Written by: Ron Bricker
Known for his critically successful, and fan favorite, series Mouse Guard, David Petersen was able to take time out of his busy schedule to chat with Erik Norris of CC2K Comics. Taking place a week after the dust of the New York City Con had settled, and without being surrounded by “cosplayers”, Dave and Erik sat down to discuss the finer things in life. Namely, his inspirations and plans for Mouse Guard, as well as some hints at future projects.
CC2K: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at CC2K, David.
David Petersen: No problem.
CC2K: Let’s start with a question that I’m sure you have had to answer a million times before, but when did the decision enter your brain to venture into creating your own comic with Mouse Guard? Before that point you had a few stories printed in anthologies, namely Ye Olde Lore Of Yore, so did you just feel the time was right, and you had a pretty sweeping story that needed to be put on paper?
David Petersen: The concept for Mouse Guard had been in my head since 1996. It grew out of an even older story from my early high-school days. In 2004, after being out of college with an art degree and having worked at Starbucks and an antique store, I knew I had to start drawing for a living (just for sanity’s sake). I set up at a convention without having a book or anything, just samples of my work. A few people saw some of the Mouse Guard drawings and asked when it was coming out. I told them I’d have a comic ready for the next con six months later. Mouse Guard is the idea of mine that was most developed and I had the deepest commitment to, so it became my best shot of drawing for a living.
CC2K: Yea, sounds like you caught a break with people being interested in your drawings for Mouse Guard, kind of giving you a heads up to what would sell as a book. Being fresh out of college myself, as a English major with a concentration in film, I have learned to take any advice I can get when trying to break into the fields I love, mainly comics, movies, and video games,. But like you said, people at this convention saw your Mouse Guard drawings and were instantly interested in them. How long did it take to nail those designs for the mice?
David Petersen: Well, like I said, I had the concept for about nine years before the comic was published, so the designs were pretty well established, but you can clearly see a difference between issue #1 and issue #6. Some evolution still happed as I worked on the series, and probably still is happening.
CC2K: Very true, I guess what I’m also getting at is the actual look of the mice. Your style for drawing them is very distinct and very much different then how a lot of artist’s interpret the same characters in those pinups in the back of each issue. Is that just how the look turned out when you drew your first mouse that would later evolve into Mouse Guard’s characters?
DP: Ah! I gotcha. The first drawings of the mice were direct copies of how children’s book illustrator Tom Porht drew mice in his book, Coyote Goes Walking. But I knew that if I ever wanted to draw these guys more than a handful of times, it had to be in a way I was comfortable with drawing. I made conscious decisions about their look: mouse-like opposed to rat-like, more realistic than cartoony (in fact I only wanted them to be unrealistic enough to walk upright and hold weapons), and fierce/fragile.
CC2K: I think you nail the fierce/fragile perfectly. There are times when you look at the mice and your heart melts but then you see that same cute creature gutting a snake with a sword, while wearing a cape. You have done a masterful job giving readers the best of both worlds….”cute badasses.”
DP: Thank you! Yeah, I think the heart of the book is that you really fear for them because they are so small and “helpless,” But at the same time incredibly fearless and brave. At some point in our lives, I think we all feel how the mice look, and hope that if need be, we can act as they do.
CC2K: True words Dave, now moving on, is Mouse Guard an allegory for something else or simply a fantasy story using mice as your driving force?
DP: If there is a message in there, it’s about not just surviving as the underdog, but thriving. But I have no hidden agenda with Mouse Guard. It’s no Animal Farm. I liked how well the mice as heroes made a fantasy story more believable and relatable than if I had human characters. If I used human characters, I’d have a giant landscape and huge made-up beasts hunting them and you would never think of the characters as small, you would think of everything else as giant. The mice worked perfectly to exemplify the mood of the story I wanted to tell.
CC2K: Yea I can agree with that, it’s also helps that people “feel” for animal’s mortality in entertainment more than their own species. For example, when you watch a horror movie and boat loads of human blood is spilled, no one bats an eye. Then you have that one dog that dies, and people are gasping, crying, walking out of the theater. It’s a very weird conundrum how our society reacts like that.
DP: Yeah, I think it has to do with the animal’s innocence.
CC2K: It’s clear you have a pretty definitive universe in mind that these mice inhabit. Are there plans to flesh out every locale and create a grand living, breathing world?
DP: Yeah, I’d love to develop the world more. I got a chance to do some of that working on the Role Playing Game with Luke Crane. But in the comics, it will take a while to get there. I don’t want to rush it. There is a lot of locales and history to cover. I want to keep it interesting and not blow through it all.
