David Petersen, creator of the award-winning Mouse Guard graphic novels, was so impressed by the pin-up art that illustrator friends did of his diminutive world and characters that he decided to put together a project that would showcase other artists’ interpretations of the Mouse Guard world. This book is that project.
The framing device is clever. June, mouse proprietor of the June Alley Inn, challenges all the customers who are nursing drinks there one evening to a competition: each of the customers (also all mice, of course) will tell a story, and the one whose story June thinks is best will have his or her bar tab cleared. All of the others must then pay their bills within seven days. The other rules are that each story must be neither all truth nor all lies and that it must be one June has never heard. The mice are eager to play, and each spins a tale that is illustrated by a different artist. After each story, we return to June’s tavern and Petersen’s art for the setup for the next yarn.
The stories include silly tales, like that of a mouse raised by foxes, historical pieces about battles and the origins of various early members of the Guard, and even an adaptation of Poe’s “The Raven.” I won’t give away June’s decision, but I was pleased to note that she does not take the, “Those were all so great that I can’t pick one, so you all win!” cop-out route. (Among other things, forgiving everyone’s tabs would be a good way for a barkeep to go broke!)
The art styles are well-matched to the stories they illustrate, with both varying widely in mood. The stories fit nicely with the tone and established facts of the Mouse Guard canon. Most of the art falls into a perfect place of being different enough from Petersen’s and the other artists’ to stand out, yet similar enough to feel that it belongs; there is one story illustrated in an unexpectedly cartoonish manner that I find a bit jarring, but not really problematic. All of the artists are clearly skilled: one, Sean Rubin, has illustrations of the Redwall books on his resume. If that isn’t a perfect prerequisite for drawing Mouse Guard stories, I don’t know what is!
There’s even more world-building fun to be had in this volume. At the end is a “Legend Cover Gallery,” in which four more legends of the Mouse Guard world are told in brief, and then one beautiful splash-page illustration is provided for each. A floor plan of the June Alley Inn reveals that these illustrations represent artwork on the walls of the tavern. There is also a map of the various towns mentioned, an illustrated character guide, and a thorough “About the Authors” section that includes sketches and fun bios for the book’s contributors.
The stories include a fair amount of violence and a bit of blood, but nothing gory. The previous Mouse Guard books are a good gauge of what to expect. And as with the previous Mouse Guard books, I would recommend this heartily to fans of the Redwall series and other heroic-talking-animal stories.
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, vol. 1
by David Petersen, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Alex Sheikman, Alex Kain, Terry Moore, Lowell Frances, Katie Cook, Guy Davis, Nate Pride, Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl, and Mark Smylie
Art by Scott Keating, Sean Rubin, Gene Ha, and Jason Shawn Alexander
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages