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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25 Years of Big Nate!

Nate appears to be in a celebratory mood, and with good reason.  Earlier this week he celebrated 25 years in print.  The Big Nate comic strip debuted in newspapers on Sunday, January 6, 1991 — a quarter century ago!

I remember very little about that particular day, so I thought it might be fun to look online and see what I could find out about the events of the date.  I eventually landed at a site called takemeback, where the facts compiled about January 6, 1991 convinced me of one thing:  this was one of the most boring days in recorded history.  There was a decided lack of news that day, so I’m afraid I can’t report on all the seismic episodes that were occurring around the world.  But I did uncover a few nuggets:

•    How about the most popular movies on that date?   I wouldn’t call any of them Academy Award-worthy.  There was Lionheart, starring Jean Claude van Damme, aka the Muscles from Brussels; Not Without My Daughter starring Sally Field; Kindergarten Cop with former Mr. Universe and future governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger; The Godfather Part III, a movie that never should have been made; and Mermaids, starring Bob Hoskins, Cher, and Winona Ryder in her pre-shoplifting days.  (By the way, going to see a movie in 1991 cost about $4.25.)
•    Let’s look at the pop charts.  The top five songs in the USA that day were:  The First Time by Surface; Justify My Love by Madonna; Love Will Never Do (Without You) by Janet Jackson; High Enough by Damn Yankees; and Sensitivity by Ralph Tresvant.  Full disclosure:  the only one of those songs I’m remotely familiar with is the Madonna tune.
•    Bart Simpson was on the cover of Time magazine that week.  I’d say Big Nate still has quite a long way to go before he ends up on the cover of Time.  Or Popular Mechanics, for that matter.
•    Some of the best-selling books of the day:  Scarlett, the ill-fated “sequel” to Gone With The Wind by Alexandra Ripley; The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy; Needful Things by Maine resident and Red Sox fan Stephen King; and No Greater Love by schlocky romance novelist Danielle Steele.
•    Other fun facts:  A gallon of gas cost, on average, $1.12 in 1991.  A dozen eggs cost 85 cents.  And it cost $1.15 to ride the subway in New York City, where I lived at the time.
•    And finally, what about the comics world that Big Nate entered on that day?  Well, some of the most popular comic strips in 1991 were Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, For Better Or For Worse, Doonesbury, The Far Side, and Garfield.   Other soon-to-be popular strips that were still relatively new were Dilbert, Mutts, Pickles, and Fox Trot.  Current strips that weren’t around back when Big Nate started include Zits, Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, Lio, Red & Rover, and Non Sequitur.  All those strips are more popular than mine, but thanks to the novels published first by HarperCollins and now by Balzer & Bray, Big Nate has found a wider audience.  I’m awfully lucky to have been writing and drawing these stories for nearly half my life.  Thanks for reading, everyone!

 

Fri, 01/08/2016

Mrs. Shipulski's Hair

The blog entries have been few and far between lately, due to family obligations and the holidays, but I’m back today with a hair-raising tale.

As you might have already guessed by looking at the pictures shown here, this entry is going to be about Mrs. Shipulski’s hair color.  But first, here’s a little background.

When I started the comic strip, and for many years thereafter, daily comics — that is, comics appearing in newspapers on Monday through Saturday — were always black and white.  Color was reserved only for the Sunday comics section.  That, along with the fact that they appeared in a longer format, was what made Sunday comics special.  When I brought Mrs. Shipulski into the strip (and I honestly can’t remember when that was), she was strictly a Monday through Saturday character.  I didn't include her in a Sunday page until she’d already been around a few years.  So I never gave much thought to what her hair color was.  In a black-and-white comic strip, hair could be one of three colors:  black (if I colored it in); white (if I left it blank); or something in the middle (if I shaded it in).  Mrs. Shipulski’s hair, obviously, was white.

