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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Comic Strip Weddings

I’m writing this blog on the eve of a trip to Vero Beach, Florida to attend the wedding of our nephew. With the subject of marriage so close at hand, my thoughts recently turned to comic strip weddings. There have been plenty of them over the years. Just off the top of my head, I can remember wedding storylines in Gasoline Alley, For Better Of For Worse, Cathy, and — any day now! — Stone Soup. But I chose three specific weddings to picture here, from three very different comic strips: Blondie by Chic Young, Li’l Abner by Al Capp, and Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau.

Folks who have been reading for years about the suburban, middle class life of Dagwood Bumstead and his wife, Blondie might not be aware of a couple of facts. First of all, the comic strip Blondie has been around since 1930. Second, Blondie wasn’t married to Dagwood when the strip began. In the beginning, creator Chic Young featured the comic antics of a carefree flapper named Blondie Boopadoop. (Her unusual last name was derived from the nonsense refrain of a popular song in the late 1920’s, “I Wanna Be Loved By You.”) In these early strips, Blondie was a bit of a party girl, and one of her suitors — who soon became her steady boyfriend — was an earnest young fellow named Dagwood Bumstead. Dagwood was a wealthy young man from a high-society family, and when he declared his intention to marry Blondie, his parents disinherited him. When Dagwood wed Blondie in February of 1933, he gained a bride…and lost his family fortune. That’s why, for the 80+ years that have followed, Dagwood and Blondie have lived in modest, middle-class surroundings. And Blondie, of course, long ago gave up her wild ways and settled into life as a wife, mother, and — in recent years — small business owner.

The second image shown here depicts what is probably the most famous wedding in comic strip history: that of Abner Yokum and Daisy Mae Scragg in Al Capp’s masterpiece, Li’l Abner. Unlike Chic Young, who married off Blondie and Dagwood after only a couple of years, Al Capp made his readers wait and wait until Daisy Mae finally got her man. The strip began in August of 1934, but Abner and Daisy Mae didn’t tie the knot until 1952. That’s 18 years! Daisy Mae’s pursuit of the sweet-natured but dimwitted hillbilly, Abner, was one of the strip’s main themes. The world that Al Capp created — the fictional hamlet of Dogpatch, Kentucky — was populated by dozens of eligible young women, but readers of the strip knew that Daisy Mae was Abner’s perfect match. In fact, everyone realized it except Abner himself. Al Capp is said to have regretted caving in to public sentiment and marrying off these two characters, but there’s no denying that it was big news when it happened. As you can see here, it was on the cover of LIFE magazine. The sorry fact is, though, that the strip was never quite the same after Abner and Daisy Mae got hitched. None other than Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame declared it “the biggest mistake in comic strip history.”

There have been several weddings in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury during the strip’s tenure, but the one shown here is the most recent. The bride is Alex Doonesbury, daughter of the strip’s titular character, Mike Doonesbury and his ex-wife, J.J. Alex’s husband-to-be is Leo DeLuca, aka Toggle, a veteran of the Iraq War who has returned stateside with a case of expressive aphasia and a loss of sight in one eye. Trudeau has been a friend and supporter of military men and women during his strip’s long run, and I think Toggle is one of the most memorable characters he’s ever created. At the moment, Doonesbury is one sort of a hiatus. Trudeau is producing Sunday strips only, but no dailies, while he works as the head writer and show runner of Alpha House, the political satire he’s created for amazon TV.

Will there ever be a wedding in Big Nate? Doubtful. Nate and his friends will never grow up, so they’re not eligible for nuptials. There has been an “off-screen” marriage — Nate’s art teacher, Mr. Rosa, got hitched a number of years ago — but I’ve never depicted a wedding taking place. The only real possibility, I guess, would be if Nate’s dad were to find the woman of his dreams and ask her to marry him. But don’t hold your breath. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon!

Fri, 07/17/2015

Nate's Love Interest

 

 

If you follow BIG NATE, either in your local newspaper or online, then you probably saw Monday’s strip.  When summer rolls around, I usually create a storyline that takes place at the fair.  Nausea-inducing rides, tattooed carnies, and Nate’s chronic money mismanagement are always good fodder for a week or two of strips.  But this year, I decided to add something new to the equation.  As the last panel clearly shows, Nate is about to have a chance encounter with a young lady.  And if those hearts springing from his noggin are any sort of clue, it looks as if he might be experiencing “love at first sight” syndrome.  The only question is:  who’s the girl?

I’ll answer by saying that she’s NOT a character who’s appeared in the strip before.  In fact, even though I drew this strip over two months ago and am typing this blog entry on Monday, July 13th, I haven’t even given her a name yet.  That might give you a hint about how this episode could unfold.  Then again, it might not.

Nate’s love life — or lack thereof — is far and away the subject that generates the most reader commentary over at gocomics.com.  Some readers ask from time to time if I’m planning to reunite Nate with Angie, a girl he met in summer school.  (In the storyline, Angie was attending summer school because she’d just moved to Nate’s town and had to make up some work she’d missed during the process.  Nate was attending summer school because — well, why do you think?)  Other readers ask me to bring back Kelly, who entered Nate’s life when they ended up at the same summer soccer camp (they were both goalkeepers).  Many, MANY readers seem convinced that Nate and Gina are destined to be a couple, citing the adage that “It’s a fine line between hate and love.”  And plenty of younger readers, familiar with the characters from the novels as well as the comic strip, are just as certain that Nate and Dee Dee belong together.  (I have to admit, I’ve given this some serious thought.)

One thing they all agree on:  Nate should stop wasting his time on Jenny.  And I agree.  I think I’ve written here before that it’s time Nate moved on from his longstanding crush.  The fact is, Jenny’s never given Nate any indication that she likes him, and Nate has too much swagger to spend the rest of his life chasing after a girl who has no interest in him.  Plus, after so many years, I’ve told all the jokes I can tell about the Nate-Jenny-Artur love triangle.  So there will be no more Nate & Jenny storylines.  It’s high time Nate had a new love interest.  The question is:  who?

Could it be the girl in panel #4 of the strip shown here?  The honest truth is:  I’m not even sure yet myself!

Tue, 07/14/2015

Big Nate Is Turning 25!

You may not know this — especially if you’re a kid who’s only recently discovered BIG NATE in recent years — but my spiky-haired friend here will be 25 years old in less than six months!  The comic strip debuted on Sunday, January 6th, 1991.  Universal Uclick, the company that sells Big Nate to newspapers and maintains the comics website gocomics.com, will probably make some sort of announcement about this as Nate’s official birthday draws near; they’re very nice about congratulating all their cartoonists when they win awards or achieve milestones — or, in my case, when they’re just fortunate enough to stick around for awhile.  There are also plans to publish a 25th anniversary book, and that’s what sent me scurrying to my file cabinet today, where I discovered this promo for the strip back when it was first launched.

You see, my agent, David, is going to write part of the aforementioned book.  His contribution will be sort of an insider’s view of the history of Big Nate.  So he called me yesterday and asked me to summon up a few memories of the time leading up to Big Nate’s debut.  How long was I trying to get syndicated before Big Nate was published?  What other strips did I submit to syndicates during that period?  Was it exciting?  Confusing?  Etc., etc.  I started writing down some random thoughts earlier today, but quickly realized that events that occurred 25 years ago are not exactly vivid in my mind.  Looking for some help to jog my memory, I unearthed a folder in my cabinet labeled “BIG NATE PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL.”  One of the items in the folder was the ad you see here, a promo for the strip courtesy of United Feature Syndicate, the company I started with so long ago.

Nowadays, there aren’t too many new comic strips appearing in newspapers.  But back then, all the major syndicates launched two or three strips per year — sometimes even more.  That meant selling a strip to newspapers in the roughly 3 months leading up to the official launch date.  And selling a strip meant that advertisements had to be designed and disseminated, so that newspaper editors would know that a new strip was on the horizon.  This ad appeared in EDITOR & PUBLISHER, a magazine devoted to the newspaper industry.  When this ad appeared, Big Nate was just a few days away from its launch date.  And, as I was reminded when looking at the ad, it was a very good launch.  A new strip getting sold to 135 newspapers before it’s even appeared in print is good news for all concerned — the newspapers, the syndicate, and especially the cartoonist.  I was thrilled, because it seemed to me that having so many newspapers on board at that stage indicated that I could have a huge hit on my hands.

