The 'Riffs Interview: Lincoln Peirce's 'BIG NATE' becomes an 'overnight' best-seller
Jeff Kinney, creator of the publishing phenomenon that is the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" children's book series, was in the Post newsroom a coupla years ago when he mentioned to Comic Riffs his new interactive website, Poptropica. Today, the site calls itself the Web's largest virtual world for young kids. And one of the most popular creators on the site is Lincoln Peirce. This weekend, in advance of his book signing today at the ALA Annual Conference in downtown Washington, Comic Riffs caught up with Peirce to discuss his newfound success as a best-selling author.
No man is an island, but Lincoln Peirce, creator of the cartoon "Big Nate," has joined one heck of a powerful archipelago. And that has made all the difference.
For nearly two decades, Peirce has drawn his engaging comic strip for some 200 newspapers, as distributed through United Media's NEA syndication. And for nearly two decades, Peirce could not land a book deal with a major publisher.
Then, however, Peirce launched Big Nate Island on Valentine's Day 2009 on the hugely successful kids' site Poptropica. Within weeks, millions of young readers discovered the interactive world of sixth-grader Nate Wright and his smartly knowing cartoon adventures as a "self-described genius" and "all-time record-holder for detentions in school history."
"All I remember is that Jeff [Kinney] called me after the first 48 hours and said: 'You crashed the server,' " recalls Pierce, referring to the creator of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" publishing empire (and recent Major Motion Picture). Kinney is also design director for the Family Education Network, which hosts "educational and informative websites."
"It was their biggest launch by 20 percent," Peirce says. "They were really pleased."
The sudden online popularity of "Big Nate" led to Peirce's first major book deal -- with HarperCollins -- after years of attempts. As of today, "Big Nate: In a Class by Himself" has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 11 straight weeks.
All this, largely because back in the mid-'90s, Peirce took the time to answer an aspiring young cartoonist's fan letter.
"Jeff Kinney was a student at the University of Maryland and he read 'Big Nate' in The Washington Post," recalls Peirce, 46. "He was doing a strip for the [school's] Diamondback newspaper and sent me a letter. He had a lot of questions about syndication and getting into the business."
Even then, Kinney stood out.
"His letter was so different from other letters," says Peirce, an Iowa native who grew up in New Hampshire. "And not just because it was five to six pages long. It was [clear] that even early on, he was very talented and very ambitious. So I wrote him back and over the next two, two-and-a-half years [shortly before e-mail was common], we had a letter-writing correspondence and he would periodically keep me updated on his efforts to get syndicated.
"I kept all his letters and pulled them out a couple of months ago," continues Peirce (pronounced "Purse"). "What's so nice is that in each and every letter, he ends by saying , 'Thank you so much for the advice and help you've given me -- and someday, I hope I can pay you back in some fashion."
Fast-forward to 2008, and the mentor indeed becomes the beneficiary.
"Years went by and we lost touch. I was not aware of the 'Wimpy Kid' books, " says Peirce, noting that his children are ages 16 and 13. "But then Jeff e-mailed me from a book tour to say he would be traveling up my way" toward New Hampshire.
Peirce's response: "Book tour?! What have you been up to?"
"By inviting me to participate in Poptropica, by being the 500-pound gorilla for the children's publishing world that he is right now," Peirce says he was able to land a book deal in the spring of 2009.
And soon, nearly two decades after "Big Nate" launched, to find sudden new success as one of the hottest-selling authors in the vast sea of children's books. A sea largely charted online by Kinney -- and for which was reserved a place of gratitude called Big Nate Island.
| June 27, 2010; 9:15 AM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists, The Comic Strip | Tags: Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney, Lincoln Peirce, Poptropica
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