Welcome to September's Visual Storytellers Studio interview with David Petersen.

David is the artist, illustrator, author, historian, librarian, poet, and creator of the rich and fabulous world of Mouse Guard. First published by installment, the hard bound collection of his initial series entitled "Fall 1152" received two Eisner awards. The year after it's release, it won "Best Publication for Children" and "Best Collected Hard Bound Series for 2008".

David won the Russ Manning award for most promising newcomer in 2007. His new hard bound collected series entitled, "Winter 1152", a continuation of the story, has enjoyed four weeks on the New York Times best sellers list for graphic novels hard bound.

So, what is behind his success?

David shared much in our conversation. We discussed the early days when he was first getting started. He shared his experience with success, and included much more for aspiring creators to benefit from. He spoke with us on the phone from his home in Michigan.

VSS: What was it like David, in the initial stages of development, working on the first installment of Mouse Guard, working the day job, and balancing other priorities in you life?

David: The day job was an hour away from home, and in the beginning it was a challenge. My wife was an incredible support... The first issue that I printed myself took about six months to complete, and during that time, an hour commute to the job, eight hours on, another hour back, eat diner, do what needed to be done around the house, try to spend some time with the wife, and then up late working on the book. It was quite a challenge.

After Archaia picked up the title, and I began working even more intently on the book, my duties around the house were taken over almost completely by my wife. With her help I was able to devote my time solely to working on the day job and then devoting myself to what we hoped would mean some security for us in the future. And in the beginning that was very hard because your having to devote so much time to something that your really not sure will pan out. And so it took about two months for me to produce the second installment, but it wasn’t until the hard cover came out, that I was able to actually quit the day job and fully devote my time to the development of the book.

VSS: What advice do you have for people who are still in that phase of their work?

David: Work hard at fully developing something, and don’t be afraid to fail, especially in the beginning... Even if in the first 24 pages it tells you “I’m not ready,” that’s good! Better to find out now, and brush up on the skills that you need to, figuring out what went wrong.

Jane Irwin and her husband Paul Sizer are both independent artists & authors are outspoken on the subject of how to break into the business and how to self motivate. They say the method is, draw something and fail. Draw the next thing. Fail. Everything you work on is going to have something wrong with it. Every mistake you’ll look back on and say, "So that's why that didn’t work, I could have done that better, that's where the story fell apart," and you will learn from it. The most successful illustrator is going to tell you that even in their most recent work, that they know they failed at something.

VSS: One thing that I’ve noticed in successful properties is that they were in development for years before they ever made it to the bookshelf. You were working on Mouse Guard for over ten years right?

David: I worry that maybe my best creative years might be behind me, but there was a period in high school and early college when the ideas were coming so fast and so furious, that I’ve got a huge backlog of material. I have a dozen comic series that I could be working on. But Mouse Guard was the one that was most personal, it felt more real, like something I could really sink my teeth into. So when I was getting ready to start working on something of my own it came up as, not the only one with the potential to be successful, but which one of these do I believe in. Which one of these do I have a connection with. If I’d chosen one for another reason and didn’t feel as connected to it, I couldn’t have sustained it, and it would have shown in the work. So it was through that long development, with those characters running around in my head for ten years, without anything really getting down on paper, that when it was time to start work on Mouse Guard, there was an element that felt like I was starting from scratch. Especially in respects with continuity. But because nothing had been published yet there wasn’t any established continuity,

no history until I sat down to really start developing it. There were points where I had to make new choices to take the characters in new directions, or blend different aspects of the story together, change up the chronology from what I had originally envisioned. So even with all that prehistory & development there are times in the actual writing where you have to stop and make decisions.

VSS: So there is more to the Mouse Guard universe that we can look forward to seeing?

David: Oh certainly. Mouse Guard is going to be one of the things I keep coming back to for the rest of my life.

VSS: When did you realize that you were ready to start seeking a publisher?

