|October 25, 2016||It’s Only Forty Years! Homecoming 2016 At Queens College||no comments|
|July 19, 2016||Exclusive interview to Michael Bacarella, author of “Lincoln’s Foreign Legion: The 39th New York ...||no comments|
|December 13, 2015||Marco Malvaldi’s “Game For Five”||no comments|
|November 14, 2015||Dogfella" will touch your heart....||no comments|
|November 05, 2015||Clouds for Breakfast: Mom's Choice Awards Gold Medal Recipient||no comments|
|October 17, 2015||Smaldone, the Untold Story of an American Crime Family||no comments|
|December 29, 2014||From "Lost Side Of Suburbia" to "Poptropica," An Exclusive Interview with Artist Kory Merritt||no comments|
|December 08, 2014||In life, the glass is always half full! Exclusive interview with cartoonist Maria Scrivan||no comments|
|December 03, 2014||The World Seen Through a Dog’s Point of View. An Exclusive Interview with Paul Gilligan, author o...||no comments|
|August 03, 2014||AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH "BIG NATE" CREATOR, CARTOONIST LINCOLN PEIRCE||no comments|
Article by TIZIANO THOMAS DOSSENA
It’s funny how time is relative to people and moments in their life (I know that’s not what Einstein meant, but this is possibly a variant of his theory of relativity, or maybe not). When one is young, time is apparently slow and summers never seem to end, but then, the older you get the faster time seems to run by you, and summers tend to come to a conclusion before you even noticed their arrival. Well, at least until you get to the sixties; I can’t vouch for later years, but I would assume it’s probably following the same pattern. Regardless, time flies, or appears to do so when you get a bit older. That seems to go against logic, but it is an absolute truth (or at least that’s how it is to me, and since no one is in the room at the moment to contradict me, I guess it sounds about right: a perfectly acceptable scientific method!). The exceptions to the above are when you are waiting to be served at some restaurant or you are at an association’s award ceremony, where the speaker forgot the rule that when people start to fall asleep it’s time to stop speaking, or maybe you are in the back of the room at some lectures, if you know what I mean…
Exceptions excluded, and I am sure there are many more, time tends to catch up with you, and you find yourself in the inconvenient position to have to say: “What? Already forty years?” Or even worse: “What? Already seventy years?” For the readers who are wondering what my digressions about time are aiming at, I am referring to Alumni Homecoming. If you are not aware of what that is, it’s the day chosen by a college for alumni to return and celebrate their Alma Mater and their own accomplishments, which are supposed to be tied to their previous attendance to that college.
In that spirit, on Saturday October 22 I was invited and attended Homecoming 2016 at Queens College with my wife Nicoletta (Class 1977) and a friend, Fiorella Kelley (Class 1972); it was a blast. Upon registration we were introduced to a thoughtfully-brief award ceremony, followed by a marvelous show by students and alumni of the Aaron Copland School of Music of Queens College. The heavenly voice of Candace Lynn Matthews, who is also a graduate of Purchase College, another one of my Alma Maters, and who therefore earned extra points in my perspective, was matched by the manly baritone voice of Sean Moonsammy. They performed a well-chosen medley of Broadway songs that touched everyone’s heart. Their voices, whether singing solos or duets, brought much joy and a few tears to the audience. The pianist, Professor Youn Ju Namkoong, made it also happen with her perfectly balanced accompaniment.
After such a splendid performance, I believed that the ensuing political Science Panel Discussion would be out of place, but I found myself mistaken. After a brief intermission and an appealing presentation by the college President, Félix Matos Rodriguez, the Panel Discussion took place with the utmost attention payed by all the alumni, s consistent number of whom shamed my 40th year’s anniversary with their 50th, 60th and even 65th year’s anniversaries (hard to believe, but it’s absolutely true: there was an alumnus from 1951 graduation year!).
Professors Carl Bonomo’s and Michael Krasner’s The Perfect Storm, A Discussion of Our Political System & Elections brought the audience together on many topics, but mostly on the need to vote. It reminded me of when I used to be all ears during the lectures by Prof. Russell on Dante’s Inferno or discussed Pirandello’s work with Professor Pacifici (ah, those far away days, how much they are missed…)
A wonderful dinner concluded the Homecoming; the whole process was well organized and it allowed alumni to feel at home once again.
To conclude the experience, I also attended a Reunion Brunch at the Presidential residence in Douglaston on Sunday, October 23rd. This was much more of an intimate experience, with 64 attendees from the 1946 (Clara Capozzoli-Woll was the sole gracious representative of her Class), 1956, 1966 and 1976 Classes. This was also a blast for me, but of a different kind. Mingling among my classmates from 1976 and those who had opened the doors to our studies in the previous decades, I could not help noticing how well-poised, intelligent and alert everyone who was present seemed to be. Considering that I was one of the youngest alumni present (got to believe it, friends, for once I was not the oldest one in the group!) everyone appeared sharp, cordial and most of all at ease. Mr. Félix Matos Rodriguez was a delight to listen to and a wonderful listener.
The alumni shared anecdotes about Queens College (Mrs. Clara Capozzoli-Woll had one about meeting Eleanor Roosevelt at the college), all of them interesting and bringing a fresh view of ‘our’ college and of the students’ experiences within it and in the after years.
Noticeable absentee was the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Class of 1976, who I vaguely remember meeting at a Student Government gathering of some sort (but then again, forty years have gone by and I am not that great with faces or names or places or… whatever, he was just another student at the time and not a friend of mine in particular, so…)
Yes, time is relative, especially when you meet people who proudly act as if time has not really gone by, or at least not that much, since all the memories are in them, vivid as if it was just yesterday. After all, it was just forty years ago when I graduated…
Your book “Lincoln’s Foreign Legion: The 39th New York Infantry, the Garibaldi Guard” is now available on Kindle. What brought you to investigate this type of topic?
From my earliest memories to quite recently is that to be an Italian American can mean being commended with honor in one extreme or face deplorable rejection at the other extreme. I learned that the source of that public perception of Italian Americans was and continues to be fomented through the eyes of the media, by motion pictures, television and the news. Italian Americans have been experiencing macro and micro aggression for at least 120 years. The result is every Italian American experiences at some time in their private or public life an ephemeral bias directed toward them that has caused them to be overlooked, ignored, discounted, or singled out to be maltreated and even aggressively punished.
Many years ago my grandmother’s brother gave me a book by the Italian American writer and researcher Giovanni Schiavo entitled “Four Centuries of Italian American History. “ This one book gave me a whole new look at how greatly Italians contributed to American history. This book is what prompted me to get to the truth, and then if the truth could be brought out that there would be change in public perception and attitudes toward Italian Americans.
