It's easy to get lost in David Petersen's "Mouse Guard." The intricate line work, the mood-enhancing coloring, the charming cast of characters, the world of "Mouse Guard" is quaint and subtle thanks to Petersen's deft ability to humanize sword-swinging, shield-carrying mice.
Debuting in 2006 from ArchaiaComics, "Mouse Guard" quickly became a fan-favorite title. The first two series were collected in one volume, titled "Mouse Guard: Fall 1152," which went on to win an Eisner for "Best Publication for Kids" in 2008. Since then, Petersen has continuously released new "Mouse Guard" tales, with June seeing the debut of "Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard Volume 2."
It's a simple premise: the mice are in tavern, and they all have a tall tale to tell in order to clear their outstanding tabs. Petersen sets the stage, then lets the artists he's enlisted weave a visual tapestry for each mouse's unique story. Petersen provides the art for the tavern scenes, while separate artists illustrate the vignettes, including the likes of Stan Sakai ("47 Ronin", "Usagi Yojimbo"), Bill Willingham ("Fables") and more. The first of four issues arrived in stores the last week of June, and CBR spoke with Petersen about his collaborative process with all the different creators, his education in printmaking and his relationship with Archaia.
CBR News: David, most people know you from your "Mouse Guard" series, but I'm sure folks would like to know more about your background and how you got started in comics.
David Peterson: I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I loved exploring the woods, playing pretend, drawing, building, climbing trees, making forts. I took art classes all through my public education and then outside classes towards the end of High School. I got a degree in printmaking from Eastern Michigan University, and figured I'd illustrate children's books (that over comics because my work didn't look like what I saw in popular comics). While I was building up an illustration portfolio, I set up at a local comic con to try and get commission work. People saw my "Mouse Guard" concepts and asked when I'd have a book of that. I self-published one issue, showed it to Archaia and here we are 8 years later.
With an education in printmaking, you must have an affinity for type, binding, layout, etc. How hands-on are you in the production phase?
I'd say my printmaking background informs more of my artistic choices, like my inking, than my production choices. In addition to the story and artwork to "Mouse Guard," I letter the book and also provide a layout for Archaia. I let them know what order I want the extras to flow, I double-check the page count and the pagination, but beyond that, it's all been Archaia. Mark Smylie set the tone with the "Fall 1152" book, and ever since then, they've been keeping the quality level to that standard.
"Mouse Guard" is a wonderful little universe filled with incredible pathos. These tiny creatures have character moments that make other genre stories pale in comparison. Why is this so (clearly) important to you? You could just have them going from battle to battle...
The little moments in stories often tell some of the biggest parts. I like those small, quirky bits in fairy tales that don't impact the overall story, but give you so much about the tone it should be understood in -- the quiet panels in comics that really establish location or mood or the tender character moments of a film where you can understand large emotions because of how subtle the scene is played. I would never want to do a straight action book. I also wouldn't want a purely character-driven talky book. It's the mix that makes it work.
What can you tell us about the idea behind "Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard Vol. 2." Why this format, why these particular collaborators?
The first "Legends of the Guard" came about as a fun way to try and get a few of the pinup artists who had contributed to my series to do a little more in the Mouse Guard world. Knowing they couldn't take time away from their own books and projects for more than eight pages or so, I thought, "What if we did an anthology book of 'Mouse Guard' tall-tales?"
The "Legends" series takes place in a mouse tavern where mice are involved in a storytelling contest to clear their past-due tabs. I draw all the tavern scenes (and covers), but when a mouse starts their tale, the guest contributor takes over the storytelling duties.
Is it difficult to see others handle your story, the world you've built? And how hands-on have you with each creator's piece?
Well, because the stories are all told as mouse folklore, I don't have to worry that any of those stories will interfere with my mouse history or future plans. Letting them have freedom without me sweating about it is built in to the book's set-up. I do give them some basic rules to follow about the world (no humans, no domestic animals, don't use my main characters, etc.), and then I tend to step back and give them all the room they need. All I really ask for is for me to get a peek at the various steps, but that's not really to editorialize the content; it's for me to make sure the work is going to fit in the space allotted and is on schedule. If anyone requests more input from me, I'll gladly give them as much as they need. I've talked over story with people, colored a few stories, lettered a few, I've even done some of the scripting -- but those are the rare cases. I want these stories to be their own.
What are some of the unexpected surprises you've had working with the different cartoonists?
The most surprising thing is how much fun they have doing them. I mean, I know it's fun to write and draw mouse adventures better than most, but they come off the project telling me how liberating it was and that the joy of doing something like a "Mouse Guard" story has made them reconsider doing mainstream comics, that they want to try their hand at something creator-owned.
What's the editorial process like with so many cooks in the kitchen?
Paul Morrissey and I are co-editors on the book. Most of the story choices with the contributors run through me, though Paul will chime in with great insight, on many of those emails. Paul does the procedural stuff, keeping things on time and folks on task, including me for my pages and covers. We work well together and don't step on each other's toes. I think it's a good plan of attack with 13 teams of creatives on the book. Coordinating to make sure everyone is doing what they should, when they should, can be a bit tricky.
Knowing how the industry works, and how far in advance planning has to happen, do you have anything else you've been cooking up?
My latest hardcover, "Mouse Guard the Black Axe," will be in stores July 10. Then, after "Legends of the Guard" volume 2 wraps, I'll be taking a small mouse-vacation for a bit before tackling the next Mouse Guard arc: "The Weasel War of 1149," which is shaping up to be a pretty big story to wrangle into place.