David: That kind of happened by accident. I had printed the first issue of Mouse Guard and it had sold well at my local convention. At that point I had never been to a large convention, I had a couple of copies left and decided I was going to go to San Diego. Not as a guest or anything, just as a fan. A guy from back home who was in comics journalism bumped into me there and asked, “So are you here looking for a publisher for Mouse Guard?” And I said, "No of course not. It’s a weird, square little book about mice with swords. You really think Marvel is going to be interested in that?" He said there were lots of independent publishers looking for something different. He suggested Archaia, and that they were looking for unusual fantasies, which sounded like what Mouse Guard is. When I went over to the booth, I found out that the head of Archaia was Mark Smylie. Years ago Mark had given me a portfolio review and was really helpful, kind and patient. He took time away from his artist alley table to spend time with me. So here in San Diego, I thought that I would approach him again for a review, not thinking of getting a publishing deal.

He took a look and said he would really like to be the one to publish it, and that he would run it by his business partner. People ask me why I went with Archaia. It’s partly because they were the first I ever talked to, but mostly, it was because Mark impressed me right away with two decisions he made on the fly about the book. He asked me, “Would you want to change the format of the book?” It's an 8”X8” comic, shorter than most, wider than most, and I said, "no", Which was pretty bold of me at the time. Here I was being offered publication, and to just blankly say no was pretty gutsy.

He looked at me and said, “Good! That’s the right answer!”

So while I was at it I thought I’d ask, “If we do publish, could we keep the company logo, the barcode and other stuff off of the front and put it on the back?” He flipped it over and looked, then said, “Yea I don’t think that would be a problem.” He understood instantly the artistic impact that I wanted the cover to have, and he like the format that I had come up with. I realized, this is the right place for me!

VSS: How did you feel winning the Eisners?

David: It was really amazing! With the Eisners being the 'Oscars of comics" it was certainly something I wanted, but never thought that it would come so soon! I had been at the Eisner ceremony the year before when I won the Russ Manning award for most talented newcomer (aka where the heck did THAT guy come from!?!). I saw the Eisner statues and winners of that year and it only solidified that I wanted one. So to come back only the next year to receive two nominations and win both of them was huge!

VSS: Looking back David, from where Mouse Guard began to what it has become, have you seen a progression, or change in your work?

David: I got a chance to talk with Mark recently, about the first encounter when I showed him Mouse Guard. Looking back at old work and seeing its flaws and where it failed. Cringing at some of the stuff in that first issue, wishing I could be like George Lucas and go back and redo a lot of the old stuff. I realized that I would never move forward if I kept going back and Mark said “Well you know, for all the debuts, the first tries that I see as a publisher, Mouse Guard certainly stands out as being one of the best, most professional I’ve ever seen.”

VSS: Presentation then is very important isn’t it?

David: It is extremely important. When I went to college and took a 2D design course, I remember thinking, ‘I have no Idea what I’m doing in this class. I’m understanding the assignments and doing well but I didn’t understand how it was supposed to be benefitting me.

Looking back though, I think that 2D design coarse was one of the most important classes I ever took. A third of the grade was on craftsmanship. We were hand painting pieces of paper, glueing them down to make patterns. He didn’t want to see any brush strokes on the paper, there couldn’t be any rough edges from a dull exacto. If you put down rubber cement and didn’t pic up all the stray globs that oozed out, that was a down grade. You had to have a cover sheet on the final piece and it all had to be labeled properly. Thumb prints on the cover sheet putting it upside down, “Why does this matter?”

Now I realize that making sure that anything associated with your work is clean & polished makes a huge difference in how it is perceived... It’s easier today with digital media to go in and clean up your work, but the underlying principle is still there, the need to really pay attention to your craftsmanship.

VSS: Any do’s & don’ts on approaching publishers at a convention or is mail in submission something to think about?

David: I would say that in person is always going to do best. There is only so much you can get across in an email or mail in. Putting it in someone's hands & shaking that hand, you just can’t do better than that. In approaching publishers, remember that it is a professional interaction, you want them to take you seriously, you want your work to be taken seriously, and so you want to be polite but not shmoozie.

Answer all their questions, make sure they have a way of contacting you. You don’t want to be overly aggressive. Don’t come back to the booth the next day and say, “Well? What did you think? Did you get a chance to look it over?” Annoying.

Email or call after a convention, ask to know the status of your piece. Get to know something about the person you are submitting to. Know their name, and whether (or not) they've ever been an artist in the past. What titles are they known for. Having that familiarity to know who it is your talking to, instead of just walking up to the booth and saying, ”Can I talk to the guy in charge of publishing books?” Do a little bit of research.

