Lincoln Pierce, author of the New York Times bestselling "Big Nate" series, takes some time to answer questions for Kindle readers.
"Big Nate" has been running in newspapers for almost 25 years. How did it get its start? I began trying to get a comic strip published when I was 18, and for several years had no success. But I could tell I was improving when the generic rejection letters became more encouraging. Finally, I submitted Neighborhood Comix, loosely based on the neighborhood in New Hampshire where I'd grown up. One of the featured kids was named Nate, who had a little brother, Marty. At the time, Nate was blond and something of a straight man; Marty had all the gusto. I combined the two brothers into Nate, but I gave him more of Marty's over-the-top personality. I renamed the strip Big Nate, and very quickly, I realized what really interested me was what took place in Nate's school. The more I wrote about Nate's adventures with his classmates and teachers, the more I enjoyed myself.
How do you find inspiration for the strip? What’s your process? I've never been one of those cartoonists who sees something happening on the street and thinks, “That would make a great strip.” Instead, I imagine situations Nate might find himself in or conversations he might have. Big Nate is a four-panel strip, so the dialogue in panel 4 might come to me first. Then, it's just a matter of writing the dialogue in panels 1, 2, and 3 that lead to the payoff. It also doesn't hurt that I can remember in vivid detail things that happened when I was Nate's age.
Which cartoons/cartoonists have influenced you most? It begins with Charles Schulz and Peanuts. I don't think it was possible to grow up reading comics in the 60s and 70s and NOT be influenced by Peanuts. I really absorbed the rhythm of telling a joke in four panels. There's just something about it that's so symmetrical and beautiful to me, and I always knew that any strip I'd create would have to be four panels. Next I would cite Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury, because I think he brought an entirely new kind of writing to comic strips. He almost always found a way to sneak two gags into one strip. There would be one joke—presented either in the third panel or early in the fourth—and then another, often times understated but somehow even funnier joke, to close out the strip.
I'd also pick a relatively obscure but enormously important cartoonist named Francis W. Dahl, who created multi-panel comics for the Boston Herald in the 30s, 40s, and 50s that were like nothing I'd seen before or since. They're part political satire, part social commentary, but there's no anger, no outrage. His cartoons poke fun, in a big-hearted way, at everyday people—usually, residents of New England. I discovered my grandparents’ collections of his comics when I was about 7 or 8. And while I'm talking about cartoonists before my time, I'll also mention George Herriman's Krazy Kat, Cliff Sterrett's Polly And Her Pals, and E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, the strip that introduced Popeye.
The "Big Nate" series is full of hilarious adventures and is great for readers aged 8-12. Learn more