Sheikman Deciphers "Legends of the Guard"

This week, David Petersen's "Mouse Guard" world gets a little larger as a few other creators take a whack at adding to the mousey mythos-but these aren't your traditional Mouse Guard stories. While Petersen is hard at work on the third installment of "Mouse Guard" following "Winter 1153," "The Black Axe," he's hand-picked a whole host of creators to chronicle the legends and tales of the brave mice of the guard-each in their own styles of writing and art. While Petersen will provide covers and fill in the stories with chapter breaks detailing the mice telling the stories, the main focus here is the opportunity to give readers and fans a new glimpse into the world of mice. Each creator brings their own different spin to the universe, which makes for a veritable potpourri of new content for fans to sink their paws into.

Beginning the run of Guard goodness are Jeremy Bastian ("Cursed Pirate Girl"), Ted Naifeh ("Polly and the Pirates") and Alex Sheikman ("Robotika") in "Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard" #1, in stores now from Archaia. CBR News had the pleasure of speaking with Alex Sheikman about his experience adding to the "Mouse Guard" universe with his story "Oleg the Wise," his process for creating a new legend, his love for the world of mice and the challenges and rewards of playing with someone else's toys.

CBR News: Alex, while you're no stranger to fantasy art (considering your work on "Robotika" and game art for White Wolf and SJG), "Mouse Guard" seems to be a bit different than what you normally draw. Was it difficult to shift into the Mouse Guard universe to tell a story?

Sheikman: No, not at all, but I was worried that David might have doubts about me being able to do a story set in his universe. My published artwork, up to this point, has been either very dark in themes or geared-up towards the superhero genre. Luckily, David, instead of just looking at the surface polish of my work, looked at my drawing and storytelling skills and was satisfied that I could do justice to his creations. As an artist, I love challenges that allow me to explore all facets of art and this was a unique opportunity.

What was different about doing a story in "Mouse Guard" as opposed to doing a "Robotika" story? How did your process change?

The basic process stayed the same: story idea, thumb nails, pencils, inks, scripting, lettering, color...but I definitely looked for more editorial input at every stage to make sure I staid "on model" for the "Mouse Guard" universe and remained true to the idea that "Legends" is built around.

How did you get involved in "Legends of the Guard?"

As soon as I heard that the project was in the making, I contacted David to see if I could contribute. I am a "Mouse Guard" fan and I was very excited about having a chance to be a part of something that sounded so interesting.

It turned out that it was still pretty early in the process, but David had already made up a list of creators who were going to be possible candidates for the series and I was on the list. Which was very flattering to hear, but I guess I beat the editorial team to the punch by calling first. I am very glad I did, because it gave me extra time to craft the story.

What appeals to you most about Mouse Guard from a storytelling perspective?

Well, there is the square format that makes layouts and storytelling telling very unique. But on an even deeper level there is the Mouse Guard universe. The scale of all things is different and has to be part of the storytelling...but no matter their physical size the characters are real and they are dealing with real issues of life and death. It's a great dynamic to work with.

What has been the biggest challenge for you in doing a "Mouse Guard" story?

I was very nervous about screwing up and not being able to do justice to the story and to the fans. Sort of like getting butterflies in your stomach before a performance. It's one thing to talk about doing the 100-meter dash, but you get a bit nervous when you are walking up to the start line. But once you start, you just focus on doing your best and keep going.

Similarly, what has been most rewarding for you during this experience?

The end result. I love how the story turned out. This, to me, feels like "old school" collaboration. I was given a lot of freedom to be creative and David and Paul [Morrissey, editor at Archaia] came in to provide suggestions for improvement that we could discuss to further the story and the art. The colorist, Scott Keating, added his wonderful sense of color and thus everybody contributed to making the story the best it could be.

How do you feel your previous experience in comics helped you or added to your story?

It is my firm belief that the craft of comics is all about practice, practice and more practice. I learn something with every page that I do. Making comics is about solving problems and you can only get better at it with practice.

Do you feel that you have more stories to tell in the "Mouse Guard" universe?

Oh yes. It is such a rich universe that just as I was finishing up this story, I started coming up with all sorts of ideas for other "legends." I think there is the right place and the right time for things to occur and I am glad I got a chance to play in David's "sandbox." If that occurs again, that would be great.

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