VSS: David do you have any advice in regards to contract negotiations for those who are new to all this?

David: The most valuable part of a contract, is the IP (Intellectual Property) rights. Make sure you retain them in whole if at all possible. Timeframes are also important in contracts. You don't want something that can keep your property tied up with someone if they are not doing what you need. A timeframe on publication and the overall contract keeps everyone honest. Unfortunately, a lot of legaleese makes it's way into contracts (as if it's not already the language of most contracts) and it means you need to get a lawyer involved to approve contracts for you. If it's something you really believe in (your property) it may be worth hiring a lawyer who understands intellectual property and read and negotiate for/with you.

VSS: Any interesting interesting experiences at the conventions since Mouse Guards success?

David- Well there was the time I made a little girl cry. One of the things I mentioned earlier about learning during the process, about getting the work right. I’ve found that at first, I took too much for granted. For instance, one of my main characters name is Kenzi. And in my mind Kenzi is a male and so never thought that I would have to explain otherwise. In the first 10 issues, I never used a pronoun in reference to him so this little girl read into it that Kenzi was a girl, and she had been playing as Kenzi all along and so when I explained to her that Kenzi was a boy I made her cry.

There have been people walk up with Mouse Guard tattoos.

VSS: Isn’t that copyright infringement? :o)

David- Ha ha! I’m not at all a tattoo person. One thing I have always refused to do. If some one asks for a commission sketch and happens to mention that it is for a Tattoo I just stop. I ask them,"Don’t you know that's permanent? It wont wash off!" So no, I don’t want that responsibility. I’d fret over every line, worrying.

VSS: It’s quite a complement though isn’t it?

David: It’s an incredible complement, but my gosh!

One other thing that my wife likes for me to mention, knowing how she loves to keep me grounded, is this woman who came up to me at a convention and asked to see David Petersen, and I flipped my name badge over and said, "I’m David Petersen", and she started to scream! Like the Beetles were in town or something. Just screaming, “Oh my Gosh! Oh my Gosh! Davis Petersen! Oh My Gosh!” I thought, what am I to be expected to do here? Anyway, it turned out all she really wanted was an autograph, but after she left, my wife leaned in and said, “You're still going to take out the trash at home!”

"Mouse Guard" is published by Archaia, one of the most successful independent publishers of original, artists owned and developed properties around. From progressive, hard hitting, mature themed works, to all age and children appropriate titles. Archaia is making a name for themselves and their talented stable of artists in the popular arts arena.

To learn more about the artist and his works, please visit Davids Blog http://davidpetersen.blogspot.com/ ,

as well as his official Mouse Guard site; http://www.mouseguard.net/

Podcast interview with Artist, Stephen Silver

Hello everyone and welcome to the third podcast interview from the Visual Storytellers Studio. For the month of July we spoke with Artist, character designer and self-published author,
Stephen Silver.

Stephen does so much to inspire all of us in the arts
community. It was a pleasure to speak with him.
His enthusiasm is so passionate that I dare you
not to be encouraged by his message to
"Just Do It!" Just follow your dream.

Whatever your field, from picture book illustration to
garbage collection, you will find a much needed boost
from this the third installation of our
podcast interview series.
If you have trouble viewing the podcast try the link below.

Podcast interview with Artist Mark McDonnell

Mac, as he is known to his friends, has worked as a Graphic Designer, Layout Artist, Character Designer and Look Developer. Currently he is an instructor with the Walt Disney Company. He has been involved with projects for Walt Disney Features, Disney Toon Studios, Disney Television Animation Pixar, Miramax, Fox, H.I.T. Entertainment, New line, Mattel, Sony Pictures, Legendary Pictures,... The list goes on for days.

Mac's new book, The Art And Feel Of Making It Real is geared to assist not just those wishing to enter the entertainment and animation industry, but to all visual & graphic artists wishing to breath life into their drawing.

Revealed are some of the treasured techniques and trade secrets that, before this book, have been available only to those on the inside. We hope you enjoy this podcast, and ask that you please visit Macs website, http://www.cre8tivemarks.com/ and pick up a copy of his new book.