I believed I could prompt this change through writing and the cinema. Schiavo did some of his research at the Newberry Library of Chicago, so I began my search there. Using Schiavo’s book as a reference I began to look up all of the men and women he had written about. At the Newberry I discovered a treasure trove of information about them, the migration of Italians to America prior to the Civil War, where they settled, lived and how they participated in the events of American history, and in particular a regiment that participated in the Civil War, the “Garibaldi Guard.” Theirs was a story based in historic fact that was an exciting topic, a great deal of information on them was there ready to be looked at. Of course this information was not written in a series of book, or even one book, that it had to researched, assembled, and written, and I was the one who was going to write it. The result was the book “Lincoln’s Foreign Legion.” I always hoped this would influence the public to see Italian Americans in a new way. If it were adapted to a script, then produced as an epic motion picture it surely would have an impact and lead other creative people to create many more projects.
Were you more interested in the subject as a New Yorker or as an Italian American?
As an Italian American. I am not a New Yorker.
Could you give us a brief explanation of what the Garibaldi Guard was and why it was called that way?
At the outbreak of the Civil War this regiment was a regiment of infantry assembled in New York City from the many immigrants living in their ethnic neighborhoods. There were ten companies of soldiers with 110 soldiers and officers in each company. There was an Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Swiss, 2 companies of Slavs and Hungarians, and 4 companies of Germans. They saw action for all four years of the Civil War and fought from Bull Run 1861 to Appomattox 1865, in 50 battles, engagements and skirmishes which devastated the ranks and reduced their numbers.
During its period of service, 5 officers and 62 enlisted men were killed in action; 3 officers and 49 enlisted men died of wounds received in action; 1 officer and 158 enlisted men died of disease and 1 officer and 99 enlisted men died while captured by the Confederate forces.
There is a history behind each and every man in the regiment. Their lives in Italy, the reasons they left Italy for a new life in America, their lives and the lives of their families, their presences on the battlefields of the Civil War, and if they survived, their lives and the lives of their children afterward.
What interesting facts have you unearthed in your research that made you decide to write the book?
The predominant details I want your readers to know and use in their studies, research and writing. There were many thousands of Italians and Italian Americans who served in the Union and Confederate armies and predominantly in Louisiana.
The information used about Italians in America are now completely outdated and obsolete. With the advantage of using the internet there is much more information about Italians recorded in American history than was previously known or presented to the public; one need only to search on the internet.
We all owe a great deal of thanks to the Mormons’ Church of Latter-day Saints, which offers over 16 billion records online that we can search. Their sites are Ancestry.com, RootsWeb, Fold3, Find-a-Grave, the United States Federal Census records from 1790 through 1930, Genealogy.com, and newspapers.com. Other search sites include Chronicling America at the Library of Congress website, and The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) a database at the National Park Service website. For example just type in the name GIOVANNI and you will be amazed to see all of the men with that name in the database.
Do you feel that there is a lot more presence of Italians in American history that has really been shown in the past?
No, because there has not been support to investigate, research, and write about the lives of Italians throughout American history. I have learned a good deal about the media through my many attempts to publish the book, or to produce it as a motion picture. There is no interest in the Hollywood status quo to change their perception of Italians, so the same images they have always used to portray Italians will continue. Italians and Europeans are history minded and have made the film epics that have presented history. This is why I know that it will have to be the Italian motion picture industry that will produce the historic epics to re-write Italian American history. It will be the Italian and perhaps other European studios who will be producing history events, while American studios are cranking out films about zombies, monsters, crime, space aliens, dinosaurs, and comic book super heroes. Which is why Italians and Italian Americans must begin the task, using the tools I mentioned to write The Comprehensive Book on Italian American History.
Are you planning to publish this book in a non-digital fashion in the near future? Did you publish other books prior to this one?
I do not plan to publish the book in hard copy. I have another book that is published on Kindle about Italians in motion pictures entitled “Italactors: From Don Ameche to Louis Zamperini: Italians in Motion Pictures and Television from 1895 to 1996”
Are there any other topics that have popped up in your research that you feel deserve more attention, and eventually another book?
There is so much information can be used that writers, historians and genealogists will be very busy looking into all the periods of time in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Before the American Revolution, Italians were coming to French Canada, the Spanish South West and Florida, along the Mississippi River, throughout America’s Southern states, and of course in the cities of the North. There are the alliances between America and Sardinia, Genoa, Venice. And the most notable of all the alliance of America with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies against the Barbary pirates. This is something we can do, it is all there if you take the time to look for it and write about it.
Here follows the review of the book by B. Keith Toney:
Review by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
To read a book that was originally written in Italian and that uses idiomatic expressions with validity and proper impact in the English translation is a special treat that is not quite common to be offered to readers in USA. If we add that the story is a thriller, actually a work of crime fiction, we can safely say that Marco Malvaldi’s “Game for five” is a flawless and successful novel in its genre.
For the people who have travelled to Italy and gave themselves the opportunity to eavesdrop into the small talk of shopkeepers, hotel staff and passersby, they will recognize the marvelous balance between crass vulgarity and playfulness that is so common amongst friends in Italy, at every level and class. To those who did not have the opportunity, be aware that the apparent vulgarity of some expressions is not considered so, when used in a friendly fashion, and the protagonists of this story are not unusual people in that aspect.
Taken aside the particularity of the language, which undoubtedly enriches the story with the apparently improper verbal clashes between Massimo, a barkeeper and owner of the Bar Lume, and his steady customers, a quartet of older gentlemen who love to play cards, the story is well-flowing and mesmerizing in its fast-paced presentation of the crime details as they are observed and discovered by Massimo and shared with the friends and the local police Inspector.
Interspersed among the revelations, talks of the proper way and time to drink an espresso or a cappuccino bring a wind of hilarity that manages to make the book even more enjoyable.
This book, which is the first of the Bar Lume series of crime novels, is highly recommended to anyone who loves crime novels, the Italian landscape, its customs and its people.
"Dogfella" is a book that will appeal to a lot of readers because it has the perfect ingredients for success: an interesting subject, emotional rollercoaster effects and a flawless writing style.
On the other hand, for some readers the language used by the protagonist of the story may be a bit offensive, so be aware that it was purposely kept as "real' as possible by the co-writer so as to fully reflect the true persona of the author and the environment in which he thrived.
James Guiliani is an ex-drug addict and alcoholic with previous ties to the Gotti family and to another Queens' gang in his youth, who changes his lifestyle thanks to a down-to-earth 'angel' who teaches him compassion toward animals and how to find a meaning for his existence. Because of her influence, he opens a pet store and subsequently rescues animals all over Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
It sounds as a fairy tale or a teenager's novel? Well, it's a true story and it's well told by the protagonist with the help of the valiant Charlie Stella, whose impeccable style is molded to fit Guiliani's personality to a 'T'.
The book presents all the emotional stress points that brought this 'gangster' to have an epiphany that changed his life and that of many others. It does it with a blunt approach, since Guiliani chooses to say things as they are and not as he would have wanted them to be. With time, his self-deprecating method of explaining events grows on the reader and one can't help to like this man, who confesses to the embarrassing low points of his life with the spontaneity of someone who is well aware of the ugliness of his own past but has been redeemed by some sort of miracle.
He declares: "I'd been warned more than once, and by more than one person, that former addicts often replace one addiction with another. Well, if my new addiction was saving animals and opening a rescue shelter, so be it. At least it would be doing something constructive."