It didn’t quite work out that way, though.  United Feature Syndicate’s best salesman, a fellow who’d singlehandedly sold Big Nate to almost 80 newspapers and was a huge fan of the strip, died unexpectedly.  The company had nobody in place to fill his position, and without him on the scene to advocate for Big Nate, many of those newspapers dropped the strip.  Big Nate survived (many comic strips don’t), but it didn’t become the sensation I hoped it would.  It was a modest success for about the next 18 years — until the first Big Nate novel was published by HarperCollins.  The novels did something I’d been trying to accomplish for many years:  they brought Big Nate to an entirely new audience and jump-started the strip’s popularity.  Not many comic strips go from rags to riches after 18 years in print…but it happened for Big Nate.  I’m extremely fortunate.

I was new at this 25 years ago, so I didn’t know that I should insist on looking at and approving all promotional materials.  If I had, I would have insisted that the red shirt in this ad be replaced by Nate’s traditional yellow shirt with blue shoulders.  I would have made his face less pink.  And I would have pointed out that the highlights in Nate’s hair should be white.  In the ad, they’re the same color as his skin.
 

Fri, 07/10/2015

Horoscopes

Some people place a lot of faith in horoscopes; others think they’re complete poppycock.  I’m closer to the poppycock side of things, but I still find astrology kind of fascinating.  I’d never consider basing any kind of major decision on the random writings of some newspaper astrologist, but like many people, I do get kind of a thrill when I read something in my horoscope that seems accurate or prescient.  How did I make consulting my horoscope part of my daily routine?  Easy answer:  in most of the newspapers I’ve read during my lifetime, the astrological forecast is printed on the comics page or close to it.  After reading the comics, my eye naturally wanders over to the horoscopes (and to another of my favorites, the crossword puzzle.)

But in this internet age, horoscopes aren’t just in the newspaper; they’re all over the place online.  Tonight, as I tried to figure out what to blog about, I glanced at an astrological website and noticed that it included not just daily horoscopes, but MONTHLY forecasts.  July is just getting started, so I decided to see what the stars and planets might hold in store during the next four weeks or so.  And here’s what the stars and planets told me:

If you're a writer or in the communications or sales industry, you might finish up a major project near July 1. Whatever the details behind it are, you'll feel inspired and optimistic about the outcome. Another possibility is that you'll have a deep and meaningful conversation with your sweetheart. You might be afraid to reveal your emotions initially but soon realize you have nothing to fear at all.  Hmm.  I’m afraid I’m not very close to finishing up a major project.  The fact is, I’m just STARTING a major project:  the final art for BIG NATE BLASTS OFF.  I’ve only done 18 pages worth, which means I have 200 to go.  As for having a deep conversation with my sweetheart:  my wife did ask me tonight to take out the garbage and recycling.  So I’ve got that going for me.

If you have any children and need advice, why not seek the help of one of your siblings? It appears that you'll receive heartfelt, sound advice from your brother or sister early this month. On July 15, you might consider going back to school to study for an advanced degree, license or certification. You might have plenty of ambition and energy to move forward with this decision but you'll need to be patient. The red tape and other paperwork needed to put this into motion might be quite frustrating. Still, it'll be worth it.  At the moment, I’m not in need of any advice about my children; but if I were, I’d certainly seek out my brother for heartfelt, sound advice.  I don’t think I’d ask my sister, though.  I don’t have a sister.  I also have no plans to go back to school for an advanced degree.  My school days, I’m delighted to say, are over.

On July 25, Venus turns retrograde and until July 31, an old friend might come back into your life. After July 31 and until September 6 you might struggle with feeling less than appreciated from higher ups. This might also be a time to consider whether or not you're using your talents to the best of your ability. Honest examination now about where you are professionally can lead to greater rewards after September 6.  So now I know that on July 25, Venus turns retrograde.  You know what else happens on July 25?  I’m going to Fenway Park to see my Boston Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers.  Sadly, this horoscope says nothing about whether or not the Sox will win that day.  Given the way the season is going so far, I’m not planning to get my hopes up.