For a better playback on this interview, follow this link below.


First VSS podcast interview David Colman

Exclusive podcast interview with David Colman

Emmy Award Winning Artist David Colman shares with our audience his experience in getting started in the field  of character design. His talents have garnered him an Emmy  for his work on Cartoon Networks Class Of 3000. David has worked with many major players in the film industry, namely Sony pictures, Fox, and Disney.  With growing recognition in the animation industry, David loves giving back to those anxious to break into the business. His book The Art Of Character Design, provides an amazing  wealth of inspiration and direction in  character design.
We hope that you enjoy Our exclusive interview with David and invite you to visit his web site; Davidsdoodles.com

Joe Weatherly Artist/Author, interviewed By Sam Kirkman

Interview With Artist/Author Joe Wheatherly april 2009 

 Joe Weatherly is a Southern California based artist specializing in the drawing and painting of animals. Joe is an associate member of the Society of Animal Artists, holds an M.F.A in Illustration from California State University Fullerton. He has also shown his oil paintings at Ford Motor Companies Corporate Headquarters and California State University Fullerton. 

     A recent publication of Joe’s, The Weatherly Guide to Drawing Animals is an excellent resource for any illustrator wishing to develop there skills. It is used as a textbook in several art colleges and universities. He teaches drawing part-time and some of his clients include Dreamworks Feature Animation, Universal Studios, Laguna College of Art and Design, and The Academy of Art in San Francisco. 

I Recently had the pleasure of meeting Artist Joe Weatherly at the 2009 Wondercon convention which was held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.


Again joe I want to thank you for agreeing to this interview. 

First, could you tell us a bit about Joe Weatherly?  What first drew you (pardon the pun) to art and 

especially the art of animals? 

When I was a child I just started drawing like most kids, but I also had a love for dinosaurs and that led to a love of animals, especially reptiles. Pretty soon I was completely hooked on animals and when I went to a private art school at age 10, I painted animals in acrylics. I have never had any doubt that animals would be my main subject matter and I feel since I have a passion for them, it comes out in my work. But I do think an artist needs to be well rounded and be able to draw the figure proficiently as well. When I was going to art school my interest was in animation and the main portfolio requirements for a feature studio was life drawings and animals in motion so I started taking what I learned from top figure drawing teachers to the zoo and applying it there. After a few visits on location drawing at zoos, I was hooked. 

What challenges have you faced in developing as an artist? 

Drawing is hard work so I had to learn that if I wanted to get as good as possible, I needed to lock down and draw constantly. The challenge becomes pencil mileage and not giving up because you don’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel and it gets frustrating when the progress doesn’t happen right away. Painting however was more difficult for me to learn because I am primarily a draftsman and drew for so much longer before I painted. Now I am thankful that I took that route because I can get out of problems much easier in painting since I have an ability to draw. 

What other artists would you say have either inspired or influenced your own work? 

Bob Kuhn, Wilhelm Kuhnert, Carl Rungius, N.C. Wyeth, Peter Paul Rubens, Frank Frazetta and Andrew Loomis. 

In your book, Animal Essence, you mention the importance of knowledge of the subject. How does knowledge influence an artists work? 

Knowledge is everything in art. The more you know about your subject, the more you can put in or take out of artwork without guessing. If you understand your subject from the inside and out, you can draw or paint it from any angle and from your imagination. When you use photo reference to draw or paint from you are better off knowing your subjects structure so that it looks more dimensional. With animals, knowing the skeletal and muscle structure gives one freedom to depict movement in their work. To get the dynamics of motion correct or to simply draw an animal in repose requires an intimate knowledge of their structure. 

How important is experimentation with media in developing ones craft? 

I would say it is important if you want to be well rounded. I think someone should get good at one medium before moving on to others as they will serve each other. 

What is your view on the development of an artists style? Is it something that one should consciously 

strive to develop, or does it evolve naturally from hard work?   

Style comes from doing. You should have influences, but not slavishly copy them since you need to stand out as an individual. Every artist has influence of another artist in their work, but the idea is to make your work look different enough to be unique.

You mentioned that you self published your books. What influenced your decision to self publish? 

