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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Drawn Togther

Do you live within a manageable drive of Los Angeles?  If so, maybe I'll see you at a very special event coming soon to that great city:  DRAWN TOGETHER:  CARTOONISTS UNITE TO BENEFIT LOS ANGELES SCHOOL LIBRARIES.  It's taking place on Saturday, June 20th at 1:00 pm in the spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I'll be joining my friends JEFF KINNEY (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), DAV PILKEY (Captain Underpants), and STEPHAN PASTIS (Timmy Failure) for a fun-filled afternoon of presentations and signings, hosted by the Emmy Award-winning actress, JULIE BOWEN

This is the second Drawn Together benefit.  The first took place in Oklahoma in September of 2013 after much of the town of Moore was wiped out by a tornado.  Jeff immediately started brainstorming about ways to help; specifically, he wanted to find a way to raise some money to assist in rebuilding Moore's school libraries.  He asked me, Dav, and Stephan if we'd like to team up with him, and that's just what we did.  There were two events that weekend:  one in Tulsa, the other in Norman, on the campus of the University of Oklahoma.  We each gave a short powerpoint presentation about ourselves and our books, and then we signed hundreds of Drawn Together posters for hundreds of kids.  It was great fun, and all four of us cherished the opportunity to give something back to school libraries, which have been so supportive of all of us through the years.

This year, there'll be only one event instead of two -- but the venue is much bigger, and we're hoping to see at least as large a turnout as we had at the two events in Oklahoma combined.  And once again, all proceeds will benefit school libraries.  Each of our publishers has generously agreed to donate 400 books; we'll pre-sign those the morning of the event, and they'll be on sale at a discounted price.  I'm looking forward to seeing my colleagues again, watching their presentations, and meeting all of you who are able to attend.

Interested?  You can find out more about Drawn Together and buy tickets at http://www.drawntogetherla.org

Hope to see you there!
 

Fri, 06/05/2015

A Thank You to Mrs. Campbell

Based on my depiction of characters like Mrs. Godfrey and Coach John, you might think that my childhood was chock-full of nightmarish teachers.  And it was.  But I had plenty of GOOD teachers, too.  One of them was my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Campbell.  (That's not her real name; I've changed it to protect her privacy.)

Recently, I received an email from a teacher in my hometown, telling me that Mrs. Campbell will be retiring this month after 43 years of teaching.  I was asked to write a letter to Mrs. Campbell, to be included in a book of reminiscences from former students.  I was pleased and proud to do so.  Here's what I wrote:

Dear Mrs. Campbell,

I suppose, now that I'm 51 years old, that it wouldn't seem inappropriate for me to address you by your first name, but I can't imagine doing so.  Our former teachers remain fixed in memory exactly as we remember them -- which means you'll always be Mrs. Campbell to me.

What a wonderful teacher you were!  I've probably forgotten most of the math you taught me, but who cares?  I'm of the belief that the knowledge dispensed in a classroom is just about the LEAST important factor to consider when assessing the impact a teacher can have on a young life.  What really matters is the kindness an adult shows a child, and how that kindness contributes to the student's sense of well-being.  You had a gift for making your students feel loved, respected, and safe.  That's what remains when all the textbook learning fades away.  When I write the words "You were a great teacher," what I'm really saying is:  You are a beautiful person.  That was clear to me even as a 12 year-old boy, and I'm sure it's as true today as it was almost forty years ago.

I became a teacher myself, briefly, before I got started in my current line of work.  For three years, I was the art teacher and baseball coach at a Jesuit high school for boys in New York City.  I thought of you often during that time, and I tried to become the kind of teacher to those boys that you'd been to me.  I appreciated your setting the bar so high.  Your example gave me something to aspire to.

Mrs. Campbell, thank you for making a difference in my life, and congratulations on 43 years of teaching.  I wish you a long and happy retirement.

With very best wishes,

Lincoln Peirce
 

Tue, 06/02/2015

Head Injuries

Over in the comic strip world, Nate is dealing with the aftereffects of a mild concussion after being beaned in a Little League baseball game.  Head injuries are no laughing matter, obviously, but in my ongoing quest to depict Nate as an authentic kid, I thought it was high time he dealt with something that seems to affect just about every young person who plays sports at one time or another (not to mention college and pro athletes).  Concussions really have become an epidemic in recent years.

