Max and the Midknights and the Future of Big Nate

Hello everyone, and I’m back to discuss the latest developments in the world of Lincoln Peirce’s work, which is truly destined for greatness, to say the least. For one thing, I haven’t yet talked about and reviewed Peirce’s great new book series, Max and the Midknights, of which the second book in the series, Battle of the Bodkins, just came out in December 2020. For another thing, I also haven’t yet talked about the exciting announcement of a Big Nate television series for Nickelodeon!

Before we begin, I’d like to give a heads up to obvious spoilers to Max and the Midknights. These are awesome times for Peirce and his fans indeed, so let us commence our knightly quest towards the television network of slime!

Max and the Midknights

In my Big Nate book series ranking post, I mentioned the lengthy hiatus that Lincoln Peirce took from the strip due to unspecified unfortunate events in his life. Two months after that post, the strip returned from its hiatus in July 2018, in which Peirce announced his return in the GoComics comments section a couple days after the hiatus ended. The next day, Peirce explained news going around of a new book he had made called Max and the Midknights, which was set to come out in January 2019. He clarified that the book was not the reason for his absence, but because of a family situation. Set in the Middle Ages, the series is about Max, a 10-year-old apprentice troubadour who hopes to become a knight.

The books originated as an incomplete spoof of sword and sorcery tales which Peirce originally envisioned as a TV series for Cartoon Network during the early 2000’s. Years later, Peirce returned to the idea and changed it to a book series in development. Peirce explained that his reason for doing so was his desire to write the kinds of books that he wanted to read as a kid. Battle of the Bodkins was the second book in the series, and a third book titled The Tower of Time is on the way. It was a surprising announcement, and it is nice to see Peirce broadening his horizons with a second IP, like Jeff Kinney did with Poptropica. I’m working on a story set in the Middle Ages myself, so its inspiring for me to get a similar story from one of my favorite authors. And despite it being distinct from Big Nate, Max and the Midknights is just as good as that series, if not better with its equal treatment of fantasy and comedy.

The first book’s endpaper features a one-page comic with Nate, Mrs. Godfrey and Gina revealing that the books also exist within the Big Nate universe, which is a cool way to connect the two properties together. The book itself begins with Max and Max’s troubadour Uncle Budrick, who is oblivious to the fact that he can’t sing. He is in many ways a goofier, more fearful version of Marty Wright, and Max’s relationship to Budrick is also not too different from that of Nate and Marty’s. Max complains of some of the conveniences of modern times, just one of many oddly hilarious anachronisms that Peirce uses often throughout the books. Peirce proves his worldbuilding abilities with the series, gradually introducing the reader to new locations, characters, and stories of the fantasy medieval world of Byjovia and beyond to help advance the plot. This is often done using fun, creative rhymes for songs, riddles, and legends to help evoke the medieval theme.

When Max and Budrick arrive in Byjovia, they meet Kevyn, a kind and chubby boy who is an apprentice ostler to his father Nolan. But he hopes of becoming a writer, which Max can relate to. He joins the Midknights despite being the most fearful member of the group, being more adept at providing information and coming up with plans than fighting. Then there’s Millie, an orphaned girl who discovers that she has magical powers, making her a valuable addition to the group and giving her what is arguably the best character arc in the book. Peirce doesn’t forget just how diverse medieval society actually was with Simon, who is just as eager to be a knight as Max. This diversity is also causally reflected in the Byjovian population.

Perhaps the most surprising event in the book was the reveal that Max was a girl, using the hat she was wearing to trick the reader into thinking we picked up a book about a male protagonist. It certainly surprised me, and it was a twist I didn’t think Lincoln would ever pull. But the book takes on an interesting new trajectory in doing so, raising the stakes by placing Max behind a gender barrier in her pursuit of attaining a predominantly male position. According to an interview Peirce had with Brightly, the decision arose out of a conversation he had with Kinney, Dav Pilkey and Stephen Pastis, who all realized that up until that point, none of their books featured female protagonists:

I knew, based on the fact that I’d written the boy-centric Big Nate books, that just about everyone who picked up a copy of Max & the Midknights would assume Max was a boy. I didn’t want them to focus on Max’s gender, but on her dilemma – she’s living the life of an apprentice troubadour while dreaming of becoming a knight. That’s why I made her name and appearance gender neutral, and why I waited nearly 50 pages to reveal the fact that Max is a girl. I didn’t want to write a book in which her gender is the main issue; I wanted to write a book in which her gender is ultimately irrelevant.

