Hang onto your hat: There’s going to be a change in the Star Tribune’s daily comics.
Jan Eliot, creator of the comic strip “Stone Soup,” is going into “semi-retirement,” which means she’s retiring her weekday version of the blended-family strip. It’ll continue to run on Sundays. But starting Monday, Stone’s popular, long-running strip will be replaced by another popular, long-running strip, “Big Nate.”
You might know Nate Wright. The sixth-grader already is the star of 10 graphic novels and a series of bestselling books. If you’ve never heard of him, here’s the skinny: He’s 11 years old, 4½ feet tall and the all-time record holder for detentions in school history.
Lincoln Peirce, who just happened to start drawing cartoons when he was in sixth grade, introduces us to the hockey-loving, cat-hating main character of his strip.
Q: Describe Nate for us.
A: Big Nate isn’t known for his scholarly-ness, but I like to think he walks the fine line between being an underachiever and being very positive. He has a lot of confidence and can be self-absorbed, but that’s because he’s young. Even when he misbehaves, you understand that he’s not a bad kid. He’s endearing. It’s clear he has a good heart.
Q: So he’s kind of a normal kid?
A: He’s authentic. That’s why kids — and adults — respond to him. I didn’t want to have kids that were like little adults. That’s been done before, and to perfection, in “Peanuts,” in “Calvin and Hobbes.” My bottom line is making him act like a real kid. That makes him sarcastic at times, that makes him say dumb things at times.
Q: Nate is an aspiring cartoonist, just like you were at his age. Are there other ways in which he’s like you?
A: We have a lot of the same likes and dislikes, that’s where my personality comes through. He has this trinity of things he likes: ice hockey, dogs and Cheez Doodles. (I don’t know if you have them in Minnesota. They’re kind of like Cheetos.) He can’t stand figure skating, cats and egg salad.
Q: But he’s not a copy of you?
A: I didn’t have the same sense of self-assurance and confidence that he has. I went inward to that creative space. He gets into more trouble than I did.
Q: Nate does seem to have his fair share of run-ins. Why’s that?
A: My hero, Charles Schulz, is quoted as saying that losing is funnier than winning. No one wants to read a comic about a kid who wins every game, gets every trophy.
Q: You’ve been doing this strip for what you call “a long time.” How has it evolved?
A: I started the strip when I was 26. Now I’m 52. One thing that’s changed is that I can draw a lot better. When I started, I thought it was going to be a family strip. Nate lives with his father and sister. But I found that the jokes I liked best were the ones about school. I was a teacher and schools can be hilarious places, so it became a school strip.
Q: Has Nate evolved, too?
A: No. Nate has been stuck in sixth grade for 25 years. I’m really happy where he is, probably because that was an incredibly vivid time of my life.
Q: Can you catch us up on the story line?
A: The strip is about Nate and his two buddies, wisecracking Teddy and Frances, who’s more level-headed. Nate has a new girlfriend, Trudy. He hasn’t had much romance, but sixth-grade kids do have crushes. The drama is that Trudy, a seventh-grader, just discovered that Nate is only in sixth grade.
Q: Oh, no. Is she going to dump him?
A: I can’t say much, but I can tell you that Trudy and Nate are going to be sweethearts for a while and see how it goes.
Check out some “Big Nate” strips at gocomics.com.