It wasn't always this way, of course.  It's only been during the last decade that concussions have been more thoroughly researched.  Before that, nobody seemed to take them very seriously.  When I was a high school hockey player, I was once knocked unconscious during the second period of a game.  I was revived in the locker room, where a teammate's father, who happened to be a doctor, looked at my eyes and asked me to specify how many fingers he was holding up.  When I answered correctly, he sent me back into the game.  I didn't give it a second thought.  Neither did my parents, my coach, or any other players on the team.  I'm positive I suffered a concussion -- I remember having headaches and feeling sick for days afterward -- but nobody ever used that word.  And there were no safeguards in place back then to protect the developing brains of young athletes.

Nate, fortunately, lives in a different era.  His doctor and his father are taking no chances.  They've forbidden him from reading or looking at any screens for a week.  And if P.S. 38 is at all progressive, his school has done some baseline testing of Nate's cognition, reflexes, etc. when he's at 100% -- data to use in comparison to his condition after his injury.  Plus, Nate's doctor has probably made him aware that having suffered one concussion, he's now more likely to suffer additional concussions.  He's more susceptible. 

And now a few words about panel #4 in the cartoon shown here.  When our kids were little, we took a family trip to Mont Tremblant in Canada -- about an 8-hour drive.  Our daughter Dana was in kindergarten or first grade at the time, and wanted to listen to books on tape during the trip.  She had her own little tape player and headphones in the back seat of the car, so she was equipped to listen to whatever book she liked.  And the book she was especially fond of at that time was one of the late Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones books.  After only about an hour in the car, Dana's headphones stopped working...but she wanted to continue listening to the book.  So she did.  For the next seven hours.  I have no problem with the Junie B. Jones series.  But after that trip, I DID have a problem with the voice actor hired to read the Junie B. Jones books.  Seven hours of her and I was ready to drive off a bridge.  Nate clearly feels the same way!
 

Fri, 05/29/2015

Why Jeff Kinney Is My Hero

First things first:  We had a wonderful time at Elias's graduation from Bowdoin College on Saturday.  Shown here is the happy grad with his sister after the commencement exercises concluded.  A couple of distinguished Mainers (US Senator Angus King and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson) gave opening remarks, and there were two student speakers who were very good, too.  Then the diplomas were handed out, and it was time for a giant luncheon in the field house.  We'll be repeating this process -- but on a much smaller scale -- in just a couple of weeks for Dana when she graduates from high school.  Elias's senior class at Bowdoin numbered 473 students; Dana's senior class at Waynflete is about 70.

Anyway, on to another subject:  WHY JEFF KINNEY IS MY HERO.  As you must know, Jeff is the author of the fantastic Wimpy Kid books, and he and I have known each other for almost 25 years now.  Next month, I'll be joining him in California for DRAWN TOGETHER, a fundraiser to benefit Los Angeles school libraries.  For publicity purposes, Jeff asked me and the other cartoonists involved -- Stephan Pastis and Dav Pilkey -- to send him a drawing to use for a poster.  I did the drawing of Nate on a skateboard shown here, scanned it at a high resolution, and emailed it to him.  That was several weeks ago.

Flash forward to tonight.  Jeff called me to say that my drawing was causing problems with the poster because it wasn't high-resolution enough.  I was baffled.

Me:  But I scanned it at 800 dpi.
Jeff:  Well, the file you sent is only 72 dpi.  It looks fuzzy compared to the other drawings.
Me:  I don't get it.  Let me try sending it again.


You can probably guess how this story unfolds.  I'm a technophobe, so I've never really taken the time to understand my own scanner or computer.  Your typical chimpanzee is probably more tech-savvy than I am.  I tried sending the image again.  I tried sending it in a different format.  I tried scanning it all over again at a different resolution.  But each time I sent a file to Jeff, the version that reached him was only 72 dpi.

If we'd relied on me to determine what was going wrong, there would have been no chance of finding a solution.  Fortunately, Jeff was able to figure it out.  He determined that my email host was the culprit.  To protect itself from being overloaded, it automatically reduces high-res files to 72 dpi when sending them.  That's why the file I first sent Jeff was 800 dpi when it left my desktop, but only 72 dpi when Jeff received it.  He was able to walk me through the steps to compress the image into a zip file.  Once I did that -- another procedure I never could have accomplished on my own -- the file reached Jeff at 800 dpi.  Perfect!   And that's WHY JEFF KINNEY IS MY HERO.

