Recently, I had the privilege to speak with David Petersen, the creator of Mouse Guard, an immensely popular all-ages series which has garnered him two Eisners. Even though Mouse Guard is his only major published work, he’s won great acclaim as an author and an artist, and the world waits with bated breath to see what he’ll come up with next. So, without further ado, David Petersen!
SF: Are any of your characters based on people you’ve encountered in your life?
DP: Yes, in fact a great deal of the characters in Mouse Guard are based on friends of mine in one way or another. Kenzie is based on a friend of mine that I met when I was eleven and we have been close friends ever since. He was the Best man at my wedding. He’s methodical and can be introverted, so I used that for Kenzie’s temperament. Other characters based on real life people are Lieam, Saxon, and Rand as well as many others who have only been mentioned by name or made an appearance in the background.
The characters are certainly not mirror images of my friends and I don’t mean that from a human vs. mouse standpoint. They characters are archtypal characterizations of them. But because I felt I knew those people so well and I knew the dynamics between them, they would make excellent characters for the mice.
SF: There’s a bit of flip-flopping of gender roles in the Guard, as the leader is Gwendolyn, the Matron. Did you decide that the Guard needed a more motherly figure to guide it as opposed to a masculine influence?
DP: Part of the decision was so that I had a prominent female character that I would have to write much dialogue for. I feel that I have a hard time distinguishing between my ‘female’ writing voice and my ‘male’ one. However, Gwendolyn has become a more central part of the story since her creation. Another reason for having a female in command was in honor of my Grandmother. She was a strong lady who was the one that really led the family in her life time. By outward appearances, most would think it was her husband, my grandfather, who ruled the roost, but it was certainly her that kept us all from falling apart.
SF: Do you have a favorite character amongst all that have (or haven’t yet) appeared thus far?
DP: I shouldn’t have a favorite, because I should write and draw the characters to serve the story and never to serve my desire. That being said, I have a very soft spot in my heart for Saxon. There are several yet-to-be-seen characters that I think have a lot to offer as well, but Saxon will always cross the finish line slightly ahead of them.
SF: How did you cultivate the drawing style used in Mouse Guard?
DP: I think it came from a number of places. Some of the pen & linework comes from my printmaking training with woodcuts and etchings. But the major factor was practice and drawing in a way that was true to myself. When I was younger I tried to imitate the styles of Jim Lee, Travis Charest, Mike Mignola, and Art Adams. But I found that it only really worked when I was referencing some of their work that had a similar image to what I needed to draw. So with Mouse Guard it needed to be something I drew all on my own, that I could keep up the look of it, without needing to see how someone else drew a foot or swinging a sword or a castle.
The coloring style evolved from trying to color the 1st issue. I had self-published the 1st issue in black and white, and didn’t know how I could apply color to the work so that it would look right. If I had draw it with the intention of coloring it, I would have left more open space and used less crosshatching and stippling. I found that if I ‘held’ or colored some of the linework that was interfering with the background color, it could work really well.
SF: What’s your favorite reading material? Are you ever inspired by novels or comic books?
DP: I enjoy reading comics and books about folklore. Currently, I don’t have too much time for recreational reading.
Inspiration certainly does come from reading though. I’m also inspired by film. And it doesn’t take a movie or book that is in-line with my work to inspire me. Something completely different has just as much of an effect on me if it’s done well and I enjoy it. Creative people making creative projects is what it boils down to I think.
On your website, you have a number of pieces of art in different styles of art. Which is your favorite to work with?
I enjoy most of those different styles. Before Mouse Guard, I tended to jump around a lot. I’d do a pencil drawing then do some water colors the next week then sculpt, etc. Now, with Mouse Guard continuing, I don’t have much time to work in any other way than that.
SF: Why mice? Why not ferrets or badgers or guinea pigs or hamsters? Why choose mice to be the main race of your series?
DP: Before Mouse Guard was "Mouse Guard" It was something larger, with more animals and species. It was in the development of that version I asked myself what the largest and smallest creatures in the story would be. A bear would be the largest and mice the smallest.
The problem then became, how do I keep the mice alive and part of the central story when every other creature wants to eat them? So I started working on developing mouse culture. How they would survive in such a world. They needed safe places to live and a way to get between them. And that is where the Guard came into play.
On the other hand, I stuck with the notion of mice as main characters (over badgers or ferrets) because they worked as the ultimate underdog. Part of my job with Mouse Guard is that the reader needs to be worried about the main characters. It would be much harder to do that if the species was a natural predator and carnivore. Mice are cute, small, and seemingly helpless against their attackers.
SF: Are you ever planning on making copies of Tower and releasing it to the unsuspecting public, or will the Mouse Guard RPG be sufficient?
DP: Hahaha, well, Tower is not a very good game really. Though the more I say that, the more of my friends want to play it when they are over. We recently started toying with the idea of making a version (2.0) to try and fix the loopholes and flaws with the current version. I guess if we make something really great, it’s not unforeseeable that it could be released…but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I have a lot of other projects that take precedence over retooling a game we play a few times a year.
SF: Do you have any projects that you’re working on to follow up Mouse Guard with?
DP: I have a few more Mouse Guard stories plotted out with no real ending in sight. However, I know that I will need to take a small break from the mice at some point, and I have another creator owned project that deals with folklore and mythology to shift my attention to at that point.