On this week’s edition of Multiversity Comics Presents, we’re bringing you the Eisner Award winning creator of Mouse Guard, David Petersen. David is one of the best new talents of this decade, bringing beautiful art and classic storytelling to readers in two mini-series so far in his Mouse Guard series. With two more series upcoming and another series being released with work by other creators, it is a great time to jump on board this title.
Check out our interview with David and make sure to leave a comment if you enjoy it.
Sorry for the delay. The holidays have been hectic. Thanks once again for agreeing to this interview.
DP: No worries. Happy to do it.
DP: Thanks! I’m buried in covers for Mouse Guard: Black Axe, Legends of the Guard, and the MG Free Comic Book Day offering…but I look forward to getting back into telling stories soon.
We have a “The Decade According to Multiversity” feature coming up soon, and we are going to spotlight picks from creators themselves. Are there any fellow creators or titles in the world of comics of the past decade that have caught your eye? What have your favorites been?
DP: Guy Davis’ work on BPRD
Mike Mignola’s Library editions
Rick Geary’s Victorian/ XXth C. Murder books (more than half of them came out this decade)
Blankets by Craig Thompson
The Bone Scholastic and ‘brick’ editions
To steal a move from Warren Ellis, why comics? At what point did you realize moving into this medium was the move for you?
DP: I had loved comics as a kid, and it seemed like something I could do. I also loved movies and cartoons, but those things seemed unattainable goals as a kid. So I tried my hand at drawing my own comics. While in college, I felt that I would probably be making a career in children’s book illustration. That the idea of doing one image to sum up several pages of text was preferable and more satisfying than comics work. It wasn’t until I really started on Mouse Guard as a self-published book that I rediscovered how much I enjoyed playing with sequential storytelling. How much control I had with pacing and panel shapes, that is missing from single illustrations.
Where did the inspiration for Mouse Guard come from? As a friend who I had suggested to read the Guard to asked…why Mice?
DP: Mouse Guard grew out of a larger story idea I had involving lots and lots of animals in a more “traditional” anthropomorphic sense (like Disney’s Robin Hood), but in college I dusted off the idea with the goal of making the animals more like real animals (proportions, diet, etc.). I started on the mouse culture knowing that I’d have to come up with a way to protect their civilization. And it was through that development that I realized the mice were the real heart of the story, the ultimate underdog.
Who were your major influences on your artistic style in Mouse Guard? What do you use to create the work that we all see and love?
DP: I love classic children’s illustrators like N. C. Wyeth, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, and John R. Niel. Also the comic work of Rick Geary let me see someone who was using stippling and crosshatching in an illustration-type way in modern comics. I’m also a huge fan of Mike Mignola and look to his work frequently when thinking about pacing and getting panels to work for you to set mood and anticipation.
As for my drawing implements, I use a mechanical pencil with a medium lead, I ink with UniBall Vision pens, fill in and do some textures with a brush and Bombay Black ink, and color the work digitally in Photoshop.
When developing the mythology of the Guard, where did you draw your influences from?
DP: I’m a fan of folklore and mythology in general, but I’d say George Lucas is one of the places I look (even when I’m not trying to). Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero’s journey in Hero With 1,000 faces. It outlines the major reoccurring themes in classic literature for heroes and their stories. George Lucas took that and made a new story interpretation of the old rules with Star Wars. And while I have read classic myths, Star Wars is my common vernacular for those major events and twists and trials to put characters through.Continued below
What can we look forward to with the next arc, titled Black Axe? Will this shed some light on the oft-mentioned Weasel War? We know the follow up series will, but it seems like those next two titles should dovetail quite nicely.
DP: Black Axe is basically the story Celanawe (old mentor Mouse and the former Black Axe) promises to tell Lieam (young apprentice and now the Black Axe) about the day his paw first touched the axe. It won’t include any information about the Weasel War, but as you mentioned, that one is planned as the series after Black Axe. It too is a prequel, and I hope will dovetail nicely into Fall 1152 and be a long enough break (2 series) for readers wanting to get back to ‘current’ chronology to see Lieam as the Black Axe.
One frequent complaint heard about the Guard are the delays associated with it. Are you working ahead of time to try and avoid these problems in future volumes of the Guard?
DP: I’m trying, but I’m falling behind of the ‘ahead’ schedule. Some of the past delays are my fault, but some were also due to the restructuring Archaia went under. It’s tough because I’m a one man show. I write, pencil, ink, scan, color, letter, and FTP every page, cover, inside front cover, etc.
Readers can always be assured that any issue of Mouse Guard is forthcoming. I have no plans to quit now.
