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Maine cartoonist of 'Big Nate' makes TV debut

Cartoonist Lincoln Peirce's popular comic strip and novel series 'Big Nate' has been made into a Nickelodeon cartoon.

PORTLAND, Maine — For more than three decades, Maine cartoonist Lincoln Peirce has been conjuring up pranks and misadventures for his spirited main character in "Big Nate," and the longevity of his work proves he's created an undeniably relatable protagonist.  

The syndicated "Big Nate" comic strip has been running for 31 years. Peirce's series of chapter books under the same name has sold in 33 different languages worldwide. 

"I think that it captures kids because [Nate] is authentic, and he reminds them of themselves," Peirce, who is also the author of "Max and the Midnights," said.

Now comes a new chapter for "Big Nate" in the upcoming animated series by Nickelodeon that will stream on Paramount + later this month.

Over the years, there were several possibilities for transcribing "Big Nate" from the page and putting him on the big screen, but Peirce was insistent on one thing: It had to be a cartoon. 

Peirce isn't writing the new "Big Nate" show or producing it, but he has had a strong hand in it, working as a consultant and helping re-write and "tweak" scripts. 

"When we finally got together with Nickelodeon, it was a dream come true because they are the gold standard for TV animation for kids programming. I couldn't be happier," Peirce said.

Fans of "Big Nate" will notice on-screen differences in their favorite character. However, Nate is still as Peirce always intended: spirited, incorrigible, and occasionally getting into a lot of trouble. 

While Nickelodeon creators have drawn from the blueprint Peirce has laid out over decades, they're also adding onto his foundation with new characters, such as one voiced by Jack Black, and new storylines. 

Several other talented actors have joined the series, including comedian Rob Delaney, who sought out Nickelodeon. He wanted to be involved because his child is a huge "Big Nate" fan. 

Just as in the comic series and books, middle school PS 38 is at the center of the "Big Nate" world on the screen. But at the urging of Nickelodeon, Peirce declared the location, for the first time ever, of where Nate lives. 

"Over the years, people have asked, 'Where does Nate live?'" Peirce explained. "In my mind, he lived in Maine, but I was never specific about it, and one of the things that Nickelodeon said was, 'We really want there to be a sense of place. We really want him to live in Maine.'"

Peirce had referenced the street where he lives in Portland as the made-up town, Rackleff, in the "Big Nate" world. Nickelodeon took that and ran, researching trees, buildings, and houses in the Pine Tree State to make the animated version of Maine feel real. 

The characters in "Big Nate" have been navigating the sixth-grade world for more than 30 years. When I asked Peirce about his own sixth-grade experience, since it has turned into the center of his career, he said his memories of middle school are more vivid than any other in his adolescence. 

"I think it is a really transitional time in a lot of kids' lives," Peirce said. 

The real question: Was Peirce like Big Nate in sixth grade? 

"Nate has a much more interesting kid than I was ... The kids who were getting in trouble seemed to have interesting lives. They seemed like they were having a lot more fun than the rest of us. I was envious of the kid that Nate was," Peirce admitted. 

And therein may lie Big Nate's greatest appeal: He is who most of us wished we could have been in sixth grade.

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