Yes, a kid’s obsession with comics really can lead to big things. Lincoln Peirce is a case in point. His Big Nate character, a high-energy sixth-grader who serves up big laughs and gets lots of detentions, is the star of a daily syndicated comic strip, an island on kids’ site, a number of popular comic strip compilations, and a series of bestselling chapter books.

“Back in the day [the early 1970s], I used to devour those Peanuts compilations you could buy for 50 cents,” Peirce says. “And I did what most kids do—I copied a lot of things. But by about fifth grade, I started creating my own characters. It was a real boost to my self-esteem to show them to my friends and family and get positive feedback.”

Peirce kept sharpening his cartooning skills, even as he pursued a more serious track academically. “I studied fine art and art history in college, thinking it was a prudent career choice,” he notes. “But I was always doing comics on the side.” The formal education did serve him well, however, enabling him to teach high school art while trying to get his comics career off the ground.

Though the Big Nate strip has been running in newspapers (now more than 250 of them) since 1991, it was only a few years ago that Peirce considered the leap into the book world. “I was looking for an opportunity to do some compilations. But in the aftermath of the success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, publishers were looking to succeed in a similar format.”

In fact, Wimpy Kid and Poptropica creator Jeff Kinney played a role in Peirce’s publishing journey. “Jeff had sent me a piece of fan mail when he was a student at the University of Maryland 20 years ago,” Peirce says. “We had gotten to know each other, and he introduced me to some publishing houses and helped me get my foot in the door.”

Peirce now feels right at home as an author. “I wasn’t sure I’d be good at it or enjoy it,” he says of tackling chapter books. “But I love it and I’m having the time of my life.” At BEA on Wednesday, Peirce did triple-duty autographing. He signed posters for the AMP! Comics for Kids edition of Big Nate Makes the Grade (Andrews McMeel, Aug.), 10:30–11:30 a.m., at Table 5 in the autographing area, and then signed copies of his chapter book Big Nate Goes for Broke (HarperCollins), noon–12:30 p.m., at Table 1. And fans roaming the floor were able to catch him signing a Big Nate Makes the Grade poster in the Andrews McMeel booth (3676), 1–2 p.m.