- Story: David Petersen
- Art: David Petersen
- Cover: David Petersen
- Publisher: Archaia
What I’ve always appreciated about David Petersen’s Mouse Guard is its honesty. Fairy tales, fables, and folklore teach children important life lessons without shying away from the truth. They’re morality tales that showcase right from wrong, kindness, bravery, and a myriad of important values through the use of goblins, elves, princesses, and greedy dragons instead of just boring, old humans. While such lessons still exist, we now live in a world where words like “kill’ and “death” and “blood” are hidden from kids because they are too young for such topics, or so it is believed. I agree it is important to keep the young as safe and as innocent for as long as possible, but there is a reason those stories hold up so well and why the Brothers Grimm remain renowned. Their work was honest, dangerous, and scary. It was also beautiful, sweet, and poetic. Like them, David has created a whimsical fantasy world that has the blood of a fable coursing through each and every page.
Unlike Petersen’s previous excursions into the world of Mouse Guard, Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales is a collection of short stories, namely four of his past Free Comic Book Day pieces alongside two all-new ones. Each is written and drawn by the man himself and follows the parent or guardian of a young mouse as they tell a story that will ultimately end in an important lesson. However, these little ones are not your average mice, but younger versions of characters fans know from Petersen’s previous books. Not only does this allow the author to pull in new readers with original, bite-sized stories, but long-time fans get a glimpse of their beloved mice before they’ve grown and made their way into the guard. It’s simple, effective, and takes nothing away from anything that’s come before.
Each story stands on its own and there is something here for everybody. Sisterhood, lost loved ones, bedtime lullabies, unyielding romance, cleverness instead of brawn to defeat ones enemies, no one should feel left out when flipping through this book. They are all ten pages in length and while that may seem short, you never end a story feeling as though it was over too soon. David knows exactly how to weave these tales and understands exactly how much the reader needs, not what they think they want. I personally enjoyed “The Tale of Thane and Ilsa” the most out of everything in the collection. All I’ll say is that I’m a sucker for a fairy tale romance.
David Petersen is a master of his craft. His illustrations are tapestries, each and every panel an intricately detailed piece of art that deserves to be hung on a wall. He takes the aesthetics of Jim Henson and Ernest H. Shepard and transforms them into wondrous landscapes and beautiful characters that are truly his own. Whatever influences the author has had, Mouse Guard belongs to him alone and there is no one that can illustrate this world the way he can.
Though he is as fantastic a writer as he is an artist, I find myself disappointed in his narrative when it comes to lines of verse. The author tends to incorporate lines of poetry and song at differing times throughout his stories, and no matter how fun they are they often feel clunky. His rhymes don’t flow that smoothly and can read a little jarring. The same can be said about his dialogue, though only rarely. Sometimes it seems like his characters are simply saying words at each other, not actually having a proper conversation. These are minor details, of course, and they do little to take away from the overall storytelling which is nothing but sublime.
It’s pretty clear by now that I am a huge fan the Mouse Guard series. Mice with swords is something I’ve been partial to since I was a child and as soon as I heard about these comics with cloak clad mice wandering the woods, helping others in need, I was sold. Mouse Guard: Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales gives us a look into what shaped the mice we’ve come to root for and helps us understand why they are the way they are. Barring that, this is a gorgeous collection of short stories filled with tales of love, sacrifice, and heroism. Not only is this a book for all-ages, it’s one for the ages as well. New readers and old can pick this volume up knowing it will be nothing by heartwarming.
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