When thinking about the most successful comics of the past year, many might name one of the big, super- crazy superhero crossovers that have taken place at one of the larger publishers. However, there was a small series with even smaller characters that managed to garner arguably bigger attention: "Mouse Guard: Fall 1152."
Published by Archaia Studios Press, "Mouse Guard" was written and illustrated by David Petersen. Now collected in hardcover, the book has won numerous awards inside and outside of the comic industry, and was recently selected as a summer read by both National Public Radio and the Science Fiction Book Club. Additionally, Petersen has been nominated for the 2007 Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award. So the question that inevitably follows a project with this much acclaim is, of course, "What do you do next?"
It only makes sense that winter follows fall, and this is exactly what Petersen intends to do with "Mouse Guard: Winter 1152," a six-issue miniseries debuting in July. CBR News caught up with the renowned writer-artist, who was hard at work and trying not to think about the expectations that come with following such a highly successful book.
"Sure, I'm concerned with the expectation level. I'm not complaining, but I do think about it with every line I draw and word I write for 'Winter 1152,'" Petersen confessed to CBR news. "Audience expectation is one of the challenges, but so is living up to my own expectations. A creator never hopes to only match what they did last time, they want to surpass it."
It seems Petersen is off to a good start with the "Winter" storyline, which came to him in the early days of working the "Fall" series. "I wanted to do an issue with weather as a concern and set issue #5 in the rain, but as a Michigan native, I knew I'd want to do snow as well,' Petersen explained. "Exploring 'Mouse Guard' and expanding its concepts for me comes when I say, 'But how would they handle this?' And then I start to develop ways for them to tackle that whether it's governmental, monetary, or survival-related.
"Some of the fans have spawned some good questions for me too," Petersen continued. "They have brought up the raw materials for textiles and the concept of religion. Both were topics I didn't plan on covering, for two very different reasons, but now I know these will play into future stories and perhaps even sneak into 'Winter 1152.'
"The other idea for the story came from the plan for the young Lieam to have a bond with the old mouse Celanawe. And there is no bonding like 'stuck together out in the snow' bonding."
As title indicates, "Winter 1152" will pick up where the last miniseries ended. Regarding the specifics, Petersen was happy to share some of the details. "Lockhaven and several other cities are low on supplies and medicine, so in a last-ditch effort Gwendolyn, head of the Guard, sends out Guard mice to try and find supplies that other cities may have in surplus," Petersen said. "But the focus of the story is where the party consisting of Celanawe, Saxon, Lieam, and Sadie goes horribly wrong and is split apart."
For fans who can't get enough "Mouse Guard," there's no cause for despair. Petersen has confirmed that he has storylines planned for three additional arcs after "Winter 1152." It also sounds as though he has some "Star Wars"-like ideas as to how the mythology of the Mouse Guard is going to unfold.
"Two of the planned series, tentatively titled '3' & '4,' will be prequels," Petersen revealed. "One will very much revolve around a season and date, as it chronicles the Winter War of 1149. The other prequel will probably span a great deal of time – at least a year – and will be set around 1112 or so. The fifth series will pick back up a few years after the 'Winter 1152' timeline. I'm going to leave a good gap in between the setting of 'Winter 1152' and series 5 so that I still have wiggle room if I want to go back and explore a bit of the adventures in that time. All the stories will expand the Mouse Guard world and hopefully explain more of the mythos."
Every experience is an education, and Petersen admitted that he learned "lots" in creating the first "Mouse Guard." As for how he will use the knowledge gleaned from his first comics outing, Petersen had some specific examples to share. "I felt like I hit my coloring stride in issue #5 or so of 'Fall 1152,' so I am happy that the colors on this series will be better overall," he said. "I'm working on more development of characters for the audience. I know what these guys act like because they have been in my head for years, but I might not have communicated that as well as I would have liked in 'Fall 1152.' I'm always trying to do better work both as a writer and artist."
Petersen is clearly someone who likes to challenge himself artistically, and as such he figured out how to reap creative benefits from his return to the familiar Mouse Guard universe, and he even found a few new difficulties awaiting him in the snow-driven "Winter 1152." Some of these challenges, however, turned out to be self-imposed. "Because I'm always pushing to make it better, I'm also coming up with trickier camera angles, settings, and details. My pal Jeremy Bastian, who did the pin-ups for issues #5 and #6, does amazing detail in his pieces and I think some of that has rubbed off on me.
"The winter setting did pose its own set of challenges," Petersen continued. "I am lucky enough to have taken lots of reference photos over the last Michigan winter. I'm employing an overlay technique, like I did for the rain in issue #5, for the snow in this series. I also had to redesign some of the clothing.
"The cloaks they wear in 'Fall 1152' would not be enough to protect them and would stick out like a sore thumb on a snowy landscape – too easy for predators to spot. The new designs still show elements of their original cloaks, but work as winter garb. Real mice tunnel and burrow under the snow in winter, but that would be boring to draw, so I made little snowshoes for our heroes. They still do a bit of tunneling, so it's a blend of both worlds."
As mentioned earlier, congratulations are in order for "Mouse Guard," having been awarded distribution by Doubleday Entertainment's Science Fiction Book Club. "Mouse Guard" has also won many awards from groups that recognize mainly non-comics literature, and has of course earned numerous comics industry awards and accolades. And although "Mouse Guard" caught people's attention from the very first issue, the success of this book has continued to snowball.
"It feels great," Petersen admitted. "When I was a kid my parents never liked me reading comics all that much. They weren't the parents that tried to throw them away, but I don't think they loved the amount of time and money I spent with them. So now it's very cool to create a comic they like -- and I know it's more than 'proud parent' appreciation – they genuinely like it.
"I am approached at conventions by a huge range in types of people: young, old, male, female, straight edge, hard edge, short, tall, thick, thin. It's amazing to be reaching that general of an audience. Several teachers have contacted me about using it for their reluctant readers. One teacher, who teaches all ranges of special education, told me that he has some students that just will probably never be able to comprehend written language, but he gives them 'Mouse Guard' because the pictures tell the story.
"I'm also really happy with the female response. I have been the guy in a relationship trying to drag the girl to the comic shop or convention, but now I meet girls and women at conventions who ask their boyfriends and husbands, 'When is new comic day?' I'm sure that Mouse Guard's sales are due to the wide range in audience that supports it."
Petersen hopes to to please his loyal audience with the news of "Mouse Guard" merchandise from Diamnd Select. "The PVCs have been solicited in Previews and are also available for pre-order on Diamond Select's site. They are due for release in September. I have seen the original sculpts and they look terrific! I met with the sculptor, Rudy Garcia, and he is a genuinely nice guy who understands how to translate a 2D style into a 3D sculpture. They also have plans for some resin pieces and a line of plushies."
From the fun and success he's having with his little (yet large) comic book mouse kingdom, one might wonder if David Petersen would be interested in testing the waters in a larger, perhaps more mainstream comics pool. Thankfully for fans of his book, the writer-artist is quite content to rule over one specific creative landscape – his own mind.
"I figured out early on, even before the success of 'Mouse Guard,' that I didn't want to do a regular book with other people's characters; that I had enough of my own ideas and material, and I'd rather be developing my own projects.
"However, playing in worlds that you love as a fan does hold an appeal. I loved the 'Ninja Turtles,' the 'Giant Sized X-Men' team, and 'Star Wars' growing up. The idea of doing some small project like a back-up story, cover, or pin-up would be amazing. But the focus for me will always be on my own stuff, and seeing a world and characters that have been stuck in my head come alive on the page… and seeing the excitement fans have for that world."
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