I had a great figure drawing teacher named Glenn Vilppu who did a lot of self publishing of books and video tutorials. I mentioned that I wanted to make a book on animal drawing and he said that I should self-publish because then I would make all the money. He mentioned that publishers only give a small percentage or royalty check and that I wouldn’t see much for my ideas. This was the best advice on book making that I ever received and he was right. Self- publishing is the way to go for being in control of your book and making the most money from it.

Would you say it was a labor of love or just plain labor? 

It was a labor of love but definitely hard work. When the project started to unfold and I could see the book in progress, it was exciting and kept me going.


What were some challenges in publishing your book? 

     The challenge was in distribution. If you self publish you need to find a way to distribute the book to get it out there. Some books are more suited for art conventions such as Comic Con but others have more of a commercial appeal and do well in retail stores. I wanted a book that covered all areas and have been fortunate enough to sell at Con’s, retail, and online stores.

What would you say are the benefits of self publishing and what are the negatives involved in it? 

The benefits of self-publishing is that you are in control of your book and as a result, you decide where you want to sell it and keep the majority of the sales. The other advantage is you are in control of the book layout and design. Sometimes big publishers want you to do the art work, but they want it in their formula or look. When you make the book yourself, you are in complete control of what goes in it and how it’s laid out. The negatives are that you have to put out a bunch of money for printing a book that may not sell and also you have to house the boxes in a safe controlled temperature. Also, it takes time and energy to try and sell and ship the book to various vendors and customers. But I still think it’s worth the risk if you truly believe in your work.

You have worked with various studios, Dreamworks at Universal for instance. What was your experiences 

with them like? 

Working with the studios was amazing because I was able to work with professionals as opposed to college students and as a result, the caliber of work was different. Getting rewarded to use your skills and knowledge on a big film is a great thing. 

Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us? 

Right now I am pursuing more fine art painting and working on a body of work that showcases North American animals. I also have a new book coming out in April that will debut at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con entitled “Joe Weatherly Sketchbook Volume One”. This is a smaller book composed of various animal and figure sketches.

What encouragement can you give to our illustrators out there who wish to grow as artists in their abilities   

in drawing animals? 

To draw animals well, one must really want to do it. Its hard work to study anything in art, but once the study has started the results are never far away. So assuming you have some passion for animals as subjects, then it is important to draw from life, even if photo reference will be used in making illustrations. Learning to draw animals from life and studying their anatomy will lead to being able to draw or paint animals from imagination. Learn your craft, know your subject, take a look around you and see what other artists are doing, then do something completely different.

Joe Is a great guy, and I want to encourage everyone to check out his web site. His books are a wonderful inspiration and source of reference. I highly recommend them to all. It was a pleasure Joe and I hope to see you at Comicon in San Diego this July to check out your new book, Joe weatherly Sketch book Volume One.

Patrick Loehr

Interviewed by Jill Bergman

Patrick Loehr is a professional artist and educator living and working in the Denver area. As author and illustrator, he has had two children's picture books published by Katherine Tegen Books, Mucumber McGee and the Half-Eaten Hot Dog, 2007 and Mucumber McGee and the Lunch Lady's Liver, 2008.

Patrick is currently the Chair of the Art Department at The Community College of Aurora in Denver, Colorado.
Please visit his website at www.patrickloehr.com
All images are copyright by Patrick Loehr. Please do not use them without written permission of the artist.

J. Congratulations on having your second book published, Mucumber McGee and the Lunch Lady’s Liver.

P. Thank you.

J. Mucumber seems to have terrible luck with foods. I was wondering if he was going to have a third food adventure?

P. Well, Hopefully he will, but I don’t have anything in the works right now. I just took a new job as the chair of an art department at a community college here in Denver, the Community College of Aurora.

J. Congratulations! So do you have any other children’s books you are working on right now? Or, you are probably too busy with the new job.

P. Yeah, I am really busy right now. I’m just about ready to take on another project with a writer from New York but it’s more for teenagers or adults. Almost like a graphic novel but there’s not a lot of text. I guess you could think of it as a children’s book for adults.

J. That sounds really exciting.
Let’s see, I was wondering, have you personally ever tried liver cake?

P. I did. My grandmother used to make some very special dishes with liver. I don’t know if she ever called it liver cake, but that’s where I got the idea from. I can’t say that I agree with Mucumber, in that I didn’t think it was particularly delicious.

