It’s been a long time coming, but Archaia has announced the second volume of “Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard,” the anthology series that takes place in creator David Petersen’s “Mouse Guard” universe. The first volume won an Eisner Award in 2010 and the follow-up (due out in May) features a number of creators from across comics and illustration including Petersen, Bill Willingham, Stan Sakai, Ben Caldwell, Eric Canete and many more.
CBR News spoke with Petersen about the upcoming anthology, the stable of creators involved this time around, what to expect from this round of storytelling, the hands-off nature of the editing process and the long path to development. Plus, Petersen gives a concrete closed door to the “Mouse Guard” movie.
CBR News: David, Archaia just announced a second volume of “Legends of the Guard,” which is pretty exciting. Why decide to do another volume? Were there more creators you wanted to bring on to play in the Mouse Guard universe?
David Petersen: Yeah, for sure. When I first did the original run, we had a surplus of people who were already saying yes. So, I had people already ready to go and new people I had discovered that had reached out. We had a lot of fun with it. After it won an Eisner, I think that also helped solidify that this was a book worth coming back to. We were already kind of working on it at the point that the Eisners were happening, and we had people lined up to do story ideas. The Eisner thing was just a rallying call — “Hey everybody who said yes, check this out! This is what we did last time. Let’s do that again.”
The original “Legends” has a unifying story of a story-telling contest to pay off bar tabs at the June Alley Inn. Is there a similar unifying story for the second volume?
It’s exactly the same setup. Totally different group of mice in the June Alley Inn, June is still being the judge. At the end of the first volume, she says, “This is something we may have to make a more regular occurrence at the June Alley Inn,” so the sequel volume is just her doing another run of it, just like we’re doing another run! [Laughs]
What can you tease about what readers can expect this time around from the various legends told in this volume?
We’re going to get a nice range of types of story and tone. We’re going to have some like we had before that are more cartoony and lighthearted and more of an animation style of being drawn. We’re going to have some that are very old-world looking, lots of crosshatching and weathering. There are predators like foxes and hawks. An underwater mouse adventure and a mermouse, but not in the same story. Also a few creatures/takes on creatures I’ve never tackled in the “Mouse Guard” world: ghost owl, a mole, and whales!
Then a few things that won’t ever show up in “Mouse Guard,” but because this is “Legends of the Guard” and the stories can be as Tall-Tale-ish as they want to be: cats and dragons!
Stan Sakai watercolored his story, so it’s not rendered in the same way as a “Usagi Yojimbo” story. Rick Geary’s story is in color, which is a rarity, but he also colored it himself, the same process he uses for his VictorianÂ MurderÂ and 20th Century Murder book covers.
An epic battle between mice and weasels will take place in the pages of “Legends” before I ever get to that type of clash in the pages of “Mouse Guard,” and also a musical entry with musical notation.
What about specific creators? How was the group assembled for this round of “Legends?”
It’s a really diverse group. Just like with the first round, I went with people who you’d expect to see in a “Mouse Guard” anthology because you’ve seen their work in the pin-ups for normal “Mouse Guard” volumes or they just seemed like a good fit. Then, there are people that maybe you haven’t heard of or maybe didn’t think about them doing “Mouse Guard” artwork, but they are in the comics arena. Then, a couple of people that I’m hoping you’ve never heard of that I’m getting the chance to introduce. Just like last time we had Alex Kain and Sean Rubin, who had never done published sequential work before. “Mouse Guard” was their first time doing it. I had to walk them through some of the process of the story just because they didn’t have the experience yet. That’s not a commentary on what they were able to do because it was a great story. They really sunk their teeth in. They really got into it and went full bore once some of the procedural stuff was out of the way. I have another one of those this time — Jackson Sze. He’s a concept digital painter that had never done comics work before in his life and turned in a 12-page story.
You also have “Fables” creator Bill Willingham coming in to do a story for this volume, and you worked with him before on “House of Mystery” for Vertigo. What was it like to have those roles reversed where he’s doing a story for you, now?
[Laughs] Interesting to see how different, I guess, the process is. Part of that is the editorial on “Legends” tends to be fairly hands-off. For the most part, I haven’t seen a lot of Bill’s story yet. In fact, we had a couple conversations about that at [Fabletown and Beyond]. During a panel, I announced “Legends of the Guard” was one of the next things. Bill was on the panel and I said, “Bill’s been kind enough to participate,” and Bill said, “Yeah, I’m drawing this, and it’s like this and it’s got this moment in it,” and I went, “I didn’t know about that moment! You never even told me about that!” [Laughs] The process with “House of Mystery” was through the Vertigo house, so every step was tracked and followed by all involved. I don’t know if that’s to say one way is better than the other, it’s just about making comics.