Fast-forward a few years, and big changes came to the comics biz.  A growing number of newspapers began running comics in color seven days a week.  The first papers to do this did the coloring themselves, but that led to major problems because cartoonists had no say in the color choices.  Eventually, the syndicates — the companies that sell comic strips to newspapers — took on the responsibility of coloring the dailies.  From that point on, the syndicates would not only provide color comics for their newspaper clients; they would also publish the comics in full color online. The syndicates gave the cartoonists a choice:  either the cartoonists could do the coloring, or the syndicate would.  Well, I already was in charge of coloring my own Sunday pages, and was not at all interested in taking on the task of coloring six dailies a week.  Writing and drawing them was more than enough!

When the syndicate started coloring Big Nate dailies, I compiled a “color guide” for them.  I tried to provide color choices for all the major characters, along with my preferred colors for backgrounds, furniture, grass, and so on.  But there were already an awful lot of characters in Big Nate by this time, and Mrs. Shipulski wasn’t exactly a major one.  She slipped through the cracks, and it took a while for her color scheme to get nailed down.  I wasn’t much help to the syndicate in this area, I’m afraid.  I always liked my daily comics to be black-and-white (and, in fact, there are still plenty of newspapers out there who have colorless comics pages on Monday through Saturday), and when I drew those daily strips, I pictured them in my mind as black-and-white, not color.  Once I sent them to the syndicate, it was a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”  I usually didn’t even bother to check the website to see how the colors looked.  So that’s why Mrs. Shipulski, in the three pictures above, appears with sandy brown, then blonde, and finally gray hair.  It was just a matter of a series of colorists over the years making different choices.  But we’ve finally got it figured out now.  Mrs. Shipulski’s gray hair is the color I prefer.

And finally, a trivia question:  How did Mrs. Shipulski get her name?  Well, like many things in my life, it goes back to sports.  A player named Jason Shipulski was a member of the University of New Hampshire ice hockey team that came within a whisker of winning the 1999 NCAA championship.  I followed that team closely and always liked the way young Mr. Shipulski played the game.  So I stole his name.  There you have it!

Tue, 01/05/2016

Big Nate on Jeopardy

I'm writing this entry from my cellphone, so it might not be very long.  I'm at my mother-in-law's apartment, you see, and even though her building now has wifi, she doesn't have a computer and I didn't bring my laptop.  So I'm sitting here watching Monday Night Football and blogging.  Now that's multi-tasking!

Earlier tonight, well before the football game started, we watched Jeopardy, the TV game show.  My mother-in-law turned to me during a commercial break and asked, "Wasn't Big Nate once an answer on Jeopardy?"  And I was happy to tell her that yes, that was indeed the case a few years ago during Kids Week.  I think the answer & question were part of a category called "I Like To Read."

That sent me to Google on my iPhone.  I was trying to determine the exact date of Big Nate's shining moment with Alex Trebek, but when I typed "Big Nate Jeopardy Answer" on the keypad, I discovered something I didn't even know existed:  an online Jeopardy game devoted entirely to Big Nate!  Apparently, there is something called "jeopardylab" that enables people to create Jeopardy grids about whatever subject enthuses them.  And someone -- I have no idea who -- built a Big Nate board. 

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what any of the categories are, or even paste a link to the site, because my iPhone is currently wigging out and I can't even get on the Internet at the moment.  Such are the issues with blogging by phone.  But just google "Big Nate Jeopardy" and you'll find it.

There won't be another entry this week because of the holiday. Happy New Year, everyone!  See you in 2016!
 

Wed, 12/30/2015

Christmas Cartoons

In recent years, a common Christmas theme in the Big Nate comic strip has been Nate’s determination to convince his father that a dog, ANY kind of dog (except a poodle) would be the perfect holiday gift.  But long before Nate’s canine quest became a Christmas tradition, I enjoyed featuring Nate’s notebook comics each December.  Nate’s cartoons, created on the lined paper of his school notebook, were a huge part of the strip for the first ten years or so.  And Christmas seemed the perfect opportunity to tell tales that were a bit quirkier than my usual storylines.  So to celebrate Christmas this year, I  looked through the archive and chose three strips from three previous years.  If you want to read the rest of the strips that accompany these excerpts, just go to bignate.com and navigate your way back to the 1990’s by clicking on the calendar grid above the panels.  The strips shown here are from 1994, 1996, and 1998.

