For the past six years now, writer and artist David Petersen has been weaving tales of adventure, of action, of intrigue, and mice in his epic (in the proper sense of the term) Mouse Guard. Its current arc, Black Axe will be collected later this year by Archaia, and we spoke to the Eisner Award-winning creator about bringing this new era of characters to life, what’s next for the series, and putting together talent for another volume of the anthology Legends of the Guard.
MTV Geek: Tell our readers a little about The Black Axe.
David Petersen: Black Axe is the third major Mouse Guard story arc. It’s prequel which takes place roughly forty years prior to the events of the first book. It follows a character named Celanawe (pronounced Khel-enn-awe) who discovers he is the last in the bloodline of the original forger of the ancient and mythic Black Axe. The Axe is a weapon created to defend all mice and was to be wielded by a champion of mice who then takes on the neame of the weapon as his title. The series follows Celanawe’s quest off the known mouse maps to a kingdom of Ferrets where he must recover the Axe and how to live up to the title of it.
.Geek: We spoke a couple of years back (when I was writing for another site) about series protagonist Celanawe kind of learning that he needs more than the Guard and solitude in his life. How did you find that combination of traits for the character and what appealed to you about them?
Petersen: In the first issue of Black Axe, I set up that even when he was with the Guard, Celanawe tended to live a solitary life. However, I think that characters who have split emotions between two extremes can be more interesting than a character always moving in one direction. So Celanawe has a few ties he hold very dear, and in this series, those ties are all tested, and lead to how we know the character in the later books.
Geek: Which characters have surprised you the most when they finally make it to the page?
Petersen: The first of those surprises I ever had was Leiam. He was never meant to be such an important character, but with each passing issue of Fall, he kept writing himself to be more and more integral, until he was a major focus, not just of Fall, but the other books as well. For Black Axe, I havn’t had as many surprises like that, but do find that the characters are richer and deeper than I originally thought when plotting the story. Conrad was supposed to be a rough and grumble greedy pirate mouse, but I had to do more with him to both set him apart from the other pirate-like mice he was bullied by, and the noble guard mentality of Celanawe… having to find a medium ground for him gave me a lot of room to play with his dialogue.
Geek: The first Legends of the Guard series started as a storytelling contest in a tavern. To what extent do you feel challenged to one up the guest storytellers in the current volume?
Petersen: Well the first Legends series was very well received and won an Eisner for Best Anthology, so for volume two, the pressure is certainly on! But I didn’t do much different with this round of storytellers. I just stuck to what I felt worked in the first volume: pick a variety of artistic styles I enjoy, pick a range of experience/exposure levels, and then give them lots of room to do their thing without being over editorialized. Everyone I chose is unique and different from the others, and from volume 1 for that matter, so in that way I don’t know if there is a way to one-up or surpass the quality of volume 1, apples and oranges. I just hope all the love and care that went into it is as well appreciated as the first.
Geek: What else is new in the world of Mouse Guard?
Petersen: We released a boxed set of the Mouse Guard roleplaying game late last year that is getting a great response. I’m plugging away on getting Black Axe closer to wrapped, and as you mentioned, the 2nd volume of Legends of the Guard. I’m really proud of the Free Comic Book Day story I did for this year’s publication. And Archaia pulled out all the stops by making it a hardcover! I’m continuing the tradition I started with last year’s FCBD story where the framework of it is to get a little morality story that is being told to a child-aged version of one of the main Mouse Guard characters. Last year’s was a story told to young Kenzie and helped the reader understand lessons that influenced him when he was young. This year’s story is a marionette play Saxon saw as a little mouse that explains something about how his character turned out.
Geek: Have you and Archaia ever discussed omnibus or oversized collections for your Mouse Guard work?
Petersen: We released a limited edition oversized version of Fall 1152 a few years ago. The pages are 12″ x 12″ (the same size as my original art) and all in black and white. Whenever I used an overlay sheet of paper to draw the weather effects, we printed those on vellum so that you can see how the rain runs down the character’s faces and splashes and drips in other spots. A Winter 1152 edition is coming soon, and we are really excited about it. Keep a lookout at Archaia’s website for more info around July on how to order that. It’s like having all the original art for the book, bound in one volume.
Geek: How is the Weasel War series progressing?
Petersen: I haven’t started writing or drawing it yet, but I am jotting down notes ever now and then. I don’t like to get too ahead of myself when writing. I prefer to just keep the ideas loose and tighten them up as I work on the book. I do know that Lieam will be inducted into the Guard in the series, and lots of characters from Fall and Winter will be returning: Saxon, Kenzie, Rand, Sadie, Elymis, Bastian, Delvin, Midnight, Sienna… even Celanawe. And there may be a small plot tie-in with some of the story from Black Axe. It’s going to be a big story to write and draw and it has me a bit scared right now.
Geek: What else do you have coming up?
Petersen: On Archaia books I’ve done pinups for Storyteller, Iron, Cursed Pirate Girl, Dark Crystal, and a cover for Fraggle Rock. Plus, more work on Black Axe, Legends Of the Guard Volume 2, and convention appearances. I’ve also been squeezing in some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles covers for IDW, but that job is winding down. There is a chance I will get to do some more for them in the future though.