There is also Mumblin, a retired wizard modeled after Merlin whose magical skills have certainly gotten rusty, which is played for comedic effect. But he is still able to assist the Midknights just enough for them to succeed. Max sets out to prove herself as an aspiring knight when she goes on an epic quest with the Midknights, in which they encounter zombies, dragons, and more. This culminates in an equally epic third act that enables Max to attend knight school to her excitement. Every plot point down to the earliest events in the book tie together nicely at the end, while setting the stage for the Midknights’ future adventures.

Battle of the Bodkins‘s endpaper features another one-page comic, this time with Nate boasting about how much he likes the new book to Dee Dee. Max cannot stand her knight school teacher, Sir Brickbat, as well as a skilled student named Sedgewick, a dynamic similar to the one between Nate, Mrs. Godfrey and Gina. Simon’s character is developed further by revealing that he has abandoned becoming a knight in favor of becoming an ostler. Kevyn has created a library, adding yet another layer of metafiction to the series by documenting the events of the first book. Millie uses magic to make copies of his book, but one of them gets corrupted, which disrupts the reception of Queen Nerelia.

Within the book, Nerelia detects a bodkin, copies of living or nonliving objects assumed by floating creatures called formlings. Their origins are explained by Seymour, another old wizard who is as short as the Midknights. Mumblin suspects the bodkins have already invaded Byjovia, thrusting the Midknights on their next quest. As the bodkins infiltrate Byjovia, Peirce gives visual cues and behaviors to make the reader wonder which characters may or not have already been replaced by the shapeshifting creatures. Aside from the bodkins, Peirce farther expands Max’s world by introducing rock monsters, giant worms, chimeras and more. We eventually learn that Sedgewick is not as bad as Max made him out to be, which subverts expectations from the Nate-Gina relationship. He becomes an ally of the Midknights and even pretty much joins their ranks by the end.

As the Midknights try to stop the bodkins, Seymour gives it his all to help despite being magically inept like Mumblin, especially towards the end. Conversely, Millie loses her wand and never really finds a way to use magic after that, which is a bit surprising, but will probably be addressed in The Tower of Time. We also get a bit of Max’s backstory, revealing that she is not a blood relative of Budrick. This leads to what is perhaps the most surprising part about Battle of the Bodkins that we eagerly await to have addressed in the third book. Max anticipates meeting her bodkin, but Kevyn tells Max that she might not have one because bodkins can only become Byjovians. This increases the tension when Max’s apparent bodkin does appear, until another twist occurs that might actually be more surprising than Max’s gender reveal. Once the bodkins’ invasion is stopped, Kevyn plans to write another book documenting the events of the story, suggesting that this will be a thing of his as the Midknights plan their next adventure around this exciting new twist.

Big Nate Heads To Nickelodeon

Even before it was announced that Big Nate would be getting a TV show, I was surprised to find that attempts at an adaptation of the strip go as far back as 1991, when the strip was first published. Lee Mendelson, an executive producer for the Peanuts television specials, bought the rights from Peirce to make what would have been a 2D-animated television series for NBC’s Saturday Morning Cartoons lineup. Lincoln was reportedly paid $5,000 to write a “quote-on-quote bible” exploring characters and story ideas. However, immediately after the deal went through, NBC terminated their entire Saturday Morning Cartoons lineup, and the project was abandoned. Let’s just say that if the show did get made, it would’ve been fascinating for it to be where I first discovered Big Nate. Would Big Nate have spawned other media and merchandise? Would Jeff Kinney still have created Big Nate Island to help Big Nate get more popular? Or would it have been more of a celebration of Big Nate‘s success, like Great Pumpkin Island?

Either way, I and the rest of the fanbase was shocked to learn in February 2020 that instead of an animated film, Big Nate would receive an animated television series that will air on Nickelodeon this summer, with a 26-episode (presumably two-season) order. Peirce will be serving as a consultant on the series, essentially ensuring its success. Regarding the announcement, Peirce stated:

It feels really exciting. There are so many stories of people whose properties have been optioned or there’s been a big announcement about a show that was going to get made, and then things didn’t happen, and they don’t get made. But this looks really promising. They’ve greenlit it into production, I’ve met the head writer, and they’re assembling a team that seems really good.