CC2K: In staying with the “living, breathing world” idea, Mouse Guard is a book where the mice follow a code of honor, loyalty, and order. Are we going to see other species show a deeper moral code instead of just being “enemies of the mice?”
DP: Well the driving force for all of them is survival. For the mice, it means having to adopt a greater-purpose type mentality. Because most of the other predators are not as hunted as the mice, they don’t have to have the same ethics or even societies. We will eventually get more into the Weasel stuff, and it will end up being more than just a “bad guy” plot.
CC2K: You mentioned the Mouse Guard Role Playing Game, care to comment on it?
DP: The Role Playing Game was something that fans started to ask for almost immediately. And since I was an old-school gamer, I could relate. Luke Crane and I met at the New York Comic Con last year and his game Burning Wheel had just won RPG of the year. He expressed interest in writing the game, so we moved forward with it.
The book is checking in at 200+ pages detailing the world of Mouse Guard in a way that allows you to either play one of your favorite characters, or create a new group of mice to explore and defend the Mouse Territories. Luke started asking me lots of good questions about the world of Mouse Guard, many of them I hadn’t answered for myself. So I took a great deal of care in making sure the details, facts, and history matched or meshed with the current comics and future Mouse Guard stories. I also did over 30 pieces of new art for the game, and I think it’s some of my best work to date.
The release is set for August of this year with the grand unveiling at Gen-Con.
CC2K: Sounds awesome. Ok the rest of the questions I have branch away from Mouse Guard a bit. Firstly, do you plan to stay in the Mouse Guard universe for the entirety of your comic career, or are there plans hatching to venture out and work on new projects?
DP: While I’m guessing I’ll be most known for Mouse Guard (and will always have a foot in that world), I do have a few other projects that I’d love to get a chance to get out there. The one I think I’ll turn to first is a Folklore type story about a Fairy-folk character that is mischievous, but is cursed to do only good deeds.
CC2K: Very interesting. Now is this one of those original ideas you had when you were first noticed for your Mouse Guard drawings?
DP: Sort of. That one, called Fir Darrig (which a few shorts have been published in the anthologies you mentioned earlier) developed as I worked on Mouse Guard. It was a clone of a few real comics for a while and after I started working on Mouse Guard and understood how an artist has to be 100% comfortable with what he draws, Fir Darrig changed to be something that was more “me.”
CC2K: So it seems you have quite a few ideas for creator owned properties but I have to ask, has any of the giant companies in the comic world, namely DC or Marvel, approached you to write/draw for them? I took notice to a particular Superman painting you did that is posted on your website which is absolutely breathtaking I might add.
DP: Thank you. I painted it from reference from the original Superman Movie.
CC2K: It shows. Chris Reeve will always be the definitive Superman.
DP: I have talked to some folks at Marvel about doing something small. The issue is that I have to stay focused on Mouse Guard, so any work I do for someone else has to fit that schedule, and since Mouse Guard is a one man show, it’s tricky.
CC2K: Yea, it’s already a full schedule for you handling all the duties on Mouse Guard. Well, being more a DC fanatic I would kill for you to come join our side (laughs).
DP: (Laughs) Well, I read more Marvel growing up, but I think when it comes to iconic characters, DC has Marvel beat with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
CC2K: I can’t argue with that. Now I read online, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you are a big fan of children’s picture books. I mean Mouse Guard is obviously influenced by that, but transcends that stereotype to become accessible to all ages. But with your name out there due to the success of Mouse Guard, are there plans to write, draw, and publish some actual children’s picture books?
DP: Yeah, I have a deal with Harper Collins as a matter of fact. I was thinking children’s illustration would be a better fit for my work (even though I wanted to draw comics) and so I started a portfolio of that type of work by making handmade illustrated books as gifts for family members. One of those, Snowy Valentine’s Day, drew the attention of Harper Collins and we are adapting the 7 page story into a full length children’s picture book.
CC2K: Wow, congratulations. I also saw on your Wikipedia page that you have six children’s stories that are posted on the web because they have never been published. Any plans to get those out to mass audiences?
DP: Because those were all for portfolio and teeth-cutting purposes, I doubt they will be published. Most of them rely to heavily on knowing the family member that they were a gift for. But you never know.
CC2K: Well David, that about wraps it up. Thanks again for taking the time out of your schedule to talk with us here at CC2K.
For anyone that hasn’t ventured into the world of mice, swords, capes, killer owls, and crabs, go out and pick up the first collection, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, available in both hardcover and softcover formats. The second series, Winter 1152, is currently being published monthly and is three issues deep which you should be able to find at your local comic shop. Timeless themes coupled with strong storytelling and magnificent art, Mouse Guard is a title that can’t be missed. So go out and give it a read!