Artist Lincoln Peirce takes rejection in stride. He also responds well to constructive criticism.
Because of these two traits, combined with his writing and drawing skills, Peirce will celebrate his 22nd anniversary in January as a comic strip creator.
Peirce is the artist behind “Big Nate,” which has been nationally syndicated since 1991 and is carried by hundreds of newspapers. It runs daily in the Portland Press Herald, and each Sunday, it commands the top panel of the Maine Sunday Telegram comics section.
“I’ve been very lucky,” said Peirce, 49. “I’ve beaten the odds.”
On Saturday, the Portland resident will appear at Casablanca Comics to meet fans and sign books. Peirce (pronounced “purse”) has published 13 “Big Nate” books, including four graphic novels, two activity books and seven compilations of his comic strip, some of which have ended up on The New York Times best-seller list. His most recent compilations are “Big Nate: All Work and No Play” and “Big Nate: Makes the Grade.”
And in a little more than a month from now, Peirce will publish his 8,000th comic strip.
Not bad for someone who started submitting strips as a freshman at Colby College.
But it didn’t come easy. For seven years, as the rejection letters piled up, Peirce continued to create new concepts and submit them to editors in hopes that one might catch someone’s eye.
As the years wore on, the form letters gave way to more personal rejection letters with feedback and suggestions.
“In 1989 was when I first submitted a precursor to ‘Big Nate’ called ‘Neighborhood Comics,’ ” Peirce recalled. “I got an encouraging letter from the woman who would become my editor.
“Essentially, she said it was a big ensemble comic strip, which was based on the neighborhood where I grew up in New Hampshire. She said there were too many characters to keep track of. She said to pick one character and make it the focal point.”
So he did, and submitted another strip. The editor followed up with more advice. He took it.
Eventually, her rejection letters turned into an offer to syndicate Peirce’s work.
The resulting comic, “Big Nate,” focuses on sixth-grader Nate Wright, who is a fan of playing sports, hanging out with friends and pulling pranks. Most of the action takes place at his school.
Peirce set the strip in the sixth-grade “because in my own memory, that was the most eventful year of my school life. That’s the year when everything changes for a kid. You go from that protective bubble of elementary school to multiple teachers and having your own locker.”
Even after almost 22 years of writing about sixth-grade, Peirce said, “knock on wood, I haven’t run out of ideas. But it does present more challenges each year as time goes by.”
His own children are older now — his son is now a sophomore at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and his daughter is a sophomore at Waynflete School in Portland — but Peirce said little things from their lives have made it into the strip over the years.
“But I’m not sure I ever based a storyline 100 percent on something that happened to them,” he said.
Peirce has school experience from the other side of the desk, too. For three years, he taught art and coached baseball at a boys’ high school in Manhattan. Still, he said most of his ideas for the strip “come from my own memories of middle school.”
Despite the fact that he was an art major at Colby and Brooklyn College, where he got his master of fine arts degree, Peirce said his comics tend to be driven more by the narrative than visuals.
“For me, it’s all about the writing,” he said. “I’ve never thought of myself as a great artist. I usually imagine conversations happening between characters, or I’ll think of the fourth panel first and then write backwards.
“I cringe a bit when I look at some of the older ones, because I couldn’t draw as well back then. I know a lot of cartoonists who can draw anything, but that’s not me.”
Never in the strip does Peirce say where Nate lives.
“I let people construct in their minds where they think he might live,” he said.
However, he revealed that in an upcoming strip, one of the characters will move to Seattle, and there’s a reference to it being 3,000 miles away.
For while Nate may never say where he lives, Peirce said, “In my mind, it’s set in Maine.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: