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Comic Book Day: David Petersen on “Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard”, Plus a Giveaway!

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by on June 26, 2013

The highly anticipated, breathtaking second series to David Petersen’s animal anthology Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Vol. 2 #1 drops today, and to whet your appetite the fine folks at Archaia (rather, the fine folks at BOOM! Studios with whom they recently merged) will be giving out a stellar prize pack with the first Legends of the Guard as well as the Eisner awarded series it was based on: Mouse Guard Vol. 1: Fall 1152, Mouse Guard Vol. 2: Winter 1152, and Mouse Guard Vol. 3: The Black AxeThe fantasy universe of Mouse Guard is one in which cloaked and armored mice engage in epic battles to defend the commonmouse in beautiful and intricately detailed settings, and Legends of the Guard expands on this universe by inviting different contributors to spin yarns about all mouse-related folklore.

David took the time to catch up with us about how he hand-picks each contributor to the Legends of the Guard series, the process of creating an anthology, and all his future Mouse Guard plans. Plus, to sweeten the pot, we’re teaming up with Archaia to give away a massive Mouse Guard prize pack to one lucky reader! To win, simply click through to our contest page, then head over to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ for additional chances to win.

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Nerdist: What’s your process of finding contributors like? Do you reach out to artists you know and/or are a fan of, or do they come to you?

David Petersen: I handpick every contributor for the Legends books. I wanted to gather people who I was a fan of, and who knew and expressed fandom in Mouse Guard or my work. For the first volume I compiled a very long list of artists and writers I wanted to work with who I thought would be a good fit. Some were long shots, and some had offered to do Mouse Guard work before there even was talk of an anthology. Now with Legends Vol. 2, I’ve still not exhausted the original list, and as I read new books and discover more work, I add to it… so there could be more Legends sometime down the road.

Nerdist: You designed totally new characters to suit the stories each contributor created- what was that process like? Was it easier to create the characters around the ones whose stories were from the first person narrative, or was that somewhat limiting? How did you add variety to the different characters to make sure they were all unique?

DP: The hardest thing in creating any new mouse character is making them appear differently enough from any other mouse character I’ve ever shown. Since I don’t play much with the mouse body shape I’ve already established, most of the design work goes into their clothes, props, or any scars. Like you mentioned, a few of the stories were told in first person, so I just had to interpret the guest contributors’ design into my own proportions and line style. Those were easy, because the design choices were mostly already done for me.

Not all of the stories were turned in when I had to do the character designs, so while a few of them were designed with a mood of a story in mind, most were drawn as just interesting visual characters. I then had to match up the character designs to the stories as they came closer to completion, and tried to make some connection (even if only in my head) why one mouse seemed a better fit with a story than another. I assigned the mouse with the head-wrap and patterned clothing to tell the most visually stylized story of this round of Legends… and gave the mouse with a missing arm one of the most brutal.

Nerdist: Your first Legends of the Guard won an Eisner Award (congratulations, by the way!) – what do you feel is the advantage to doing an anthology series like this? What drew you to making an anthology in the first place?

DP: Thank you. I like anthologies when they are done well, so when a few past pinup contributors to Mouse Guard (Jeremy Bastian and Mark Smylie) had expressed interest in doing more Mouse Guard “any time,” it seemed like a good route to have some fun with talented folks I respect while adding to the Mouse Guard world in an interesting way. There was a good amount of thought that went in to the structure of the Legends series to try and overcome some of the pitfalls I worried about. I didn’t want this to feel like a “spinoff” project that I dropped and left for everyone else working on it to pick up.

It needed to feel like I was as invested in it as I wanted the readers to be, so I knew I was going to have to do covers and some interior pages as well as be very hands-on with the editorial. And then there was the problem of having so many different people tell Mouse Guard stories that wouldn’t fit well into my story’s timeline and history, so I stole a trick from Geoffrey Chaucer and framed the stories around a mouse storytelling contest where the contributions were meant to be tall tales and folklore. I’m very pleased with how well Legends of the Guard meshes with the Mouse Guard series without becoming canon.

N: On your blog you posted a top down version of June Alley, where the characters tell their stories. Is this how you typically create setting, or is it more important when the connective story takes place in one location?

