, etc.  I’ve also shown Nate swimming in the ocean plenty of times.  That rules out a lot of states that have no coastline.  Nate’s also a diehard Red Sox fan.  You can find Red Sox fans all over the country, of course, but you’re more apt to bump into one up in my neck of the woods.  When you put all these clues together, I think it’s safe to assume that Nate lives somewhere in coastal New England.

Remember to cast your vote for the Children’s Choice Book Awards!  That’s all for this entry!

Thu, 03/17/2011

It's your game, Charlie Brown

I didn’t realize until yesterday that there’s a new game to play at bignatebooks.com.  Just click on the “games” button and give Big Nate’s Fleeceball Trainer a try.  I’ve only played it once, and I have a lot of room to improve.  Warning:  you need quick reflexes!

Speaking of fleeceball — or, more accurately, BASEball — I was talking to some kids recently about one of my favorite subjects, “Peanuts.”   One of the kids said:  “You should write a story where Big Nate meets Charlie Brown.” I was happy to tell him that Nate HAS met Charlie Brown already, during a baseball game — sort of.  Here’s what happened.

Back in 2000, the 50th anniversary of “Peanuts” was coming up, and a lot of cartoonists decided to pay tribute to the occasion in their own comic strips.  We all agreed on the date these tributes would appear in newspapers:  May 27th, 2000.  I wrote a couple of baseball jokes that ran on the 25th and the 26th; then, on the 27th, I showed Nate and Charlie Brown shaking hands after the game.

I remember having a hard time deciding what Charlie Brown should look like.  After all, Charlie Brown’s appearance changed quite a bit over the course of 50 years.  I finally decided to draw him (as best I could) the way he looked in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when I really fell in love with “Peanuts.”  I was a little concerned that Charlie Brown’s enormous head would look odd when compared to the size of Nate’s head, but I ended up feeling pretty happy with the way it came out.  You’ll notice that Nate looks a little different in this drawing than he does now.  As I’ve blogged about before, my drawing style has changed over the years!

If you look carefully, you’ll see that the front of Nate’s uniform reads “Joe’s.”  Back then, I kept a running gag going in the comic strip:  every year, Nate’s baseball team was sponsored by Joe’s something-or-other.  One year they were Joe’s Pizza, then Joe’s Chicken, then Joe’s Falafel.  Trivia question:  Do you know what Nate’s Little League baseball team is CURRENTLY called?  Answer:  the Vultures.  I’m getting tired of that name, though.  I’ll probably change it soon.

All for now!

Mon, 03/14/2011

Symphony Space

There are still a few months to wait until Big Nate On A Roll is available, so I think it’s time for me to give you a little sneak peek.  Here’s part of a drawing from page 146; as you can see, there’s something Mrs. Godfrey would like to discuss with Nate, and so she’s trying to get his attention in her usual sweet, gentle way.  I can’t tell you what it is she’s angry about, but here’s a little hint:  she ends up unintentionally giving Nate a great idea.

Reminder:  Symphony Space Event!  In exactly a month, on Sunday, April 10th, I’ll be appearing at Symphony Space in New York City as part of the Thalia Kids Book Club series.  If you live in or near New York and are interested in attending, here’s a link where you can learn more:

http://www.symphonyspace.org/event/6719-thalia-kids-book-club-lincoln-peirces-big-nate-series

I’m still in the process of figuring out exactly what my presentation will be like.  Some authors read from their books, but I don’t think that would work very well with Big Nate books.  You sort of have to see the drawings and read the words at the same time.  I think I might have the use of a document camera, so that I can do some drawings that folks in the audience can see clearly.  And I’m sure I’ll bring along a few visual aids to show some of the steps in the process of creating Big Nate books and comic strips.

Another part of these Symphony Space events are interviews conducted in front of the audience.  I didn’t know who would be interviewing me...until today!  Matthew Cody, a Friend of Symphony Space and an author himself — of a book called Powerless — will talk to me onstage about all things Big Nate.  I understand that not too long ago, Matthew interviewed Rick Riordan in front of a Symphony Space crowd full of VERY excited kids, so obviously he’s a total pro.  I look forward to meeting him.

That’s all for this time.  I’ll blog again in a few days!

Thu, 03/10/2011

Pond Hockey

If you’ve been reading the Big Nate comic strip, you know that last week Nate spent some time playing pond hockey.  Unfortunately, the real-life conditions here in Maine do not match those in the comic strip; in other words, there’s no good ice to skate on right now.  There’s just a lot of slush and dirty snow.  We’ll soon be entering what people around here refer to as “mud season.”

