David Petersen, author and illustrator of the Mouse Guard comic series as well as collaborative author of the Role Playing Game of the same title, had an idea. He had worked with two other outstanding artists who created pin-ups for his publication Mouse Guard Fall 1152, and when they turned their work in he realized how truly they had captured his world. He invited them to write their own Mouse Guard stories, and then thought, why not invite other top-shelf artists to do the same? So, Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard 1 was born (there will be more!)
The trick (and a brilliant one it is, too,) is that all of these stories are tales being spun at the June Alley Inn in a contest to have the winner’s bar tab forgiven. Petersen wrote and illustrated bridging pages between each of the guest authors’ tales, and found a way to let these notables play in his universe without requiring what they wrote to become Canon. The rules of the storytelling challenge are that no story be completely true or completely false, or be a tale that the barkeep June had heard before. I thought that was a clever device, and allowed for unlikely stories to be told; for example, two different tales of the war of the silver & gold crowns, a story about a mouse who rides a weasel as his mount (though weasels are the sworn enemies of mice), a tale of a mouseling raised by foxes... There are thirteen legends shared in the contest, and an additional four summarized in the appendix where artwork hung on the walls of the June Alley Inn (detailed in beautiful two-page spreads) is explained.
The art styles vary considerably from story to story, with Petersen’s familiar style dotted in between to guide the reader from one yarn to another. Talent showcased within this handsome hardcover collection includes the work of Terry Moore (of Strangers in Paradise and Echo fame); Role Playing Game artists Nate Pride, Alex Sheikman, and Mark Smylie; and Eisner Award winners Gene Ha and Jason Shawn Alexander, to name just a few. One of my favourites was actually penned (or, should I say, pencilled?) by accomplished illustrator Sean Rubin in his comics debut “Potential,” a story written by video game designer Alex Kain. The art is coloured, but retains the texture of finely-detailed pencil sketches, and almost feels as though you could brush your thumb across the page and smudge the graphite.
As a resource for fans of the Mouse Guard Role Playing Game, this collection has value. The characters presented can be studied for ideas to incorporate into a player’s own role play, and the storytelling mice are even profiled in an appendix at the end with brief back stories, in case a player wishes to borrow one to build on. The tales themselves detail skills and foibles that can be used in characters and Non Player Characters, not to mention providing fodder for that wandering minstrel character you’ve been aching to play. The value to the Mouse Guard comics fan goes without saying. I, myself, ordered my copy from my Friendly Local Gaming Store the instant I found out it was going to print (though it was intercepted by my husband and appeared under the Christmas tree, instead!)