A second volume of “Legends” has been in the works for a while — I think you mentioned things were brewing back in late 2010. Why has development on the series taken so long to concretely announce the second volume?
Some of it was the hype right after the original first hardcover volume first came out. Like I said, we had a surplus of names. We knew we were going to do this again. At that point, I was trying to wrangle people because I did find on the first one that trying to coordinate all the people’s schedules was a juggling act. I was lucky enough that a lot of the people on the first volume were good friends of mine; people that I know and even keep in contact with on a weekly basis. So I could pull some strings and call in some favors and say, “I know this is a real pain in the butt, but can you get that in this week instead of next week?”
To hedge our bets back in 2010 or whatever it was, we started getting the whole list with surplus — just in case anyone dropped out — all assembled and puzzled together early, and started to tell people, “Hey, you’ve got a long time to work. You work on it when you have the window in your schedule and we’ll publish it a little down the road when more things are flowing in and I have a break to do the covers and the interior pages.” Part of it was that we hoped I’d get a little further on “Black Axe” and as “Black Axe” was winding down, I would do both. I know at Archaia at one point there was talk of releasing “Black Axe” bi-monthly and in the in-between months, “Legends,” which is really just an impossible schedule for me. I can’t even get “Black Axe” out bi-monthly.
Going back to that hands-off editorial process in “Legends,” you served as an editor of sorts for the creators that contributed. Now that enough time has passed between the first volume and now, were there any lessons learned while you served in that capacity that you applied to organizing the second volume?
A little bit. We had written a bible of sorts to be able to be passed on to the contributors. With the first round, we had one of those too, but it was a little looser, it was more like just a list of notes. I think for the second one, we typed up an official document that had other information as well, like here are the tech specs for the page you need to turn in. Even there, I think, I probably wasn’t as specific as I needed to be. There have been a couple times where things have come up where I thought, “Oh, you didn’t know that about ‘Mouse Guard?’ Okay, I’m sorry, I took that for granted,” but it’s been really easy to deal with. It’s not like that was a cause for stress, I thought I had all my bases covered in that document and I didn’t quite. It’s about being more specific up front to stay away from any misunderstandings. Beyond that, the editorial process for me remains that I just want them to tell me their story and prove to me that they can thumbnail it within the amount of pages that they’ve said, and turning in the artwork — and that has more to do with just making sure they’re on track.
I picked these people because I really like their work. I’m not going to have them turn in work and then go, “Yeah, that’s not as good as your normal work,” [Laughs] or anything like that. They’re going to do a good job. It’s more about keeping them on track unless they start asking me specific questions, unless they’re asking me to become their art editor or their story editor.
Scheduling, obviously, you’re a busy guy. One of the great aspects of the first volume of “Legends of the Guard” was the ability to give fans more “Mouse Guard” material in the off-time between series. Are you hoping “Legends” volume two will provide that same buffer to give you a little break before launching into the next big series?
It’s not going to provide enough of a break. The deadline I have right now is I have to get these issue #1 “Legends” pages out by the end of the week, and I thought I had until mid-Friday. I don’t know if when I’m done with “Legends” if I’m going to feel like I really got a break. [Laughs] I still feel wound-up from “Black Axe.” I think I’m actually going to take a little mouse break after “Legends.” It’s not going to be big, it’s not going to be anything people have to worry about. I need to [do] some project, something creative that’s not just covers, that’s storytelling, that’s going to give me just a little mouse break so I don’t come to resent them or burn out on them. Then, I’ll come right back in on the weasel war right after that.
I haven’t decided what the project is or anything like that. I think I’m going to wake up the first morning post-“Legends” and just decide what it is I want to tell that day. I don’t have a plan in place, I’ll probably just do something without a publisher, maybe a web-based thing or Kickstarter or something like that just to go a different route, to see what the possibilities are in another direction before I come back to “Mouse Guard.”
This isn’t me subtly saying, “Goodbye, ‘Mouse Guard!'” I’m telling you what the next book is because I want people to know. [Laughs] I’m not trying to sneak out the back door when no one’s looking. I really do just need a metaphorical cigarette break. I don’t smoke, I don’t know why I used that analogy. [Laughs]
Before “Legends” drops later this year, you’ve got your fourth Free Comic Book Day “Mouse Guard” story coming in May. I know you’re a big fan of FCBD and that you’ve had a lot of success balancing story with accessibility in the past. For this year, what did you decide to do for Archaia’s issue?