Although the story of his addiction tends to permeate the texture of the book, what really makes the book invaluable are the many stories of rescues, some of which occurred during the Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, which will deeply touch the reader with their immediateness and the extreme passion that Guiliani is imbued with in carrying them out. As an example, here's part of the description of his first rescue, the one that started it all: "At first I thought it was a rug, but then I could see it was a dog, a sick dog. When I bent down for a closer look, I could see the dog's hair was tangled, flat, and knotted. His eyes looked dead, and his jaw seemed crooked. As a junkie and alcoholic, I'd left myself in similar situations more than a few times. The difference, of course, was I'd put myself into those situations. Nobody had abandoned me the way somebody had obviously left this dog to die on its own. It pissed me off. There were other choices they could have made, whoever left him like that. At the least they could have treated him with some dignity. People make choices, animals can't. Animals are voiceless…
Then we were at the vet's office to pick up the seven-pound shih tzu who'd been close to death just a few hours earlier. One of the technicians carried the dog out and handed him to e. He'd been cleaned and shaved. He was the spotted-color shih tzu he was meant to be. And more than anything else, I could see that his eyes were alive. He began licking my face and I reflexively kissed his head. I don't think I ever kissed a dog before in my life, but there wasn't a second thought."
Besides the many tales, there are numerous geographical references that may, if not add to the drama, render the flow of the narration even more interesting, especially for a New York reader. This is definitely a book that merits to be read, in particular by people who love animals.
Keno's Animal Rescue started with a dream of opening a Sanctuary. The rescue's opening aired on The Diamond Collar TV Show/Dogfellas on The Oprah Winfrey Network. Keno's Animal Rescue is a no kill, non-profit organization in Brooklyn that provides animal rescue and adoption services as well as long term housing and care for special needs animals who could not otherwise be placed ina forever home. We are currently raising funds to open an animal sanctuary. Keno's Animal Rescue is named in loving memory of my first rescue, Keno. My little man was found abused and neglected. Paralyzed from the hips down he'd suffered many health issues throughout his life. He was taken to many veterinarians, but they were unable to make him walk again and suggested he be put down. I never gave up on Keno and helped him live a beautiful life until his 19th year. In his memory we continue to help animals escape their abusive or abandoned existence. Currently Keno's Animal Rescue is a small but growing organization. Our goal is to expand our facilities, and open a sanctuary so we can give a home to abused or unwanted animals.
Keno's Animal Rescue accepts contributions through its Facebook page: http://www. Facebook.com/kenoanimalrescue/app_117708921611213
With a delightful language, directed at the younger children, Laura Eisen presents a simple but endearing story, which will certainly be appreciated both by children and their parents.
The initial concept presented by the author was for a child to have the opportunity to eat clouds for breakfast. In reality, to have clouds for breakfast reflects human fantasy at its most essential. Who among us has not observed clouds and thought they could recognize characters from fairytales or objects from our everyday life? Or maybe even an insect or a giant ship? Who did not get lost in these reveries? Drawing on this notion, Ms. Eisen presents us with a poetic and inviting view of a day in the life of a child.
Reading the story to a child, he (or she) will identify himself with the story, as if it was written exclusively for him. The magnificent illustrations, delicate and imaginative, by Kent Cissna not only help, but strengthen the author's idea, making this book both pleasant and useful to the parent or teacher who want to use it as a tool to stimulate their children's fantasy.
This book offers also the opportunity to read the book in Japanese or in Italian (other languages are on the way) besides the original in English, something quite unusual for children's books…
After seeing the title "Smaldone, The Untold Story of an American Crime Family," I had expectations regarding its contents that left me surprisingly disappointed after reading the book. I expected to read about the story of an American Crime Family, with all its idiosyncrasies and oddities, a story that would capture my attention and that would add some knowledge about its workings while entertaining me with possibly "juicy" details about their activities.
Well, I can't deny that Dick Kreck, the author, performed a pretty thorough job in assembling data regarding the Smaldone family, but what transpired is a two-dimensional description of their life, with little or no passion infused in the characters or the descriptions of the events. The Smaldones appear to be mild, lower middle class Americans who chose their profession by default, as most Americans did at the time (Depression Era), 'the job was there, I took it' kind of decision. The main characters lack the credibility of a mobster figure, assuming instead the appearance of small-time merchants who were casually involved with a life of crimes. Neither are they Robin Hoods or fiends, and their lives' events are described in such a 'dry' manner to make them appear as third-page newspaper column material, listing such occurrences without much passion or involvement.
Used as I was to reading powerful books about the Mob, such as "For the Sins of my Father" by Albert DeMeo, in which not only the characters come alive but you get goose bumps at every page, or by Tony Napoli, or "My Father, My Don," by Tony Napoli, where you get sucked in by the potent bond between father and son as much as by the intricate stories narrated in it, Smaldone was a true disappointment.
I believe, though, that it is impeccably researched and structured and its faults lie in the apparent attempt by the writer to please the remaining members of the family and portray a "smoother," version of the facts. In doing so, the characters flatten out and lose their attractiveness, making the essence of the book an academic attempt without emotional engagement.
If the reader is looking for information on Colorado and the mobster families during the Prohibition Era, the book may turn out to be interesting, but don't look for any thrills; it's not going to happen.
Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Kory Merritt started cartooning and illustrating while attending SUNY Brockport. His weekly comic strip, Brockport Chronicled, won the John Locher Memorial Award in 2007. He signed a comic strip development contract with Creators Syndicate in 2009, although that has since expired. LSoS, a step in a different direction, was largely influenced by folktales Kory learned as a counselor at Camp Kenan in Barker, New York. Kory illustrated the comic strip Poptropica, written by Paul Gilligan (click to see see Paul’s interview) Kory currently teaches K-6 Art in Hammondsport, New York.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Were you always interested in becoming a cartoonist? Which ones were the strips that inspired you, impressed you and influenced you the most? KORY MERRITT: I’m currently much more interested in book illustration than cartooning, though I guess they’re related. As a kid, I loved illustrated books, particularly those of Bill Peet. I recently reread his illustrated autobiography – it’s very inspiring. When I was a little older, I found old collections of “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Bloom County” in my town’s used bookstore, so Watterson and Breathed would be my top cartooning idols, along with Wiley Miller and Pat Oliphant.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Which ones are the contemporary comic strips you like the most and why? KORY MERRITT: I honestly don’t read comic strips regularly anymore. But since I love to talk about myself, I’ll mention some of my favorite authors. My current favorites are Terry Pratchett and George R.R. Martin. Pratchett is amazing – hilarious, insightful, witty, complex – he does it all. The only downside to reading Pratchett is knowing I could write for a century and never come close to his level of genius. He’s humbling. I started George R.R. Martin’s books about a year ago, and I totally devoured them. I’m anxious for the sixth book, but know such complicated and beautifully-written stories take time. I’m refusing to watch the “Game of Thrones” TV show until the books are done and I’ve read them. Other favorite authors include Stephen King and Brian Jacques (a childhood favorite).