When you perform all duties related to your title, what positives and negatives does that bring to the table for you? Obviously there is more creative control for you, but at the same time it’s a significantly more time consuming experience for you as well. What else?
DP: The positive you mention is a big one. I only have to work with myself which means I never have to debate or compromise with a co-worker. Because I’m doing my own inking, I can also pencil looser and work in a give/take style that would be harder for a team because I know my intentions. If I decide that visually I want to deviate from the script or what the writer in me planned, it’s easy to get permission from myself to go forward with it.
The negatives mainly are the time consumption. I like every part of working on this book. There is joy that I can get out of every step (not that I always do…sometimes every one of them is tedious). Being the only guy also means that the weight of the quality also falls on me. If the book is terrible, there is no one to share the blame with, it’s all on me.
Where did the decision come from to co-opt your characters and your mythology to other creators in Legends of the Guard? Are you guiding them as the architect of this universe or letting them run free given and trusting their talent to carry them home?
DP: When Jeremy Bastian and Mark Smylie turned in their pinups for the Fall series, I was so impressed and pleased with what they had done I thought, “I’d let these guys play in the Mouse Guard world anytime they would like”. Now I’m in a place where Mouse Guard has enough of a fan base not just in readership, but from other creators, that we had a viable list of artists and writers who would be appropriate for the series.
I’ll be hand picking the creators, and I’ll be involved with them as they need me. The plan was just to trust in those creators, give them minimal guidelines, and let them run with their ideas, but nearly every participant so far has asked me to at least approve their scripts, if not every other part of their work. I’m flattered, and pleased that so far my suggestions have been minimal. As for my workload on Legends of the Guard, I’ll be providing covers and pages that go between the guest stories.
What does the future bring to you as a creator and for the Guard? Do you see yourself moving into work for any other publishers or focusing more on the Guard going forward?Continued below
DP: I think I’m in a good place right now. The Guard needs to be my main focus. That limits what work I can do for other publishers just because of the time constraints. I like doing the Muppet covers for Boom, and I have a few other short comic pieces that I will be doing in the upcoming year, but Mouse Guard is my real job.
How did it feel to win the Eisner Award for Mouse Guard?
DP: Are you kidding?! It was amazing! I had never had any comic work published before my first issue of Mouse Guard, so to be nominated and win the top award in the industry was the kind of stuff dreams are made of.
When people talk the Guard, they often bring up the fact that there is another similar title on the market in Mice Templar. What, to you, does Mouse Guard offer that Mice Templar doesn’t?
DP: While both books are similar on the surface: talking medieval mice with swords, I think that our approaches are very different. Templar seems to be steeped more in folklore style myth and magic. There is a supernatural element there that I don’t have in Mouse Guard. It makes Mouse Guard more about the natural world and becomes a story of survival and triumph in a very real way (as real as it can be for talking mice with swords). I’d also say that Mouse Guard seems to have a more open range in audience than Templar. That being said, I think it’s completely up to the readers to find the book they prefer, each have their strong and weak points, and I don’t want to make up anyone’s mind for them.
What comics/graphic novels out there do you think deserve a little more support? Anything in particular that has caught your eye?
DP: I wish more people knew about Rick Geary’s work. I’m also a big fan of Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl, it’s hard to find, but it’s worth tracking down if you can. And in general I’d say that comic readers need to step outside of their comfort zone more often. Try something that doesn’t have tights and capes, or try something in black and white, or try manga, or a book aimed at a younger audience, or something offered only on the web. Find books by someone you have never heard of. you may be surprised to have found your new favorite creator.
Outside of comics, what do you find influences your work? Any film or music in particular that brings out your creative powers?
DP: As I mentioned before I’m a big fan of George Lucas’ Star Wars (Even the new ones, I prefer the originals, but I’m not a hater). I like listening to classical soundtracks and scores for epic and period movies. The Lord of the Rings soundtracks and Last of the Mohicans have been on heavy repeat while I work on Mouse Guard. And I’d say nature. Taking walks with a camera to snap landscapes at mouse-eye-view can really effect what I want to draw.
We comic fans are often known for being…off the wall. What’s the strangest sketch request you’ve received while at a comic convention?
DP: I get a lot of requests for mice as superheroes or existing characters and sometimes those seem odd to me. But the strangest was someone, who I think didn’t know my Mouse Guard work, that asked for a “Mechanical Chicken Separator”. He told me that he had no preconceived idea of what that would look like, so it was up to me do go in any direction I wanted. I tried to make a Rube Goldberg style device that just had a pile of feathers at the end, but it didn’t turn out so well.
Thanks so much to David for doing this interview with us. If you haven’t yet, make sure to pick up his work. I’m obviously a big fan, but don’t listen to me. Listen to the Eisner voters.