J. Actually, I have tried liver in a lunch line before and I was nearly as frightened as Mucumber. But, it’s what they were offering.

P. Yeah, sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices.

J. I was also wondering about Mucumber’s pet. He seems to have a lizard friend?

P. That’s right, he’s a lizard. He could be an iguana but he’s not anatomically correct so I don’t know exactly what he is. He’s some sort of reptile.

J. Does he have a name?

P. Well, my editor and I refer to him as Mr. Lizard. But I don’t have a name for him established. That might pop up in a future book.

J. You do a wonderful job of combining realistic, sort of spooky looking settings with very stylized people. I was wondering if there were lots of experiments that led to this.

P. Yeah, definitely. I sat and went through a couple of sketchbooks trying to figure out a style of character, of figurative illustration, that went well with some style of environmental illustration. There’s actually a lot of photography in some of the background images. And then I work it over in photoshop and make it look more like watercolor painting.

J. I was guessing that you used a few different techniques in the illustrations. Can you tell us any more about some of the steps you go through to create a finished piece?

P. Sure. They all start off with a pencil sketch. Then, I’ll scan the sketch and break it into layers. And for the backgrounds I’ll usually use some photographic elements- maybe it’s textures, or clouds for the sky. Sometimes I’ll take a photograph of a room and use that as a reference to paint on top of in photoshop. Typically there are a lot of layers in my images.

J. Well, you get some really neat effects. And I love the way the characters pop forward from the background.

P. Thanks.

J. Also, your writing is great. Your rhymes are really fun. I was wondering if these books started out as text, or ideas for illustrations, or if they grew together at the same time.

P. It started out with a character idea for Mucumber. But I didn’t really know what he was going to look like. I was just thinking about his personality. The first book was loosely based on a true story, something that happened to a friend of mine. I was scanning my past looking for something interesting. So it started with the character, and then the story and then the illustration style and everything came last.

J. So, your friend did eat a raw hot dog, huh?

P. Yeah. I came over to his house, I think we were in first grade, and he was very sad and depressed and I asked him what the problem was. And he said, “Oh, my sister just told me that I’m going to get sick and die because I ate a raw hot dog for lunch.”

J. Those evil sisters!

P. Yes!

J. I also love the illustrations that you do with stars and birds and everything hanging down in the sky from strings. Those are really nice. Are they going to evolve into a book?

P. I would love to, at some point. In those, I was borrowing from folk illustration. And I wouldn’t mind doing a book in that style, something kind of surreal and strange.

J. Yes, they’re really moody. Actually a lot of your different styles have an interesting mood to them.

P. Oh, thank you.

J. I have another question, has teaching art students influenced your own work?

P. Yes, definitely. Teaching college is fun because the students are so clued in to new and interesting things, and visual culture, so they share those with me and inevitably those things end up inspiring me in some way. I actually learn a lot from the students.

J. They probably bring a lot of good energy.

P. Yeah, definitely, it’s a lot of fun. And they’re very creative and funny. They think of things differently than I do, which is really neat.

J. You also have a new and interesting looking book, Illusive Conclusions and Simulated Fabrications. Could you tell us a little bit about that book?

P. I’m in an MFA program right now and I’ve spent a lot of my efforts in that program doing a bunch of narrative illustration. It’s all kind of experimental. And when I was finished with it, I wanted to do something with the 40 or 50 pieces. So I basically bunched it all up in a collection and published it myself through blurb.com as an on-demand book. I’ve gotten some good feedback on it. It’s definitely a non-traditional approach to narrative work, but it’s a good contrast to the children’s books. It’s much more adult oriented.

J. Yeah, I can tell. But I guess you are an adult after all.

P. That’s right. Most of the time I am.

J. Yes, those of us interested in children’s books have a lot of that kid spirit in us, too.
Well, I’m really excited for you about your new job.

P. Oh, thank you. It’s a lot of work right now. Hopefully it will mellow out here in a few months because I miss doing some of the artistic stuff that I used to do on a regular basis.

J. Right, you have to carve out that time.

P. Yes, definitely.

J. Good luck with everything, Patrick and thanks for talking with me.