Tue, 05/26/2015

Congratulations!

When is a blog entry not a blog entry?  When it's as short as this one.

Our son Elias is graduating tomorrow from Bowdoin College.  It's a very proud and happy day for our family.

I'm setting aside all work for the moment to enjoy the festivities along with the other graduates and their parents.

Three cheers to al the young people who are starting new chapters in their lives this Spring!  

 

Fri, 05/22/2015

Limericks

Years ago, long before I started writing Big Nate novels, I had what I thought was a great idea for a children's book.  It was written entirely in limericks, and it was called LIMERICKY.  It was the story of a boy named Ricky who doesn't like his name. He thinks "Ricky" is too plain.   After taking a fall and hitting his head, he develops amnesia and can't remember much of anything -- including his name.  He wanders into a nearby circus, where he sees magnificent sights and meets a clown named Hullaballoo.  The clown tries to help Ricky remember who he is, but it's not until the boy spots a refreshment stand that something clicks.  Hullaballoo asks him if he'd like a "lime ricky" -- it's a drink similar to lemonade, only it's made with limes -- and hearing his name included in the drink order is what finally jogs Ricky's memory.  In the end (after enjoying a lime ricky), Ricky decides that his name's not so bad after all.

The book didn't go anywhere, but that didn't change the way I feel about limericks.  I've always enjoyed them, starting when I was a child.  Here's one I remember learning when I was in grade school:

There once were two cats from Kilkenny.
Each thought that was one cat too many.
So they started to fight,
And to scratch, and to bite...
Now instead of two cats, there aren't any.

As I got older, I learned that one man in particular was more responsible than anyone for popularizing the limerick.  His name was Edward Lear, and I think I've written about him in this blog before -- but that was several years ago.  Here are a few biographical tidbits to refresh your memory.  Edward Lear, who lived from 1812 to 1888, was a writer, poet, artist, musician...and a cartoonist!  Although he was a very fine illustrator of flora and fauna (he was sometimes compared to John James Audubon), he is known today mostly for his volumes of literary nonsense, which for the better part of two centuries have amused children and adults alike.  These books contained songs, illustrations, recipes, alphabets, and -- as one would expect -- limericks.  I've shown one of Lear's limericks above, but it's probably too small for you to read.  Here's what it says:

There was an Old Lady whose folly
Induced her to sit in a holly;
Whereupon by a thorn
Her dress being torn,
She quickly became melancholy.

Of course, I can't end this blog entry without including a limerick from Big Nate!  In the first novel, Big Nate:  In A Class By Himself, Nate composes a limerick about his favorite snack food, Cheez Doodles:

I have feasted on all sorts of noodles,
I have tried an assortment of strudels.
Of the foods that I've eaten,
Only one can't be beaten:
An extra large bag of Cheez Doodles

Tue, 05/19/2015

Comic Autobiography

All comic strips are, to some extent, autobiographical.  This fairly obvious thought occurred to me (again) a couple of weeks ago during my trip to Memphis, where a whole bunch of cartoonists visited the patients at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  All I had to do was look around; the room was full of cartoonists who show up in their respective comic features in various ways.  For example:

• Jeff Keane writes and draws The Family Circus.  It was started by his father, Bil Keane, and there was never any doubt that the feature (which is drawn inside a circle, making it stand out on any comics page) was based on the Keane family.  The kid characters were all named after Bil's real-life children, including Jeff.  His comic counterpart is Jeffy, the third of four children. 

• Rick Stromoski is the creator of Soup To Nutz, a strip that chronicles the hectic life of the Nutz family.  Rick grew up in a very large family, and the dynamics between him and his siblings, not to mention his Catholic upbringing, form the foundation of his very funny strip.

• Stephan Pastis does Pearls Before Swine, a strip which features, among other characters, a cartoonist named Stephan Pastis.

Now, what about yours truly?  I'm asked all the time if Nate is based on me, and the answer is no; there are no characters in BIG NATE, besides Spitsy and Francis, that are based on real-life individuals.  BUT!...there's no escaping the fact that Nate likes (and dislikes) many of the same things I do.  He loves dogs, ice hockey, and Cheez Doodles; he hates cats, figure skating, and egg salad.  So do I.  Nate also lives in Maine, like I do, and is a Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins fan, as I am.  And then there's the biggie:  Nate's a cartoonist, too.  So there are quite a few similarities there.  Still, there are plenty of differences -- enough of them so that I'd never claim that Nate's supposed to be the comic strip version of me.

