Comics Anonymous

March 15, 2012, 1:28 am
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: , ,

Among the list of attendees at this year’s London Super Comic Con was Mouse Guard creator David Petersen.  Promoting his recent Legends of the Mouse Guard (reviewed here) I couldn’t miss the chance to catch-up with him and pick his brains on just where the idea came for his epic Mouse Guard title.  A ‘Lord of the Rings’ type adventure… only with heavily armed mice.

I was keen to know what was the main influence or inspiration in his creation:

One of my biggest influences was playing role-playing games with friends when I was anything between 12 & 17 years old.  Then also, I was in boy scouts and even though we weren’t really up to BIG adventures, we always thought we were up to big adventures.  Those combinations – role-playing, medieval Dungeons & Dragons, Ninja Turtles or any animal stories like Wind in the Willows.

Was it a great benefit being able to work on a creator-owned project ?

Oh yeah, I didn’t realise this when I started, but I’ve come to realise that there’s basically two types of comic book creators – those who have their own story to tell and those who just want to draw or write something and it almost doesn’t really matter what it is.  They have to draw or write whatever it is but I have a story to tell, I have my own story with my own characters and my own drive in that way.

So did that give you more freedom?

Creator-owned was definitely the way to go and with the way I draw, before the success of Mouse Guard – publishers, DC and Marvel, weren’t going to look at my portfolio and say “We gotta get that guy”.  It’s only because Mouse Guard touched a nerve, they’ve seen the fan following and they’ve seen my work in action are they able to say “Oh, he does good work!” but I had to show them samples.  So I started because that was the only option for me to tell my stories.

So does that give you more options now outside the creator-owned route?

Well now that I’m doing it, I get great opportunities to do covers now and then for other companies.  Like Turtles, Muppets and sometimes they’re a breeze and sometimes they’re an editorial nightmare – especially when you’re talking about characters like the Muppets where not only does the comic publisher have to be satisfied but Disney has to be satisfied too. With the Ninja Turtles, IDW has to be satisfied but Nickelodeon has to be satisfied too. Overall it’s been a wonderful experience to do those covers.  Although I can see that if I had anything more to do than covers, under those types of circumstances and the idea of doing something where I have to server two other masters isn’t as appealing.

Anything other than creator-owned may have been restricting for Mouse Guard then?

Yeah, I’ve been spoiled.  I get to do what I want, how I want it.

Do you plan many other visits in the UK?

 Well this is only my second trip here – the first time being a vacation back in 2009 that turned into a signing at Forbidden Planet but the LSCC asked me to be here and I jumped at the chance to come back.

What are the long-term plans for Mouse Guard?

Well the next series is still in the works, it’s called Black Axe.  It’ll have an issue release first where we’re currently on issue #5 of 6 so we’re close to a hardcover release.  Beyond that I’ll also do a second volume of the Legends which the contributors are already working on just now.  So the goal is that as soon as I’m done with Black Axe I’ll work on my pages and we’re ready to start the Legends series.  I’m going to take a break after that, a bit of a Mouse break.  Even though I know it’s been a while since a Mouse hardcover so the fans may feel like I’ve had a break, I’ve really not had a break and been working on something with Mouse Guard since 2005.

So will you work on other things during that break?

Well just for a bit of mental health, I’m gonna do like a little vacation project which has a definitive start and end date.  I’ll do that which has nothing to do with Mouse Guard, will give my brain a little vacation from the mice then I’ll get right back into more Mouse Guard.  I’ve got at least two more full series already plotted out.

So does a project anthology like Legends with other people involved give you more breathing space for the next volume?

That’s part of the reason that Black Axe has taken so long, when the first Legends series came out, the idea was ‘it’s not a full-time job, I’m just doing a bit of artwork’.  It ended up being almost a half-time job and I couldn’t have a full and a half-time job. It didn’t work and something had to give.  In this case it was Black Axe.  I want to do more Legends but it doesn’t really free me up as much as it could – I’m very involved with the other creators and contributors and I usually help them as much or as little as they’d like.  Surprisingly, they all really want my input and I like to try and make it a very open process where they get to do what they want as long as they follow some basic guidelines.

You still want it to have that Mouse Guard feel?

Yeah, but I also want it to feel like their story.  I don’t want it to feel like a David Peterson story that they drew.  I want them to take the tone and run with it, so I try to offer a lot of creative freedom but they still end up coming back to me regularly.  These people I admire and that I’ve been fortunate enough to hand-pick to collaborate with.

It must be good that they come back to you as often as they obviously respect the Mouse Guard mythology?

Totally, yeah and a couple of them have even asked me some questions that I don’t know the answer to – In the Mouse Guard world how does this work or what would this be like? And I go, ‘I don’t know”.

Does that give you an idea of where to go next with the story?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no – sometimes it’s far enough out of the range of what I’m doing that I know I wouldn’t get back there for a story.  The role-playing game was actually big for that, being asked things like “How is a mouse a Guard?” and I had never answered that for myself, so I had to come up with it.  Once that happened and there was more and more development of the game, I’ve ended up with what could be about half a sixth book that just came out of the game development.  I still haven’t decide yet if that has to be part of a bigger epic or make up a smaller, quieter story….maybe a shorter 4-issue or something.

With it then becoming a game, does it feel like it’s returned to its roots since gaming was one of your inspirations for Mouse Guard?

Exactly, yeah.  I had fans asking if it was a role-playing game even before it was.  I think they assumed that and I had people asking if I was a gamer just having read the Mouse Guard books.  So there’s something about that gaming thing that’s inherent.

Mouse Guard has proved something of a sensation, an epic adventure feel to it with a wide-range of sad moments (where I’ve always got something in my eye) and some battles between mouse and other wild animals in this world, all wrapped up in the tale of a quest and the honour that comes with it.  As David mentioned himself, it’s touched a nerve somewhere in its readers and I hope that more people pick this title up.

Catch up with the Mouse Guard tales, past and present, on David’s website:

G-Man @gjwatson85

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