Book Review: Mouse Guard Fall 1152

I love it.  I’ve read it twice, and I really love it.

I promised to loan it to my roommate after I do this review, and I love it so much, I’m going to have a hard time without it for those few days.  Just now I glanced through it, and I love it even more.

David Petersen has created a world where a small band of intrepid mice guard a territory for their fellow mice, protecting their lives and villages.    The world is pre-industrial, with technology about matching that of humans in Europe in 1152.  The Mouse Guard starts by investigating hints of problems and discovers a plot that threatens the very existence of the Guard itself.  I could detail the entire plot, but that would in no way convey the incredible charm of this delightful volume.

The mice make great protagonists.  Not only do I identify with them because they’re furry and cute and mammalian, they have many admirable qualities.  The Guard are loyal and bold, devoted to their purpose and to each other.  We know how incredibly small they are, but they don’t seem to.  They are large of spirit.

Early in the first chapter, there’s a fabulous close-up of one very determined and feisty Mouse Guard as he faces a large and fearsome predator, armed only with his courage and a short sword.  Perhaps that was the exact moment I fell in love with the book; I’m not sure.   But I love the close-up of that undauntable little mouse face.

The art and layout of the book are magnificent, too.

The volume is square, 8 1/4 by 8 1/4″.  All the panels are rectangular or square.  There are no angles or odd-shaped panels, and a crisp white border separates all the panels.  This solid-ness seems to mirror the mind set of the Mouse Guard: they have strict codes of honor.  The borders between right and wrong are clear to them.  On this meta level, the form of the book supports its content extremely well.

Harmony, balance, and symmetry reign over the proportion and sizing of the panels.  Very thoughtfully laid out, facing pages often mirror each other or flip the orientation of the same shapes of panels, such as 3 vertical strips on one page, and facing that 3 horizontal strips.  David Petersen obviously took great care in pacing his story into these harmonious visual rhythms.  Also very well-balanced is the mix of close-ups, medium-shots,  long shots, stable angles and strange angles, all beautifully employed in telling the story succinctly.

The storytelling is compact.  To a much greater extent than I have seen in other graphic novels so far, each scene in this book has only the minimum dialogue necessary.  The pictures really carry a great deal of the action.  There is so much feeling conveyed in these drawings, especially in the mouse faces.  The drawing style does not look at all to my (inexperienced) eye like “comic book art,” much more like lovely illustrations from a picture book.

The color palette is beautifully controlled as well, but never boring.  Over all, the Fall tones are used the most, rich oranges and browns, but there are gentle greens and deep purples as well.   Varying  from scene to scene, the lush color expresses its own rhythm in support of  the story.

Everything about Mouse Guard fall 1152 is so thoughtful, so gorgeous, so rich.  I love the storytelling.  I love the art.

I love this book.  And I look forward to the others in the series, Winter 1152, The Black Axe,  and Legends of the Guard, which won the Gem Award for Best 2010 Anthology.

Off-topic coincidence:  Because I am a fan of history, and an especial fan of hers, I mention that 1152 was the year that Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II, Duke of the Normans, who became King Henry II of England in 1154.  Eleanor was the only woman to be queen of both France  and England (at separate times – first France, then England).

Mouse Guard Fall 1152 is available from the publisher, Archaia, and at many bookstores as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am planning to submit a proposal for my graphic novel to Archaia, in hopes that they will publish it.  I think we’re a good fit (I hope they will think so, too), and their volumes are lush and gorgeous.  (Of course, if they don’t want mine, I will continue, looking for other publishers or self-publishing. )

You can read more about their aims in publishing and see what else they offer in their catalog.  (This is a big pdf file, so it may take time to load.)

You can read their submission policy here:   Archaia submission policy.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. eric hussey
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 10:20:45

    Hi Cynthia, I enjoyed reading the first pages of your blog. And I’m looking forward to where your quest will bring us readers next.
    P.S. Cousin Jonathan draws manga.


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