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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Advice for Young Cartoonists

Everyone enjoys getting mail, and I am no exception.  I’m not talking about email, but good old-fashioned letters delivered by your friendly neighborhood mail carrier.  And it’s especially nice when those letters are from Big Nate readers with questions, comments, and their own drawings.  Recently I received a couple of packages, each of which contained quite a few letters.  I chose one as the subject of today’s blog entry.

Jacob from Texas sent this drawing — I like the spiky hair! -- and asked for some cartooning tips.  In particular, he mentions that he has trouble finishing his comic strips.  He also asks:  what are the steps to making cartoons? 

Jacob, I don’t think there’s one perfect formula for making comics.  Everyone has his or her own way of working.  But that’s an important word:  working.  Cartooning is great fun, but it also takes a lot of work to get better.  Sometimes you’re not happy with the results of your work.  You might draw a strip you don’t like very much, for example.  Or, as you said, you might have trouble finishing a particular strip.  But it’s OK to draw stuff you don’t think is any good.  That’s an important part of improving.  The next time you’re having problems finishing a strip, just remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Most cartoonists I know freely admit that they drew a lot of lousy comics when they were starting out.  They kept at it, though, and their work steadily improved.  Yours will, too, if you practice at it.

Practicing can mean different things.  Practicing your drawing skills might mean drawing a character, and then seeing if you can draw that same character again in exactly the same way.  Or it might mean challenging yourself to draw things that are difficult for you.  It might mean doodling for an hour, or playing the scribble game with a friend.  Practicing also might mean working on your writing skills.  A well-written comic strip can be great even if the artwork isn’t so hot.  So I always encourage kids to write — not just comic strips, but stories, jokes, letters, poems...you name it!

My own steps to making cartoons are pretty simple.  First, I think of an idea.  Sometimes that takes just a few minutes, and sometimes it takes hours.  Next, I sketch out a strip lightly in  pencil.  And finally, I go over it in ink.  If I make mistakes while I’m inking, I correct them with white-out or by putting a patch over the mistake, then drawing on top of the patch. 

If you have friends who also like comics, think about starting a cartooning club at your school.  Sharing and comparing your comics with friends is another great way to improve.

Thanks for writing, Jacob.  That’s all for this time!

Sun, 12/12/2010

Enslave the Mollusk

In today’s Big Nate comic strip (which you can read by clicking on the button that says “comic strip” on the bignatebooks.com homepage), Nate is very excited about an “Enslave The Mollusk” reunion.  I can’t remember whether or not  I’ve blogged about “Enslave The Mollusk” in the past, but that’s the name of Nate’s band.  It features Artur on lead vocals, Francis on guitar, Teddy on keyboards, and Nate on drums.  (The band, by the way, is named after a middle school band that really existed -- for one rehearsal.  It was organized by my son’s friend, Owen.)

Before Nate took up the drums, he played the trombone.  There’s a family history here:  both my father and my brother played the trombone, but my dad was far more accomplished.  I remember very clearly watching one day while my brother rather lethargically practiced his trombone.  My dad must have grown tired of listening to “On Top Of Old Smokey” over and over again.  He took the trombone from my brother and quite effortlessly played an advertising jingle that we’d heard on TV just a few minutes before.  It was one of those astonishing moments you sometimes experience as a kid, when you realize that your parents have talents that extend well beyond doing laundry and mowing the lawn.  I was impressed, to say the least.

My own musical history, though, is not so impressive.  Back then, all fourth and fifth graders at my elementary school were offered the chance to rent an instrument and take lessons through the school’s music department.  Everybody else seemed to be picking the trumpet, so I chose the saxophone.  There was also a practical consideration:  my aunt had played the sax as a girl and was willing to loan me her instrument.  That saved me the instrument rental fee, but it meant I spent the next 3 or 4 years playing a saxophone that smelled like mildew.  My lessons were held in a tiny, windowless room right next to the cafeteria, and my teacher was terrifying.  I don’t remember his name, but I remember his Fu Manchu mustache.  And I definitely remember how angry he used to get if he suspected that you hadn’t practiced that week.  I probably felt like a lot of kids:  I liked the idea of being able to play an instrument, but I was completely unwilling to make an effort to improve.

