David Petersen is the creator of the Eisner Award winning series ‘Mouse Guard’. After attending Mott Community College and graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a Fine Arts degree in Printmaking, he self-published his first issue of ‘Mouse Guard’ which was later picked up by Archaia. Archaia has published four hardbound volumes of the popular all-ages series. David lives in Michigan with his wife Julia and dog Autumn. Although he is busy getting ready for San Diego Comic-Con, he has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
For what age audience do you write?
I think of myself as writing for everyone, but I suppose that’s not entirely true. I want my books to have wide appeal, but never by becoming a collection of lowest common denominator ideas. I don’t write down to children, but there is nothing in my books inappropriate for children. I just do my best to write something I know I would have enjoyed and something I would enjoy sharing with other adventure fans. ‘Mouse Guard’ is somewhere in the fantasy adventure genre. The fantasy aspect has mostly to do with the characters being walking talking mice who wield swords, but beyond that, the world acts as our natural world with threats coming from weather and predators. Survival becomes a big focus and no supernatural elements ever come into play (other than some ghost stories the mice may tell each other).
Henry: Let me just add that David’s artwork is spectacular. He makes sword-wielding mice look both heroic and believable. The clever details and color work are magnificent.
Tell us about your latest effort
My latest work is a prequel book to my previous ‘Mouse Guard’ books called the ‘Black Axe’. It tells the story of a mouse named Celanawe (Khell-Ehn-Awe) as he goes on a quest to retrieve a mythic weapon, honor his ancestor’s heritage, ventures beyond any mouse-maps, and encounters predators galore. It was a challenge to write something where the readers already know some of the outcome (based on the other books). I focused on making sure that if I was showing something in the past, it added weight, new understanding, and importance to the facts from the earlier books.
What do you hope readers will get from reading your work?
Mainly I hope that they have a good time reading it and that they get some emotional tug (joy, relief, sadness, etc) in that parts that touch them. I also hope readers minds swirl with questions about what I didn’t tell or show in the illustrations, what lies beyond that hill, or around that corner.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
Getting it all to fit visually is a struggle for me. Drawing comic pages means that the panels need to be arranged in an order where the reader always knows which panel comes next…but if I need to have a very tall panel in the middle of that page, it can make getting everything else for that page included a real trick. I can spend a few days laying out just one page if I get stuck. I think it’s the part that takes me the longest, and is the most difficult for me. But in many ways, the page layouts and what goes in each panel is more important than the final drawing.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an illustrator?
I’d say it’s the effect an illustrator can have on a reader. I’m amazed when I hear from readers saying my stories (specifically some of the illustrations) had them crying over certain characters or events. In one issue, a crow is killed by some large weasels. The bird was a companion of one of the main mouse characters, and I had to carefully figure how to show that without going too far. I never showed a weasel actually touching the bird, and I also focused on the reaction of the mouse witnessing it….a very Hitchcock approach. But fans told me how they cried and were so sad over the bird’s violent death and how graphic it was….but it wasn’t graphic, they filled in the gaps I didn’t show in their mind.
Henry: Don’t think less of me, but I’m dabbing my eyes right now.
Click to view the rest of the article at Henry Herz’s blog on fantasy and science fiction books for kids