Review: Big Nate Makes the Grade & Big Nate All Work And No Play

Cameron Hatheway writes for BleedingCool

When you’re sent comics to review, the results can sometimes be mixed. On occasion you’re introduced to a title you’ve never read before, and become so enthralled by it that you demand to know why you haven’t heard of it until now. I wish I could say the same thing about the comic strip Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce, but after reading both collections, I was unfortunately left with a sour taste in my mouth. I’m not saying it’s a horrible comic strip by any means; it was simply just not my cup of tea.

For the past month I’ve highlighted both Liō: There’s a Monster in My Socks and AAAA! A FoxTrot Kids Edition as being a part of Andrews McMeel Publishing’s AMP! Comics for Kids line of stories targeting younger readers. Both Big Nate collections are also a part of that same line, with Makes the Grade 224 pages of black and white comics for $9.99, and All Work and No Play 143 pages of color Sunday strips for $14.99. Holding the line at $9.99 for the black and white comic collections seems to be a good price point for the majority of the AMP! line, for it’s a low enough price for parents to give it a shot and keep their kids entertained for a few hours.

Big Nate has been around for the past 20 years, and I wasn’t aware of its existence until now. Comparing it to the humor of both Liō & FoxTrot however and I can see the reason why; I’m not the demographic Peirce is aiming for. The strip follows the life of sixth-grader Nate Wright as he’s constantly up to no good and always gets detention for it. The character of Nate feels like a blend of Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, Dennis from Dennis the Menace, and Jason from FoxTrot, only much jerkier. Nate’s nemesis is his teacher Mrs. Godfrey, who he constantly makes fat jokes about and doesn’t seem to feel remorse in doing so. Just out of curiosity, what message is that sending to the younger readers? If Peirce ever focused the strip on Nate in high school, it feels like he’d be that one kid who would tell skinny girls that they’re fat, and cause them to develop eating disorders because of it. I just definitely wasn’t getting good vibes from his character.

Being a thorn in the side to every teacher at his school and fellow classmates, it is amazing this kid isn’t on academic probation by now, or held back a grade or three. He’s constantly failing his classes and getting detention almost every day, which leads me to believe the No Child Left Behind Act was created for students like him. Another thing that puzzles me is he happens to be a chess prodigy and comic illustrator, and yet he’s bad at everything else. On the cover of Makes the Grade, he’s proudly displaying an ‘A+’ paper to another nemesis of his, Gina the brainiac, who only has an ‘A’ and yet in the collection we never see him get an ‘A+’ on anything. I was expecting it all the way through, trying to guess at what subject he’d best her at, and yet I was let down when that moment never came.

As for the Sunday strip collection All Work and No Play, it feels like half the book is just Nate’s illustrations, which I found myself skimming most of the time. The book’s dimensions are slightly different, with all the pages colored, but I don’t feel that it’s worth the extra $5. A young reader would have more fun with the Makes the Grade collection, and it’s easier on the wallet for thrifty parents.

These collections are definitely for the younger reading audience, and after doing some research online, the kiddies apparently love this series. The art style reminds me of a mix of Watterson, Eliopoulos, and Giarrusso, which somehow transitions my brain into that younger mindset when reading. So if you’re looking for a new series to introduce your kids to this upcoming holiday season, chances are they’ll really like these collections.

Big Nate Makes the Grade
224 Pages, Black & White
$9.99

Big Nate All Work and No Play
143 Pages, Color
$14.99

Cameron Hatheway is the host of Cammy’s Comic Corner, an audio podcast. You can share your favorite comic strips with him on Twitter @CamComicCorner.