DP: Yeah, I do a lot of model building for the locations of the Mouse Guard world. Not only does it help me as I work on the book and need to reference a location over and over from different angles, but it also helps me design the location in the first place. I find it harder to draw a place from scratch than to build it from scratch. Even in a best-case scenario where I would sit down and draw a room and end up designing something I like, I’d only have reference of it from that one angle and not a full understanding of how the stairs meet the ceiling or what’s on the other side of those columns.

I like working with my hands and building things (as opposed to more computer time using something like Sketchup) so I cut and glue wood and cardboard together, seeing it from all angles as I build up a location. Because Mouse Guard has a bit of a silly premise to start with — talking mice who talk and walk on their hind legs in a medieval society — I want the rest of the world to be as grounded and believable as possible. I think having locations that I spend time designing in three dimensions and are consistent is a big part of that.

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N: In the anthology, each contributor has such a unique voice and art style, and the range is huge. Was there anything you did in particular to make the whole thing cohesive?

DP: I suppose there has to be some common thread in that diversity that has something to do with my taste of liking the contributors work in the first place, but beyond that the only thing that ties it all together is the common goal of telling a good Mouse Guard story shared by the contributors and me. I see those unique artistic voices as being the unique voices to the mice who tell the story within the anthology. Just like different people you know could tell the same story, but the tone of their voice, the pace, the emphasis on certain words or parts gives each their own storytelling style…these artists are giving visualization to that idea for these mice. After all, it would be a boring anthology if they all just did their best to emulate the already established look of Mouse Guard.

N: Where do you draw your own inspiration from, both in story telling and in art? How did your background as a printmaker influence your style? What have you been reading/watching/playing lately?

DP: For the stories of Mouse Guard, I’m inspired by the concept of the monomyth put forward by Joseph Campbell. I’m also still working off of the rough story beats I outlined back when Fall only had two issues published. Beyond that, the characters seem to forge their own paths, not in the sense that they write themselves, but that I can see logically concluded paths they could/should take that make them more interesting. Art-wise, I’m inspired by so many folks the list is really long. Some highlights are Edmund Dulac, Jeremy Bastian, Rick Geary, Mike Mignola, Jean-Baptiste Monge, and Karl Kerschl.

The printmaking background helped me to understand how to create various textures and shades of grey in a strictly black-and-white image. I focused on etching (forming an image by soaking a metal plate in acid to create pits where ink will sit when printed) and woodcut (carving away the surface of a hardwood boar where you want white space to be while leaving behind the areas you want to print). Both of these rely on hatching and stippling and pattern/texture making to give an image depth and focus.

And while I’m spending most of my time in the studio, I do break away to catch up on TV shows like Mad MenMythbustersCommunity, and Boardwalk Empire. I’m anxiously awaiting/dreading the end of Locke and Key. It’s a fantastic comic that I love (and) is ending on its own terms, but will miss the idea of new issues of it waiting for me. I play Ticket to Ride and Smallworld with my nieces when they visit, but otherwise I’m in the studio working on some aspect of Mouse Guard while I listen to audio books like Harry Potter (a heavy rotation favorite), Stephen King books, or old time radio shows.

N: When can we look forward to the next Mouse Guard run?

DP: I’ll come out of the gate and say that it’s going to be a little while. The next arc of my series will be the Weasel War of 1149. I’ve teased that event since the start of Fall, and now, after three volumes, I think it’s the right place to explain it, its effect on the mice and the weasels, how it was resolved, and who were the major players. I want it to deepen the understanding of my existing stories, but also add weight to what comes later. I hope to push into future Mouse Guard stories with readers having understood what happened to lead the story there.

That all said, this Weasel War is going to be pretty epic and daunting to tell (it’s starting to seem like it might balloon past my traditional six-issue arc format) so I’m going to be taking a small mouse-vacation to recharge the creative batteries and not burn-out on the mice before I start that volume. But rest assured, I see Mouse Guard as a lifetime project. It’s not going anywhere.

Enter to win a free copy of the Mouse Guard prize pack, and follow all David’s work on Mouse Guard via his blog (in which he gives amazing insight to the creation of Mouse Guard and spotlights contributors) and his Twitter account.

Who was your favorite contributor in the first Legends of the Guard anthology? Whose stories are you most looking forward to? What’s your opinion on the original Mouse Guard series? Leave a quemment below or tell me on Twitter!