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Korgi, by Christian Slade (2007): The woodland escapades and scrapes of a fairy-like young girl and her magical corgi companion – corgis were traditionally said to be fairy steeds. There are three volumes so far; I’ve read the first two.

Korgibook korgi3

This would be a great gift for folks, children or otherwise, who are keen on fairies and/or dogs. Korgi is so cute and so peaceful – nearly as cute as Mouse Guard, and whimsical, dreamy, and celebratory of motion in a way that’s reminiscent of a lot of the first volume of Flight. Slade is not a very good draftsman (wandering facial features + an overall look that is slightly squishy and uncertain), but every panel is well-composed, again and again hitting that evocative sense of marveling at a woodland expanse. Also, his linework is notably enjoyable – scratchy, nervy, woodsy. His treetrunks are so nice.

Something that Slade does really right is letting loose when drawing the villainous critters – their gleeful bloat and gnarl works well to counterbalance the wide-eyed sweetness of the rest of the comic.

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ApocalyptiGirl, by Andrew MacLean (2015): A beautiful, energetic, but morally questionable post-apocalyptic yarn of a young warrior woman and her cat surviving amid tribal warfare.

ApocalyptiGirl

Read it for the crisp action sequences, expressive characters, and scruffy, nubbly, involving environments (rusting, grass-overgrown mechs; a home built in an abandoned subway train). The story’s mysteriousness is dampened by exposition that manages to be both heavy-handed and slightly garbled, and by the pat ending, which seems to lazily undercut all of heroine Aria’s past moral quandaries over the bloodshed she’s seen and enacted.

ApocalyptiGirl

Still, the ambience and visuals are striking and memorable; I’m very happy to own the comic to keep revisiting the art.

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 10.17.11
Book from: Borrowed from Kakaner

Legends of the Mouse Guard features thirteen Mouse Guard tales by a broad spectrum of guest artists and authors. Cute, fun, mostly not really worth reading except for a few outstanding cases of either extremely beautiful art, great visual storytelling, or occasionally both. Highlights for me:

  • Jeremy Bastian’s “The Battle of the Hawk’s Mouse and the Fox’s Mouse:” Mindblowingly detailed faux-etchings in colors of faded heraldry.
  • Ted Naifeh’s “A Bargain in the Dark:” The storytelling could have been sharper, but Naifeh’s ink-heavy, swoopingly angular style (which I’d seen before via his collaborations with Caitlín Kiernan and Holly Black) stands out here from the more traditional illustrations in most of the rest of the collection. And they couldn’t be more perfectly suited to Darkheather’s subterranean vaults, where his story of a wary alliance between a mouse and a bat takes place .
  • Gene Ha & Lowell Francis’ “Worley and the Mink:” Possibly my all-around favorite, for the combination of good humor, rich art and excellent action sequences. A tubby, bespectacled banker-mouse outwits both a tribe of hostile mice and a voracious mink.
  • Guy Davis’ wry & wordless “The Critic,” in which a warrior takes too much inspiration from an artist’s rendering of derring-do.
  • The sweeping tundra scenes of Karl Kerschl’s “Bowen’s Tale” (also wordless), which wonderfully convey the immensity and severe beauty of the arctic from a mouse-sized perspective.

Petersen provides the framing story, of customers at an inn competing in a tale-telling contest to cancel their bar tabs, the totally epic cover of horn-blowing mice (my favorite Mouse Guard cover so far), and some equally epic spreads of other legendary mouse exploits, which appear in-universe as paintings on the inn’s walls.

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David Petersen: bio and works reviewed
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen, review by Emera
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, by David Petersen, review by Emera

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Date read: 7.18.11
Book from: Borrowed from Kakaner
Reviewer: Emera

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152

“After Midnight’s Rebellion in the Fall of 1152, the following Winter proves to be a cold and icy season. The Guard face a food shortage threatening the lives of many a mouse in the Territories. Some of the Guard’s finest – Saxon, Kenzie, Lieam, and Sadie, with the old grayfur Celanawe by their side – traverse the snow-blanketed Territories, acting as diplomats to improve relations between the mouse cities and the Guard, and seeking vital supplies for their headquarters at Lockhaven. But hungry predators, the dangers of ice and snow, and a wrong turn into the haunted depths of the abandoned weasel tunnels of Darkheather place even so intrepid a band of Guardsmice in mortal peril…”

As Kakaner assured me, Mouse Guard vol. 2 has much more emotional meat on its bones than did the first arc. Reading this volume, it’s clear that Fall 1152 was just a taster; here our sense of the Guard’s mythology and traditions is deepened, and the worldbuilding continues apace, both within the comic and in the (again) adorable and obsessively detailed appendices.

Midnight’s obligatory power-hungry rebellion is revealed to have longer-lasting implications for the politics of the Mouse Territories and the integrity of the Guard, while Sadie, Kenzie, and Saxon’s descent into the mindblowingly byzantine tunnels and vaulted caverns of Darkheather brings us closer to the darkness and horror that lie in the Guard’s recent past. On Lieam’s end of things, Celanawe drops hints about the mythology of the Black Axe – a lone, mysterious arbiter of justice – and teaches some lessons about self-reliance. All of this is clearly paving the way for Lieam’s impending ascension to full-blown badass. And then there are epic battles with a vengeful one-eyed owl, and torrents of bats in purplish gloom, and beautifully desolate lamplit snowscapes, and Kenzie/Saxon bromance (brodentmance?)…

Also, I underwent a weird little cognitive tweak reading this volume. During the first I’d felt I just couldn’t get the characters, and tenatively chalked it up to the dialogue being a bit stilted. This time around I realized that it’s also that the mice generally only have two facial expressions: peering intently, or squinting determinedly. And once I realized that, I was fine with it; it’s like I’d placated an otherwise expectant emotional processing circuit. Conclusion: Brains are weird. Have some more cute mice.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152

Go to:
David Petersen: bio and works reviewed
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen, review by Emera

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[Pssst – Readercon 22 reports are in the works. Thanks to some sitey issues, we’re holding off on really image-heavy posts for the moment; have an only moderately image-heavy post in the meantime.]

Date read: 7.18.11
Book from: Borrowed from Kakaner
Reviewer: Emera

“Mice struggle to live safely and prosper among the world’s harsh conditions and predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed. They are not simply soldiers who fight off intruders: they are guides for common mice looking to journey safely from one hidden village to another. The Guard patrol borders, find safeways and paths through treacherous terrain, and keep the mouse territories free of predators. They do so with fearless dedication so that mice might not just exist, but truly live. In Fall 1152, follow the adventures of three of the Guard’s finest – Lieam, Saxon, and Kenzie – as they seek to uncover a traitorous plot against the Guard…”

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

In an obvious progression from my childhood love for Redwall, I’d been longing to read Mouse Guard for ages ever since I spotted its cover in a bookstore a few years back; Kakaner obliged me last week by thrusting the first two volumes into my hands. While the story is pretty much a throwaway (Petersen could really use an editor for grammar alone), the comic works purely on the basis of visuals and concepts.

Mouse Guard: Sadie receives an urgent message

Petersen’s figures aren’t very dynamic, but his panels are often beautifully composed, and his pairing of liberal hatching and stippling with a rich, autumnal palette creates delicious texture and depth. The climactic battle that spans the last chapter – heralded by a shift in the palette first to moody plum shades, then to an eerie, luminous red – is surprisingly dark and gritty; again the visuals are successful in generating drama and atmosphere despite lackluster storytelling.

And let’s be honest here: it’s SO. CUTE. Oh my god big-headed mice in cloaks. Oh my god tiny glassblower blowing tiny bottles. Oh my god tiny castle masonry and kilns and inkwells and… you get the idea.The scenes of everyday life in Barkstone, the town where the central trio uncover the anti-Guard conspiracy, and Lockhaven, the Guard’s fortified headquarters, pretty much had me spasming with glee; equally so the faux-historical tidbits and diagrams on mouse trades and settlements included at the end of the book.

Thanks for the conniptions, Petersen! I look forward to more in volume 2: Winter 1152.

Go to:
David Petersen: bio and works reviewed

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Date read: 2.18.09
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Ursula Vernon - Nurk
Nurk, a timid but sensible shrew, one day receives an urgent letter addressed to his famous grandmother Surka, the warrior, pirate queen, and general adventurer. Unfortunately, no one has seen Surka for seasons, and so Nurk packs Surka’s diary and some clean socks into his trusty snailboat, and heads off in search of adventure for the first time in his life. Dragonfly royalty in distress, perilous climes, and strange beasts aplenty await him.

I’ve been a huge fan of Ursula Vernon for years now, both of her vibrant, wildly imaginative artwork – she created the cover and interior illustrations for Nurk, of course – and of her equally weird and hilarious life and writing, as seen in her blog.

Nurk is her first mainstream published book, and is par for the Vernon course, combining a deeply practical, deeply likable hero (à la the protagonist of her long-running webcomic Digger, in which grandmother Surka is a character) with earthy wit, tooth-shattering cuteness, quick pacing, and occasional jolts of very enjoyable, very deeply creepy imagery. As a sampler: unripe salmon growing on trees; silent, voracious, cow-sized caterpillars…

Though for an adult reader, the plot is rather unmemorable (predictable twists, there-and-back-again structure), the individual elements are sufficiently weird and entertaining to make it worth the read. I do wish I knew some young persons of an age to be suitably gifted with it. Well, in a couple of years some of my cousins will be thereabouts, and in the meantime, it’s a quick, fun, slightly twisted adventure for readers of any age.

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Ursula Vernon

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