But there IS a character I based on myself, in an entirely different comic strip.  While I was in college, I wrote and drew a weekly comic strip called THIRD FLOOR for the school newspaper, The Colby Echo.  The main character, Jerry Price, was my comic strip alter ego.  He was an art major.  He always wore a baseball cap and an unbuttoned flannel shirt.  He had very little success with girls.  And he had a couple of eccentric roommates.  He was my mirror image.  So, you might wonder, why didn't I just NAME him after myself?  Well, I've written before about my somewhat tortured relationship with my name.  Peirce is always misspelled and mispronounced.  (It's pronounced 'purse,' by the way.)  As a kid, I used to dream of having a name that couldn't be butchered, but sounded sort of similar to my actual name.  I chose the name Price.  To me, Price was the perfect last name.  Everyone knows how to spell it, and everyone knows how to pronounce it.  And I have no idea why I chose the name Jerry, except that I wanted a 'J' name so that the character would have the same initials as my brother:  JP.

Eventually, I came to accept my name.  I'm actually very fond of my first name; there aren't too many Lincolns out there.  But I'd still change my last name if I could.  How does BIG NATE by Lincoln PRICE sound?

 

Fri, 05/15/2015

School Play Season is Here!

It's spring, which means that at schools all across the country, kids are performing in plays.  Schools -- high schools in particular -- often stage three plays over the course of a school year:  fall, winter, and spring.  And the spring play is often a musical.  That seems appropriate somehow.  Especially in parts of the country that endure long, harsh winters, the arrival of spring can make you feel like singing.

The drawing shown here is from Big Nate:  On A Roll, and it shows Chad having some difficulties during one of the flying scenes in "Peter Pan."  Unintended mishaps like this one are occupational hazards in live theatre, and earlier today, I found myself thinking about some of the things that went wrong during the only school play I ever took part in.  It was called Polls Apart.  It was written by our 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Tappan, and took place during the Great Depression.  I remember only a few things about the story:  it centered on a family that argued frequently about the politics of the day.  The mother and father are conservative, their young-adult children (one son, one daughter) are New Deal Democrats.  I played a character named Acey MacAdoo, a friend of the son.  And, in one scene, I had to dance the tango with the daughter, played by a girl named Tina who was several inches taller than I was.  Yes, the play was a comedy.  An unintentional comedy at times, but a comedy nonetheless.

I more clearly remember some of the things that went wrong in the play.  Most distressing to Mr. Tappan was the habit of my best friend Bob (now a school principal in New Hampshire) of silently mouthing all the other actors' lines.  If, for example, the script called for the daughter to say, "Dad, you never listen to anything I say," Bob would be mouthing "Dad, you never listen to anything I say" while Tina spoke the words out loud.  It drove everyone crazy, but Bob seemed unable to stop himself.  I also remember a scene where the family was supposed to be gathered around the radio, listening to one of President Roosevelt's "fireside chats," and the radio didn't work.  There was another scene where a character was supposed to be searching for a set of keys before discovering them in his pocket.  The actor reached into his pocket and realized that the keys weren't there.  At that very moment, a member of the stage crew tossed the keys onstage with a loud clunk.  And finally, because this was a middle school play and the sets were very flimsy, one of the walls fell down during Act One.

I think it's a good thing that my acting career ended after only one play.  I've never been all that comfortable on stage, and whenever I have to speak in front of a crowd, I get a little bit of stage fright (like Nate in Big Nate In The Zone).  The only time I DON'T get stage fright is when I'm speaking to kids.  When I'm in front of a group of Big Nate readers, I feel totally at home!

Tue, 05/12/2015

Is Mrs. Godfrey a Good Teacher?

If you haven't been reading Big Nate in your local newspaper or online this week, here's a brief recap:

Francis, who's a trivia buff, has just bought a new edition of "Funtastic Facts" and is excited to share some of his newfound knowledge with Nate and Teddy.  Nate resists, claiming the only kind of trivia that interests him involves the TV show Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  But Francis is relentless, and manages to share with Nate the fact that Calvin Coolidge is the only president in US history who was born on the 4th of July.  Shortly thereafter, in Social Studies class, Mrs. Godfrey asks Nate a question, and -- surprise! -- it's the very question for which Nate now has the answer:  Who is the only president born on the 4th of July?