I went for the same route that I have the last couple years. The first year when I tried to balance existing readers with new readers, when I tried to tie it directly in to the main “Mouse Guard” story arc that was going on, it was just too tricky. It was just too hard of a thing. I don’t know if it really succeeded at introducing new readers to “Mouse Guard” or getting enough payoff to existing fans. I don’t know. If it did, it was too hard to try to do. The year after that, by that point some “Legends” stuff was going on and I wanted to do what some of the “Legends” people were doing, tell these out-of-continuity fun stories. I started a format where every Free Comic Book Day story is a morality tale that’s being told to a young version of one of the main “Mouse Guard” characters that we see by the end of that fairy tale how it shaped who they become as an adult guard mouse. The first year was a Kenzie story, last year was a Saxon story and this year is a Sadie story and it’s about love. It’s about love and being smart about who you give your heart to.
It’s a little different, the visuals are different this year. The fairy tale in the Kenzie story was very much like the artwork you’d expect to see in a regular “Mouse Guard.” Last year’s with Saxon, I decided to push it a little and go forward, and the whole story was being told through a marionette play. This year, I did it more like an illustrated manuscript sort of thing — very stylized. The typography is part of the design of the page, that kind of thing. It’s visually interesting, and I hope what it exposes people to is that I do lots of different things with “Mouse Guard,” both with regular series and with “Legends,” and not get hung up on the fact that it looks like an illustrated manuscript and most of the book doesn’t look that way. [Laughs]
Last year saw a “Mouse Guard” metal replica of “The Black Axe.” Judging from your blog, you’re also really into paper craft models for your design process. Is that a product line that you’re looking into for “Mouse Guard?”
It would be cool. There are lots of issues with doing it. One of the issues is that everybody we think would do it for roleplaying purposes, and that’s not at all what I would want to do. I would want this more to be a fun hobby craft kind of thing, more akin to activity pages than for the purpose of having the final thing to use for some other purpose. Luke [Crane] and I are firm believers that pen-and-paper role-playing games — at least what we set out to do with the “Mouse Guard” role-playing game — is theater of the mind and that the game master and the player are supposed to imagine all these things. By having these models, it starts to break down more into a miniature strategy game and there aren’t components for that in the game. We want you to not be locked in to grids and charts and measuring out how far a mouse can walk when roleplaying.
The other big issue is scale. I build all those models just for my own reference. I’ve got the exteriors of buildings that are the same size as just one room of the interior of a building, so in terms of scale of these things, how do I do a book of paper craft where everything is different in scale? Some of the models, the way I have them, are way too big for the average hobbyist to just have hanging out on their shelf. It’s a lot of logistical work and I don’t know that the payoff is necessarily there yet, but ultimately, yeah, that’d be cool! [Laughs]
But we are doing more with Skeleton Crew, the company that made the axe. They have two designs waiting on their drawing table that they’re planning as an “up-next.”
Before I let you go, any more developments on the “Mouse Guard” movie since we spoke in late 2011?
Essentially, at this point, everything is dead. There was an offer on the table and there was a lot of negotiation back and forth for the contract. I would put a lot of the weight of why that negotiation took so long on the studio. The studio, at least their lawyers, would in essence send over a contract that we couldn’t sign for legal reasons. The contract was with me, not Archaia, because I have the movie rights and they would be asking me to sign away rights that I don’t actually have, like publishing rights, which Archaia has. We’d say, “No, you don’t understand. You actually have to do two separate agreements so that legally, I can sign everything.” We were going back and forth, round and round with that stuff, getting kind of close and then the studio was bought. The parent company was bought and they said, “No more new development.”
It ended up working out because otherwise they would have just sat on the rights. They would have had the rights and sat on them for a while. Yeah, I would have gotten some money, but they could have potentially sold those rights to somebody else, and then I could be doing business with someone I didn’t want to in the first place. The rights are still in my hands and if the right kind of offer comes along, then I’m interested. But what I realized during that whole ordeal that took years and me talking to producers and lawyers and directors and studio people is that — the whole point of this was for me to get “Mouse Guard” stories out to a wider audience. I realized that if I had just taken all those hours over those years and put it toward making more “Mouse Guard” comics, I would have achieved those goals all on my own. The stories are more important to me than any movie ever will be.
“Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard” volume two arrives in June from Archaia.