Today, Diamond Comics announced Archaia Entertainment as one of the gold sponsors for 2012’s Free Comic Book Day with a very special offering. On May 12, readers can pick up a free, 48-page hardcover collection of stories by a cavalcade of Archaia all-stars including Ted Naifeh, Cory Godbey, Royden Lepp, Jeremy Bastian, Nate Cosby, Chris Eliopoulos, Jim McCann, Janet Lee and “Mouse Guard” creator David Petersen.
Petersen’s “Mouse Guard” one-shot stories have already been featured in Archaia’s FCBD issues for two years running, and 2012 will be no different with the hardcover sampler book featuring a new tale starring “Mouse Guard” character Saxon that will follow in the footsteps of FCBD 2011’s installment and the Eisner-winning anthology “Legends of the Guard.” “I’m going to continue on the tradition that I started last year with Free Comic Book Day, that instead of trying to do a Free Comic Book Day story that’s in the main ‘Mouse Guard’ plot, I’m going to do almost a ‘Legends’ kind of a tale,” Petersen told us. “Last year was a folktale that was told to Kenzie, when Kenzie was a little mouse, that shaped who we see Kenzie as when he appears in the regular ‘Mouse Guard’ stories. It’s the same kind of thing this year, except it’s a puppet show that Saxon sees that helps shape some of Saxon’s personality.”
Peterson’s plot was partially inspired for his love for puppetry, which has manifested itself in sketches, pinups and even a homemade “Mouse Guard” marionette. “I think it’s a really cool art form and that there’s not enough of it out there,” the writer told CBR News. “When you look at the way a medieval culture would express themselves with art or performance, puppetry was one of those things — shadow puppets, marionettes, Punch and Judy-type shows — it’s just another outlet for them to try to do storytelling. It’s one of the things that I can manipulate. I like puppets and puppetry. I’m an amateur puppet builder. I even built a model of a ‘Mouse Guard’ puppet. Not even a model — it really is a ‘Mouse Guard’ marionette, a full, functioning ‘Mouse Guard’ marionette. I had drawn them a few times before in little pinups or little pieces for my sketchbook, the idea of little mouse marionettes, and I built a full working one and thought, ‘I need to do a story that’s all told through marionettes. That’d be fun.'”
While Petersen may have a constructed marionette at the ready, he’s not ready to begin a new career. “I have not strung the marionette, and all the marionettes that I’ve ever strung — I know that I’m a bad marionette performer,” he said, laughing. “I’m not too bad with a hand puppet, but marionettes are really hard to manipulate. No, I don’t have any plans to take time away to film a puppet show yet.”
One of the major challenges Petersen faces every year for Free Comic Book Day is making sure the story is of importance to longtime fans of “Mouse Guard” while maintaining its accessibility for new readers, a challenge he struggled with in his first FCBD contribution. “The first year, I tried to do something in the main ‘Mouse Guard’ continuity. It was striking exactly that balance that was really hard, because I was trying to fit something into the main plot,” he said. “It was really hard and really stressful, and I don’t know that it really succeeded on either front — being a really good story for new readers or being a really good existing story. I think it kind of fell short in both of those ways.”
Petersen’s solution in 2011, an approach that carries over to this year’s tale, is simple: maintain the spirit and elements of “Mouse Guard,” but minimize the reliance on knowledge of the monthly issues. “[The stories are] more about giving [readers] the flavor of the kind of story you could expect to find [in ‘Mouse Guard’],” he said. “All the other elements are there, all the ingredients — little versus big, the predator attack and weather or seeing nature at a mouse’s perspective. There was a map in last year’s story. It’s the kind of things that I tend to use as a visual storytelling device. It’s more about giving them the flavor, giving them the idea of what ‘Mouse Guard’ is about instead of trying to introduce them to the ‘Mouse Guard’ plot, figuring that if they like my one-off story, they’re going to like my regular stories as well.”
Petersen’s current “Mouse Guard” installment, “The Black Axe,” should be wrapped by the time Free Comic Book Day arrives in 2012, but it seems there’s little end to his projects, which extend beyond the pages of the comic series. November saw the release of his first children’s book, “Snowy Valentine,” and the recent boxed edition of the “Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game” has already sold out — although Petersen assured fans that a second printing is on the way. “I don’t know exactly when they’re back in stock, but it’s going to be very soon,” he said.
Now a two-year veteran of FCBD storytelling, Petersen remains a big booster of the event, both for stores and readers alike. “I think it’s really important. I think it’s important for retailers, for one, because I think comic shops, for a while there in the ’90s, became these weird nerd shops,” he said. “They got that reputation on ‘The Simpsons’ and the comedy shows with the Comic Book Guy persona for a reason. It was a pretty closed society, and I think that’s changed a lot. There are a lot of books for other types of readers than your standard Comic Book Guy. It’s good, I think, for retailers to open their doors and do a kind of party like so many stores do, where you can get new readers, you can get families coming in, you get females coming in, you get moms — who, maybe they don’t want to read, but they’re going to feel more comfortable coming into the store and bringing their son and their daughter in because it doesn’t seem like such a weird dungeon anymore. Free Comic Book Day is an open house. It’s a way for comic book stores to show off who they are and what their specialties are, because all comic shops are different. They can showcase whatever they do and whatever they do best.
“It’s important for us, as storytellers, to remember that this works because there are people out there who want to read this stuff. Of course, the goal is always to make sure to try to find new people reading this stuff and introduce it to more. Offering things for free to the final customer is a show of goodwill. We’re trying to present interesting stories to you.”
Petersen is also impressed with the diversity of Free Comic Book Day offerings as compared to the typical releases that fill store shelves on a weekly basis. “I think it’s interesting, when you look at what’s on the comic shelf week after week, it’s obviously heavily superhero, Marvel and DC. Nothing against those guys, those guys are great,” he said. “I love superhero stories as much as the next guy — but when you look at what’s offered every year for Free Comic Book Day, you see that there’s a wide variety of genres. The superhero quotient takes up a smaller percentage of what’s offered on Free Comic Book Day. We get to see more kids properties, more horror or western or cartoon type things — it’s just a wider variety. It shows that we have more diversity than the standard week-to-week does. I think that’s an interesting thing. It shows, when we put our best foot forward, [comics are] more diverse.”