Mouse Guard Fall 1152 by David Petersen
Mouse Guard Fall 1152 was the one of the first independent comics I ever picked up. I distinctly remember picking through the collected comics at my childhood Books-a-Million, undoubtedly seeking Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes, and being struck by its unusual size. (There’s a rodents of unusual size joke in there somewhere, but, as we’ve discussed, I was raised by French wolves, so I don’t even remember where that comes from.) I put it back, but I never forgot about it. If Mouse Guard was on it, I would, eventually, examine it. This included the roleplaying adaptation and the Free Comic Book Day comic. But it was only after digging through the University of Denver’s library (and its revolving shelves!) that I actually read the darn thing. Timely, I am not.
Mouse Guard Fall 1152 began life when writer and artist David Petersen began to contemplate what a mouse society would be like, given that they would be probably be isolated based on size. Some stories are built character-first. Petersen’s mouse opus was clearly built world-first. These six issues cover the weighty subject material of a renegade mouse, sick of living in isolated fear, attempting to stage a bloody revolution against the Guard that protects them from the predators of the world. That’s actually quite good worldbuilding—building a world and then having a character point out its flaws, giving them organic motivation.
And yet… it seems secondary to showing off the world of the mice. I just opened up the book to reference something, and it opened to a page where the rebellious Black Axe is explaining to one of our protagonists why he’s against the Mouse Guard. Over a sequence where Lieam is tortured, he explains the political situation and outlines his ideas for the future. Even the climax of the book feels the same way. When the Black Axe confronts Gwendolyn, the head of the Guard, he again outlines political complaints. They make sense in character, but for some reason, they also make me difficult for me to connect with the story and the characters. A few days after finishing it, I have to look up who is who.
I don’t know if that’s entirely Mouse Guard Fall 1152’s fault. Yes, I certainly think that the impressive worldbuilding should take a backseat to impressive storytelling. (I prefer to have either both or impressive storytelling. Picking apart faulty worldbuilding is a pleasant hobby for speculative fiction fans, as anyone who has ever heard me talk about Harry Potter’s worldbuilding will know.) But I also think that I was trained as a literary critic, not a visual arts critic. While it’s a prelude to his major point that simple isn’t stupid, Sam’s post about Pacific Rim at Storming the Ivory Tower starts with a discussion of how his girlfriend is very good at piecing out visual metaphors.
It’s very easy for those of us who have always been told we are good at reading (what barometer are they using?) to think that we will be equally as good at reading comics or reading film. After all, comics are for kids, right? (Well, Mouse Guard Fall 1152’s Eisner is for “Best Publication for Kids,” but that’s not the point.) They must be easy, we think. And that’s not true at all. A comic is not prose. Its visual elements are an integral part of it. This is why I sought out Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, but I definitely feel like I could use a refresher on how to read the medium. Recommendations are welcome!
I did try and force myself to stop from time and time and read a page of Mouse Guard Fall 1152 purely visually, but even that often fell through for me. Glancing through it once more, I see a reliance on transitional panels—what, in animation, you would call in-between movement, the stuff you outsource instead of making, say, Andreas Deja complete. I usually fall back on thinking of comics as a storyboard, so that ended up distracting me. The art is quite nice, though; I was particularly taken with the stark, abstract way Petersen depicts the armor of the Black Axe’s followers.
Overall, though, I just didn’t connect with the material. I couldn’t find any purchase. I’ve only had a few readings like that—remember Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?—but they always throw me for a loop.
Bottom line: I just couldn’t connect. If you’d like.
I rented this book from my school library.