In yesterday's strip, shown here, the fourth panel depicts the three central characters in this drama.  Having asked Nate the question, Mrs. Godfrey gives the reader a sidelong glance and thinks silently:  He won't get thisFrancis, aware that Nate actually knows the answer, also glances at the viewer and comments silently:  She won't believe this.   And Nate, looking far more comfortable and confident than he usually does in the classroom, prepares to respond.

This strip prompted a number of comments on gocomics yesterday, many of which focused on the question:  Is Mrs. Godfrey a good teacher?  Some readers said that she clearly is not, because she is asking Nate a question she's sure he can't answer.  In other words, she's attempting to embarrass him.  Other readers pointed to past story lines in which Mrs. Godfrey has behaved responsibly and appropriately as evidence that she IS a good teacher, and that Nate usually is the cause of his own difficulties in Social Studies.

I've been asked my opinion on this very subject many times, and my response is usually somewhere in the middle.  I believe that Mrs. Godfrey, like all of us, is a flawed human being.  She's capable of kindness, generosity, and tolerance.  She's just as capable of pettiness, favoritism, and outbursts of anger.  Nate is the most frequent target of these outbursts because he, too, is a flawed human being.  In fact, he might be a little more flawed than most.  Another thing to keep in mind is that part of the fun of comic strips is depicting extreme personality types.  Mrs. Godfrey wouldn't be nearly as interesting a character if she were to treat all students equally, with kindness and respect.  She's more compelling when you don't know whether or not she's about to explode.

That's why the characters with milder personalities -- like Francis, or Mr. Rosa, or Nate's Dad -- tend to play supporting roles.  It's the characters with outsized or outrageous personalities -- like Nate, or Gina, or School Picture Guy -- who tend to be more memorable.  So even if you don't like Mrs. Godfrey, you'll probably never forget her!

Fri, 05/08/2015

Our New Age

Recently, on Netflix, I've been watching episodes of a TV series called Star Trek:  Enterprise.  I wouldn't characterize myself as a Trekkie by any means, but over the years I've probably seen just about every episode of each of the various Star Trek series...except this one.  Enterprise is completely new to me.  It's a "prequel" to the original Star Trek from the late 1960's; in other words, the events of Star Trek:  Enterprise are supposed to predate the events of the original Star Trek.  The show focuses on an era in which interstellar exploration and making contact with other species -- everyday occurrences in the later shows -- are still very new experiences.  Watching this TV series has reminded me of a Sunday comic strip that used to appear in The Boston Globe when I was a young boy.  It was called Our New Age, and it celebrated -- and even predicted -- the future.

The creator of Our New Age wasn't a cartoonist; he was a scientist.  In fact, he was the dean of the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology, and his name was Athelstan Spilhaus.  Dr. Spilhaus was inspired to start his comic strip by one of the 20th century's most significant events:  the Soviet Union's launch into space of Sputnik, the world's first human-made satellite, in 1957.  Spilhaus worried that American kids were falling behind their Soviet counterparts in science and technology, and thought that creating a comic strip with educational content might inspire young readers.  Beginning in October of 1997, each week Dr. Spilhaus would compose a short essay that was a look into the future, and a rotating cast of cartoonists would illustrate his words.  In re-examining some of these strips that are now over 50 years old, it's fun to see that Dr. Spilhaus's visions of future technology were often uncannily accurate.  In the panel on the right, a man gazes at what looks like a space-age TV set.  The caption reads:  Researchers thousands of miles away may consult books in the Library of Congress or the British Museum.  If that's not a description of an internet database, I don't know what is!  He also did strips about recycling, undersea farming, genetic engineering, and climate change.

Apparently, some of Dr. Spilhaus's colleagues in the scientific community weren't exactly thrilled that he was writing a comic strip in his spare time.  They thought it was beneath him.  But Spilhaus didn't see it that way at all.  He didn't consider science and technology to be pursuits that were beyond the average person.  He thought they should be accessible to everyone.  In addition to Our New Age, Spilhaus was also a consultant to several World's Fairs, starting with the one in Seattle in 1962.  He envisioned World's Fairs as opportunities to bring science and technology directly to the public -- not only to amaze the people, but to inspire them to embrace the future.

I'd completely forgotten about Our New Age until just the other day.  I guess I owe a big thanks to the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise for reminding me about it!

Tue, 05/05/2015