Some of us have tried really, really hard to forget what it was like to be in middle school. Lincoln Peirce is glad he can’t.

Peirce, who lives in Portland, has forged a successful career as a comic strip artist and author partly because he can recall clearly what it was like to be 10 or 11 years old, dealing with peers, principals and parents. His “Big Nate” comic strip – focused on an 11-year-old boy with an active imagination – has been published for 31 years and appears in 400 newspapers. Peirce also penned a series of “Big Nate” books that made The New York Times best-sellers list, and now there’s a new animated TV series centering on Nate and his universe. It’s produced by Nickelodeon and will debut Thursday on the Paramount+ streaming service.

Peirce has also written three “Max & the Midknights” books, centering on a 10-year-old girl in the Middle Ages, instead of middle school, who wants to be a knight. Nickelodeon announced in November it would be developing a 20-episode series based on the “Max” books as well.

“For some reason, I’ve always been able to remember the details of my childhood more vividly than, say, my time in college,” said Peirce, 58. “Schools are a funny place, funny things happen.”

“Big Nate” creator Lincoln Peirce in his office at his Portland home. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When asked to recall a childhood memory, the kind that helps inform “Big Nate,” Peirce told of a time in seventh-grade science class when he was supposed to be doing a worksheet but was instead drawing comics (so does Nate!). The teacher, upset, grabbed Pierce’s felt-tip pen, put it in the breast pocket of his dress shirt, and went back to the front of the class. But the cap was not on the pen and for the rest of the period Peirce watched the ink stain on his teacher’s shirt grow slowly from a dot to the size of a grapefruit.

“I’m pretty sure he sent my parents a bill for the shirt,” said Peirce.



On the show, Nate goes to P.S. 38 in the fictional town of Rackleff, Maine. In the strip, Peirce said he never named Nate’s hometown. But the show’s producers told Peirce they wanted Nate’s world to be in a specific place and for it to be in Maine. They had seen the name Rackleff in some of Peirce’s strips, including once as the name of a library, and decided they liked it.

Peirce said he used Rackleff in the strips because it’s familiar – the name of the street he lives on, of a family tomb in nearby Evergreen Cemetery and of a historic building in Portland’s Old Port.

Peirce is a consultant on the show, getting to look over scripts and “punch up” the dialogue a little, maybe throw in some extra jokes. In one episode, about Nate’s school constantly being underfunded, Peirce added a joke about the principal selling his own plasma to help.

“Sometimes I just flip the words around to make the characters sound more like they do in my head,” he said.

The series executive producers, John Cohen and Mitch Watson, both have extensive experience in big-time animation. Cohen worked on the “Angry Birds” movies while Watson has worked on several animated TV shows, including “Beware the Batman.” Both men say “Big Nate” appealed to them as a series because Peirce had created a world that rings true, in a comical way. Cohen said after 31 years, the characters and world of “Big Nate” were fully formed, giving the show a solid foundation. He also says the strip is “super funny.”


“It reminded me of my junior high time, where I did get in a lot of trouble and did pull a lot of pranks like that and was constantly in the principal’s office,” said Watson.

Based on the comic strip and books by Portland artist Lincoln Peirce, “Big Nate” will debut as a TV show this week. That’s Nate on the left. Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon

In the show, Nate is voiced by Ben Giroux, a 37-year-old actor known for voice work and his funny TikTok videos. He’s voiced characters on several other animated shows for kids on Nickelodeon, including “Henry Danger” and “Danger Force.” The other children on “Big Nate” are voiced by experienced adult actors too, something Peirce likes. He has sat in, via Zoom, on some of the voice recording sessions and was impressed with the way they worked.

Peirce has also been impressed with the look of the show and how the three-dimensional characters capture the look and feel of what he draws on the printed page.

While most of the voice actors portraying the regulars on “Big Nate” are not household names, there will be guest stars. In the series premiere, Jack Black gives voice to a prankster named Brad Gunter, who is Nate’s inspiration when it comes to stirring things up.


Peirce grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, where his father was a plant science professor at the University of New Hampshire. He remembers being drawn to comics, and drawing them, from about the second grade on. He was particularly enamored with “Peanuts” and spent hours drawing Charlie Brown, round head and all.


But it wasn’t until he was in the fifth or sixth grade that he started to experiment with drawing his own characters. He thinks the newness of middle school helped spur his imagination.

“I think it’s the combination of having a whole bunch of different teachers, being in a new school and trying to stake out your place,” said Peirce. “So I chose to put Nate in that situation, as a would-be comic artist.”

