Last weekend at SDCC, at the Mouse Guard panel, I announced that while I'm going on a short Mouse-Break to focus on some small personal projects, the next Mouse Guard book upon my hasty return will be the Weasel War of 1149. For attendees of the panel, Archaia and I offered an exclusive print, technically, the first artwork I've done for that series. Now that the image has been revealed, I figured I could show the process of making it and my thoughts about it.
The Weasel War of 1149 is the earliest story I had ever thought of for Mouse Guard. In fact, at that time, the title of the project was 1149 and the Mouse Guard was simply the name of the group of heroic mice in the story. The three characters I wanted to focus on were Kenzie (leader, blue cloak, name means wise), Saxon (aggressive, red cloak, name means sword), and Rand (defensive, yellow cloak, name means shield) in the heat of an unevenly matched war against the weasels of Darkheather. This image is a print from my first printmaking semester of college in 1996/97.
A lot of what I wrote down back in 1996 for that story is now junk. But the idea of it, some character interactions, and the way it resolves, are still alive and well in the mental draft I have going for the next Mouse Guard book. Plus after having three other Mouse Guard books of mine published since then, I have to incorporate what Mouse Guard has become into this forthcoming volume. I started with sketches of my main characters Rand, Kenzie, and Saxon as the foreground, and then peppered the sketches of the ongoing battle with mouse characters from Fall & Winter and weasel design cues from Winter and Black Axe. The two sketches were tinted in photoshop (to make it easier for me to see where one drawing ended and the next began) and sized to fit the print's format.
I then printed out the sketch at actual size, taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol and inked on a lightbox (so I can see through the bristol and use the printout as a guide). Inking this piece could have become a visual mess. There is a lot going on here...but knowing that I was going to fade out the battle in color, allowed me to give it detail without going overboard, blood and violence without it becoming a gore-fest, and a focus on the main characters down in front. The Weasel War will have more fighting, bloodshed, and violence than past Mouse Guard books, but I hope to be able to always handle it respectfully and only as a way to meaningfully show what the characters are going through and never as a gimmick or for shock value.
I colored the scanned inkwork in Photoshop added the effects to push the battle back into the background, add the snow, tone down the violence, and focus on the main trio.
I want to answer the questions I figure many folks have about this print and the next book:
The print was an exclusive for the panel as a big Thank You to the folks who came to listen to me babble about Mouse Guard past, present and future, at SDCC. I do not believe it will be available anywhere (other than perhaps the secondary market: ebay)...but that's not to say the artwork won't get reprinted in a future sketchbook or hardcover.
I do not have a start date set for Weasel War, nor do I have a completion date yet. I have a few side projects I want to take some time to work on and publish before I dive into another Mouse Guard hardcover. I'll update on all of that through twitter and this blog, when I'm ready to share more info. And do not worry about my return to Mouse Guard, this is simply a short vacation...Mouse Guard will be the project I work on for the rest of my life.
Looking back at last week's watercolors I'd say that I was in the mood to paint some inanimate objects. The first of the two was an antique phone. I thought about this as a subject after a conversation with my nieces revealed that they had never used a payphone or a rotary dial. With the oldest only 13, it makes perfect sense, but the realization that there are objects I used as 'modern conveniences' they have never touched threw me. I've never used a phone like this, but I got to touch one in a kids hands on museum once.
The other watercolor from last week was a set of dice: a 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, & 20 sided die each with their top number showing. I titled it "polyhedral armory" since each die is used to determine the damage caused by every scale and type of weapon in roleplaying games. Next week I'll post two more.
Boston Comic Con: August 3-4
Baltimore Comic Con: September 7-8
New York Comic Con: October 10-13
North Carolina Comic Con: November 9-10