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Your comic strip Brockport Chronicled won the John Locher Memorial Award in 2007. What was the subject of this strip? How long did it last? (I will need a jpeg of the strip to put in the article) KORY MERRITT: Oh, that comic was terrible! My current stuff is far from perfect, but leaps and bounds better than my college comic. But at least my college comic allowed me to grow as an illustrator, and I was paid surprisingly well for my editorial cartoons. The comic revolved mostly around local issues, and it was pretty much a “Bloom County/Doonesbury” knock-off, but without recurring characters. Winning the Locher award was luck – I had maybe four cartoons that were slightly better than terrible, and those are what won me the award and the free trip to Washington. Dick and Mary Locher are wonderful people.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Kory, how did you develop The Lost Side of Suburbia? Was it meant to be as a different type of comic strip or a graphic novel for children presented in installments? (Readers, note that an introduction to The Lost Side Of Suburbia states: “Welcome to a land of strange stories and weirdly-spun yarn, where oddities and unmentionables lurk behind every tale. Here you will witness the plight of the mysterious Heckbender, suffer the misadventures of Derring-Do Dan, learn the unsettling secret of the Slynderfell Ice Cream Cavalcade, and behold the unraveling of The Bogey. A word of caution: stay on the sidewalks, avoid shortcuts through Halfrock Swamp, and do NOT under any circumstances make business transactions with C. Percival Trullus”) KORY MERRITT: I wanted to write children’s books, so that’s essentially what Lost Side is supposed to be – just a collection of loosely-related stories. It was never a comic strip – I always intended prose narration, but I knew I’d need illustrations, for that’s my strength, I think. I had been doing cartoons for college and a short-lived newspaper for a few years, so I had developed a style that sort of resembled an editorial cartoon.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Is the humor in The Lost Side of Suburbia something that you picked up from teaching young kids? KORY MERRITT: The stories in “Lost Side” are full of nasty little monsters. So yeah, that probably comes from working with young kids.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In The Lost Side of Suburbia, which is the character you love the most and why? KORY MERRITT: I guess I like drawing the weird, creepy creatures the most – the things from the swamp and the deep ocean. I’m sort of a wildlife nut, especially when it comes to strange animals like squids and anglerfish and olms and hellbenders and such. Ever hear of a siren (the amphibian sort)? If not, look them up – they’re wild!
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are taking a break from TLSoS. When do you expect it to come back? What will the subjects be in this reborn TLSoS? KORY MERRITT: I probably won’t be working on “Lost Side” stories again until next spring or summer. Teaching and freelance illustration projects are consuming my schedule. When/if I do come back, I’m hoping to make the transition from web books to print books. All of my past “Lost Side Suburbia” stories need a lot of retooling, of course. I consider the online versions rough drafts.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are the illustrator of the comic strip Poptropica. How was this cooperation with Paul Gilligan started? KORY MERRITT: Poptropica is an online game. I’ve never played it, but knew of it due to it being popular with my elementary students. The Poptropica creators (author Jeff Kinney, author/editor Jess Brallier, etc.) had plans to bring Poptropica to other media. From what I understand, they were in touch with Universal editor John Glynn, who had seen my illustrations and recommended me. The Poptropica creators were actually already familiar with my stuff, since I have a story on Poptropica’s sister site, FunBrain. So after a trial stage in summer 2013, they officially picked me as the illustrator for the comic strip and the graphic novel. Paul was selected as the writer of the comic strip. He’s a cool guy, and I think his “Pooch Café” is one of the best modern newspaper comics.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What is Poptropica about? (Please talk about content, characters, type of humor, etc…) KORY MERRITT: As I said, it’s based on the online game. The main characters in the comic series are Oliver, his sister Mya, and a goofy kid named Jorge. Only Oliver and Jorge appear in the strip, but they all share the spotlight in the upcoming graphic novel. They end up in a world composed of strange islands, each with its own theme. I like the constantly-changing settings – one week I’m drawing werewolves, the next they’re on the moon. I haven’t worked on the comic strip for a while. It was originally supposed to last only 26 weeks, which Paul and I finished last spring, but I just heard last week that they are planning to order another 26 weeks in 2015, so it will continue into next year at least.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are also writing a book. What is the topic? KORY MERRITT: Well, my books are just the “Lost Side” stories. Right now the only format I’ve been able to publish with is online. But the stories are self-contained and have a prose narrative, so I’d love them to become print books.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: You are illustrating a graphic novel for a famous author. Are you still keeping the details secret or are we ready for the revelation of this mysterious author? KORY MERRITT: Ah, that’s the Poptropica stuff. The famous author is Jeff Kinney, the Wimpy Kid himself – I think I’ve dropped that name a few times already. He created Poptropica and the characters from the Poptropica comics, along with author/editor Jess Brallier and some others. I’m presently drawing and coloring a 105-page graphic novel based on the Poptropica comic characters. It’s an original story from Jeff and Jess, and the script was written by Max Brallier, who has another illustrated series in the works. They’re really cool people. I’m lucky to be on board. I nearly geeked-out the first time I heard from Jeff, but luckily managed to keep it together (or at least that’s how I remember it).
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Kory, you are a cartoonist, an illustrator, a writer, and you teach Art at an Elementary School. How do you manage to juggle so many responsibilities? KORY MERRITT: I guess staying busy keeps me out of trouble. But yes, I’m starting to have some difficulty juggling the teaching and the freelance illustration, and I’ve had to put my own stuff on hold this year.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Do you have any new projects in the works at the moment? What about the near future? KORY MERRITT: Poptropica stuff, and my own stories I hope to get working on soon. Weirdly, I recently had a publisher recruit me to write and illustrate a book on the World Cup, but that seems to have fallen through.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Do you expect to expand into novels or maybe another type of comics? KORY MERRITT: Yes, I’d love to move to print stories. Not comics, but illustrated novels. So far I’ve only had casual interest from publishers, but I haven’t had time to really get my stuff out there.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Have you ever used people around you, such as friends or relatives, as characters (even though masked) in your books? KORY MERRITT:Sure! Especially people who drive me nuts.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: If you could be doing any jobs in the world, what would it be and why? KORY MERRITT: Writing/illustrating stories! Aside from that? Something with wildlife. I’m in awe of those teams that go out and film obscure creatures.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Kory, if you could choose to meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why? KORY MERRITT: Awww, I don’t know. That’s too tough. But I’ll go with someone still living: Christopher Lee, because then I can go around telling everyone I’ve met Christopher Lee. Because he’s ninety-something and more awesome than ever.
Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena
19 November 2014
Maria Scrivan’s cartoons are published in MAD Magazine, Parade Magazine, Prospect Magazine (UK), on Mashable.com, Salon.com. Funny Times and many other publications. Maria licenses her work to Recycled Paper Greetings, NobleWorks Cards, RSVP Greetings, American Greetings, Oatmeal Studios, CheckAdvantage and Neat-O Shop. Her corporate clients include IBM, Deloitte, Emcor, Mastercard, AT&T, Avaya and many more. Her daily panel Half Full appears daily on GoComics and is syndicated online by Universal Uclick. It also appears daily in print in Hearst newspapers the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate. It is syndicated in Sweden by Content Central and is syndicated on GoComics in Spanish. Maria is a member of the National Cartoonists Society.