•    A DOCTOR CESSPOOL CHRISTMAS:  The good doctor embarks on the world’s longest house call — to the North Pole — where he discovers Santa’s elves suffering from some sort of mystery illness.  When Doctor Cesspool learns that the elves are fed a diet of fruit cakes and candy canes, he urges Santa Claus to give his workers more protein in the form of red meat.  Disaster ensues.  
•    A SNUGGLES FAMILY CHRISTMAS:  The Snuggles Family was Nate’s rather twisted version of sweet, family-oriented comics like THE FAMILY CIRCUS.  Bob Snuggles, his wife Honey, and their two children Timmy and Pumpkin were wholesomeness personified at first glance, but it never took long to see the family’s dark, dysfunctional underbelly.
•    CHRISTMAS CRISIS with SANTA’S ELVES:  In this storyline, former NFL placekicker-turned-TV personality BIFF BIFFWELL reported on a case of labor unrest at Santa’s workshop.  The elves (led by chief toymaker Chucky) are disgruntled by the fact that they work year-round to make toys for the children of the world, and Santa gets all the glory.  

This is my only blog entry this week because of Christmas.  Look for another entry one week from today.  And happy holidays to all!

 

Tue, 12/22/2015

Photo Blog

What do the photos shown here have in common?  They’re all pictures I took with my iPhone over the past few weeks.  Words to live by:  When you can’t think of anything to blog about, check your photo archive!

The first two images are pictures of birthday gifts my brother gave me when I turned 52 back in October:

•    Image #1:  Mysterious PEIRCE pin — While wandering through the highways and byways of eBay, my brother discovered this pin.  Whoever put it up for auction on eBay offered no information about it, so I don’t know its history, where it came from, or what its significance might be.  But what’s clear is that it features our family name, Peirce.  It’s a handsome design, with the “P” following closely along the pin’s edge on the top and left, and the remaining letters nestling between the stem and the loop.  And within the loop itself is the number 24.  This suggests that it could be a school pin belonging to someone from the Class of 1924.  But is there — or was there — a school called Peirce?  Well, it turns out that there are quite a few of them.  Perhaps the most prominent (or at least it’s the one that comes up first on Wikipedia) is the Helen C. Peirce School of International Studies in Chicago.  There’s also a Peirce College in Philadelphia.  And there are several other elementary and middle schools around the country called Peirce.  The past of this pin will remain a mystery, but its future is secure:  it has taken up residence on my Red Sox baseball cap.
•    Image #2:  Portrait of “Chipper” — Another eBay find!  After discovering the pin, my brother continued to search for other Peirce-related paraphernalia, and came across this print.  It’s an etching, done in 1964, of a dog named Chipper.  And the artist was none other than our great-uncle, Russell Peirce.  Uncle Russell, the younger brother of my grandfather Lincoln, was an architect and artist from Newburyport, Massachusetts.  And I’m assuming that Chipper was his dog.  Anyway, in addition to his artistic talents, Uncle Russell is the only person I know of in our family who ever reported seeing a UFO.  On April 26th, 1954, he reported seeing an object that looked like a “flaming ring” in the skies over Newburyport.  His full description of this encounter, along with his sketch of the object, can be found on a website called ufoevidence.org.

The second two images are pictures I sent to our children:

•    Image #3:  Fish tank at Panda Garden — Panda Garden is one of Portland’s Chinese restaurants, and it’s something of a guilty pleasure for our daughter Dana.  She loves the sweet & sour chicken.  A month or so ago, my entire family was out of town and I didn’t feel like cooking for myself.  So I ordered take-out from Panda Garden.  At the restaurant, there’s a fish tank you can sit next to while waiting for your food.  I took a picture of it and texted it to Dana.  Little-known fact:  There’s a Big Nate connection to Panda Garden!  Over the years, I’ve encountered several nonsensical fortune cookies at Panda Garden, and have blogged about many of them.  Who can forget such gems as Birds are entangled by your feet and men by their tongue?  Or One is not sleeping, does not mean they are awake?  Classics!  These and others like them were the inspiration for the ridiculous fortune Nate writes about in BIG NATE:  IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF:  An unlit candle frightens no monkeys.
•    Image #4:  “Spelling Bee” puzzle — This is a word game that appears every Sunday in the New York Times Magazine.  The instructions read:  How many common words of 5 or more letters can you spell using the letters in the hive?  Every answer must use the center letter at least once.  Letters may be reused in a word.  At least one word will use all seven letters.  Proper names and hyphenated words are not allowed.  Score 1 point for each answer, and 3 points for a word that uses all 7 letters.  In the puzzle shown here, BAKER and BARKER are examples of 1-point words.  WAKE would be worth zero points because it’s not a 5-letter word.  WATER would be worth zero points because it doesn’t include the center letter.  The 3-point word that uses all 7 letters at least once is BREAKWATER.  Our son Elias loves this puzzle, but has no access to it now that he’s in Sri Lanka.  So I take a picture of it each week and text it to him.

That’s all for now!  Thanks for sharing my photo album!
 

Fri, 12/18/2015

New Year, New Nate

Hi, everyone.  Thanks for your patience while I took some time off from blogging to attend to family matters.  

If you’re looking forward to some new Big Nate reading, you don’t have too much longer to wait!  BIG NATE BLASTS OFF, the eighth novel in the series, goes on sale on February 16th.  And THUNKA, THUNKA, THUNKA, the newest collection of Big Nate comic strips, arrives in bookstores only two weeks later, on March 1st.  It won’t be long now!

In an earlier blog entry, I explained how each of the novels got its name.  I’ve also devoted some space in this blog to discussing the covers of the novels, and the choices that are made regarding poses, color schemes, and facial expressions. But I’ve never described the process of naming the comic strip compilations.  Well, with an unusual title like THUNKA, THUNKA, THUNKA appearing soon, this seems like a good place to start.

When the Big Nate compilation books began to come out, I at first opted for “all purpose” titles like BIG NATE FROM THE TOP or BIG NATE OUT LOUD.  Those early collections weren’t chronological; they included strips from many different years.  For that reason, I thought universal titles worked best.  Rather than hinting at the content of the strips inside, these titles employed simple, cheery phrases that readers would likely be familiar with.  There were also a couple of early “themed” collections in which all the strips included in each book dealt with a similar subject.  BIG NATE AND FRIENDS featured strips about Nate and his school pals, while BIG NATE:  GAME ON! was filled with strips about sports.  

But once we started organizing the compilations chronologically, we decided to look to the strips themselves for inspiration while trying to come up with titles.  We scoured the strips for funny or unusual phrases which could work in concert with eye-catching visuals.  Instead of somewhat generic titles like BIG NATE’S GREATEST HITS, we began to choose titles like I CAN’T TAKE IT (picturing Nate freaking out at his desk), GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE (depicting Nate and Francis bonking heads), THE CROWD GOES WILD (with a picture of Nate leaping for a football, about to crash into Jenny & Arthur’s picnic), and SAY GOOD-BYE TO DORK CITY (showing Nate being manhandled by Marcus).

THUNKA, THUNKA, THUNKA, as you can tell from the cover shown here, refers to Nate’s habit of hitting himself gently on the head with an empty plastic soda bottle.  THUNKA is the sound that this activity (which Nate finds very relaxing) happens to generate, and my editor and I agreed that it made for a memorable title that would readily lend itself to a funny cover drawing.  But there’s one final twist to this story:  the cover of THUNKA shown here is NOT the final version.  Some of the booksellers thought this bottle, with its yellow and red label, looked more like a wine bottle than a soda bottle.  So when you go looking for this book on March 1st, you’ll notice that the bottle is plain green.  No more label.

As I said at the beginning of this entry, February 16th and March 1st will be here before you know it.  If you have trouble waiting that long, just do what Nate does:  find yourself a soda bottle, and try to relax!

Tue, 12/15/2015

Sad News

I’m sorry to say that I’ll be suspending my blog entries for a week or so.  Our family suffered a loss on Wednesday when my father-in-law, Ray, passed away.  Above is a picture I took of him last spring at his 85th birthday party.

And here’s how he used to make his living: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIGsvBvxLqg

RIP, Ray.  1930 - 2015.
 

 

 

Fri, 12/04/2015

Dwarfs, Elves, and Gnomes

With a bit more free time on my hands now that I’ve finished all the drawings for BIG NATE BLASTS OFF, I actually set aside some time this evening to sack out in front of the TV and watch THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As you probably know, these movies and the books upon which they’re based are chock-full of dwarfs and elves. (J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings, used dwarves as the plural of dwarf, but dwarfs is the commonly accepted version.) This got me to thinking about dwarfs, elves, and yes — gnomes. In the world of fiction and fantasy, there are multiple varieties of these creatures.

Long before I knew what The Lord of the Rings was, I had a pretty clear picture in my mind of dwarfs and elves. Dwarfs were the charming little men from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Doc, Grumpy, Sleepy, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey. They were earthy, musical, quite messy, and very loyal. Most of them had beards (Dopey was the exception), and they all wore what looked like sleeping caps on their heads. Their footwear, which I think were supposed to be soft boots, looked more like ill-fitting socks. And their trade was mining. The Seven Dwarfs dug for diamonds in a mine near their little cottage. But they didn’t use any of these precious gems for personal enrichment. Mining just happened to be their occupation. If there’d been a cornfield nearby, they probably would have been farmers. Bottom line: Dwarfs, in my mind, were good-natured and kind-hearted forest dwellers. Exactly what you’d expect in a Disney movie.

Elves, according to what I saw on TV, seemed like slightly more attractive dwarfs. My two main sources for this assessment were the landmark Christmas television special Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a series of popular commercials for cookies and desserts that featured The Keebler Elves. Like the Seven Dwarfs, Santa’s elves in Rudolph were industrious, musical, and a bit mischievous. They also wore hats, although theirs were pointier and more fashion-forward than those of the dwarfs. But unlike their distant Disney cousins, Santa’s elves had no beards. They seemed much younger than the Seven Dwarfs — especially Hermie, the dissatisfied elf from Santa’s workshop who wants to be a dentist. Hermie seems almost like a kid. The Keebler Elves, on the other hand, wouldn’t have fit in at the North Pole. They lived in a tree, where they combined a lot of hard work with a little bit of elfin magic to create dessert treats, most of them dipped in fudge. My takeaway: Elves were cheerful, hard-working, clean-shaven, and were probably teetering on the verge of a sugar-induced coma.

Fast forward a couple years to my first reading of The Lord of the Rings. Imagine my surprise when the dwarfs I encountered there were quite violent and warlike. Yes, they were small in stature like Walt Disney’s dwarfs, and most of them had beards. And they were miners, too. But there the similarities ended. Tolkien’s dwarfs weren’t sweet-natured or particularly fun-loving. They were often motivated by greed and mistrust, but were also honorable and courageous. And they were definitely ready for battle. No boots that looked like socks or floppy hats for these guys. They were tricked out in all sorts of armor and chain mail, and they were loaded for bear with axes and swords. Hard to imagine Sleepy or Bashful laying waste to hundreds of rampaging Orcs at the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

And then there were Tolkien’s elves, which were NOTHING like Santa’s or Keebler’s elves. Tolkien’s elves were human-sized and, except for their pointed ears, looked pretty human, too. But they were like Humans 2.0. They were the Beautiful People of Middle Earth. They were more or less immortal, had all sorts of mystical powers, and took themselves way too seriously. They tended to have long, straight hair that often featured some kind of creative braiding, and they even had their own language. They also were crazy good at archery. The most famous Elf, Legolas — played by the actor Orlando Bloom in the movies — became an international sex symbol and was once named one of People Magazine’s “50 Hottest Bachelors.” Eat your heart out, Hermie.

