Kidspost: 'Big Nate' creator Lincoln Peirce and 'Wimpy Kid' creator Jeff Kinney

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By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Some people scoff at professional generosity. Nice guys finish last, they jeer, and the upstart you give a boost to now probably won't remember you when he scampers across your skull on his scurried way to the top.

Those smirking cynics haven't heard about Jeff Kinney and Lincoln Peirce.

These two talented men were pursuing their cartooning dreams nearly two decades ago when their creative connection was sparked through handwritten -- and hand-drawn -- correspondence.

It was the early '90s, and Kinney was an aspiring cartoonist at the University of Maryland, as well as a big fan of the comic strip "Big Nate," which he read in The Post. Kinney wanted advice on how to break into the business, so he wrote several cartoonists, including Peirce, creator of the recently syndicated "Big Nate."

Up in New Hampshire, Peirce was struck by Kinney's outreach. "His letter was so different from other letters," Peirce recalls. "And not just because it was five to six pages long. Even early on, he was very talented and very ambitious."

Instead of eyeing him warily, Peirce did the professionally generous thing: "I wrote him back."

Kinney the college cartoonist was thrilled. "It was a handwritten letter, which included many drawings that provided guidance on how I could improve my prospects," he recounts.

For more than two years, mentor and student exchanged handwritten and hand-drawn insights into their craft. And each time Kinney replied to Peirce, he made sure to write: "Thank you so much for the advice and help you've given me -- and someday, I hope I can pay you back in some fashion."

Then, as happens, "years went by and we lost touch," Peirce says.

After college, Kinney spent a while trying to syndicate his cartoon, "Igdoof," which he'd started at the school's Diamondback newspaper. No takers, so finally "I took a different path," says Kinney. "Along the way, I had a number of jobs, including the one I've had for about 10 years as a designer and game developer for Pearson."

It was at that online educational company that Kinney helped develop Poptropica.com, a virtual world for children. It launched in 2007 -- and exploded. It now calls itself the most popular kids' site on the Web, with 130 million fans.

It was also in 2007 that Kinney -- having been discovered at a New York comics convention -- debuted his book, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." It exploded, too. The "Wimpy Kid" series has sold in the millions, spawned book tours and a major motion picture this year and -- as most any fifth-grader can tell you -- catapulted Kinney to rock-god popularity among the playground set.


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