Maria, were you always interested in becoming a cartoonist? Which ones were the strips that inspired you, impressed you and influenced you the most?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I have always wanted to be a cartoonist. From early childhood, I was always drawing, doodling and reading the Sunday Comics start to finish. I had every Garfield book that existed and loved Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. I was most influenced by Jim Davis (Garfield) and Sandra Boynton. My cartooning career started as a cartoonist for my high school and college newspapers. Whenever there was an opportunity for a creative essay I would draw it instead. In high school English, I created a cartoon mock “Cliff Notes” for my final project spoofing the books we were supposed to read all semester. As daring as that was, I got an A. Cartooning has always been my favorite form of communication. I love the immediacy and the shorthand of expression you can achieve with minimal language and just a few lines.
Maria, how did your strip “Half Full” develop? What is the theme of the strip? Was it always a one-panel comics or did you dabble with multiple-panels strip version?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I had been writing and drawing magazine gag cartoons so Half Full was a natural transition. I use a multi-panel format for some pieces and have done some experimenting with a character-based strip, but so far I seem to enjoy the single joke format. There are many different subjects in Half Full. Some of the recurring themes are animals, technology, pop culture and relationships. The most successful cartoons seem to be the ones based on human nature, and authentic universal human experiences. That authenticity is something people can relate to and laugh at.
Have you ever used people around you, such as friends or relatives, as characters in your strip, even if disguised as animals?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Absolutely. So many of my comics end up being somewhat of a self-portrait of something I experience or observe, so it’s inevitable that people I interact with might end up cartoonified. Plus, now they can look at my cartoons and try and figure out which ones they are.
Where do you find your inspiration for your strip?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Everywhere! I never know when an idea will strike, so I keep a sketchbook with me at all times. I always have my phone with me so I can jot down an idea or have Siri take dictation. Inspiration doesn’t always come from something I find funny—many of the jokes are derived from things that evoke strong emotions of any kind—frustration, anger, sadness. I think the world is in a really funny place right now with our obsession with technology, fascination with celebrities and the endless stream of over-the-top reality TV Shows. The good news is there is an endless source of material.
How much inspiration did you get from your two cats? Why do you assert that your cat Doski is your assistant?
MARIA SCRIVAN: In addition to the cats, we also have a little dog named Toby. They all have such quirky personalities and are a constant source of inspiration. Milo likes to hunt clothing and howls as he drags pants around the house, Toby is a miniature Dachshund and is comical no matter what he does thanks to his vertical challenges. I refer to Doski as my “assistant” because he likes to hang out in the studio and help out. By helping out, I mean sitting on my artwork, pushing my pens on the floor and taking naps…
You are involved in various activities: greeting cards design,cartoons, book writing, illustrations… Of these, which came first and how do they influence each other?
MARIA SCRIVAN: The cartoons translate very well into greeting cards and other licensable products. With my characters, I have so many possibilities. The books are separate projects entirely.
What is your children’s book “Dogi the Yogi” about?
MARIA SCRIVAN: “Dogi the Yogi” is a nonfiction children’s book about a dog who loves yoga. Dogi guides children through a series of yoga poses. The idea for the book came from a our family’s beloved Golden Retriever, Kevlar. When my husband and I stretched in front of him he would stretch along in a Downward Dog. Watching him inspired me to create the character. I have been practicing yoga for most of my adult life and it has done so many positive things for me, mentally and physically. I wanted to share those benefits with a younger generation.
Could you tell us something about your experience as substitute cartoonist for the strip Rhymes with Orange?
MARIA SCRIVAN: No one can substitute for Hilary Price, her work is brilliant! I was so honored and grateful for the opportunity to be a guest cartoonist for a week. The best part was seeing my comic in the Sunday Funnies for the first time.
The Reality Show Mashups that you created for Mad Magazine are very funny. Could you tell our readers how did the whole project start and what was it about?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I’m fascinated with outrageous reality television. I can’t believe the premise of some shows and often wonder how they came into existence. While I can barely watch them, I am especially fascinated with Toddlers and Tiaras, My Strange Addiction and Hoarders. I can only imagine that shows like that are successful because people watch them and think, “No matter how bad my life is, at least I’m not eating dry wall or hoarding rats.” I started doodling and thought—what if we mix this whole thing up—Real Housewives hoarding Birkin Bags, Swamp People in Tiaras, the Biggest Housewife… and then the whole thing came together. Once I got rolling the piece wrote itself. There is endless material in the fantasy land that is Reality TV.
Do you have any projects in the works at the moment? What about the near future? Do you expect to expand into graphic novels or maybe another type of comics?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I have am working on some humor and children’s books and am excited to announce that I just signed with terrific literary agents Gillian MacKenzie and Allison Devereux. I love the idea of graphic novels. I’m constantly experimenting with new ideas—who knows what the future will bring.
Do you have any writers who you would love to illustrate the books for, but you did not have the opportunity to? What about magazines that you would love to have your work appear in?
MARIA SCRIVAN: What I would really love is to see one of my characters as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.
A lot of people claim newspapers, and comics with them, are doomed and will be completely replaced by the Internet. Do you agree with this gloomy view of the world? What do you think is the future for cartoonists?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Things are changing and creating more opportunities in different formats. I was fortunate to work as an Art Director at an interactive advertising agency when the internet was just developing on a commercial level. People did not know where the internet was going or how to monetize it. I feel like we are at a similar crossroads in the tablet and mobile space with regards to publishing. People are experimenting to see what works. I think there are boundless opportunities and our content needs are even greater.
You are very devoted to exercise and have participated in various athletic benefits. How important is that in your life and why?
MARIA SCRIVAN: Exercise is essential for my creativity and happiness. I solve so many creative problems and get so many ideas while I’m on the road running or cycling. Exercise helps me stretch, literally and figuratively. I am a two-time Ironman Triathlon competitor which was a longtime goal. I had no idea how I would be able to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 and then run a full 26.2 mile marathon. Getting through it was a matter of many months of training and taking one step at a time. Getting thorough those 140.6 miles has helped me in with many other life goals. Learning to break things into small tasks, staying consistent and pushing through even when I didn’t feel like it are skills that have translated into so many things that I do. I love adventures and challenging athletic endeavors. Some of my favorites were riding from Montreal to Maine to raise money for AIDS research, riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the same cause and a bicycle ride to the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. There are so many metaphors between exercise and life—there are uphills and downhills, headwinds and flats, but you need to just keep pedaling.
Maria, if you could meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why?
MARIA SCRIVAN: I would love to meet Stephen King. I love his work, which doesn’t really make sense because I can’t set a single toe into a haunted house (not even the innocuous one at Disney World with the friendly ghosts.) His stories and characters suck me right in. It will be 3 in the morning and I am trying to fit in just one more chapter. I’m blown away with how prolific he is, all the while maintaining unique stories and fascinating characters. Special note: don’t bring a horror book about a cabin in Maine to a cabin in Maine. I also learned so much from his non-fiction book “On Writing.”
Written By: Tiziano Thomas Dossena10 October 2014|
According to his website, www.poochcafe.com, Paul Gilligan’s affair with art began in 1970, in kindergarten, when he figured out that he stunk at sports and that art was his only other option for impressing chicks. Weaned on Mad magazine, super-hero comics and “Bloom County,” Paul attended Toronto’s Sheridan College for animation and illustration and took comedy writing at the Film Institute in Ottawa. He tested out other jobs over the years such as gas jockey, carnie, night watchman and florist, before joining the Ottawa Citizen newspaper as its on-staff illustrator, where he won awards in both illustration and design. He also found work in advertising, editorial cartooning, storyboarding, comic books and animation, and finally set up shop in downtown Toronto as a free-lancer, where his roster of illustration clients grew to include the likes of Entertainment Weekly, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Disney, and Wired. During this time he created a number of strips, the culmination of which was Pooch Cafe. Pooch was the first comic of the new millennium, debuting on Jan 1, 2000 with Copley News Syndicate. In 2003 it was picked up by Universal Press Syndicate, and since then it’s found its way into over 270 newspapers around the globe, including recent additions like London and Moscow. Paul does not currently own a dog, but he skulks around dog parks doing research, and is an avid viewer of “Dogs With Jobs” and “Scooby-Doo” reruns.
L’IDEA: Paul, was being a cartoonist always your desire and aspiration? PAUL GILLIGAN: I’m one of those lucky people who always knew what they wanted to do. I started copying Don Martin drawings out of MAD when I was in grade 3 and I was hooked. In grade 2 I said I wanted to be a baseball player or astronaut. In grade 3, artist.
L’IDEA: How did the comic strip Pooch Café came about and where does the name come from? PAUL GILLIGAN: I tried a few other strips before Pooch, and the feedback I got was that the work was okay but the subject matter wasn’t sellable enough, the concepts were more outlandish and didn’t have a target demo. So I went: “Hmm, I don’t have a family, I don’t have a teenager, I’m not a senior, I’ve never worked in an office….” You sort of have to write what you know, so it was either a strip about dogs or a strip about a failed superhero-comic artist. The premise of Pooch Café is that a dog’s happy relationship with his master is thrown into a tail spin when his master marries a “crazy cat lady” and they move into a house loaded with cats. The dog then finds solace at the local canine hangout where they discuss life among the humans and how to get rid of the “fuzzy virus”. The name “Pooch Café” was a sort of pun on the obscure mixed brandy cocktail, the “pousse café.” The first person I ever mentioned the name to connected it immediately. And not a single other person since.
L’IDEA: Do any of the human characters in Pooch Café carry any resemblance to people you know, whether as physical presence or as personality? PAUL GILLIGAN: Not intentionally, although friends have said they hear my voice when they read Poncho’s words. Probably because I’ve been known to spin off on rants.
L’IDEA: Has any of the main characters in Pooch Café changed their physical appearance from the early years? PAUL GILLIGAN: Nothing substantial. Chazz used to have a pony tail, because I first envisioned him having some kind of “rad” occupation that he would force Poncho to tag along on. But that morphed into a more standard job and home life. Boomer’s eye used to not have a pupil, but I found adding one gave him more soul. Poncho’s ears used to touch his body, now they sort of hover magically over his head.
L’IDEA: You have been publishing Pooch Café for over 14 years now. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas? PAUL GILLIGAN: The beauty of Poncho as a character is that he’s a dog when I need him to be, a buddy when I need him to be, a child when I need him to be. This helps facilitate a lot of material.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Which character from your own strip do you identify yourself the most with? PAUL GILLIGAN: For some reason I really identify with Poo Poo’s plight of being a little dog trying to protect the fire hydrant on his front lawn from other dogs.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: There are four book on Pooch Café (Pooch Café: All Dogs Naturally Know How To Swim, Bark To Work Legislation, Poncho: Year One – A Puppy Life, and No Collar No Service.) Are they all collections of previously published strips? Will you in the future publish a graphic novel with Poncho as the main character? PAUL GILLIGAN: Three of the books you mentioned are straight up collections, but “Year One” is a cross between a collection and a graphic novel. There was a 15-month-long stretch of strips where I took Poncho literally back to the womb and re-envisioning his formative puppy years, including the meeting of Boomer and Chazz, his first introduction to this magical thing called “meat”, and learning what it is that makes him hate cats so much. I then edited these strips and supplemented them with about 100 new panels to make the read flow as a graphic novel. I’d love to have time to do another one, but the right concept hasn’t struck me yet. I have to say, there were times when doing such a long storyline was difficult, but it was important to me to reinvigorate both the strip and my enthusiasm.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Did you ever expect Pooch Café would have been so popular and in such a relative amount of time? What is your fan base like? PAUL GILLIGAN: Like a lot of kids, I lay on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics and dreaming of having my own strip one day. So pulling this off is the main reward by itself. It’s overall popularity is subjective, but I’m happy to be making a living. I think I have more of a cult following, which is code for a fanbase that’s small but fervent.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In June of this year you debuted with another comic strip, Poptropica. Could you tell us how it came about and what is the storyline? PAUL GILLIGAN: Poptropica is a popular website where players can create avatars and travel through a plethora of interesting islands. The website’s creator, Jeff Kinney (of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” fame) wanted a comic strip to go with it, and so he hired me to do the writing. There were pre-existing templates for the two main characters of Oliver and Jorge. I fleshed them out and gave them the motivation that they’re searching for a way out of Poptropica by traveling from island to island, kinda like that show “Quantum Leap”, like each time they hop to the next island it will be the one that leads them home.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: In Poptropica you share the credits with Kory Merritt. How do you operate in the creation of the strip with him? PAUL GILLIGAN: I do the writing, accompanied by thumbnails if necessary, and Kory pencils out the strips and runs them by me. I bring up any alterations that might be necessary for clarity, etc, and then he inks and colors the work. It’s been a fairly seamless collaboration thus far; Kory’s a great artist and super easy to work with.
L’IDEA: Some media projects a gloom future for newspapers in general and for newspapers’ comics in particular. Do you agree with their view? PAUL GILLIGAN: I’m not really as up on this topic as perhaps I might be, considering my position in papers. But after the dip about 3-4 years back there seems to have been some stabilization. Perhaps this shows that papers will still be around in some form for a while yet.
L’IDEA: Are you at the moment working on any projects not involving Pooch Café or Poptropica? PAUL GILLIGAN: I have an animated show in development, but I don’t want to say too much about it at this point, as it’s a years-long process.
L’IDEA: You won several Studio Magazine and INMA Awards for illustration and a National Newspaper Award for design. Could you tell our readers something about that? PAUL GILLIGAN: I worked as an on-staff illustrator at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper for many years. During that time I was encouraged by the paper to submit the work in various contests, and I came out with a few awards from that. This was quite some time ago and I used styles that were painted. I haven’t used paints in illustrations in about 15 years. When I struck out on my own as a freelancer my style became more cartoony, black brush lines and colored electronically.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: What are the comic strips that you believe influenced you the most? Who are the comic strip artists you admire the most and why? PAUL GILLIGAN: I was influenced by the obvious guys, Larson, Watterson, Breathed and Shultz, but also by a lot of alternative comic book cartoonists, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Chester Brown, The Hernandez Brothers. Those guys really influenced my writing as well, and the marriage of the words and art on the page, which is really what it’s all about. I was also heavily influenced by superhero comics, which was a passion from about 12-17, and can probably be seen at times in Pooch.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Is Pooch Café also becoming an animated cartoon, soon? PAUL GILLIGAN: Well, I sure wouldn’t mind if my animated show made it into production, I’d say that would be about as good as I can imagine.
L’IDEA MAGAZINE: Paul, if you could choose to meet a person, any person in history, regardless of time constrictions, who would that person be and why? PAUL GILLIGAN: My father, as a twenty year old, in lower Manhattan, so we could go on an all night drinking binge together.
The Evolution of BIG NATE From Comic strips to Novels to Musical: An interview with Lincoln Peirce
Lincoln Peirce (pronounced “Purse”) is an American cartoonist, best known as the creator of the Big Nate comic strip. Peirce was born in Iowa, grew up in Durham, New Hampshire and attended Colby College in Maine. He earned a graduate degree from Brooklyn College and studied at The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He taught art and coached baseball at Xavier High School, a boys’ high school in New York City, for three years before moving to Maine in 1992. Big Nate debuted in 1991 and appears in 300 newspapers in the US and online daily at www.gocomics.com, and is featured on the website Poptropica, www.poptropica.com. A fan and collector of classic country music, Peirce also hosts a local radio show devoted to Honky Tonk and Western Swing music on local station WMPG. In addition to the Big Nate comic strip, Peirce is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Big Nate novel 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.”
L’IDEA: Lincoln, was being a cartoonist always your aspiration? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I became very interested in comics, particularly newspaper comic strips, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. That’s not unusual; lots of kids like comics at that age. But only a handful of those kids take the next step and begin creating comics of their own. Once I began experimenting with inventing my own stories and characters, I started to consider the possibility of making cartooning my profession. When I look back on my trajectory, though, it’s clear to me that I didn’t devote as much time to developing my drawing skills as some of my peers did. I didn’t have the patience or the self-discipline to really practice my drawing; I just wanted to be able to draw well enough to tell the types of stories I was starting to write. If you split cartooning into a writing part and a drawing part, it’s always been the writing that’s come easier to me.
L’IDEA: How did the comic strip Big Nate came about and where does the name come from?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: First, the name: it’s the nickname I gave my brother, Jonathan, when we were boys. I’ve always liked the name Nate. The strip itself evolved from an earlier idea called “Neighborhood Comix.” It was a strip that was based on the little neighborhood in New Hampshire where I grew up, and it featured a large cast of characters, including two brothers, Nate and Marty. Nate was the quiet straight man and Marty, the younger brother, was the jokester. Their relationship was reminiscent of the one my brother and I shared as boys. I submitted “Neighborhood Comix” to all the major syndicates and got some very nice feedback from Sarah Gillespie, the comics editor at United Media. She was to become my first editor. Her suggestion was that I choose one character and make that character the focal point of the strip. Well, I wanted to somehow keep both Nate AND Marty. So I kept the name Nate, but gave him a personality more like Marty’s – energetic, wisecracking, and occasionally troublemaking. And because Nate was now clearly the star, I renamed the strip “Big Nate.”
L’IDEA: Could you tell our readers about the Longest Cartoon Strip by a Team World Record that Big Nate has just set?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: That was an idea proposed by HarperCollins, the publisher of the Big Nate novels. A lot of kids have discovered Big Nate in recent years through those novels, and they learn only later that Big Nate has been a comic strip character for 23 years. With Nate’s comic strip roots, it seemed that trying to break the world record for the Longest Comic Strip by a Team was a great fit. HarperCollins reached out to schools via the Big Nate website and invited them to create individual panels for what would be a record-setting comic strip based on the first two Big Nate novels. And it worked beautifully. We assembled all the panels on the “Today” show in New York City in April, and the completed strip was something like 4,000 feet long. It was a great way to involve a lot of Big Nate readers in the process, and now kids all around the world can say they were part of setting a world record.
L’IDEA: Besides the continuous appearance of Big Nate strip on newspapers since 1991 and a series of its collections as books, you also have published six New York Times bestselling novels with him as the main character. What made you go into novel writing? How different is for you the process of creation of one (the novel) versus the other (the strip)?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: For many years, Big Nate was what I’d call a moderate success as a comic strip. It was in about two hundred newspapers and it had a small, loyal readership. But it wasn’t widely known. I always thought that if I could just find a way to reach more readers, especially young readers, they’d like Big Nate. But I never considered writing novels; I was just looking for ways to get my comic strip into more newspapers. Then Jeff Kinney started writing his “Wimpy Kid” books, and suddenly every publisher in the world was looking for books that combined text and comics. Well, Jeff and I have known each other for many years, and he was kind enough to open some doors for me in the publishing world. I submitted proposals to about eight publishing houses, I guess, and HarperCollins made the best offer. I’d never written a novel, but since I’d been doing the comic strip for almost twenty years at that point, I felt confident that I could create longer stories for those same characters. I just had to get used to the pacing. A 4-panel comic strip has a real rhythm to it, and I’m very accustomed to writing jokes and dialogue that correspond to that rhythm. But a 216-page book has a completely different rhythm, obviously. I had to figure out when and where the story needed to speed up or slow down. I had to make sure I was timing everything correctly, so that all the story threads would be resolved by the end of the book. And, of course, I had to write a lot of text instead of just putting everything in speech bubbles. It took a lot of getting used to, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed writing novels.
L’IDEA: Nate Wright, the protagonist of your strip, is also an aspiring cartoonist. Did you somewhat model him on yourself and your early experiences as cartoonist?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Oh, of course. Nate isn’t based on me – he’s not an autobiographical character, in other words – but he shares many of my enthusiasms, obsessions, and pet peeves. And, as you mentioned, he’s a cartoonist. Some of Nate’s cartoon inventions, like “Doctor Cesspool,” are actually characters I created myself when I was a child. Drawing Nate’s comics enable me to indulge that part of my sensibility that’s still firmly planted in middle school. I get to draw the way a 6th grader would draw, and write the kind of jokes a 6th grader might write.
L’IDEA: Do any of the characters in Big Nate carry any resemblance to people you know, whether as physical presence or as personality?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: There are plenty of connections. Nate’s pal, Francis, is based on a student I had when I was a high school art teacher. The dog next door, Spitsy, is a dead ringer for the dog that belonged to my best friend when we were growing up. Other characters are amalgams: Coach John looks a bit like my high school gym teacher and acts a lot like a baseball coach I played for. Mr. Rosa is a combination of several teachers I had over the years – guys whose hearts were in the right place, but who were starting to get burned out after spending 10 or 20 or 30 years in the classroom. There have only been one or two times when I’ve made a concerted effort to create a character who looks like a real life counterpart. The most successful was a substitute teacher who was modeled on my friend and fellow cartoonist, Corey Pandolph. It actually looked quite a bit like him. But I’m no caricaturist.
L’IDEA: Has Nate Wright changed his physical appearance from his first entrance into the world of comics?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: All comic strip characters change over time, because the cartoonist’s drawing style inevitably evolves as the years roll by. In my case, I couldn’t draw very well when I started the comic strip in 1991. At the time, I didn’t realize how weak my drawing skills were, but now it’s difficult for me to look at the strips I did in the early and mid 90’s without feeling kind of embarrassed. In 1991, Nate was skinnier and lankier than he is now. Over the years, without really realizing that I was doing it, I gradually made him shorter and more compact. I’m much happier with the way he looks now – he’s more expressive, and I can draw him more consistently – but height-wise, he’s not as tall as a sixth-grader would be in real life. He looks younger than he is. But I can live with it.
L’IDEA: Did your experience as a teacher help you a lot in creating the school environment in which this cartoon strip thrives?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: I’m sure it didn’t hurt. But I taught in an all-boys high school, so the students were several years older than Nate and his classmates. I rely much more on my own memories of sixth grade than on my experiences as a teacher. For whatever reason, I have almost total recall of events that happened when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. I remember those times more vividly than I do my teens or my twenties. Schools are funny places, and middle schools – which where I grew up meant 6th, 7th, and 8th grade – are especially hilarious. Nate’s in 6th grade, which is a time of major transition. As a 5th grader, you have only one teacher, you hang your coat and put your lunch box in a little cubbyhole…you’re in a sort of bubble. Then you go to 6th grade, and you’ve got a different teacher for each subject. You’re sharing a locker with some kid you don’t even know. You’re surrounded by 7th and 8th graders who, in many cases, are much bigger and stronger than you are. You go to school dances. You play intramural sports. Each and every day, there’s the possibility of experiencing soaring triumphs or crushing humiliations. There’s a lot of comedic fodder there.
L’IDEA: Nate’s father is a divorced, single parent. Where is Nate’s mother? Has she appeared in any strip at all? Do you believe that her obvious absence from his everyday life influencing his behavior? Would he be any different if he lived in a two parents’ household?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Nate’s mother has never appeared in the strip. When I launched the strip in 1991, I made a couple of early references to the fact that Nate’s parents were divorced. I envisioned the strip as a “domestic humor” strip when I started it, and I imagined that at some point I’d bring Nate’s mom in as a character. But very early on, I realized that the stories and jokes I enjoyed the most all revolved around Nate’s school life, his classmates, his teachers, and so on. With Nate’s dad and sister assuming somewhat diminished roles, I decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to introduce an estranged mom character. I can’t say how it might change Nate’s behavior to be living with two parents. Nate’s dad is somewhat hapless at times, and it’s hard to imagine Nate’s mother being equally inept as a parent. So the dynamic would change, even if I didn’t intend it to. That’s why I have no plans to bring Nate’s mom into the strip, or to create a “significant other” for Nate’s father.
L’IDEA: What is the next project involving Big Nate? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I’m working on the seventh novel right now. It’s going to be called Big Nate Lives It Up. All the writing is done, and I’m doing the finished drawings. There’s also a Big Nate musical that will be touring this fall. The show was originally staged at Adventure Theater in Glen Echo Maryland in the spring of 2013, and it was so well received that a touring company is being assembled. There are occasional rumblings about a Big Nate TV show or movie, but nothing has come together yet. And that’s fine with me. I’m very content with the way things are.
L’IDEA: You have been publishing Big Nate for over 23 years now. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: I still haven’t run into a prolonged case of writer’s cramp on the comic strip, but there’s no doubt that the novels are becoming more challenging. There are only so many themes involving a 6th grade boy that are substantial enough to carry a whole book. When you write a book series, it’s a real challenge not to repeat yourself. Your readers, who are kids, expect certain elements. There’s got to be conflict, either with teachers or with other kids, because conflict is what makes a story interesting. There’s got to be a lot of physical humor, because slapstick is a huge part of comic storytelling. And there’s got to be a happy ending. I’m finding it increasingly challenging to meet those criteria in a fresh way in each book.
L’IDEA: You created animated shorts for the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. What was the subject? How different is that process from your strip creation? LINCOLN PEIRCE: I wrote three shorts under the title “Uncle Gus” featuring a cast of eccentric characters: a middle-aged loser, his loyal horse, his overly theatrical nephew, and a mysterious tiny con man named Ali Ali. In retrospect, I think they worked much better as long-format comic books than as animation. I also wrote a short called “Super John Doe Jr.,” about a kid who’s the son of a famous superhero but who’s inherited none of his father’s super powers. The best shorts I wrote were a series of 2-minute pieces for a short-lived Cartoon Network show, “Sunday Pants.” They were called “The Brothers Pistov.” They were two very angry Russian dogs. Gregor was completely deadpan but very passive-aggressive. The other, Anton, was insanely volatile and violent. Writing for TV is a completely different style of writing from what I usually do. Think about your basic 3- or 4-panel comic strip. It might be extremely funny on the page, but it can become much less funny if you read it out loud, or try to act it out. I thought the first “Uncle Gus” short I wrote was hilarious on the page, but it just didn’t translate to animation the way I hoped it would.
L’IDEA: In 2003, “Big Nate” the musical debuted, with great success. Was that your idea? How involved were you in that project?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Adventure Theater, one of the oldest and most respected children’s theaters in the country, approached us and inquired about the stage rights to Big Nate. I was initially skeptical, simply because so many things can go wrong when you put something you’ve created in someone else’s hands. I’d never collaborated on Big Nate before; I don’t have a partner or an assistant, I don’t buy jokes from free-lance gag writers. So I had to get used to the idea. But once the writers submitted their story synopsis to me, I was on board. There was a good story there. I was grateful to the writers, because they let me re-write most of the dialogue. I didn’t touch the songs, except to suggest that one song needed to be more upbeat. But it was important to me that when the characters spoke, they sounded like the characters I’ve been writing for all these years. My family and I went to the premiere last spring, and it was wonderful. They did a great job.
L’IDEA: You were a pen pal with Jeff Kinney, the author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” How did that come about?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: Jeff was an undergraduate – and an aspiring cartoonist – at the University of Maryland. He read “Big Nate” in the Washington Post and enjoyed it, so he sent me what I guess you’d call fan mail. He had a lot of questions about cartooning, syndication, etc., and he sent me examples of the strip he did for his college paper. It was called “Igdoof.” He was clearly very talented, earnest, and ambitious. I wrote him back – this was before the days of email, so we really were pen pals in the old-fashioned sense – and we kept a correspondence going for a couple of years. We lost touch after he graduated, but found each other again after his first “Wimpy Kid” book was published. I read about his success, tracked him down to congratulate him, and as I mentioned in one of my earlier answers, he’s been enormously helpful to me.
L’IDEA: Are you working on any projects not involving Big Nate?
LINCOLN PEIRCE: At some point, I am definitely planning to write other books for kids that are not Big Nate-related. But there’s still one more novel to write after the one I’m working on now. That will make a total of 8 Big Nate novels, and at that point I’ll be ready to try some other things.