How do you get mice to fight a war? Years of preperation.
In August, The Art of Mouse Guard 2005 - 2015 chronicles the origins of the popular Mouse Guard series by Dave Peterson. The 300+ page tome covers the ten year publishing history of the franchise, and also dives back into associated work dating back to the mid-1990s.
Newsarama has the first look at several pages from The Art of Mouse Guard 2005 - 2015 before it's August 12 release, including pages chronicling Peterson's early 1990s work on what would eventually become his signature property. Along with that, Petersen spoke with us about the origins of the franchise, using his friends and family as mice models, and how he feels about being known solely for mice.
Newsarama: David, what was It like assembling all the art for this 350+page The Art of Mouse Guard 2005 – 2015?
David Petersen: It was an odd trip down memory lane. Some of the work in this book goes back much further than 2005...to a decade before in the early-mid 90's, so there was a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment. We included pieces drawing in crayon on the back of restaurant placemats, the first mice I ever drew, sketches of panel layouts I'd forgotten existed -or- never made it into a Mouse Guard issue. Surreal to uncover it all in your own home (and thankfully I'd been good about saving these things).
The editor of the book, Rebecca 'Tay' Taylor came out to my home in Michigan and over the course of a few days went through every file cabinet, drawer, flat-file, and digital disk I had looking at almost two decades worth of material. She scanned most everything we uncovered, and then took it back to Los Angeles where she and editor Cameron Chittock had to organize those scans in a way that would make sense.
I still find some of the work cringe-worthy...and not just the pre-Mouse Guard work, but stuff I drew as the series was going. It became clear as you can see an evolution through each chronological chapter that the theme of the book is growth. And that part of the assembly was the most rewarding, to understand that I'm still learning and growing as an artist...and hopefully I'll never stop doing that.
Nrama: I learned in the preview of this that three of the mice who would become part of Mouse Guard were inspired by yourself and two friends, Jesse Glenn and Mike Davis. Can you tell us how your friends and family inspired and influenced Mouse Guard over the years?
Petersen: Mike and Jesse are friends that I played roleplaying games with back in high-school and college. And because we knew each other so well, and knew how our characters usually interacted, I figured I'd use archetypes of our personalities to be the foundation for Saxon, Kenzie, and Rand (the first three mouse characters I came up with). That's not say I'm just like Saxon or Jesse is just like Kenzie...but there is a little bit of them in us and a lot of us in them.
Since that worked, early on as a way for me to create characters that instantly had personality chemistry (good or bad) with the other characters, I kept up the practice. My parents have made brief cameos, artists like Archaia founder Mark Smylie, Cursed Pirate Girl artist Jeremy Bastian, and artist friend Nate Pride all have Mouse Guard characters. My sisters and my sisters-in-law make appearances in Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 and the RPG. And then my wife Julia was the inspiration for the tavern-keep June in the Legends of the Guard series.
Sometimes these characters are developed on the personality of their inspirational humans, other times it's more a visual or favorite color used as a cloak and or name reference...but the real people give me some foundation to build from.
Nrama: Although the years on the book say 2005 to 2015, this has proto-Mouse Guard work of yours going back to the mid 1990s. You debuted Mouse Guard in 2005 self-published, but did you have thoughts of publishing back in the nineties, even given the drastically different climate for comic books then?
Petersen: I had dreams of getting published...but I think even then I knew they were dreams. I was struggling to just get myself to produce enough material to even do a mini-comic/zine.
In the early 90's I'd wished to be working on an X book at Marvel and then after Image formed to be at Wildstorm, but, it didn't take long for me to realize, I just didn't have the chops to do that kind of work. I liked reading those stories, but had no deep desire to draw humans and buildings and cars and space ships or airplanes...it wasn't for me.
But it was in the 90's that I discovered some Dark Horse books that allowed me to keep my comic-making dreams: Hellboy and The Mask. With those books being non-traditional stories, with non-Image-like art, it made me rethink if there was room for someone like me. Then Image expanded and you had all sorts of new books coming out from them, not to mention the imprint Cliffhanger with Joe Madureira, Humberto Ramos and J. Scott Campbell...who may have been drawing in a more polished Image-art style...but all drawing differently from one another and very different stories than what Marvel and the Image founders were doing.
So the 90's kept my mind open about publishing...that it was a possibility for the future if I ever got my act together and produced enough material to fill an issue.
Nrama: I have one of the convention sketchbooks you’ve sold over the years, and they are quite rare. Is some of that material here in The Art of Mouse Guard 2005-2015?
Petersen: Some of it is, yes...but not all. Every year since 2008 I've self-published a limited run of sketchbooks containing commissions I'd done over the previous year. For these sketchbooks, I digitally color the art (the commissions are black and white ink only), so that way more people than just the commission owners can enjoy the work. There were a few black & white sketchbooks before those that didn't follow the current pattern, and we mined all of that to put into the art book. But, there was no way to fit it all in, so editor Cameron Chittock picked out his favorites and we did several two-page spreads with five to 18 of them per spread.
What is interesting about these pieces, is that they often were the result of a fan's suggestion...so this could be stuff that would never make it into the pages of Mouse Guard issues and stories...but was still fun to drawn and explore.
Nrama: I’ve seen you do outside work on occasion such as Snowy Valentine, but by and large your main output seems to be Mouse Guard. I know George Lucas at one time bristled at the idea of Star Wars taking over his entire life and overshadowing his other work – do you feel any of that for Mouse Guard and your work?
Petersen: It doesn't bristle me at all. I think Mouse Guard is the best thing I've done. I enjoy and I'm proud of those other projects like covers for Star Wars, The Muppets, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...but it's always work for hire stuff, and I'd rather be known for my work on my idea.
Snowy Valentine, my only venture so-far into children's books, was a learning experience. I'd decided in college that I probably fit better artistically in book illustration rather than comics...one of the reasons being the concept of summing up a great deal of material (sometimes a few pages of written word) into a single illustration versus drawing lots of little moments to tell that story.
But Mouse Guard happened first, and so I got a taste for comics pacing, and when I went to do a children's book, I found it more difficult than I'd anticipated. I wanted to draw so much more, so many more moments and transitions. So, while Snowy Valentine is something I value, I think Mouse Guard is who I am as an artist and storyteller more than any of my other work.
That being said, I do have other non-mouse ideas I'd like to explore...but I'm toying more with the idea of collaborating with other artists to work with on those. Hopefully those will give me enough of a mental break from mice without any major time away from them, with because I feel most at home drawing the Mouse Territories and I don't want to take more unnecessary time away from that.
Nrama: Before we let you get back to work, can you update us on your work for the next Mouse Guard volume?
Petersen: The next series is called The Weasel War of 1149. I have not started writing it yet, but the plan is for it to be an eight-issue arc of the big events of the war mentioned throughout Fall, Winter, and Legends of the Guard. I have a big non-mouse illustration project to finish up before I plan on writing word-one of Weasel War (I am late with the project and owe it to the publishers to make it my sole focus) But editors Cameron Chittock, Bryce Carlson and I talked over the major arcs and bullet points of Weasel War, so there is a plan in place for what happens and what gets covered in that next volume....fans will just have to be patient with this one-man-show to get it cobbled together.