So there you have it — my horoscope for July.  Not a lot of specifics there, just a hodgepodge of vague suggestions.  That’s okay, though.  I don’t really need a horoscope to provide guidance and direction.  I’m too stubborn to follow those kinds of suggestions.  That’s a common trait of us Scorpios.

Mon, 07/06/2015

Whirlwind Trip to San Francisco

Hello!  I'm going to keep this entry somewhat brief, because it's already quite late and it's been a long day of traveling.  I just flew from San Francisco to Newark, NJ to Portland, Maine (missing my regular Monday night Men's League hockey game in the process), so I'm kind of tired.

San Francisco was great fun, though.  I was there for the American Library Association convention, where I signed books, ran into a few cartoonist/author friends (like Mo Willems, Dav Pilkey, and recent entry into the middle-grade novel world, Ruben Bolling), and spoke at a reception sponsored by the Will Eisner Family Foundation in honor of librarians who've been awarded grants for their support of comics and graphic novels.  San Francisco also happens to be the home of one of my very favorite people -- my cousin Laurie -- and she met my wife and me for dinner on Friday night.  We also took in a ball game on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park, home of the defending World Series champs, the San Francisco Giants.  They beat the Rockies 6-2 behind the outstanding pitching of Madison Bumgarner, last year's World Series MVP.  (By the way, the pictures shown above are 1.) the view from our hotel room, and 2.) the view from our seats at the game.)

So as you can see, we squeezed a lot into just a couple days in San Francisco.  I would have liked to see more of the city, because I haven't spent much time there before, but that will have to wait for another trip.  It's time to get back to work.  With the exception of a family wedding in mid-July, I won't be doing any traveling for awhile.

Before I sign off, I'll leave you with two fun facts about San Francisco that relate to Big Nate:
•    For many years, there was a restaurant in San Francisco called Big Nate's Barbecue.  It was owned and operated by former NBA star Nate Thurmond.  (See photo below.)
•    Remember how a fortune cookie played such a big part in the first novel, Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself?  Well, the fortune cookie was created in San Francisco in 1914 -- not in a Chinese restaurant, but in a Japanese Tea House!

 

Tue, 06/30/2015

On To You

Time for another email exchange with Kozo, my pen pal from Japan.  Here's the email he sent me along with this "Andy Capp" cartoon:

Hi Lincoln,
 
I sometimes fail to understand rather simple English.  What does Andy mean by “ She is on to me”?  Is this a common expression?
 

And here's how I responded:  

Hi Kozo,

Thanks for your question!  It's easily answered.  When someone is "on to you," it means they suspect or know what your true intentions are.  For example, let's say a man is planning to rob a bank.  He walks in and out of the bank several times, pretending he's just a customer when in fact what he's really doing is planning the details of his robbery.  After walking in and out of the bank for the fourth or fifth time, he notices that a police officer is following him.  The man might think to himself:  "That policeman is on to me."  In other words:  even though the man is pretending to be a bank customer, the policeman suspects that he is planning to rob the bank.

So in the cartoon, Flo remarks that, in her opinion, fishing just looks like an excuse for Andy to sit around drinking beer.  Others may fish because they like eating fish, or because they enjoy the challenge of it, or because they just like being outdoors.  But Flo obviously knows her husband very well, and she knows none of those reasons explain why Andy is fishing.  He's fishing because he likes sitting around drinking beer and doing nothing.  When Andy says "She's on to me," he's privately admitting that Flo is right.  He doesn't care about fishing.  He just wants to relax and drink beer.

Hope that helps, Kozo.  Write anytime!

