A Man and His Mice: David Petersen on Mouse Guard

David Petersen on Mouse Guard

It’s not often that properties geared towards kids are embraced and supported by readers of all-ages. But David Petersen’s Mouse Guard, the 2006 smash hit indie comic book has attracted and won the hearts of readers young and old. In fact, it won the Eisners for Best Publication for Kids and Best Graphic Album – Reprint last weekend. Indeed, Mouse Guard is a refreshing change from the ordinary.

In the first series, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, Petersen, who was honored with the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award in 2007, introduced readers to the fearless guards Saxon, Kenzie, and Lieam, dispatched to find a missing merchant mouse that never arrived at his destination. In this fanciful, dangerous and medieval world, where mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world’s harsh conditions and predators, Saxon, Kenzie, and Lieam stumbled onto much more than they bargained for… intrigue, betrayal, and a deadly, traitorous plot to overthrow the stronghold of Lockhaven. Think of it as The Lord of the Rings with mice as the main characters.

We caught up with Petersen to chat about what’s coming up in the comics and the upcoming film adaptation.

Newsarama: Congratulations on the two Eisners that Mouse Guard won, David. Mouse Guard had also recently won bronze in ForeWord Magazine's annual awards in the Graphic Novel category. How are you feeling about all these awards and recognitions that you and your creation have garnered?

David Petersen: I am completely honored by all the recent awards Mouse Guard has received. As a comic book fan I have dreamt of winning Eisners my whole life. It was an amazing experience to see my dreams realized. I am also humbled that so many creators and fans in the comics and book industry have latched on to Mouse Guard and have given it such support.

NRAMA: Despite winning the Eisner for Best Publication for Kids, it's interesting to note that Mouse Guard has never been just for kids, right?

DP: Mouse Guard is a book I have consciously written for all ages. I wanted to write something that all could enjoy and that fans could grow with. I fondly remember as a kid learning to read with books that at times challenged me to be both imaginative and a critical thinker. I hope that Mouse Guard can spark some of the same conversations I had with my parents growing up. If I didn't understand something I was reading I just took the book to my parents and looked at it as a great opportunity to learn something new. I'm so happy the Eisner committee felt it would be a great book for kids and also that my peers and fans agreed with them.

NRAMA: How would you compare Mouse Guard with, say, Jeff Smith's Bone?

DP: Well, when people compare Mouse Guard to Bone, I am so humbled. I love the Bone series and I could only hope to have the kind of following that Bone has had. I think the common connection lies in that they are both series' that try to entertain everyone. They both take fantasy and adventure to a fully illustrated place that we can all feel connected to.

NRAMA: Looking back, what was the inspiration for creating Mouse Guard?

DP: Mouse Guard is a combination of the fantasy stories and games (like Dungeons & Dragons) I loved as a kid with animal stories I enjoyed growing up (like Wind in the Willows and Aesop's Fables). The original story I came up with in high school dealt with many species of animal. As I was trying to lay out how each group would survive, I had to start with what would be my smallest animal type in the story. I decided on mice. It was tough coming up with how these little creatures would survive when everything above them would be out to eat them. It was then I realized the heart of the story was really with the mice. The struggle of the smallest to survive in a world where they are considered food to everyone. The strength and courage it would take to 'live' and not just survive was so compelling to me that Mouse Guard was born.

NRAMA: For the uninitiated, can you give us the 411 on all things Mouse Guard?

DP: Mouse Guard is a fantasy story that starts in Fall 1152 with the introduction to three of the Guard's finest, Kenzie, Lieam, and Saxon on a mission to help find a missing grain merchant. The Guard has been dispatched to locate him and when they do they also uncover a plot against the Guard from within its' own ranks.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 was originally six issues and has been collected into a hardcover published by Archaia Studio Press and softcover from Random House/Villard available at all bookstores and amazon.com.

