After perusing the shelf of this week’s new comic books, I took a gander at the various trade paperbacks and graphic novels that had come out as well. I'm glad I did, because that was where I found the beautiful Mouse Guard Winter 1152. No, I’ve not read the entire collection of Fall 1152 that preceded this. I didn't even know there was a previous collection until I batted my eyes at the comics shop employee I was making pay for this 25 dollar hardcover. In fact, my only experience with Mouse Guard was this particular story's fifth issue, which I loved. I won’t recap myself here for the sake of saving some time, but you can go back and take a look at all the reasons I enjoyed it. (Which would render the "save some time" thing moot, but there you go.)
Mouse Guard Winter 1152 tells the story of five "Guard" mice who have left their home of Lockhaven to get much needed supplies, especially medicine. They face many obstacles along the way, made worse when three of the group fall into a large hole. The separate groups are stuck dealing with multiple predators, as well as winter's threat of snow, freezing rain, and, of course, death.
Even if the story's protagonists weren't mice, this comic has the potential to be a great story, but something about it being depicted with mice makes it all the more charming. The art is excellent. Even though it’s all from the point of view of the mice, the reader can’t help but notice, at times, just how tiny they are and how big the rest of the world is. It's a really clever decision, and it appealed to me on a personal level--in my own life I often feel small and limited in the world, and watching a tiny mouse fight an owl that’s at least five times the mouse’s size, with a sword and with full gusto--it's practically inspirational in the way it gives a person pause to think about the power of faith and action. These mice never give up when facing danger, always choosing to meet it head on....okay, sure. Maybe it's just me, and maybe "inspirational" is too heavy a term to use. Maybe I'm just a dumb girl who can't separate the personal feelings that a comic brings about, but those personal feelings...I'm not making them up to prove a point, or because I'm desperate for people to read this comic. That's just how it made me feel--excited, a little in awe, and totally, yes, totally, inspired. It's a comic book about determined mice fighting for survival, and damn it, it made me so happy.
Like a billion other epic stories these days, Mouse Guard seems to include the old Hero’s Journey for at least one of our friends. My internet connection is down right now, so I can’t google Joseph Campbell or Star Wars to be sure I have all my information correct. But if I'm remembering that stuff correctly, it seems that our friend Lieam is on one. When he and Celanawe get separated from their friends, Lieam seems uneasy and worried--he's clearly unsure of himself. Yet along their journey he receives all sorts of “magical information” (a key part of the Hero’s Journey – “use The Force, Luke.”) like, “You have to make up your mind about what kind of Guard Mouse you want to be,” and “You should always aim to be your own mouse, Lieam. In fact, you already are.” And later, “Be complete within yourself young Redfur. You will never disappoint. Even in solitude.” And as he continues on his journey with Celanawe he learns more about the importance of serving the greater good, and he learns who Black Axe is. A life altering experience, and now that he has the information, the opportunity to use it all shows up after the death of a friend and the continuing appearances of the Owl. That’s just one of the main plots. Saxon, Kenzie and Sadie--the three mice who disappeared down the hole--also have definitive personalities as well as a little romantic drama. I'm not going to dive further into recapping than I already have, but I loved their story as well.
The thing that goes hand in hand with this clever story is the gorgeous and clever art. From scenery to action, facial expression to emotion, everything is very clearly drawn, and, while I wish I could describe it better for you, the coloring is gorgeous. I used to think that the reason I didn't notice color in comics was because it was usually done so well that I didn't notice it. Now, I'm starting to think the opposite is true, and that the reason I don't notice coloring is that it's rarely done well. Of course, I’m no artist and lack the vocabulary for dealing with art. But I like what I like, and it feels like there’s a lot of space in each frame. Each frame has it’s own little story to tell, and it tells that story simply. It’s art as direct storytelling--concise, but completely inviting. I could look at some of these pages over and over again and I’m even thinking of keeping this book out on the coffee table, which is high praise for a household that usually incinerates comics upstairs on the roof so that jerks will cry.
Lastly, I think one of the things I love most about Mouse Guard is how David Peterson immerses himself in this world he's created, cleverly coming up with detail after detail. From acorn snow shoes for our Mouse Guards to the idea that mice use and ride hares like humans ride horses, the full appendix of territorial maps, all the facts about Sprucetuck and Darkheather, and my all time favorite: Mouse Pageantry & Attire. Mouse Pageantry and Attire is a section in the back of this hardcover dedicated to the various outfit that the mice wear, and I'm this close to cutting the drawings out and attaching them to popsicle sticks. And behind all this stuff, I feel like I can see Mr. Peterson enjoying every minute of this. Sure, Mouse Guard might end up as a movie, maybe it's on the way to join that terrible looking movie about guinea pigs, with merchandising out the wazoo – but I don’t get the feeling that's the intent. It just looks like an artist who fell in love with the creations his art and writing had brought forth. I’m totally a fan. I’ve got to get my hands on Fall 1152. I might even start keeping up on what’s current.
Oh, and if you are still trying to get your girlfriend or your mom or your wife to read comics and having no luck, give them this one. Trust me. They’ll be hooked.
If not, you should leave/abandon her, because she sucks.
-Nina Stone, 2009