I still have the same problem.  As an adult, I’ve taken guitar lessons several times over the years.  Each time, I’ve reached the point where I can play a few songs, but eventually I neglect my practicing or lose interest.  I’m still planning to learn the guitar, or maybe the banjo, but probably not until I retire from cartooning.  For now, I’ll stick to comics about “Enslave The Mollusk”!

Wed, 12/08/2010

Vote for Big Nate!

As Nate is demonstrating very effectively in this picture, there are plenty of uses for a book.  Especially a hardcover.  I think most of us would agree, though, that the best thing to do with a good book is to read it.  If you like it, read it again.  Or, better yet, find another book by the same author and read THAT one.  Or look for books with similar themes and try THEM on for size. 

Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys reading.  But maybe it’s just because he or she hasn’t found the right book yet.  Luckily, there are plenty of ways to find out about wonderful books.  One of them is called READKIDDOREAD.  You can check it out here: http://www.readkiddoread.com/home

As you’ll see, there are countless suggestions for great books to read in all sorts of different categories.  Some of them are new to me because they hadn’t been written yet when I was little, or even when my KIDS were little.  But others, like Watership Down, James And The Giant Peach, and The Phantom Tollbooth, have been around a long time.

Know what else you can do while you’re exploring READKIDDOREAD?  You can vote for your favorite books of the past year.  And Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself is on the ballot.  You can vote here:  http://www.readkiddoread.com/uploads/kiddos.php

You’ll find Big Nate in the “best pageturners of 2010” category.  You have until the middle of February to vote.  That gives you plenty of time — not only to cast your vote, but to read some of the great books you’ll find here.  Happy reading and thanks for voting!

Mon, 12/06/2010

Superstitious

Are you superstitious?  Here’s why I ask:  tonight I went to the local rink to watch my hockey team play.  (Of course I’d rather be playing instead of watching, but I’m still a couple weeks away from getting my doctor’s permission to do so.)  Anyway, I visited the guys in the locker room while they were gearing up, and — because the game didn’t start until 10:50 at night — told them I was only planning to stay through the first period.  But when the first period ended, we were losing, 1-0.  So I stayed longer.  It seemed like it would be bad luck for me to leave with us losing.  It took a little while, but eventually, a few minutes into the second period, we tied the score.  And then I immediately left the rink and came home.  If we hadn’t managed to score, I’d probably still be there.

Big Nate is superstitious, too.  If you’ve read Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself, you know that Nate puts a great deal of faith in what a fortune cookie tells him.  He’s also the sort of kid who reads his horoscope every day, frequently consults his magic 8-ball, believes in omens, and is convinced that he can’t play winning basketball without his lucky socks.

When I was Nate’s age, I considered myself above average in the luck department.  I was especially good at finding money.  Nowadays, there’s almost no such thing as pay telephones, but back then there was one on every corner.  A lot of kids, myself included, would check the change slot of every phone we passed, hoping that by some miracle we might find a dime or even a quarter.  It probably only happened once or twice a year, but those were good enough odds to continue trying. 

Sometimes, though, you didn’t need a pay phone to hit the jackpot.  There was a long, steep hill near my house.  We called it “Drag Hill” because teenagers would sometimes race cars there.  I either walked or rode my bike up that hill almost every day, often more than once.  I never remembered finding any money there — until one incredibly lucky day.  I was riding my bike to the public pool and had just started up Drag Hill when I saw a dollar on the side of the road.  I jumped off my bike to pick it up, and noticed a bunch of coins nearby...and farther up the hill there was another dollar, and then another one.  I walked slowly up the hill, and every few feet I found more coins and more dollar bills.  By the time I reached the top of the hill, I’d collected almost thirty dollars — and since my weekly allowance at the time was three dollars a week, that was an absolute fortune.  I can only guess that someone must have dropped a bag of money without noticing, or maybe some money flew out of a car.  However it happened, it was my luckiest money-finding day of all time. 

Thu, 12/02/2010

Mighty Xavier

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Mine was great, but the holiday kept me from my stated goal of returning to my twice-weekly blogging schedule.  NOW, though, I’ll finally get back on track — no excuses!

Last time I wrote about how creating comics after specific sporting events has helped me deal with the disappointment of a crushing loss.  And I promised to look through my dusty old file cabinet for an example.  I don’t have the space to show you the entire comic (which is four pages long), so I’ve chosen just a couple of panels.  This story, which is called “IT’S OVER! (special playoff edition)”, is about a high school baseball game — not one I played in, but that I coached.

More than twenty years ago, I worked as an art teacher at St. Francis Xavier High School in New York City.  I was also the baseball coach.  In the spring of 1989, we had a very good year.  We went through the regular season with only four losses, and then advanced to the championship game of the Catholic High School Athletic Association playoffs (Bronx-Manhattan division).  We played Monsignor Scanlan High School, a team we’d beaten earlier that year.  Our starting pitcher, though, had a rough day, and we fell behind 5-0.  But we staged a remarkable rally and took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh.  (High school baseball games usually only last seven innings.)  Unfortunately, Scanlan came up with a rally of its own, and we ended up losing 7-6.  Mighty Xavier’s season was over.  Our final record for the year was 14-5.

My high school coaching career ended soon after that; I was in the process of getting “Big Nate” off the ground and didn’t have the time to devote to coaching any more.  But many of those experiences have a way of showing up in the comic strip and the Big Nate books.  For example, I met a few other coaches who were a lot like Coach John.  And in Big Nate Strikes Again, the epic fleeceball games have the same sort of drama and excitement as the real-life games I was a part of many years ago.  In fact, I’m reminded of my Xavier days every day when I sit at my desk.  I keep a baseball there that was signed by all my players.  It’s a little shocking to realize that some of those boys are now almost forty years old!

And speaking of old...do you know how old Big Nate is?  Well, his AGE never changes — he’s eleven.  But in real-life years, Nate’s a bit older than that.  The comic strip first appeared in print in January of 1991...so in a little over a month, Nate will be turning TWENTY.  If you see him, wish him a happy birthday!

Sun, 11/28/2010

Sports Games Immortalized in Comics

Last time I wrote about hand-made cards, and posted a picture of one I made for our son’s sixth birthday (more than ten years ago).  Here’s another one that’s of a more recent vintage.  I made it for my wife on her birthday last month.  She’s a yoga teacher, so she can appreciate better than most the hilarity of Coach John doing yoga poses.

But enough about cards.  Let’s talk about sports.  If you’ve read the Big Nate comic strip over the years, you know that Nate is a fan of Boston sports teams. That reflects my own affection for those teams — the Red Sox, the Bruins, the Celtics, and the Patriots.  Yesterday, as some of you may know, the Patriots hung on for dear life and beat the hated Indianapolis Colts, 31-28.  For several agonizing minutes it looked like the Colts would stage an amazing comeback (like last year), but in the end the Pats intercepted a Peyton Manning pass with 30 seconds to go to seal the win.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see all the teams I root for win championships, but the losses are just as vivid as the wins — maybe more so.  And in those painful moments, I’ve used comics to help me deal with the disappointment.  The first time I remember drawing comics about a specific sporting event was in 1978.  The Red Sox had blown a huge midseason division lead, fallen three games behind the Yankees, then come roaring back to force a one-game playoff.  The Red Sox lost in what will forever be known as the “Bucky Dent game.”  (Bucky Dent was the Yankees’ light-hitting shortstop who hit a decisive wind-blown home run into the left field screen.)  My boyhood hero, Carl Yastrzemski, made the final out by popping up weakly to third base.  Afterwards, I was inconsolable.  (I was a sophomore in high school.)  After a couple of days, I drew a 2 or 3 page comic in which the outcome was reversed; in my version, the Yankees collapsed in spectacular fashion and Yastrzemski was the hero.  Of course in real life it didn’t change anything (the Yankees went on to win the World Series), but it made me feel better.  It was therapeutic.

Other awful moments I’ve immortalized in comics: the 1986 World Series, the 1988 and 1990 Red Sox/Oakland A’s playoff series, the 1999 American League Championship Series (Yankees beat the Red Sox again), the 2003 American League Championship Series (Yankees beat the Red Sox AGAIN), Super Bowl XX, Super Bowl XXXI, and a few others.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any of those comics to show you.  I sent them to friends who were as distraught as I was.

But there’s one comic I CAN show you, and will next time (if I can find it in my filing cabinet).  It chronicles a heartbreaking baseball game that I watched not as a fan, but as a coach.  I’ll tell you more after the holiday.  Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Mon, 11/22/2010

Well Wishes and Greeting Cards

I’ve been a little under the weather lately, and so I apologize to those of you who might be wondering why I haven’t posted a new entry in awhile.  Well, I’m starting to feel better, so from this point on, I’m returning to my regular (pre-book tour) blogging schedule:  twice a week.

At any rate, I’ve been grateful to receive a few get well cards from some friends in recent days, and it got me thinking about cards.  One of the things I enjoy most about being a cartoonist is making my own cards  for birthdays and other special occasions.  It’s very satisfying on two levels:  1.) it’s fun to make drawings, create stories, or write poems that I probably would never have the chance to put in a book or in the comic strip; and 2.) it’s economical.  Have you gone into your local drugstore recently to buy a birthday card?  Pricey.  Down the line, maybe I can create a line of Big Nate greeting cards.

The card pictured here is one I did for our son Elias on his sixth birthday.  At the time, he was quite obsessed with coloring books depicting medieval scenes, illuminated manuscripts, and  so on.  He enjoyed filling them up with tiny little shapes of color so that they’d look like stained glass.   So I drew a picture of him in medieval clothing.  And if you look at his left hand, you can see that he started coloring it in.  But he didn’t get far.  Perhaps when we rolled in the birthday cake, he lost focus.

Before I sign off, a quick message to Nathan from Milwaukee:  I got your letter, Nathan, and I wrote you back, c/o your teacher.  Keep an eye out for an envelope from Maine!

Wed, 11/17/2010

Observations from the Book Tour and Big Nate in Italiano!

A couple years ago, I watched a TV interview with my friend Jeff Kinney, author of the “Wimpy Kid” books.  He was showing the reporter some of the foreign editions of  “Diary Of A Wimpy Kid,” and was remarking that the word “wimpy” doesn’t necessarily translate into some other languages.  That was long before I’d written any Big Nate books, but now that I have, I’m having a similar experience.  For example, the UK edition of Big Nate:  In A Class by Himself is called Big Nate:  The Boy With The Biggest Head In The World.  And even though I don’t read Italian, I’m pretty sure the subtitle of the Italian edition shown here says something like:  An Incredibly Disastrous Day At School.  Plenty of other foreign editions have been printed or are in the process, and I’m looking forward to seeing them!

Anyway, it’s wonderful to be home with my family after a long book tour.  I mentioned in my last blog entry that I’d share a few final thoughts about my trip, and here they are.  But be warned:  they’re pretty random.

I told you a few entries ago that in each city I visit, I have a driver who gets me to schools and bookstores on time.  In Houston, I had a wonderful driver who was with me for two and a half days.  For the first day and a half, he called me Lincoln.  Then, on the last day, he mysteriously started calling me London.  By then I didn’t have the heart to correct him.

Also in Houston, I went to a barber shop called Eddie’s.  I’d never had my hair cut in a place with more than six chairs.  Eddie’s had fourteen.  I guess it’s true that everything’s bigger in Texas.

Most of my television watching while on tour is confined to sports highlights so that I can keep tabs on my favorite teams.  But on this trip I also watched two movies on TV.  The first, which wasn’t so great, was “Cast Away” starring Tom Hanks.  I’d give it only a six out of ten.  The other, which I’ve watched many times over the years, was the 1939 version of  “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” starring Charles Laughton.  The scene in which Quasimodo swings down from the bell tower to rescue Esmeralda from the gallows is the greatest.

Incidentally, while I was touring, my sports teams did great.  Now that I’m home, they stink.  I think I’ve put some sort of whammy on them.

I read a book during my trip.  Not a kids’ book, an actual grown-up book.  It’s called “The Warmth Of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson.  I loved it.