And then there are gnomes, the red-headed stepchild of the fiction world. Frankly, I have no idea what gnomes are. A very popular book about gnomes — entitled, imaginatively enough, Gnomes — was published in 1976. I remember looking at it once or twice when I came across it in the school library, but I wasn’t that interested. The book was a bit too whimsical for my taste, and it had no story to it. It was more like an information manual about gnomes, with all sorts of prototypes and diagrams. So that wasn’t when the gnome bug bit me. As I wrote in this blog last November, my gnome fascination isn’t really an interest in gnomes, per se. It’s LAWN GNOMES that I like, and that blossomed when I was in my early twenties and David Letterman started featuring lawn gnome pictures and skits on his late-night TV show.

This entire entry is really just an excuse to reprint one of my favorite drawings from BIG NATE ON A ROLL. I found a way to include lawn gnomes in the story, and this picture shows Nate fooling around with his friend’s wooden sword and mistakenly decapitating an unsuspecting gnome behind him. A gnome with no head is fun to draw, but my favorite part of this page is the little gnome holding the watering can. He cracks me up. A gnome like that can hang out on my lawn anytime!

Tue, 12/01/2015

More on Endpapers

After writing last time about BIG NATE endpapers, I got to thinking about endpapers from some of the books I read and loved as a child.  Here are three:

•    I hope that current editions of WINNIE-THE-POOH, by A.A. Milne with illustrations by E.H. Shepard, still include this beautiful map I remember poring over in my own copy of this book.  I happen to think that there’s something fascinating about maps — especially when they’re not drawn to scale.  The more a map looks like an authentic road atlas, the less interesting it becomes.  But a map like this one is a delight, because it includes not only the topography of the 100 Acre Wood, but pictures of the significant landmarks.  If you’re wondering what I mean by “not drawn to scale,” just look at Christopher Robin, standing on the right side of the page.  He’s very nearly as tall as the trees in the grove where Owl’s house is located.  That’s by design, of course.  If the map were drawn to scale, the characters depicted on the map would be barely visible.  So although this map might not be ideal from an orienteering standpoint, it’s fun to look at.  (Incidentally, when you do a Google Image search for “Winnie the Pooh,” you’re shown several dozen pages of the DISNEY version of Milne’s beloved bear.  How depressing.)

•    The second set of endpapers comes from Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL.  Ms. Burton, a multitalented lady, wrote and illustrated this classic in 1939.  (Even now, nearly 80 years later, it is still ranked by the National Education Association as one of its “Top 100 Books for Children.”)  I chose these endpapers to write about for two reasons:  First, I have always loved Virginia Lee Burton’s illustration style.  Her drawings are bright, simple, and unfailingly cheery.  Second, these endpapers provide information not available in the story itself.  The book, as you might remember, features a steam shovel whose owner, Mike Mulligan, has nicknamed her Mary Anne.  Mike and Mary Anne are forced out of the big city by larger, more modern shovels.  Searching for work, they find a small hamlet in which the residents are about to dig a cellar for a new town hall.  Mike claims that he and Mary Anne can do the job in a single day; the book chronicles their herculean effort to do just that.  But even as the story unfolds, and readers are treated to dozens of drawings of Mary Anne, they don’t know what her various parts are called.  That’s where the endpapers come in.  They include a diagram identifying all those parts — the boom, the teeth, the dipper, the tongue, etc. — along with illustrations depicting the actions Mary Anne takes (crowd, hoist, swing) to move all that earth.  For any child who ever played with construction toys or watched a building site in fascination, these endpapers are great stuff.

•    The third set of endpapers are part of a short novel entitled CALL IT COURAGE, written and illustrated in 1940 by Armstrong Sperry.  This is a book I read several times as a child, but haven’t thought about in many years.  As soon as I started thinking about memorable endpapers, though, the illustrations in this book came back to me in vivid detail.  The book is about a boy named Mafatu who lives on an island in the Pacific.  Having seen his mother die in the ocean when he was very young, Mafatu has grown up in fear of the sea.  He’s an embarrassment to his father and becomes a target of teasing in his village.  Ashamed, he takes to the sea alone in a canoe, uncertain of his intent or destination.  He survives a storm and is swept onto an island where he must face his fears and learn how to fend for himself.  I haven’t read this book in over 40 years, but I can still remember Mafatu's daring escape from the island cannibals.  Now I’m going to have to find this book and remind myself of some of the details I’ve forgotten — and to examine all the beautiful illustrations once again.

As I mentioned last time — no blog entry later this week because of the holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tue, 11/24/2015

Thoughts on Endpapers

My apologies to those of you who were expecting a blog entry earlier this week.  I typically blog on Monday nights, but this past Monday was very busy.  I drove our son Elias to Logan Airport in Boston to begin his long trip to Sri Lanka (he’ll be there for nine months), and then on the way home I stopped in New Hampshire to look in on my parents.  By the time I completed some work on BIG NATE BLASTS OFF later that night, I’m afraid there just wasn’t time to cobble together a blog entry.  So this is officially a one-entry week.  (And next week will be the same, because of the Thanksgiving holiday.)

The big news from here is that I’m very close to the finish line.  I’ve completed all the final chapter art for BIG NATE BLASTS OFF, which means there are only four drawings left to do:  the endpapers.  If you’re looking at that word in utter bewilderment, you are not alone.  I had no idea what endpapers were until I’d already begun work on the first Big Nate novel and my editor asked me:  what would you like to do for endpapers?  To which I responded:  What are endpapers?  Anyway, for a little help with the definition of endpapers, let’s turn to our trusted friend, wikipedia:

The endpapers of a book are the pages that consist of a double-size sheet folded, with one half pasted against an inside cover, and the other serving as the first free page.  Thus, the front endpapers precede the title page, whereas the back endpapers follow the text.

That makes four endpapers per book.  In many cases, endpapers are colored, patterned, or marbleized.  Those are probably perfectly reasonable options for some books — especially books for adult readers.  But kids’ books are a different matter altogether, and so my friends at HarperCollins and I decided that the Big Nate endpapers should feature real content.  After all, as i’ve said many times in this blog, my goal has always been to make these books fun to read.  So over the years, I’ve put a lot of thought into just how to do that.

I’ve done several different kinds of endpapers.  I’ve created one-page comic stories featuring the likes of Ultra-Nate, Ben Franklin, and Dan Cupid, Love Consultant.  I’ve used the special codes I’ve devised to pose trivia questions or provide sneak peeks about the book’s contents.  I’ve invented mazes and word searches.  But my favorite endpapers are the ones that invite kids to draw themselves.

When I was a kid, I always enjoyed front endpapers that included a nameplate, or a heading declaring something like This book belongs to… followed by a space where I could write my name.  I decided I wanted to provide that same opportunity for kids who bought a Big Nate novel.  But since I’m a cartoonist (and so is Nate), I thought it would be nice to encourage kids to not only write their names in the book, but to draw themselves as well.  That’s why each of the first seven Big Nate novels has included an invitation that kids draw themselves on one of the endpapers.  The one shown here, from BIG NATE:  IN THE ZONE, is probably my favorite.  

In each case, I make sure there’s a connection between the endpaper and the story being told in the book itself.  As you might remember, one of the major storylines of IN THE ZONE involved Nate’s band, Enslave The Mollusk.  At a certain point in the book, Nate draws a cartoon fantasizing about the band hitting it big.  The narrators of this comic adventure are a couple of characters named Buzz Feedback and Max Volume.  They were fun to draw, so when it came time to design the endpapers, I gave Buzz and Max headliner honors at the top of the page.   I left space just below that for kids to draw themselves, and still had plenty of room for an action shot of Enslave The Mollusk along with some funny song titles down below.  

I have no hints for you about what the endpapers in BIG NATE BLASTS OFF will be like, because I haven’t started them yet.  But I can promise that I’ll leave room for you to draw yourself on one of them.  That’s a Big Nate tradition!

Fri, 11/20/2015