Mouse Guard

By

Welcome to the Mouse Territories. Blacksmiths, masons, healers, and craftsmice ply their trades in grand cities and small townships, from the libraries of Lockhaven to the homey inn in Barkstone. But who seeks out the safe ways from village to village? Who patrols the borders and defends the paths from savage beasts and the weasel armies?

The Guard.

axe1Mouse Guard is a graphic novel series by David Peterson, published by Archaia comics. The series has won four Eisners and hit the New York Times bestseller list, as well as garnering the greatest award of all: a cult following of loyal fans. I am one of those fans, and a recent rereading of the series gave me a new appreciation for the power and artistry at work here.

The animal-fantasy premise draws inevitable comparisons to Redwall and Watership Down, but Peterson’s main inspiration was the medieval role-playing games he fell in love with as a kid. He blends animal stories and high fantasy in an immersive illustration style that speaks of his background as a printmaking major, crafting a thoroughly and lovingly detailed mouse civilization. The result is a visual feast, evocative and cinematic, rich with themes of loyalty and betrayal, hope and despair.

Mouse Guard has spun off a fantastic anthology series, an award-winning role-playing game and some really sweet legos. But the main story (thus far) is contained in three gorgeous hardcover editions from Archaia: Fall 1152, Winter 1152, and The Black Axe.

FALL 1152

Mouse-Guard-v1-Fall-1152-GN-CoverMouse Guard appears fully formed in this first chapter. The story moves briskly as we are introduced to three main guardsmice—Kenzie, Saxon and Lieam—as well as the other main players: the matriarch Gwendolyn, the mighty keep of Lockhaven, and the mysterious Black Axe. It’s a wild journey full of beast battles, traitorous uprisings, and cataclysmic events that introduce the themes and question that Peterson will build on in volumes two and three. The themes are honor, sacrifice, and duty. The question is: “What does it mean to be part of the guard?”

WINTER 1152

Mouse-Guard-v2-Winter-1152-GN-CoverThe second chapter of a story is often the darkest, and Winter is bleak for the guard. But it is also more intimate: the story is still a wild adventure against untold dangers, but this time the story is given more room to breathe, offering deeper character development and life-changing decisions for the mice we met in volume one. The focus on camaraderie, dependence, and character growth make this story, in a sense, the warmest, even as the heroes fight their way through a bitterly cold landscape and their own inner demons.

THE BLACK AXE

Mouse-Guard-Black-Axe-Front-CoverIn volume three, we finally get the full story of the legendary Black Axe. As much as I love the first two volumes, this is the book that compelled me to write up a review of the series—its execution is simply astonishing. Peterson’s striking visuals and thoughtful pacing were arresting in the first book, but by book three they’ve been honed to perfection. The story sets aside the wide-scale journey of the guard for a tale that is both larger and more personal in scope: Celanawe’s journey is equal parts rip-snorting tall tale and heart-rending Shakespearean tragedy. It’s intended to follow the first two books, answering questions about the Black Axe, but I’ve found it equally satisfying as a lead-in to volume one.

I can’t wait for more. Peterson has a new volume in the works, a story set during the great Winter War of 1149. In the meantime, if you haven’t entered the world of Mouse Guard yet, there’s plenty of time to catch up on the first three volumes, and the Legends of the Guard anthology books are a smorgasbord of comics from some of the most skilled artists working today.

mouse-guard

Profile photo of Jonny Jimison

Jonny Jimison is a talented cartoonist and graphic novelist. In addition to a long history of web-based cartoons, he's the author of Dragon Lord Saga series of graphic novels, including Martin & Marco and The River Fox. Jonny lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida.


9 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I want to fall in love with these books every time I leaf through them, but I’ve never known where to start. Definitely picking up Fall 1152. Thanks for the overview, Jonny.

    Ever played Mice & Mystics?

  2. Joe Sutphin

    David is a really nice guy. I met him last year at Heroes Con in Charlotte. He’s definitely created something that will stand the test of time. And it’s refreshing to see how dedicated he is to his craft. The scale model sets he meticulously crafts as architectural reference are phenomenal works of art all their own. My buddy Jeremy Bastiain, creator of Cursed Pirate Girl, said that David colors his art digitally using a mouse! Crazy!

  3. Profile photo of Jonny Jimison

    Jonny Jimison

    @jonnyjimison

    Pete – Glad I could give you a starting point! They really work in any order, but Fall 1152 is the first chronologically and the perfect place to start. I’ve never played Mice and Mystics, but just googled it and INSTANTLY wishlisted! It sounds amazing!

    Joe – I agree – the comics alone are full of powerful worldbuilding, but the attention to detail he puts into the ‘bonus content’ at the end of each book, plus the models, blueprints and games he’s built as side-projects show a depth of worldbuilding that’s downright Tolkienesque!
    …and he colors with a MOUSE? That’s madness! I don’t know how anyone survived digital art before Wacom.

  4. Whipple

    Jonny, these look fabulous. My six-year-old daughter is a fairly advanced reader and loves to draw. You think the content would be on a 6yo level?

  5. Dave Kuhns

    I’ve read Fall 1152 and it was pretty good. I didn’t have access to Winter 1152, and can’t seem to find it anywhere affordable.

    Also, I love Mice and Mystics, my brother and I play it in drips and drabs, but we’re in to the Downwood Tales expansion. It is so fun. I’ve often wondered if Rabbit Room would get in to story telling board games. It’s a pretty fun medium. We at the 1 Player Guild are big fans of them: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/guild/1303

  6. Profile photo of Jonny Jimison

    Jonny Jimison

    @jonnyjimison

    You may want to read one first – they might be a bit sophisticated for a six-year-old. Personally, I’d steer a six-year-old girl toward comics like Zita the Space Girl and Little Robot, and save Mouse Guard for a few years later, unless she’s impatient for something more sophisticated.

  7. Profile photo of Jonny Jimison

    Jonny Jimison

    @jonnyjimison

    Dave, Winter 1152 is available at Amazon and Alibris for $20, with used copies going for around $10.
    I definitely want to get into Mice and Mystics now that I know about it. The Rabbit Room community is full of card/board/tabletop gamers – we really need to have a gamemoot in addition to Hutchmoot. I’ve been especially into Smash Up lately.

  8. Dave Kuhns

    A gamemoot would be very cool. I’ve been picking around several games (solo-I have spaces to leave some of them set up). Helionox, Liberty or Death, Legends of Andor, and I still keep meaning to fight Smaug in the Battle of Lake Town for LOTR LCG!

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