After graduating from Colby College in Waterville, Peirce earned a master of fine arts in drawing and painting from Brooklyn College in New York, in 1987. It was in Brooklyn that he met his wife, artist Jessica Gandolf. He then taught art and coached baseball to high schoolers at an all-boys Catholic school in Manhattan for about three years, stocking up more fodder for stories about school-aged boys and their adventures.

He also knew he wanted to write and draw a comic strip, so he began submitting ideas and samples to the several big comics syndicates that distributed to most newspapers at the time. He submitted strips – usually four weeks’ worth – to the syndicates for three years. Some of the ideas, in Peirce’s opinion, were awful.

“One was about a zoo featuring talking animals. That was a bad concept because I couldn’t draw animals,” said Peirce.

Lincoln Peirce works on “Big Nate” in his home office in Portland this month. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

He finally got a positive response from an editor at United Features Syndicate on a strip called “Neighborhood Comic,” a sort of “Big Nate” precursor focused on kids. He tweaked the strip based on her feedback, sent in more samples, and was offered a development deal. That meant he had to produce daily “Big Nate” comics for several months – while being paid a monthly stipend – just to see if he could do it. The comics would not be published during that period, so it was basically a very intense tryout. Pierce passed his tryout, and “Big Nate” began appearing in newspapers around the country in 1991.


The strip focuses on Nate Wright, a sixth-grader who draws comics and has an inflated sense of himself. The strip also includes his friends, classmates, teachers and family. While doing the daily comic strip, Peirce has also written and illustrated eight “Big Nate” novels, which helped spread the character’s popularity.

Peirce and his wife moved to Portland from Brooklyn shortly after the strip started, in 1992. Peirce had spent time in Portland while at Colby, and he had a good friend who had recently moved there and really liked it. Peirce and his wife, who now have two adult children, decided it would be a good place to raise a family.


Almost from the beginning of the strip, there were producers interested in making a TV show or movie based on “Big Nate.” Some wanted to make a live-action version of the strip, an idea Peirce did not like. Nate was a cartoon character after all, with a head bigger than his torso. How could an actor with a normal-sized head capture his look?

One of the most exciting offers Peirce got early on was from producer Lee Mendelson, probably best known for his work on the much-loved animated classic holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Mendelson had gotten the rights to “Big Nate” and was pitching it to NBC to be part of its Saturday morning cartoon lineup. But before that could happen, NBC canceled its Saturday morning cartoons, around 1992.

Peirce also got interest from the production company of “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak. Nothing came of that, except that Peirce got to have lunch with Sajak and found him to be “completely pleasant.” At one point, there was interest from Bad Robot, the production company started by J.J. Abrams, the film and television director and producer. Nothing came of that either.


Lincoln Peirce of Portland started drawing comics as a kid, trying to copy the image of Charlie Brown. Now his own creations have come to life on the new streaming series “Big Nate.” Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon

Pierce said he started to get even more interest from film and TV producers about 12 years ago, after Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” – a book series that’s also about a middle-school boy who draws – was made into a live-action film. Three additional films were made in that series.

Then about six or seven years ago, Cohen started pitching the idea to various studios. But a lot of them seemed to want to make a live-action series, perhaps because of the success of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies. But Cohen said he, like Peirce, wanted it to be an animated series. Nickelodeon felt the same way, and agreed to produce the show. The first eight episodes of “Big Nate” will be available Thursday with more to be released at a later date.

“Max & the Midknights” is also slated to be a TV show.  Photo courtesy of Random House Children’s Books

After Peirce stopped writing “Big Nate” novels around 2016, he started looking for another subject for his storytelling. He settled on a 10-year-old girl named Max, who wants to be a knight in the Middle Ages and leads her friends on epic and funny adventures. Peirce has written three “Max & the Midknights” books, with the latest one, “The Tower of Time,” due for release in March.

Peirce will be doing a virtual book talk for “The Tower of Time” on March 1. The event will be a conversation with Kinney, a longtime friend. The event is organized by An Unlikely Story, the bookstore Kinney opened with his wife in Plainville, Massachusetts. To register for the event, go to

After “Big Nate” was approved as a series to be produced by Nickelodeon more than two years ago, Peirce started getting intense interest about “Max” as a TV show too. In a press release that went out in November, Nickelodeon announced that “Max & the Midnights” was being developed as an animated series. Peirce will have an expanded role on that show, serving as an executive producer along with Jane Startz, producer of the 2004 film “Ella Enchanted” and the “Magic School Bus” animated TV series.

“I’ll get a little bump up in title and be a little more involved,” said Peirce. “I’m sure having ‘Big Nate’ become a show first couldn’t have hurt. I’m delighted.”

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