Lincoln Peirce is a New York Timesbestselling author and cartoonist. His comic strip Big Nate,featuring the adventures of an irrepressible sixth grader, appears in over 400 newspapers worldwide and online. In 2010, he began a series of illustrated novels based on the strip, introducing Nate and his cast of classmates and teachers to a new generation of young readers. In the past seven years, 16 million Big Nate books have been sold.
When he is not writing or drawing, Lincoln enjoys playing ice hockey, doing crossword puzzles, and hosting a weekly radio show devoted to vintage country music. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children and live in Portland, Maine.
MAX & THE MIDKNIGHTS
An epic medieval graphic novel by New York Times bestselling author of the Big Nate series, Lincoln Peirce.
A laugh-out-loud adventure perfect for middle-grade readers, this is a story about following your dreams, believing in yourself, and the lesson that appearances can be deceiving. A major marketing and publicity campaign supports the book’s release, including a seven-city author tour.
While traveling with Uncle Budrick as a wandering troubadour-in-training, Max reaches the once-friendly Kingdom of Byjovia and finds it downright hostile. When Uncle Budrick is kidnapped by Byjovia’s loathsome King Gastley, Max teams up with a bumbling sorcerer and a group of kid outcasts—dubbed the Midknights—to save the day. But it’ll take more than a daring rescue mission to discover what ails Byjovia. With only their wits to guide them, Max and the Midknights embark on a quest both thrilling and hilarious to restore the kingdom to its former high spirits.
AN INTERVIEW WITH LINCOLN PEIRCE
When did you make your first comic?
My first comics weren’t really my own; they were copies of comics that I admired. When I was growing up, there were no cartooning classes or anything like that, so if you wanted to learn how to draw comics, you had to teach yourself – and the best way to do that was to imitate other cartoonists. When I was in early elementary school, I copied a lot of Peanutscharacters, and I also remember trying to learn how to draw Andy Cappand Fred Bassett. Eventually, though, I was ready to start inventing my own comics. I think the first character I ever drew that was entirely my own was a clumsy, dimwitted superhero named Super Jimmy. I was probably in 4thor 5thgrade when that happened.
Who were your inspirations and what was it that captivated you about comics?
My first and most lasting inspiration, without a doubt, was Charles Schulz of Peanutsfame. I loved everything about that strip – the deceptively simple artwork, the uniqueness of the characters, and the originality of Schulz’s writing. For most of its existence, Peanutswas a 4-panel strip, and I really liked the rhythm of four panels. Sometimes the “punch line” would actually occur in the 3rdpanel, and the 4thpanel would just be a reaction shot of poor Charlie Brown saying, “Good grief” or “I can’t stand it.” Schulz’s writing set Peanutsapart, but there were other strips I liked: Tumbleweeds by T.K. Ryan, B.C.by Johnny Hart, and especially Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. I didn’t understand the political humor in Doonesburywhen I first started reading it, but I could see that it was unlike any other comic strip out there.
Do you really do all of your cartoons by hand? Does technology play a role at all?
It’s true that I still draw everything by hand. I start each drawing with a light sketch using an animator’s tool called a non-photo blue pencil, and then I go over it carefully using disposable pens. Years ago, I learned to draw in the time-honored way, by dipping a nib in india ink. But disposable pens work better for me.
Technology does play a small role. I used to submit my comics by mail, but now I scan them and send them electronically. And in recent years, I’ve learned how to use Photoshop to erase smudges, straighten lines, and so on. For my new book, Max & the Midknights, I decided I wanted to add gray tones to the drawings, and I was happy with the way they came out. But I can’t imagine going completely high-tech the way many of my cartooning colleagues have. I’m not interested in drawing on a digital tablet with a stylus. I’ll stick with pen and paper.
Is it true that you hold a world record for the longest cartoon strip?
Yes, unless someone’s set a new record that I haven’t heard about. But I certainly can’t claim the record just for myself. It was a collaborative effort between me, HarperCollins (the publisher of the Big Nate novels), and several dozen elementary and middle schools around the country. Kids and their teachers would receive materials from the publisher, and they’d create their own oversized Big Nate panels based on art I’d included in the novels. Then the schools would send their panels to the publisher in New York. And I contributed a few panels myself. Eventually, when we had enough panels to set a new world record, we laid them all end-to-end on the ground at Rockefeller Plaza. It was televised on the Today show. I got to meet Al Roker, one of my favorite TV personalities.
We all know and love Big Nate novels. What made you decide to move on to a new novel, Max and the Midknights?
It was a two-part decision. The first part was deciding to stop writing Big Nate novels in 2016. I made that decision because, although I was very pleased and proud of the eight books I’d written, I’d noticed that it had been more difficult to come up with fresh storylines in books #7 and #8. The last thing I wanted was for readers to pick up book #9 or #12 and decide that the later books in the series weren’t as good as the earlier ones. I concluded that stopping too soon was preferable to stopping too late.
I still wanted to write books, though, and I intended to work in the same “hybrid” format I’d used in the Big Nate novels – using comics and text in combination. But I didn’t want to create something that seemed too similar to Big Nate. I didn’t think the world needed more books about kids in the sixth grade. I thought it would be fun to write about characters who weren’t tied down to one setting, like a school or a household. That’s when I got the idea to write an adventure story.
Was it scary starting from scratch with a brand new concept after years of living with Big Nate?
I wouldn’t call it scary, but it was challenging in many ways. Some authors may not feel this way, but I think it’s kind of difficult to come up with story ideas that are interesting and complex enough to fill 200 or 300 pages. And for Max & the Midknights, I needed to invent an entirely new cast of characters. That means not only determining what their personalities are like, but also learning how to draw them. When you’re drawing characters that are new to you, it can be tough to render them consistently at first.
Where did this concept stem from, and what was the appeal of medieval times?
Once I knew I wanted to write an adventure story, I considered several different ideas: a jungle safari, a mountain-climbing expedition, a pirate’s voyage, and so on. But the concept that intrigued me the most was writing about some sort of quest. Just the word “quest” suggests medieval times. And there’s ample precedent for using the Middle Ages as a backdrop for both adventure and comedy. Look at the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, for instance. Or, years later, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Both of those movies combine medieval motifs with a more modern sense of humor, and that’s what I aspired to do. The characters in Max & the Midknights may be living in the 1300’s, but their voices, their mannerisms, and the way they express themselves are quite contemporary.
How long did it take you to write and illustrate the story? Do you write the story and then illustrate it or work the two in parallel?
It took longer than I would have liked – nearly two years. It proceeded slowly for several reasons: I was working with characters I wasn’t familiar with; it’s a longer book (279 pages) than I’d ever written before; and the artwork is more ambitious and complicated than the drawings in a typical Big Nate novel.
I always include rough art as I’m writing. Because the words and the drawings work in concert with one another, it would be impossible for me to compose the text without including drawings. But I don’t do the finished artwork until I’ve finished writing the entire manuscript. For Max & the Midknights,the first draft of the manuscript was about 310 pages, and my editor and I agreed that it was too long. I made a number of edits, trying to cut a page or two from each chapter. Once I pared the book down to 279 pages, I was ready to create the finished art.
Will we continue to see your syndicated Big Nate comic strip?
Absolutely! I still love the grind of a daily comic strip. I’ve been doing Big Nate for 28 years now, and I’ve got a few good years left in me!
What is your favorite quote?
I have no idea who first said it, but I like this one: “Never pass up a good opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”