– David Petersen
Volumes 1 through 3. A beautifully drawn series of graphic novels, notable for its detailed inking and an illuminated vellum texturing, mimicking the style of the tiny medieval world it creates.
I used to remark that it is the one series of books that so desperately wishes it could be its own video game, however aware of its own ludological shortcomings it might be to consign itself to literary media. ... yet, since my first interest in the series, things have taken a turn. Petersen, being a fan of tabletop RPGs such as the oldstyle of Dungeons and Dragons, began to market the series with a tabletop role-playing-game ruleset. The RPG was merely a side project back when I first found the series, but has since grown in size and demanded nearly all of the attention Mouse Guard demands.
These developments genuinely saddened me, to some degree. While I thought the books had some problems, I was interested to see if it could overcome them. The first two volumes had simple plots and shallow characters—colour-coded characters!—but there was at least a hint of things setting up for something grand. The third volume, in particular, gave the sense that the series had what it took to overcome the mediocrity in which anthropomorphic storytelling is so commonly afflicted.
However, time has since given me a better insight into what Mouse Guard may represent. In the collaborative storytelling exercises that tabletop RPGs enable, there exists a subgenre of fiction where someone makes a novel to chronicle their once-improvised sessions. Paperback novels were usually the more common expression of this particular subgenre, but not to the exclusion of other media. The anime series Record of the Lodoss War was specifically billed as exactly this type of story, and Mouse Guard may have been an early draft of something from a likeminded process. The RPG, once a cute side-project alongside the books themselves, might have in fact been the final form which Mouse Guard wanted to achieve all along. ... even if that meant leaving my bookish, unsocial self quite behind the times.
Proof of this could be found with The Legends of Guard, a series of concurrently-running books published—but not authored—by Petersen. In it, a bevvy of guest artists with many wildly differing styles offer their own snippets and vignettes of scenes imagined, or once-acted, in the Mouse Guard setting. These short, discontinuous figments of incomplete narratives never really add up to much of anything, aside from promoting a shared experience. Perhaps a shared experience of playing the tabletop RPG?
I wonder sometimes... Was Mouse Guard genuine in its aims? Or rather, in the aims that I believed it to have, but might have been mistaken? Did I imagine some intangible which was never truly there? ... and was never supposed to be? At the end of the day, I can't entirely rule out the chance that in wanting to like Mouse Guard, I may have been duped by some wildly clever marketing ploy.