Like Nate, I loved pond hockey as a kid.  My brother and I were lucky enough to grow up with a creek in our back yard.  You couldn’t swim in it during the summer — it was too shallow, for one thing, and the water was pretty scuzzy -- but you could definitely skate on it during the winter.  We kept it shoveled as best we could, and there were plenty of Saturdays that we’d come home from playing for our teams at the rink (our youth hockey league always had Saturday morning games), then spend the rest of the day skating outside.  I think winters were colder back then, or at least they started earlier.  I remember some years when the ice was safe for skating soon after Thanksgiving.

Speaking of hockey, on Saturday night I took my brother to see the Boston Bruins play the Pittsburgh Penguins for his 50th birthday.  (We were rooting for the Bruins.)  I’m beginning to think I’m a hockey jinx.  I’ve been to two Bruins games this season, and on both occasions they’ve lost in overtime.  Maybe, like Nate, I have to find myself a pair of lucky socks and just keep wearing them until the Bruins win the Stanley Cup.  (For those of you who don’t watch hockey, the Bruins haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 39 years!)

BIG NATE QUIZ:  What does this mean:

BNOAR – 8 – 141.b

Answer:  This is an example of how I label my drawings for the Big Nate books.  When I send a batch of drawings to HarperCollins, it’s helpful for the art department if each drawing is identified according to where it is in each book.  So this combination of letters and numbers is read like this:  BNOAR means Big Nate On A Roll, the title of the book this drawing will appear in.  8 means that this drawing is in Chapter 8.  141 is the page number, and b refers to the sequence on the page.  Drawing BNOAR – 8 – 141.a is at the top of the page, and BNOAR – 8 – 141.b is at the bottom.  So now you know!

Sun, 03/06/2011

Cryptic Crossword

Excuses, excuses!  Last time, I was late with my blog entry because I lost track of time.  THIS time, I’m a day late because I DIDN’T lose track of time.  I’ve been working on the finished artwork for Big Nate On A Roll, and I had set a deadline for myself:  finish Chapter 7 by Thursday night.  To do that, I had to set aside everything else I’d normally have done on Wednesday...including my blog entry.  Anyway, I’m happy to say that I made my deadline (barely), and will be sending chapters 4 – 7 (I sent chapters 1 – 3 already) to Harper Collins in New York tomorrow afternoon.  More on that shortly.

Are you a puzzle fan?  I’ve always liked puzzles, which is one reason I’m so excited that Big Nate Boredom Buster is coming soon.  It will have all sorts of puzzles, games, secret codes, and so on.  What it WON’T have is my personal favorite kind of puzzle.  It’s called a CRYPTIC CROSSWORD.   There’s a very good reason there won’t be any Cryptics in BNBB:  the book is intended for kids, and Cryptic Crosswords are the kind of thing you don’t get interested in until you’re older.  The clues are usually really hard to understand.  Here’s one example:

In the puzzle shown here, the clue for 1 ACROSS is:  Few beets ruined hearty meal (4,4).  The numbers (4,4) tell you that the answer is two words, each one four letters long.  The word “ruined” tells you that you have to rearrange the letters of some nearby words.  In this case, if you rearrange the first two words, “few beets,” you get “beef stew,” which matches the description of the last two words in the clue:  “hearty meal.”   See why there won’t be any Cryptics in BNBB?  The book is going to be fun, and Cryptics definitely aren’t fun.  “Frustrating” would be a better description.  But I enjoy them, even if I can’t really explain why.  

Back to the artwork!  The drawings have been going well; that means I haven’t been making too many mistakes.  I try to get rid of all my mistakes in the sketching phase, so that when I start going over the drawings in pen, there are no surprises.  But mistakes are inevitable.  The most common mistake I make — BY FAR — is smudging the ink while I’m drawing.  I’m usually able to correct that with white-out, but not 100% of the time.  Sometimes you ruin a drawing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Years ago, I was working on a comic strip, and it was a very, very hot day.  I’d spent about two hours on the strip and was almost done when I noticed that sweat from my arm had dripped onto the paper and spoiled my drawings.  That was kind of a drag, to say the least.

Fortunately, I had no such accidents today.  Without giving away too much of the story, I’ll tell you that today I did a drawing of Nate talking to a boy named Kevin, Nate holding a sword, and an angry lady walking toward Nate.  Oh, and Nate also has a black eye.  I know those clues are confusing — just like the clues in a Cryptic Crossword! -- but when you read Big Nate On A Roll in August, everything will make sense!

Thu, 03/03/2011