The second series, Winter 1152, is currently underway with the first three issues available at comic shops and once completed (six issues) will be published in hardcover (Spring 2009).  There are Mouse Guard toys available through Diamond Select Toys (three-character PVC set, Lieam Plush, and three-character limited edition resin statue).

And ASP will be publishing a Mouse Guard Role-Playing Game written by Luke Crane with background info and new artwork by me.

NRAMA: Even with the ASP restructuring exercise, you mentioned on your blog that Mouse Guard is staying put at ASP. Why not move it to another publisher?

DP: Mouse Guard is what it is because ASP has been the perfect publisher for it. ASP has been fantastic to work with and as a creator has allowed me the kind of creative freedom I need. I don't have any plans to move Mouse Guard to another publisher because ultimately staying with ASP is the best place for Mouse Guard to be.

NRAMA: While waiting for the restructuring exercise to complete, have you ever thought of self-publishing new chapters or offering them as webcomics?

DP: The restructuring is only a temporary issue and with new issues already printing it didn't make any sense to change the format especially since the wait was only going to be a couple months.

NRAMA: What's the latest on Mouse Guard: Winter 1152?

DP: Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 is ongoing and issue #4 is at the printer as we speak. Issue #4 should be in stores in the next couple weeks. I really appreciate the fans patience with this issue and hope that they enjoy issue #4, it is by far my most detailed and difficult work to date. Issue #5 will be out in October and issue #6 slated for January, with the hardcover coming in Spring 2009.

NRAMA: Can you also provide an update on the prequel, Mouse Guard: Black Axe 1099–1116?

DP: The next series after Winter 1152 will be Mouse Guard: Black Axe 1099-1116. The Black Axe story will span 16 years of history about the Black Axe and hopefully fill in the fans on the Legend of Axe and why it is so important to mouse culture. It will have great adventure and lore and I am very excited to bring that issue to the fans. I know it will not disappoint.

NRAMA: The Mice Templar, Oeming and Glass' tale of mice warriors, is now being developed into an animated feature film. Have you ever received any offers from studios keen on making either animated films, animated series or live-action films based on your award-winning creation?

DP: Mouse Guard is attached to a producer (David Kirschner), a screenwriter (Mike Werb), and a director (cannot be mentioned at this time). The ball is definitely rolling and we have had several Studios approach us for the property. All I have to really add is that Mouse Guard is very near and dear to my heart, I have spent most of my young life and my entire adult life loving this world I've created and I don't want it overshadowed by a quick profit. I truly love comics first and foremost and I am a huge film buff. I want Mouse Guard to be not only what I have dreamt it could be, but also something the fans will love and be proud to watch on the big screen. I have put great effort into assembling a film team that loves Mouse Guard the way I do and that does not happen overnight.

NRAMA: And the big screen, cinematic experience is the way to got then?

DP: I have always wanted Mouse Guard to go to film and not just a television series. When animation is on TV, it is so often pigeonholed into being just for kids (unless it's violent/racy enough to be on very late). I also knew I didn't want to have Mouse Guard turn into a kid’s film, so we had to be looking at a minimum of PG-13. My decision in David Kirschner was due to his understanding of what a Mouse Guard movie should be. Not just for the reasons I mention, but thematically too. He also had a great number of projects under his belt that proved his ability to tackle this type of project. Any offers I turned down didn't match what David had to offer.

NRAMA: Finally, how would you animate Mouse Guard?

DP: I know that a great many fans have already mentioned their preference for traditional 2-D animation, but as a creator and thinking of the cinematic and thematic elements, I think 3-D CGI mice are going to be the best option. So right now we are looking at having live-action natural backgrounds, with CG characters. In Mouse Guard, the reader is led to believe that the mice can die at any moment, that their lives are delicate and their situation dire. Having the characters rendered in a way that makes the audience believe they are as real as we can, will only boost the mood that the Mouse Guard comic sets up. I want what will ultimately make Mouse Guard as visually stunning as people say the books are.

Twitter activity