Best wishes,

Lincoln


For those of you unfamiliar with "Andy Capp," it's a British comic strip.  It was created in 1957 by a cartoonist named Reg Smythe, and it has continued since Smythe's death in 1998.  It's currently credited to a trio of Mahoney, Goldsmith & Garnett.  "Andy Capp" (a bit of a pun on the word "handicap") started as a single-panel feature but Smythe eventually turned it into a true strip.  Andy, the title character, is a chronically unemployed fellow whose hobbies include darts, snooker, and drinking beer.  His wife, Florrie (often called Flo) works as a house cleaner.  In the early days of the strip, Andy's chronic drunkenness was the strip's dominant theme, but as attitudes about alcohol use changed over time, the focus of the strip shifted away from Andy's intoxication and toward his overall laziness.  "Andy Capp" was one of my favorite strips when I was a boy -- partly because I liked the drawings, and partly because, like my friend Kozo, I learned some things about language.  Before I began reading this strip, I'd never heard words like "vicar," "snooker," or "charwoman."  

That's all for this time.  Tomorrow I fly to San Francisco for the American Library Association annual conference.  Cheers!

Fri, 06/26/2015

Drawn Together Recap

Hi, everyone.  I'm back from my whirlwind trip to Los Angeles for Drawn Together:  Cartoonists Unite To Support Los Angeles School Libraries.  We had a great turnout at the event, and it was great fun -- though not without a couple of stressful moments!  Anyway, first let me point out the pictures shown here.  The first one is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.  It's certainly a striking building from the outside, and inside it's just as spectacular.  I took the next three photos of Jeff Kinney, Stephan Pastis, and Dav Pilkey in the green room about an hour before we took the stage.  (I like to take headshots of people to document events, and the guys were kind enough to indulge me.)

Now, what about the stresses I mentioned?  Well, for me the biggest difficulty involved -- surprise! -- technology.  On the day of the event, we got to the concert hall early to pre-sign books and run through our power points to make sure everything was working okay.  I was showing about 35 slides, and as I quickly previewed them on the giant screen over the stage, they all looked great -- except for one.  It was a slide that was supposed to show the covers of all seven Big Nate chapter books, but for some reason, only three of them were showing up on the slide.  I had the powerpoint on my laptop, and the slide looked fine in that version, so I offered to transfer a clean copy of the powerpoint over to the computer being used in the concert hall's control room.  But -- surprise #2! -- my computer froze.  It was only after repeated attempts, a couple of reboots, and some tech support from Jeff that we managed to make the transfer.  And by this point, we were starting to run out of time.  Finally, we succeeded in loading a good copy of my powerpoint onto the control room computer.  I ran through my slides again to make sure, and everything looked A-OK.  Problem solved.

But there was another problem.  Our celebrity hostess who'd graciously agreed to emcee the event, Emmy Award-winning actress Julie Bowen, was supposed to arrive at the hall by 12:15 to get ready for the 1:00 show.  She did not arrive by 12:15.  Or 12:30.  Or 12:45.  Or 1:00.  She was caught in horrible traffic, and we faced the very real possibility of starting without her.  But kids and their parents were still making their way to their seats at 1:05, so we had a little wiggle room.  Finally, Julie arrived at 1:15, and we were able to start the show by about 1:25.  (A huge thank you to all the folks in the audience for their patience!)

Then it was time for our presentations.  I went first, and -- surprise #3! -- when the "problem slide" appeared on screen, it had reverted back to its earlier, incomplete appearance.  It really wasn't a big deal, and I just blipped over it.  But I still can't understand the technology behind such an issue.  Why would a powerpoint slide appear complete one moment and incomplete the next?  I'm sure some tech-savvy folks know the answer, but I certainly don't.  

Then Stephan, Jeff, and Dav all did their presentations (Dav also had a powerpoint issue:  a couple of his slides actually DISAPPEARED), and they were all terrific.  We took a couple pictures with Julie Bowen, then zipped off to the lobby, where we signed posters, books, and bookmarks for the better part of two hours.  I hope all the folks who attended had fun; I certainly did!

(P.S.  This weekend also marked the first time in my life I've ever sung karaoke!  Jeff is a huge karaoke fan, and we all went out later that night and warbled some tunes into the wee hours.  Thank goodness no video or audio of my performance exists!)

Tue, 06/23/2015

Drawn Together Is This Weekend!

