This week in our Small Press Spotlight series, I’ll be taking a look at Archaia Press’ and their highly touted release from David Petersen – Mouse Guard. Mouse Guard is an Eisner award winning series that truly came out of nowhere to take the comic world by storm in 2006. While it is highly esteemed, it somehow continously escapes mainstream comic readers and definitely deserves a bigger audience than it was.
See after the jump for more about this incredible series.
In Mouse Guard and its two installments Fall 1152 and Winter 1152, Petersen has crafted a world filled with intelligent animals that live in medievil times in a world that appears to be human-less. While we’ve come across intelligent beasts such as bats, crabs, snakes, and a truly intense and terrifying bout with one of their most natural enemies (an Owl), the story primarily focuses on a community of mice from a land known as Lockhaven, and in particular, the warriors of said community and the adventures that they go through.
Petersen’s stories when you get down to it are often quite simple, as the first arc is simply a conspiracy story that the Guard needs to overthrow while the second is the Guard’s desperate attempts to remedy a food and medicine shortage that occurred because of the actions from the first series. However, he does such a wonderful job at creating a unique and magical world that it gives each and every issue a truly epic and adventurous feel. This is something I had thought of before, but the visual representation of the world from the point-of-view of a mouse is a truly astounding one, as when they come across a snake to battle (or god forbid, an owl) this isn’t just a little thing in the grass, it’s something many times their size that represents death incarnate to them. Petersen’s expert handling of this to multiply the dramatic tension is astounding and a complete joy to read.
Not only that, but his ability to imbue each of the characters with such vitality and honor is a revelation. Characters like the wizened former guard member Celanawe, the uber-reliable Kenzie, or the young and brash Lieam are three dimesional characters, bearing remarkably human characteristics and displaying a real camaraderie amongst their number. Petersen the writer does an exceptional job at giving each character their own dynamic personality, and he also does a fantastic job at quickly establishing villains whose predatory nature is never conspiratorial but natural, yet it works.
What has earned Petersen perhaps the most praise however are his abilities as an artist. Petersen’s artistic style is unlike most any I’ve ever seen, and to be honest it’s often difficult to discern what exact tools he uses to create the look he comes up with. His figure work is superb and his clever idea to distinguish each character is effective (he gives each character a specific colored cloak or scarf, although it does get confusing from time to time) if unspectacular. His overall look though appears to me to be sharp pencil work with an infusion of a painterly style with a limited color palette. This look creates stark yet powerful imagery (especially in the settings in Winter 1152) that is truly eye catching.
While Petersen as a creator is really one of the best finds in the industry in recent memory, much of the difficulty in finding an audience for his titles have come from two different things: rate of release and distribution. Both are problems inherent to creator owned projects for smaller press companies, but given this title’s nature as a true love letter to the art form, it’s very difficult to stay upset with Petersen for too long. Archaia Press has done a wonderful job with this title, earning it the press it deserves and really coming up with a unique way to present it (the title comes in a very wide and short design, which is hell on earth for those looking to fit it into long boxes). This book is well loved amongst those that have read it, yet it still could use more readership. Both series have already been released in hardback form and deserve a read, especially before Petersen releases his next addition to the series: The Black Axe. Count me in for that, along with everything else Petersen does.