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Family guy Lincoln Peirce brings comic 'Big Nate' to town

"Big Nate" has officially joined the Deseret News with its first daily strip printed last Monday, Sept. 24, and its first contribution today to the Sunday funnies. Having begun in 1991, the comic strip is currently published in more than 200 U.S. newspapers. "Big Nate" has become so popular that eight chapter books full of comics have also been published.

But even in an industry that is somewhat daunting to enter, creator Lincoln Peirce says he was determined early on to pursue his career in comics. Although his big break with "Big Nate" has been one of his biggest blessings, Peirce said the opportunity his job has given him to spend time with his family has been the best of all.

Peirce started out just as many other third-graders with a love for reading and drawing. It was his obsession with the popular comic "Peanuts" at an early age that gave him the idea to draw on his own.

"I just devoured these 'Peanuts' books," Peirce said. "I just sort of got into an obsessive mode of reading them over and over, trying to copy the drawings. I thought it seemed like a really cool thing to do, so I started doing drawings of my own at that time."

But it wasn't simply a hobby; Peirce soon began to think of drawing as a career.

"I thought, making a living drawing comics, you can't get any better," Peirce said. "So I really set that as a goal of mine at a pretty young age."

But knowing that it would be a tough business to go into, Peirce didn't choose to focus primarily on comics. He attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where he studied to be an art teacher and contributed a weekly strip to the school's paper.

"So that was my training, Peirce said. "I had never really seen my stuff in print before and I had never done a strip on a deadline before. So all that stuff was good practice for eventually doing it professionally."

Peirce taught high school art in New York for three years until he was finally given a shot at producing a daily strip.

"Eventually, I was able to do cartooning full time," Peirce said. "I have never gotten rich off of it, but it’s always made a living for me and my family, so I’m one of the lucky ones."

And lucky in more than one way. Peirce said the best part of his job is the fact that he gets to work from home and spend time with his family.

"I’ve certainly always enjoyed the fact that I could work from home so I could really be a big part of my kids' life as they’ve grown up," Peirce said. "That is to me a huge benefit of what I do for a living. I’m not locked into a 9-5 schedule and so if my daughter has a field hockey game, I can get there, and I’m very lucky in that way. I think it's been such a positive thing for our family, just the nature of the job and being able to be at home and be so present here."

Working from home has especially been a benefit for Peirce and his wife because they have had the opportunity to work together every day.

"I can honestly say that my wife and I split everything 50/50 in terms of the housework and the cooking and all that," Peirce said.

But it's not through his family experiences that he gets ideas for "Big Nate." Nate is very much his own character, Peirce said. He's a self-proclaimed genius who believes he is bound for great things, best known throughout the comic for his awkward moments, pranks at school and landing himself in detention. Peirce said most of these ideas came from his own experiences from middle school.

"I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse — but I’ve always had an almost photographic memory, not for everything, but for that certain period in my life. I just remember middle school incredibly well," Peirce said.

"I think those are pretty vivid years for a lot of us. It seems as if every day you either experience some triumph or some crushing humiliation almost on a daily basis. I can’t think of other times in your life when that is true.

"So when I started the comic strip I thought, 'I’m going to make this kid a sixth-grader because that is just such a vivid time and I hopefully will never run out of ideas.'"

Although young readers may recognize "Big Nate" from the new chapter books Pierce has released, his daily comic was never intended just for young audiences.

"'Big Nate' offers comedy for all ages," John Glynn, Peirce's editorial director, said, adding that is one thing that he really enjoys about Peirce's work.

"It's a funny comic that resonates with parents and grandparents, too," Glynn said. "My 9-year-old son devours the books, and we started to read it in our newspaper together. It was a great way to share content that we both enjoy."

Sarah Sanders Petersen is an intern for the Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and other feature articles. She attends Brigham Young University and is studying communications.