Creator: David PETERSEN
Editor: Rebecca TAYLOR
The first issue of Mouse Guard was published in 2005 and introduced readers to a wonderfully intricate universe inhabited by anthropomorphised animals. From the very first issue the series was a huge hit with readers of a range of ages. This is somewhat down to the well judged mix of violence and valour imbued in the characters of Mouse Guard. While the animals of Mouse Guard are sentient this is not a Disney fairytale of happy rodents living peacefully alongside the other larger, carnivorous woodland critters but rather a story of animals who are under constant threat from predators. Set in amongst a medieval society of mice living in small, secluded communities Mouse Guard has shunned the notion of simply recreating the period with mice instead of humans (a race that does not exist in these books) but instead crafted a more cogent reality in which the society the mice live in has arisen from a more pressing need for protection. Much of this protection comes from the legendary Mouse Guard themselves. An elite band of warrior mice that take upon themselves to offer protection to the various mice citizens, strongholds and settlements from harm. The main series itself follows three of the Guard as they go about their business as Guard Mice. From this there have spawned various side projects including various collections of short stories and an RPG as well as a growing collection of merchandise. The Art of Mouse Guard is a book dedicated to showcasing the vast amount of work the sole creator of Mouse Guard –David Petersen– has poured into crafting this spellbinding universe.
The Art of Mouse Guard is primarily filled with what one would expect to find in a book showcasing the art and illustrations of a comic: early prototypes, sketches, posters, and cover art. Archia -and editor Rebecca Taylor– have gone further than simply collating all these various pieces of artwork and have asked Petersen and those who have worked with him to write small passages that explain an element of the creative process. Rather than just giving basic insight into how he draws his characters or scenery Petersen approaches these passages with the same gusto and enthusiasm that he does with each aspect of the Mouse Guard world. We are treated to a semi-autobiographical account of his life and are shown how experiences he had as a young boy helped shaped his creation of Mouse Guard as well as the various influences he has had over the years that have guided his approach to the comics. From Dungeons and Dragons, to Harry Potter and Star Wars Petersen is not shy on telling the reader where he drew direct inspiration from. He is also rather candid in explaining some of the challenges that he has faced while writing Mouse Guard both conceptually and in regard to his own limitations.
Not only do these passages give great insight into the creative process but they also give The Art of Mouse Guard a fantastic structure. With this linear pattern giving the book structure all that Petersen has achieved is put into perspective. At the start are shown the early doodles of anthropomorphised animals Petersen drew as a young teen as we are told of his formative years and the book ends with a collection of posters and covers drawn by Petersen over the years as well as contributions from some of the best artists working in the industry today all paying homage to Petersen’s great work. In amongst these more biographical pieces are intricate explanations of the processes used to create various aspects of Mouse Guard. The scope of these topics can be as interesting and intriguing as the passages themselves. You may find yourself marvelling at the huge selfmade cardboard and wooden models Petersen makes of each building in Mouse Guard to help him understand lighting and scale on one page to find yourself as equally engrossed in the creation of the stained glass window effect that is used in the background of only a few panels on another.
It may seem that this review focuses too much on the written word for a book on “The Art of Mouse Guard”. Of course the majority of the book is the artwork. The illustrations, pictures, and sketches on display are simultaneously beautiful and fascinating. From simple comparison shot of before and after colouring, to full double page spreads of epic quests and adventures each illustration of The Art of Mouse Guard is a visual treat as well as often being a very informative piece to understanding the sheer scale of effort that is put into the creation of each panel of Mouse Guard.
The Art of Mouse Guard is a great book that any Mouse Guard fan will have endless hours of enjoyment reading. Where this book really succeeds however is that it is a great book to read even for those with only a passing knowledge of the comic. The Art of Mouse Guard gives such a great overview of Petersen’s creative process and depicts the various stages so well that the reader quickly finds themselves in awe of the time and dedication that is put into each individual panel. As Petersen is the writer, illustrator, and colourist all rolled up in one neat, talented package each aspect is given its due attention. Perhaps a few lines on lettering and how he approaches that aspect of the book would have rounded the book off nicely but with so much explanation already spilling from the pages of this book it is not as though it is glaring in its absence. Even those less interested in reading the minutia of each step of the transfer from mind to page would be hard pressed to not enjoy the huge spread of fantastic art on display in this book. At 376 pages long The Art of Mouse Guard is a dense book that has something for almost everyone in its pages.