While organizing things in the studio, I found a few older drawings of the mice I thought I'd share. They show a progression of how I didn't know what to do with my mouse concept for many years and eventually came to the ink work you recognize in Mouse guard today. If you are not a regular reader of the blog, you can look back at a few past posts about the origins of Mouse Guard and my drawing style before reading on:
Drawing Like Yourself
The Old Guard
In 1996, after the initial drawing of Saxon, Kenzie, and Rand, I painted this on a wide scrap piece of mat board. I remember wanting to show the three as wilderness wanderers and adventurers without them being knights or warriors. It's interesting to me now that the wide horizontal composition, something I pushed for with Mouse Guard by making it a square book, was at the root of one of the earliest pieces I did of the mice. I was still heavily referencing Tom Pohrt's mice & backgrounds for this painting.
By 1997 I hadn't separated the mice out of the larger story concept of my "1149" animal world. While attending community college in Flint, MI, I started writing the animal tales as a chapter book (with the plan for spot illustrations) I was also taking printmaking at the time, and generated a few etchings of the mice. The first one of the mouse trio (left) was a foundation level assignment where we were only allowed to use one type of ground (acid resist) to make the image.
The second I did as a mock book cover. While writing the first few chapters (which at that time had goats, a tiger, a fox and many other species) I was finding how compelling the mice were to write for. The concepts for their culture were solidifying from a vague altruistic-boy-scout-D&D-ranger to what has since become the inner workings of the Guard on display in my books and the roleplaying game. Using them as the focus of this mock cover not only was the shift for making the stories mostly about mice, but also for this importance of a major winter conflict with weasels.
Over the course of college I was jumping around between tools & techniques I could use to make images. And in the same way, I didn't know what would be the best way to tell my mouse story and jumped between options there as well. As a comic? as a chapter book? as a children's book? This drawing with watercolor wash was done when I was still in chapter book mode. The heavily photo referenced drawing taught me how I would need to draw my main characters without looking up photos of mice on every illustration. The facing page in my sketchbook has the note "the mice rarely trusted weasels, but in this case, they made an exception. Rand walked along ahead to warn of any dangers, Kenzie fashioned a clever saddle pouch from the weasel's bag and belt, and Saxon refused to be out of a sword-swing of the ferret's head in case the new partner was not to be trusted"
After I graduated college in 2000, I had the itch to try telling a story with comics again (something I hadn't had enough time to try while earning a degree). Among other story concepts I considered to play with was Mouse Guard. The rendered pencil work seen above was too time consuming to draw panel after panel of, so I tried drawing the characters with just contour lines. I found the drawing too bland, it needed tone. So I added watercolor (which I overworked and subsequently made the drawing worse by adding). The watercolor went on quicker than fully rendering a pencil drawing, but it was less forgiving. (as a side note, I liked this composition so much I redrew it and used it on the über-rare 2004 MG sketchbook)
It was at a family BBQ where I tried drawing the mice in ink where I found my happy place for the art-style. I had enough experience drawing the mouse characters, I could do it without reference and still make them look like semi-real mice, and I could use cross-hatching and stippling to get all the tone I wanted out of them. With the ink I also got a look of polished-finish that my pencil and water color work always seemed to lack.This drawing (supposed to be me as a mouse) was from that drawing session at the outdoor BBQ. I was calling back my printmaking experience with etchings and woodcuts for "how to make grey tones from black lines" and it just felt right.
There was still a part of me that questioned if I could pull off doing a Mouse Guard story in a medieval setting though. Redwall wasn't only a popular book series, but had an animated series on PBS by this time, and I feared the comparisons. So briefly I toyed with the concept of a rather steam-punk-London-airships Mouse Guard. This character was to be one of our heroes who patrolled a war torn city from mouse spies, running up tall structures to leap into scheduled passing airships. Like James Bond, I wanted him to have a number for a code name, one that suggested there were others like him. This concept wasn't developed more than that, but I do remember while doing this drawing feeling I had a better handle on inking textures and making shapes out of inked negative space.
This last drawing (which butt ends the artwork from the Drawing like Yourself post from last February) was a carry over from the steam-punk idea where I tried to design an Ewok-esque flying rig for the medieval mice. Not only is the rig silly, but I opted to have mice ride birds in Mouse Guard to show the sense of wilderness, setting, and scale.
Heroes: June 22-24
San Diego Comic Con: July 11-15
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept 8-9
New York Comic Con: Oct 11-14
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28