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Big Nate

CUMBERLAND — Meet Big Nate.

He’s actually a little guy — four-and-a-half feet tall, to be exact — an 11-year-old sixth-grader whose world revolves around detention and school dances.

He’s a comic strip character, and starting Monday, Big Nate replaces a long-standing feature on the Times-News comics page — Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz.

Schultz, who died in 2000, drew 17,897 Peanuts comics over 50 years, according to the Schultz Museum, and the strip continues to be reprinted in many newspapers daily.

“Peanuts has had a great run in the Times-News and many other newspapers,” said Jan Alderton, managing editor.

“But once Charles Schultz died, the strip was merely recycled and continued by United Media. Now that United Media no longer distributes the strip, we feel it is a good time to offer our readers a fresh comic that should appeal to adults as well as young readers.”

Big Nate, which appears in close to 300 newspapers in the U.S. and overseas, will run in the Times-News seven days a week.

Its creator Lincoln Peirce, who’s been drawing the strip for 20 years, said the character grew out of his own experiences as a middle-schooler and as an art teacher at an all-boys high school in New York.

“I was given some good advice way back when, which was, ‘Write about what you know,’” said Peirce, who lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and two children.

“I’m just one of those people that have a sort of photographic memory of childhood events. Sixth grade to me was pretty memorable. A lot of things are happening for the first time. You have a locker for the first time, you go to school dances for the first time...”

Though he’s sometimes obnoxious, Big Nate is mostly naive, Peirce said.

“I would describe him as a really good kid who bad things sometimes happen to,” Peirce said. “He sort of finds himself in trouble a lot of times, but not because he’s a bad kid. His heart is in the right place. He kind of has a naive and inflated sense of his own self. He’s sort of the star of his own life.”

Besides the comic strip, Big Nate has been featured in two books, “Big Nate: In a Class by Himself,” which was on the New York Times bestseller list for almost 20 weeks, and “Big Nate Strikes Again!” which debuted at No. 4 on the bestseller list in October. Peirce is at work on the third book in a series of six being published by Harper Collins.

Big Nate has also been a big hit on the web site Poptropica.com, created by Jeff Kinney, author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Last year, Big Nate Island because Poptropica’s biggest launch ever, visited by 2.2 million children in the first week alone. More than 30 million have visited since.

“Big Nate is especially popular with elementary and middle-school students,” Alderton said. “The popularity of the Big Nate books shows just how much young readers enjoy Nate and his friends.”

Pearce, who decided he wanted to become a comic strip artist  when he was in the third grade, said Charles Schultz was one of his idols.

“I read all the Peanuts strips as a kid,” said Peirce who figures he collected close to 100 “Peanuts” reprint books, the 7-inch by 4-inch booklets that used to sell for 50 cents.

Big Nate, like the Peanuts characters, encounters universal experiences of youth, Pearce said.

“I think my strip is more of the kind of slightly nostalgic type,” he said. “I try not to include too many modern day references. I don’t write too many references about Facebook and Twitter. For one thing, I don’t know much about them. The best humor, the kind I’m drawn to, has a timeless quality.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kbarkley@times-news.com

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