May 30, 2010

Books Q & A: A funny thing happened

Portland comic strip artist Lincoln Peirce lands a book deal thanks in part to a fan letter from years ago.

By Tom Atwell tatwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

It pays to be nice.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Lincoln Peirce

MEET THE AUTHOR

WHO: Lincoln Peirce, author of "Big Nate: In a Class by Himself"

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Nonesuch Books, 50 Market St., Mill Creek Shopping Center, South Portland

CONTACT: 799-2659; www.nonesuchbooks.com

Lincoln Peirce, a Portland resident who writes the "Big Nate" comic strip that runs in The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, received a hand-written letter from Jeff Kinney, then a 19-year-old University of Maryland student writing a comic strip for his school newspaper.

Kinney wanted advice about how to get his comic strip syndicated. Twenty years later, Kinney, author of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," returned the favor: He helped Peirce get his first book, "Big Nate: In a Class by Himself," published by HarperCollins. Unlike the usual collection of previously published strips, the book presents a new Big Nate adventure in a story format.

Peirce grew up in New Hampshire (where his father taught at the University of New Hampshire), attended Colby College, and has lived in Portland for almost 20 years. 

Q: What was the purpose of writing this book?

A: The purpose was just to find a way to tell a longer story. You are sort of limited by the format of a daily comic strip. This possibility came up, really I think as a result of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, and with the help of Jeff Kinney, who is a friend of mine, who helped me get through the door to get some books going. 

Q: What age group is "Big Nate" aimed at?

A: I think the strip and book are two very different things. The comic strip is really for anyone. I think in the newspaper, it has as many adult readers as it does the kids. The book is very specifically targeted for younger readers, 8- to 12-year-olds, although I have spoken to a lot of kids younger than 8 and older than 12 who like it. But that is the target audience. 

Q: On the back cover, it says book two is coming. Is it all done and waiting to be published or are you still working on it?

A: The text is done, and now I am doing the artwork. It was recently moved up. It was going to come out in November, and now it is going to be October. It's going to be a six-book series, with one coming out every eight or nine months, depending on how much stamina I have. 

Q: Do you always write the words first? As a reader, I always check out all the pictures and then go to the words.

A: I do write the words first. Something I am always asked by aspiring comic-book artists is how to get a comic strip going, and I always say, "Concentrate on the writing." A comic strip can still be very good with very pedestrian art if the writing is good and insightful; and no matter how great it looks, if the writing is lousy, it is going to be boring. I think it is 90 percent writing. 

Q: How do you keep on writing about an 11-year-old boy every day?

A: I always say, when people ask that, is that I never left. I have a real photographic memory for events that happened when I was about that age. Ages 10, 11 and 12 are just a time when, for a lot of kids, so many things change. You go from elementary school with one teacher all day to going to different classes, with six different teachers and six different subjects. It is just a time when a lot of funny things happened. Up to this point, it has not been hard for me to come up with ideas. 

Q: Are you a Maine native, or how did you end up in Portland?

(Continued on page 2)

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