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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/24/2008

Fave Fan Anecdotes: 'The Buckets' & 'Big Nate'

By Michael Cavna


All week on Comic Riffs, in the spirit of the season, syndicated cartoonists share their favorite fan anecdotes -- telling us in their own words about their artwork that struck a particularly poignant chord with readers. Today, SCOTT STANTIS and LINCOLN PEIRCE share their stories.

SCOTT STANTIS, creator, "Prickly City" and "The Buckets":

When I was doing "The Buckets," I did a series on my son making grunting sounds. This followed a series I had drawn about a year before on ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

A physician from the Chicago area said there may be something differently wrong about my son and could I give him a call. I hesitated but after a month or so I called, and he asked if our son had ever been tested for Tourette's? The two disorders are very similar in very young people. The meds used for ADD can also aggravate the condition.

We took my son in and, indeed, he had been misdiagnosed. Happily, it was adolescent Tourette's and he did outgrow it. (By the way, Tourette's is not what the general population has come to know it as. Cursing is a very rare symptom. More often it is verbal and motor ticks. Like grunts.)

So, in short, my son's disorder was diagnosed through my comic strip!

LINCOLN PEIRCE, creator, "Big Nate":

Without a doubt, the storyline that's generated the most reader response in recent years played out over the course of several weeks this past fall.

After Nate's school is infested with toxic mold, he and his P.S. 38 classmates are temporarily transferred to arch-rival Jefferson Middle School. Nate, the goalkeeper for his soccer team, quickly becomes the trash-talking target of the Jefferson squad, which hasn't lost in four years. As the Jefferson players' taunts escalate in the days leading up to the big game, Nate's coach forbids him from responding in kind, and Nate's stress level intensifies.

As this storyline progressed, I began to receive e-mail from readers begging me to let Nate's team win. Longtime readers of "Big Nate" have become somewhat accustomed to seeing Nate underachieve, but I've been careful over the years to provide him with occasional opportunities to shine.

In this case, readers seemed particularly outraged with the way Nate was being bullied by the star of the Jefferson team, and they clearly hoped that Nate could and would strike a blow for the underdogs of the world.

In the end, the game must be decided by penalty kicks. In the shootout's final round, Nate makes a spectacular save on a shot by his chief rival and tormenter, and P.S. 38 beats mighty Jefferson. The Nov. 1 strip contained no dialogue and simply depicted Nate stopping the shot, then rejoicing with his teammates.

I was very pleased with the volume of e-mails I received in response to this story, and folks were unanimous in their approval of the outcome. But one reader went above and beyond. The day after Nate's team won the game, I got a phone call from an 82-year-old reader who has kept a "Big Nate scrapbook" for 17 years. He copies Big Nate strips and sends them to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He spoke very earnestly about the cruelties many of us suffer in childhood, and he thanked me for making Nate the hero instead of the goat.

"Big Nate" is sometimes described as a "kids strip," and I love hearing from young readers; but just as important to me are readers whose own childhoods are far in the past but who nonetheless still identify with Nate, his struggles and his small victories.

By Michael Cavna  | December 24, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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