What Did I Learn?
Hopefully, you’re already familiar with Mouse Guard by David Peterson. If not, the basic setup is that mice have carved out an area that’s fairly safe from predators. There are various mouse settlements which Guard Mice patrol the paths and territory between using tiny swords and other hand weapons. These aren’t happy go lucky stories, either. Even the bravest mice (and interesting protagonists) don’t always come back. This review will cover both books of Fall 1152 and WInter 1152.
One reason I wanted to look at these books was to see how the panel layouts were created. The series is all about the trials and deeds of the Guard Mice, but it’s also about their world. As you can imagine, the forest and wild place don’t take special care of mice and they must bravely confront both nature and predators of all sizes. For me, this is symbolic of the world we frail humans face and these stories resonate with me. (Plus I love being in the woods, so it’s a win-win.)
In Fall 1152, there are six stories which serve to introduce the world of Mouse Guard. The book is square, which changes how one can approach the layout. There are one to four panels per page, typically using three and a few double page spreads as the scanned illustration shows. The panels are pretty spacious, which allows for a large amount of background in addition to action. You get to see things in a new way, like tree bark, grass and snow. Imagine if each snowflake, even though it might be light, was almost the size of your head and you have to go out on patrol at night to keep your community safe.
Something else that struck me was that the all the mice have big heads relative to their bodies. They have to counterbalance those heads when they move, so they always have a little extra twist or lean that your typical bipedal creature doesn’t. It serves to lend some extra oomph to the emotion and character of their actions plus it lends a certain credibility of motion to the visuals.
Likewise, Winter 1152 also has six chapters and is also in a square format. There is a bit more conversation, so sometimes there are as many as six panels to a page. That said, there is still room for setting visuals. With fewer panels, there is far less opportunity to get lost in the panel flow and the stories read very smoothly. heh – One panel has fingerprints in it, which I thought was a very clever way to represent smoke.
In these stories, the mice must get supplies moved around so they all get through the winter and its problems. Mice get sick, travel is that much more difficult and not all the mice live happily together. The world of Mouse Guard is also much bigger and much more dangerous than has been shown so far.
What Did I Learn?
Obviously, the needs of panel layouts for a typical comic book (3×4) differ from the space available on a screen (4×3*) or in a square, like we see in Mouse Guard. Each of them have their strengths and this is a very important factor in how a comic is read and perceived; it also has implications later on if you decide to display it in other sized mediums. While it’s not entirely the result of the the square layout, Mouse Guard has a interesting balance between showing action and dialog.
Note: I also reviewed Legends of the Guard, if you want to read more about the world of Mouse Guard.
* Yes, I know monitors and screens are more often in 16×9 these days, but you get the point.