Ramsey Nateo Naito, the executive vice president of animation production and development at Nickelodeon, also seemed just as passionate about the project:

Big Nate is a book title I’ve wanted to translate into a series for a long time, and I am so happy this awesome, super-funny character is coming to Nickelodeon. All of creator Lincoln Peirce’s slightly unruly, but entirely relatable characters share Nick’s same creative DNA, and we can’t wait for them to join our amazing family!”

Needless to say, the announcement was awesome if surreal, given that it appeared as though Big Nate would never get an adaptation. Peirce once stated that he was against the idea of a live-action adaptation, and even though he received movie offers, they were all live-action, which is probably why a film never happened. Besides, weekly premieres on Nickelodeon does fit the daily syndication of the strip better. My only concern is the choice of original storylines, given that Peirce hasn’t received the best praise of the most recent storylines in the strip, and there are many great storylines from both the strip and the book series to adapt. Still, Peirce seems happy with the direction, and Naito seems passionate, so I have faith that the show is in good hands.

We were in for yet another surprise in October 2020, when Nate’s design in the series was shown in Nickelodeon’s new “Next-Gen” animation poster. All the characters, including Nate, were 3D animated, revealing not only Nickelodeon’s plans to double down on computer animation for their “next generation” of shows, but that the Big Nate series itself would be 3D animated. Obviously, this is a drastic departure from Mendelson’s project, and a surprising if somewhat expected one, when you line up previous announcements of other upcoming Nickelodeon shows. But it also puts the show in a fascinating new direction, one in line with The Peanuts Movie, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and the upcoming animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid film for Disney+. And it is for that reason I welcome it. Could we see 2D animations of Peirce’s illustrations be implemented? I sure hope so!

I hear many fans expressing one concern about Nate’s design: his eyes, which are rounded as they sometimes appear when Peirce wants to give his characters a more detailed facial expression. The concern is that Nate’s eyes will never be lined, citing the dotted eyes of Captain Underpants’ 3D animated model as an example. While I understand the concern, and hope this isn’t the case myself, I can see why Nickelodeon would want to place emphasis on the rounded eyes for animation purposes, as it can be harder to make meaningful facial expressions with lined eyes. Still, I’m eager to see the lined eyes, and I’m confident that they’re there due to Lincoln’s involvement on the show.

But it sure is bizarre, isn’t it? Peirce promotes Kinney’s work in the Big Nate strip to help his career. Kinney publishes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and gives Lincoln a Big Nate island in Poptropica to help his career. Lincoln publishes a Big Nate book series, and now, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate both get computer animated adaptations, both in the same year. It’s like some intertwined destiny between the two properties that really shows what can be achieved when two children’s book authors have a good relationship, and we all get to benefit from it. 🙂 Who knows? Maybe if the Big Nate series is successful enough, a Max and the Midknights spinoff could be on the cards. In fact, that series has already been optioned by Nickelodeon as well, with a potential television series or film in development:

I think Max would make a great show. There are countless stories waiting to be told about the residents of the kingdom of Byjovia!

Wow, our quest is over already? Well, I guess there is always next time. No release date for The Tower of Time has been announced, but judging by the release dates of the first two Max and the Midknights books, it will probably be late next year. The Big Nate TV series will have long been released by then, so we clearly have a lot to look forward to. I will be posting modified and extended reviews of both Max and the Midknights books to my Goodreads shortly, as this post would’ve gotten a bit too long if I included them here, so you can check them out if you want to see more of my thoughts on the books.

Until Mrs. Godfrey yells at us again, folks. 😉

2 thoughts on “Max and the Midknights and the Future of Big Nate”

  1. Hello, you used to write magnificent, but the last several posts have been kinda boring… I miss your tremendous writings. Past few posts are just a bit out of track! come on!

    Like

    1. If you checked my Twitter, I stated that I couldn’t guarantee a sustained return to the blog as I was pretty busy. Since you’re curious about what’s taking me so long, I was in my last semester of college when I wrote this post, and by the time I finished it, the workload got too busy for me to continue writing.

      With that being said, I just graduated from Parsons and The New School about a week ago with a dual degree in Illustration and Journalism. So, I will be able to dedicate more time to my blog and will be posting soon. Thanks for your interest in my work, and thanks for commenting!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s