Allison's Book Bag

From Comic Strip to Graphic Novel

Posted on: April 25, 2013

Nate’s a big deal in his scout troop until Artur–AKA as Mr. Perfect–joins up. Now Nate is in second place. And Artur means business.

This is the description from the back cover of Big Nate on a Roll, the third in the Big Nate book series by Lincoln Peirce. The comic strip Big Nate appears in more than three hundred newspapers in the US and online daily at the websites GoComics and Poptropica.


Lincoln Peirce stresses that comic books are R...

Lincoln Peirce stresses that comic books are REAL BOOKS. (Photo credit: MrSchuReads)

Lincoln Peirce grew up in New Hampshire and at A Nickel’s Worth, Peirce started that his notion of becoming a cartoonist began in grade three. The family was staying at the house of a teaching colleague of his dad’s, and the kids in this family had piles and piles of PEANUTS books, and this as the first time Peirce began obsessively reading comics. He began teaching himself how to draw by imitating Schultz and copying his characters of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. By the time Peirce was in elementary school, he had begun to invent his own characters. In college, he also created a weekly comic strip called “Third Floor” for the school newspaper. He later earned a graduate degree from Brooklyn College, besides studying at The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

According to The Washington Post, before becoming a professional cartoonist, Peirce taught art and coached in a New York City high school. He still coaches baseball and soccer, two sports he played as a kid. His best sport, and one in which he himself plays, is hockey.

Peirce told A Nickel’s Worth that his first paying cartoon job was in the late 1980’s. A friend of his was opening a sports bar in Brooklyn, where at the time Peirce lived, and asked him to create a character for the menus and advertising. The bar was called the Brooklyn Dodger and the character he came up with was the Artful Dodger type.

The comic strip Big Nate debuted in 1991. In addition to the Big Nate comic strip, Peirce is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Big Nate book series. His Big Nate books have been featured on Good Morning America and in the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

Peirce says that the best part of being a cartoonist is that “although I love people and am blessed to have many friends, I’m a solitary person in many ways; I enjoy working alone, trying to create a consistently funny and authentic product without having to jump through hoops or operate as part of some sort of work team.” As such, Peirce is grateful that his profession does not require him to go on “team-building” retreats. That is his idea of hell.

To aspiring cartoonists, Peirce says: Concentrate on the writing. “That’s the key as far as I’m concerned. There are countless examples of great strips in which the artwork is simple, rough, or downright mediocre—but the writing is outstanding, which makes the strip outstanding.”


Lincoln Peirce told The Washington Post that Big Nate started out as more of a “domestic humor” strip than it is now. That’s because it was originally Peirce’s intention to feature a lot of stories about Nate’s single dad. Before too long, Peirce realized that the part of the strip that he most enjoyed creating was the school humor. Not surprisingly, as he had been a teacher—and found that schools could be funny places.

When The Washington Post pointed out that Nate was not their favorite character, Peirce admitted that he tries to walk a fine line between Nate being exasperatingly lovable and obnoxious. Peirce thinks that it’s important, especially in a strip that features a kid, not to make the main character overly likable or precious. Otherwise, the humor in the strip tends to become sentimental.

Give the above description, it might not come as a shock to hear that Big Nate has his critics. Common Sense Media pointed out that Nate is a sarcastic sixth-grader who hates school. Moreover, he portrays many peers as caricatures and stereotypes. Yet Big Nate supposedly is a good kid with a heart. To find out my opinion, check back on Saturday for my review.

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