And finally, it was great to spend time with friends and family while I was out on the road.  I saw friends in Portland, Oregon, one of my wife’s cousins in Denver, and two more cousins in Houston.  It kept me going until I made it home on Thursday.

Now it’s time to turn my attention toward the artwork for Big Nate On A Roll!

Tue, 11/09/2010

The Big Nate Book Tour: New York

I'm only a one-hour plane ride away from Maine, and it will be very good to get back home.  But I'm happy to say that the tour ended on a high note, with two great school visits and a bookstore event this evening.

But before EITHER of those, I did a radio interview this morning on WKNY in Kingston, New York.  Since I'm an amateur radio DJ myself, I was very happy to do it.  (The station format sounded like oldies/classic rock for those of you radiophiles.)  I talked to a very nice guy named Warren live on the air, and he had definitely done his homework.  We talked about everything from Big Nate to Beetle Bailey to Peanuts to Gasoline Alley.  Radio and comics:  two of my favorite subjects!

Following that, I spent the morning with some third and fourth grade students at Marbletown Elementary School in Stone Ridge.  Enthusiasm was running high.  I'd like to thank my helpers like Avi and Ailene (sorry I had trouble spelling your name, Ailene), along with some cartooning experts like Roman, Baylee, Andrew, Austin, Lalah, and Claire.  And I MUST make special mention of a very talented young man named Danny.  I could tell just by watching Danny play the scribble game that he's got cartooning talent coming out of his ears.  After the session, he snuck back to see me with his bookful of drawings, and they were fantastic.  I wish I'd been able to draw like that when I was 8.  Frankly, I wish I could draw like that NOW.  Keep it up, Danny!

Then (after lunch at a place called Bodacious Bagels) it was on to Rosendale Elementary School in Cottekill.  Originally, I was scheduled to give just one presentation here to a group of 70 third and fourth graders.  But we decided to split the kids into two groups, and that worked great.  I had help from Robert, whose birthday was yesterday, along with kids like Phoebe, Gianna, and Mackenzie (some of whom were nice enough to give their drawings to me after we were done).  And later, at the Barnes & Noble, it was great to see some kids I'd spoken to earlier in the day (you know who you are, Isaiah) come out to see me a second time.

Thanks very much to Alisa and Barbara, the librarians at the respective schools, and also to Carol from Barnes & Noble for all her help today.  Good luck in Texas, Carol.

I'll be home tomorrow, which means I'll be returning to my regular twice-a-week blogging schedule.  Check back in a couple days and I'll have some final thoughts about this book tour.  That's all for this time!

Wed, 11/03/2010

The Big Nate Book Tour: Pennsylvania Day Two

I'd never heard of Manayunk before.  It turns out it's a very hilly neighborhood in Philadelphia.  It's also the home to a charming school called the Academy in Manayunk, home to (I think I've got this number right) about 72 students in grades 1 - 5.  I visited there this morning, and the first thing I saw when I walked in the door was a life-size robot (constructed by the students last year) wearing a Big Nate t-shirt.  Building things, doing art projects, and all sorts of hands-on learning are the norm at this school, and I was very impressed.  As a parent, I couldn't help but think that it would have been a wonderful place for my own kids to go to school.  If we happened to live in Manayunk.

I first spoke to a group of third graders, and my helper was a very enthusiastic young lady named Emily (not to be confused with the OTHER Emily in the class).  The kids did a great job of following along as I drew at the whiteboard, and they had a lot of great suggestions to contribute to our drawing.  It was just like I told them:  they ALL were already cartoonists!  After that, I went upstairs to speak to the 4th and 5th graders.  Thanks to my helper Sophia for being a good sport.  I also think Grace deserves a special shout-out for her comics knowledge.  But there were plenty of other kids in BOTH groups with a lot to offer, like Nikolaj, Isabelle, Simon, Chris, and Seamus.  Thanks to everyone at Manayunk for a great morning.

And thanks once again to Heather and Children's Book World for making it happen.  I have just one day left on tour, but it will be a very long one.  More tomorrow.

Tue, 11/02/2010