The first Big Nate book I read was Big Nate: in a class by himself, the first of Lincoln Peirce’s graphic novel hybrid series. I really enjoyed getting to know the trouble-making Nate and laughed with him and at him all through one long day of getting detention after detention after detention. I was unaware that Peirce (pronounced “purse”) had been creating Big Nate comic strips for years and that his strip appears in over two hundred and fifty newspapers in the United States (obviously not in my local paper!), as well as online at Go Comics. There are also collections of Big Nate comics, which I decided to look into, eager for more Big Nate fun.
To my delight, the Big Nate comics were as much fun as the graphic novel hybrids. Nate and his best friends Teddy and Francis still navigate the tricky waters of sixth grade, struggling with grades (Nate), girls (Nate and Teddy), and idiotic friends who are clearly holding them back (Francis). Their lives are the lives of every boy: sports, school, scouts, summer, family, friends, fun. Nate is continually stymied in his attempts to get rid of his icky social studies teacher, Mrs. Godfrey; the school suck-up, Gina; and the annoyingly perfect Artur, who happens to be dating Jenny, the girl of Nate’s dreams.
The magic of a comic strip often happens in the art and Peirce’s work is no different. Even though he draws simple characters, each with a large head for the best use of facial expressions, every character is different; something separates them from the others, be it nose or hair or jawline. This means that readers can always tell the characters apart and jokes never fall flat because of artistic confusion. Readers who long to be cartoonists themselves will appreciate that Nate is himself a cartoonist. His comics feature prominently in Peirce’s work and add just the right bit of extra humor to the strips.
In tone, Nate’s adventures fall somewhere between Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Bill Amend’s FoxTrot. Nate shares Calvin’s disregard for authority, especially school authority, but his world is more grounded in reality, like that of the Fox clan. Parents may want to know that Nate does make rude comments on a regular basis about his teacher’s weight and personal hygiene, but as he only comes out on top in their interactions about half the time, she certainly holds her own. Though the Big Nate hybrids and comic collections are mostly going to be of interest to older elementary school-aged readers, teachers, librarians, and parents working with more reluctant sixth and seventh grade readers may find that they, too, enjoy Nate’s humor and that they identify with his crushes and desire for a girlfriend.
What makes the Big Nate comic strip collections tricky for librarians collecting them for their readers — or for purists like me who want to read the comics in order — is that the books are published by a variety of publishers and some collections overlap with others. Here is a rough order for the comic collections:
- I Smell a Pop Quiz!: This is the only Big Nate collection released by United Media. There’s no information in the book telling readers the date range of the strips included. It’s the second Big Nate collection, but the first – Add More Babes! (Topper Books, 1992) – is out of print.
- Big Nate: From the Top: This is the first Big Nate collection from Andrews McMeel. It features strips that ran between August 28, 2006 and April 1, 2007.
- Big Nate Out Loud: Also from Andrews McMeel, this picks up where Big Nate: From the Top left off and features strips from April 2, 2007 to November 4, 2007.
- Big Nate and Friends: This volume (from Andrews McMeel) is a compilation of strips from a wide-range dates, all focusing on Nate and his friends.
- Big Nate: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: This is the first comic strip collection released by Harper, the publisher that handles the Big Nate hybrids. The strips in here ran between November 5, 2008 and June 8, 2008.
- Big Nate: Here Goes Nothing: Also from Harper, this covers June 8, 2008 through January 10, 2009.
- Big Nate Makes the Grade: This is the first collection released under Andrews McMeel’s new AMP! imprint. Like Big Nate and Friends, Makes the Grade is a wide-ranging compilation which features comics about Nate and his hilarious relationship with school and his teachers.
- Big Nate: All Work and No Play: AMP! collects Sunday strips here, many of which feature the comics that Nate himself draws. No date range is given.
Because there is some overlap, that allows libraries some leeway in purchasing. Here are my suggestions:
- If your system or school has the money, all of volumes are terrific and there isn’t so much overlap as to annoy fans.
- If you have a more limited budget, then I’d recommend the volumes that go in order by release date: Big Nate: From the Top, Big Nate Out Loud, Big Nate: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, and Big Nate: Here Goes Nothing.
- If your budget is even more constricted and you only have money for two, then get Big Nate and Friends and Big Nate Makes the Grade. These two cover the span of Nate’s comic strip adventures and will give your readers plenty of enjoyment.
- For those on a very restricted budget or those who want more of Nate’s hand-drawn comic strips, get Big Nate: All Work and No Play. Readers will love seeing the work that Nate does and how it reflects his world.
I definitely recommend the Big Nate comic series to both readers who love the graphic novel hybrid books and to those who have not yet discovered Nate and his buddies. Peirce has a terrific grasp of the boy mind and graciously allows us the opportunity to see the humor found therein. A good comic strip may seem simple, but to achieve mastery of the form takes years of work. Luckily for us, Peirce has done that and now we can sit back and enjoy the results.
Big Nate comic strip collections
By Lincoln Peirce
I Smell a Pop Quiz!
United Media, 2009
Big Nate: From the Top
Andrews McMeel, 2010
Big Nate Out Loud
Andrews McMeel, 2011
Big Nate and Friends
Andrews McMeel, 2011
Big Nate: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Big Nate: Here Goes Nothing
Big Nate: Makes the Grade
Andrews McMeel/AMP!, 2012
Big Nate: All Work and No Play
Andrews McMeel/AMP!, 2012