David Petersen: Craig, I have told aspiring artists before that there are two kinds of artists out there, those that love telling other people’s stories with other people’s characters (like Marvel or DC) and those that simply must work on their own projects. You have a foothold in both sides of my model. For that reason, was it fairly simple to slip out of your other work to jump in to Legends of the Guard?
Craig Rousseau: Simple answer, yes.
David: Your story: ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ is a retelling of the Aesop’s fable. What resonated with that story for you to do a Mouse guard retelling?
Craig: Well, I knew the story obviously needed a mouse protagonist .... and trying to figure out what I wanted to draw, immediately I thought of that fable.
David: When we wrote the series bible/guidelines for the creators, one of the points had to do with keeping the animal species and location much like my Mouse Guard stories (where I use my home state of MI as a guide). however, I was open to creators who wanted to break and bend the rules. Did you find it difficult to take the story outside of the normal settings and species and still make it feel Mouse Guard?
Craig: See, I know we had a conversation about this via email back when I had the idea... but to be honest, I only JUST found the bible attached to an earlier email you sent (and STILL haven’t read it)... I knew the framing sequence would allow some flexibility, and the idea of a story passed along from generation to generation, across continents becomes a “legend” of a sort. I particularly liked the idea that the story had traveled so far and a lion would be a fantastical creature and Africa like another world.
David: With your book Perhapanauts, the co-creator Todd Dezago handles the writing. For this project you acted as word-jockey as well. Was that something new for you? And did you find it to be difficult or a breeze?
Craig: It was a bit intimidating. I knew where I thought the story should go and worked out the story beats and panels easily enough. For the dialogue and captions, I was going to fall back and just have Todd script it from my notes (“so, the mouse will say something like...” and “then the lion says...” and “a caption like...” ) but as I sent them to him, his reply was “dude, you’ve already written it.”
David: Lets talk about art process. Do you thumbnail your layouts as you are writing the story? Or do you have an outline first?
Craig: Being the first story I’ve actually written, I went with my strength and started with an image (that last big panel on page 2) and worked it out in both directions from there. From there, I had a rough plot breakdown in my head and started laying out the pages.
David: Once you have your thumbnails, do you enlarge them or transfer them to your final working size? or do you just use them as a sight guide and redraw at the full size?
Craig: At this point in my career (crazy to think how long I‘ve been doing this... and how many pages I’ve turned out over the last 14 or so years), I thumbnail the pages in my head and go straight to the boards.
David: Your inks are a defining ‘Rousseau’ style for me. I read in a comic art magazine "Work on line weights, only a few people like Craig Rousseau can pull off not using any" Where did your finished line style come from and what tools do you use to achieve them?
Craig: Even though I’ve never really working in animation (beyond dabbling in storyboard work for Walt Disney Television animation a few times), over the years I’ve done quite a bit of work on animated properties for publishers... and one defining aspect of most animation styles is a very consistent line weight and tried to work that look into my ink. I’d also been trying to break down my work into the simplest drawings possible, using that one “right” line rather than using 20.
Oddly, with my next Marvel project, i started inking heavier lines and spotting blacks to mix things up (it’s been years since i’ve done it), but i’m still using only Faber Castell Pitt pens (S for super fine)... for the Perhapanauts i’m still using a more open line work.
David: How did you color your pages for Legends of the Guard? And where did your color choices come from?
Craig: All the color work was done in Photoshop CS4. I tried to keep the palette very simple with minimal shading and highlights (and added a subtle aged paper texture to the art in a semi opaque layer). The mouse’s garb is based on the Massai warriors of Africa and i wanted to keep that the most vibrant element in the art (being so small, I needed the mouse to stand out) and wanted those golden, earthy tones throughout.
David: Where can people find out more about Craig Rousseau and all your various projects?
Craig: www.craigrousseau.com and www.perhapanauts.com
Craig's Story "The Lion and the Mouse" is in Issue 4 of Legends of the Guard and collected in the recently released Hardcover collecting all 4 issues.