There's still time for one final plug:  if you're going to be in or near Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20th, please consider attending DRAWN TOGETHER:  CARTOONISTS UNITE TO BENEFIT LOS ANGELES SCHOOL LIBRARIES.  I'll be appearing alongside my friends and fellow author/cartoonists JEFF KINNEY, DAV PILKEY, and STEPHAN PASTIS for a fun-filled afternoon of presentations and signings at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.  Interested?  You'll find information here about purchasing tickets for the event:

http://www.drawntogetherla.org

Just last night, Stephan and I did a phone interview about Drawn Together with our friend Tom Racine of TALL TALE RADIO.  You can listen here:

http://www.talltaleradio.com/episode-219-stephan-pastis-and-lincoln-peirce/

I'll be flying back home on Sunday, and will tell you all about the weekend's happenings right here next week.

Work continues on the illustrations for BIG NATE BLASTS OFF.  A neighborhood kid asked me recently:  WILL YOU BE INVENTING A NEW SECRET CODE FOR THE NEXT BOOK?  The answer's no.  The code for BLASTS OFF will be the same one I used for LIVES IT UP.  That's consistent with what I've done thus far in the series:  I've created a coded alphabet four times, and each of those alphabets has been used for two books.  It would have been pretty dull to use the same code for all eight books; but on the other hand, I think it would have proven too difficult to invent eight different alphabets.  I decided early on that I was only going to create codes based on two shapes -- the square and the circle -- and I wanted to keep the designs simple and straightforward.  If the symbols were too complicated or overly detailed, I thought they might be difficult to read once my original illustrations were reduced in size and printed in the books.  Plus, I couldn't use color.  All the illustrations are in black and white.  Given those restrictions, I decided that inventing a new code every TWO books would work just fine.  And it has.  There'll be plenty of hidden messages to decode in BIG NATE BLASTS OFF!

Fri, 06/19/2015

Title Talk

Hi, everyone.  My apologies for posting only one blog entry last week.  Our daughter Dana graduated from high school, and that meant a baccalaureate ceremony and luncheon on Thursday, commencement and a family dinner on Friday.  I decided to focus on all the festivities and take a break from blogging.  But now the school year is officially over.  The last domino to fall was on Saturday, when Dana's lacrosse team got knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals.  She's no longer a high schooler!

Anyway...let's talk about titles.  As I've mentioned before, book #8 will be called BIG NATE BLASTS OFF.  It's a title I've had in mind for quite some time.  Here's a review the first seven books and how I arrived at the titles..

The first book, for quite some time, was going to be called simply BIG NATE.  But at some point, my editor said that the sales staff felt a subtitle would be helpful.  After some brainstorming, I came up with BIG NATE:  IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF.  There was some apprehension that it might be too wordy, but I liked it.  It not only sums up how Nate feels about himself, it's also a bit of a play on words.  After all, Nate ends up in detention (for multiple infractions) by the book's conclusion, so he really IS in a class by himself -- literally.

The titles for books 2 and 3 were both suggested by my friends at HarperCollins.  I agreed to BIG NATE STRIKES AGAIN before I even started writing the book; but once I laid out the storyline of Nate and Gina working together on a project about Ben Franklin, the title seemed apt.  After all, Ben Franklin is renowned for having surmised that lightning carries an electric charge -- and when lightning hits, it STRIKES.  Not only that, the subplot of book 2 involved fleeceball, a type of indoor baseball -- and STRIKE is a word used frequently in baseball.  STRIKES AGAIN really was a great title for that storyline.  Similarly, the title of book 3, BIG NATE: ON A ROLL, hints at the fact that something that rolls -- a skateboard -- will play a major part in the story. 

The next two titles I thought up myself.  The title of book 4, BIG NATE GOES FOR BROKE, provides a clue about the story:  Nate BREAKS a bone in the book, and he and his P.S. 38 classmates also BREAK the ridiculous winning streak of their rival, Jefferson Middle School.  I called the fifth book BIG NATE FLIPS OUT because in the story, Nate's entire world is FLIPPED upside down:  his friendship with Francis is jeopardized, and he also undergoes a dramatic change after being hypnotized by Teddy's Uncle Pedro. 

The great folks at HarperCollins suggested the next title:  BIG NATE:  IN THE ZONE.  The title, which I liked immediately, gave me the idea for the storyline, in which Nate endures a stretch of very bad luck, after which his luck shifts in such improbable fashion that suddenly, he can do no wrong.  When you're on a hot streak like that, you're sometimes said to be IN THE ZONE, so the title really matched the narrative very well.  The title of book 7, BIG NATE LIVES IT UP, was meant to be somewhat ironic:  LIVING IT UP means having a great time, but for much of the book, Nate's not having a great time at all.  He's stuck in a role as the reluctant "buddy" to a new kid with whom he has very little in common.  But the title also refers to the book's final chapter, in which the word UP describes the prize-winning conclusion to the scavenger hunt won by Nate's Non-Stoppers.

Which brings us, finally, to BIG NATE BLASTS OFF.  This title was actually suggested to me by a student in a Texas elementary school several years ago.  He suggested that the final book in the Big Nate series should be called BLASTS OFF, and that the story should involve Nate riding a rocket ship into outer space.  Well, space travel isn't part of the story, but BIG NATE BLASTS OFF is still a really good title for this book.  I won't explain why just yet.  What I WILL tell you, though, is that the entire story is written, and I've started work on all the finished drawings.  I hope to have them done sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So the next few months will be pretty busy!

Tue, 06/16/2015

Classic Comics

If you've read BIG NATE LIVES IT UP, you know that part of the story involves Nate's discovery of a kindred spirit -- Edna Birkdale, a student who attended P.S. 38 one hundred years ago, and who obviously shared Nate's love of cartooning.  Nate not only appreciates Edna's talent, he's also enough of a comics historian to see the similarities between her cartoons and some of those that were popular a century earlier.  In the drawing shown here, from page 131 of BNLIU, Nate mentions a few newspaper strips from the Early Golden Age of Cartooning:  Happy Hooligan, The Katzenjammer Kids, Krazy Kat, Thimble Theatre, and Little Nemo In Slumberland.  For me, this drawing was a real treat to work on.  I drew (as best I could) pictures of Krazy Kat & Ignatz Mouse, Popeye the Sailor, and Little Nemo.  I also thoroughly enjoyed working on Edna's comics in the rest of the book.  Drawing in a style reminiscent of classic comic strips was great fun, and gave me a renewed appreciation for the cartooning genius of those early masters.

It also reminded me of how I discovered some of those early comics in the first place.  (I've probably blogged about this before, but any story that highlights the importance of books and libraries is worth repeating!)

I was a freshman in high school, and was rather aimlessly poking around the school library during a free period when I discovered this book:  THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS.  I hadn't been looking for a book about comics; in fact, I'm sure it would have never occurred to me to search the library for a book celebrating classic comic strips.  You just didn't see any books about comics in libraries back then -- let alone books like this one, which examined comic strips in a scholarly way and discussed them as a unique American art form.  This was a couple of decades before the internet, so archives of classic comics were very difficult to find.  Some of the great comic strips from those halcyon days were still in production -- I read chestnuts like Mutt & Jeff and Li'l Abner in The Boston Globe when I was a boy -- but just as many of them had been retired by their creators decades earlier.  Reading this book was a revelation.  Many of the strips it featured -- strips that had been household names for generations of readers -- were entirely new to me.  It felt as if I had discovered a magical world that nobody but me knew about...and among my fellow students, that was largely true.  None of them shared my interest in these great comics of the past.  But in the years since, I've met several cartoonists who, like me, found this book almost 40 years ago and were just as enchanted as I was.

Nowadays, of course, it's easy to learn all there is to know about classic comics on the internet, and today's young & aspiring cartoonists are the lucky beneficiaries of all that information.  But I was lucky, too -- lucky that my high school library saw fit to include this book on its shelves, and luckier still that I happened to find it.  Perhaps I was on the road to becoming a cartoonist no matter what, but there's no doubt in my mind that THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF NEWSPAPER COMICS played a huge part in the choices I made in the years to come.  In the computer-free days of my youth, one book made a world of difference.

Tue, 06/09/2015