mouse guard : fall & winter

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In the world of Mouse Guard, mice struggle to live safely and prosper amongst harsh conditions and a host of predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed: more than just soldiers, they are guides for common mice looking to journey without confrontation from one village to another. They see to their duty with fearless dedication so that they may not simply exist, but truly live.*

Mouse Guard : Fall 1152and Mouse Guard : Winter 1152

Volumes 1 & 2 by David Petersen.

Fall 1152: Archaia Studios Press, 2007 edition (originally published 2005/6).

Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam, three of the Guard’s finest, are dispatched to find a missing merchant mouse who never arrived at his destination. Their search for the missing mouse reveals much more than they expect, as they stumble across a traitor in the Guard’s own ranks and a plot to overthrow the Guard itself.~publisher’s comments*

Winter 1152: Archaia Studios Press, 2009 edition (originally published 2008).

In the Winter of 1152, the Guard face a food and supply shortage threatening the lives of many through a cold and icy season. Serving as diplomats Saxon, Kenzie, Lieam, and Sadie, led by Celanawe, traverse the snow blanketed territories to improve relations between cities and the Guard. This is a winter not every Guard may survive.~publisher’s comments*

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It is true that I am usually less inclined to read books featuring anthropomorphized creatures; thus my reluctance to read the otherwise lovely looking Mouse Guard graphic novel series by David Peterson. But it occurs on lists I don’t care to ignore, so at loose ends as to which comic to read off the Library shelves next, I ordered the first three volumes of the (to-be) six volume series. I’ve since received the first two: Fall 1152 and Winter 1152.

From Winter 1152. The word bubbles are a bit of that whispered voice-over recalling Celanawe’s earlier words to Lieam (the one in green).

The artwork is good. Really good. The compositions and sequences have a cinematic feel. The colors and textures deepen the animated angles and postures of the in-frame objects. The art alone is something to get excited about and while the format finds a rhythm that doesn’t try to anything too clever or adventurous, Mouse Guard is hardly a dull experience.

both images from Fall 1152. The snake sequence was gloriously intense.

However, I was disappointed in the storytelling captured in the text. Fall 1152 involves some serious intrigue, as well as establishing the series as book one, and yet the story read like the synopsis of a summary you might concoct to tell the story of a longer more epic tale. Its abbreviation was good for the sake of length, but the tale was inarguably lengthy, and the gaps were left for the reader to fill in. While the premise was unusual the plot was not terribly so; but that was hardly an excuse to leave it underdeveloped, especially as the artwork wasn’t taking up the slack. Some of the intrigue, by not killing off the villain and by acknowledging the reverberation of his actions, will and does continue into subsequent volumes, the misfortune is in the stilting of the rising action.

Fall 1152, Saxon, Kenzie, Lieam. Saxon/Kenzie are partnered to balance each other out. Lieam is new and the youngest member of the Guard. Note the weapons as well as Saxon’s posture vs Kenzie’s.

In Fall 1152, the character development is in familiarizing yourself with the characters visually and sensing their personalities through blocking (how they relate to one another spatially, and in frame) and their actions. This continues very successfully in the second volume Winter 1152. The author also spends time using the dialog between characters to flesh them out further; for example, Celanawe commenting on Saxon and Kenzie’s relationship. As the story progresses we see the dynamics change, and the plot facilitates the greater character development while continuing the larger arc of the series’ political situation.

above from the beginning of Fall 1152. note the Guard’s motto, many of the beginnings offer a quote from an important text or figure.

left from Winter 1152, the image in the book is without the volume title, but is an “establishing shot.” each new “chapter” begins with a full image (textless) before the summary.

Every chapter begins with a summary that reads like a serial. A few short paragraphs establish the actions of the characters as we might recall from where we left off last week; except we left off a second ago, or however long it look to turn the page.** When the reader arrives at the ending, they are treated to epilogue which is a journal entry (ship’s log, essentially) by the leader of the Mouse Guard. Gwendolyn reviews, fills-in some details, and speculates as to the future.

The books end with a fun section where other artists have rendered a scene or character. There is also a few pages of mice in their cultural garb or featured with an explanatory paragraph. As if coupled with diary or a professor’s collection of notes (i.e. the epilogue and last section), Petersen sets down a storybook as if it were written and formatted in 1152. This should excite plenty, and it is quite wonderful in the idea, and perhaps even the execution. Just be prepared to be fully engaged with the idea of it, or just sit back and enjoy the beautiful artwork.

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*Mouse Guard‘s website (wherein you find news and great images)

**was published in issues. maybe dole out the pieces over weeks?

The Graphic Classroom’s reviews: Fall 1152 and Winter 1152

One Comment Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    I’ve only read the first volume in this series. I meant to read the second this past winter, when it was thematically appropriate, but didn’t get to it. I’ll have to try to rectify that this winter.

    In thinking back on my experience with the first volume I remember enjoying it. I loved the art without reservation. I remember the story being slow but felt like it picked up enough by the end that I was happy recommending it to people. I’ve heard really good things about the second volume.

    You mention not being inclined to read books with anthropomorphized creatures and I know that I’ve shied away from doing so in the past, although I am unsure why. The idea of anthropomorphized creatures is something I am very fond of and is one of those magical, imaginative things that I have held on to since my childhood. And yet when it comes to reading about them, or more specifically reading about anthropomorphized mice, I tend to not be interested. Brian Jacques’ Redwall books always look wonderful and yet I have never picked one up. His recent death made me sad that I hadn’t and yet I still feel a barrier to doing so.

    Heck, I even wrote a story about a swashbuckling mouse for a creative writing class in junior high!

    Its not surprising that David Peterson got both of us to look beyond this with his beautiful artwork. It really is first-rate work. It is too bad the story of the first volume is not more enchanting than it is because the artwork deserves the very best prose to go with it. I’m hoping the series will continue to improve in that respect.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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