“Mice Templar is extremely similar to Game of Thrones…but on a really small scale” Michael Avon Oeming and Bryan J.L Glass discuss the Mice Templar

MT4.002_promo_coversThis week sees the launch of the second episode of the new series of the brilliant Mice Templar from Image Comics and Bryan J.L Glass, Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos. Since we last saw Karic of Cricket’s Glen things have gone well, with him finally accepting his destiny as the chosen one and even finding time for a little romance with Aquila. But things are about to take a turn to the dark as Glass, Oeming and Santos begin the build towards their climactic finale. Who will prosper, who will fall and, knowing their fondness for mice mortality, who will even survive?! So we got in touch with Bryan and Michael to find out. 

By the end of volume 3 we had been introduced to a huge range of characters and have several intersecting story lines and characters, did you always intend Mice Templar to build to such a scale or has it evolved like that naturally?

Mike: When we began everything was much simpler, but Bryan realized the Mice Templar world had to operate on a much larger scale, and that includes those who inhabit it along with their own personal stories.

Bryan: Mike’s original synopsis followed a handful of characters over a six issues. But the moment I explored the question “how did the Templar fall“, I realized this was about far more than those characters on an adventure…this was the story of a culture and its collapse. What we’d intended suddenly expanded in all directions simultaneously: into the past, and the Templar’s founding; into the future consequences of whether or not such a corrupt order as the Templar should be restored; into politics, religion, social class structures, racial dynamics and ideological divides. Exploring such diverse issues requires characters and story to flesh those ideas out…and then those characters need history. Before we knew it I had developed a 25-issue saga before issue #1 was ever even scripted. Once the actual storytelling began to unfold, new inspirations struck constantly. So now, as we approach the grand finale, the story of Karic, Cassius, Leito, Aquila and Icarus is a whopping 40-issues!

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Volume 3 finished with a rare happy ending for the world of the Mice Templar – Karic thwarted the druids and woke from his coma – but in the first issue you have mixed things up with plenty of deception and distrust, and a brilliant cliff hanger (almost literally).  Do you always look to stir the pot and change characters around at the beginning of a story arc rather than have them continue to play out their roles from the previous arc?

B: The stakes in Mice Templar are always evolving: every triumph is tinged with failure, while every tragedy leaves a wisp of hope. The dynamics are always in flux.

M: It’s good storytelling practice to have alternating moods between scenes/arcs. If you end one on a happy note, it’s good to shift gears and start the next going in a sad note, or start and end a scene with a different vibe. The contrast keeps the story flowing. Bryan is pretty brilliant at that.

Am I right in thinking volume 4 will be the end of Mice Templar‘s run? And if so, with so many characters involved are you building towards an epic climax at the end – something to rival the Battle of Avalon even? I know you’ve mentioned Norse mythology in the notes at the back of the trades before, so are the Mice heading for Ragnarok?

B: Obviously, we don’t want to give anything away. But I can reveal that Volume IV will deliver the decisive climax of Karic and King Icarus’s stories. Those two characters will meet face-to-face. Every subplot will be concluded. Every character arc will run its course. And every mystery the series ever raised will be revealed. There will indeed be multiple events in succession to rival the Battle of Avalon where the Templar fell. In addition to so many characters, we’ve also introduced many sentient races that all have a part to play in the finale to come: mice, rats, weasels, bats, cats, owls, moles, serpents and terrible hordes of red ants. There is also a mystical side to this world, with the Creator Wotan, the fallen spirit Donas, a pantheon of gods, demonic possessions, mystics, priests and witches…and insect swarms that are cursed to maintain boundaries between the alternate worlds of night and day by eating alive any soul who tries to stay awake and cross over from one world to the next.

While Mice Templar may not have a Ragnarok event to end everything in an annihilating apocalypse…there is most definitely a Ragnorok-scale conflict coming to a head as every realm the series has featured will be as significant as the races and characters we’ve introduced.

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Speaking of the essays and notes at the back of the book, I love the way you have mixed the mythologies and faiths of different cultures and eras together to create the Templar universe. How faithful do you keep to existing faiths/mythologies and was that intentional way to build the world or do you think it is a reflection of the common ground that so many religions have? (i.e. they all have themes of resurrection, a chosen one and a spiritual joinery with tasks/ordeals along the way)

M: I can’t speak for Bryan, but for me, creating mythologies starts by studying them. These things don’t happen on accident; these stories and beliefs were built upon generations and generations of societies that needed to find an explanation or belief system that explained the world around them and reinforced the idea that there is something after we die. Once you can see those patterns, it becomes a compass on how that would translate into your story. Bryan and I are very respectful of other peoples beliefs, so that study and adaption comes from that understanding and so we make sure we aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes.

B: Both Mike and I have derived inspiration from established mythologies, religions and faith-systems, but we’ve not held ourselves exclusive to any, as that very inspiration was to create our own that conforms to the dictates of our tale and its specific cosmological needs. We’ve also raided established history, literature, as well as the “pop culture” of other eras and cultures. We believe the themes we’re pursuing in Mice Templar are universal and cannot be claimed exclusively by any single faith.

The parallels between Karic and Leito and Cassius and Ronan seem to be getting ever closer (especially with Aquila potentially filling the Llochlaraine role) will we finally see the reuniting of the survivors of Crickets Glen in this arc, or are you deliberately keeping them apart for now? And is there anyway this can end happily?!

B: The believable happy ending is the real trick. Is there any way to apply a “happy ending” to a tale like this that doesn’t feel like it was stamped on? I can only say that we’re commited to giving this tale a “satisfying” ending. Any happiness will have to be earned. All I will say is that every character still living will eventually be in the same location at the same time…and none of it is going to play out like anybody has guessed.

Has the popularity of big budget fantasy shows like Game of Thrones helped the popularity of Mice Templar do you think? The tone and attitude feels very similar, as does the complex story lines and huge cast of characters. Are there any other books that are inspiring you currently?

M: Man, that’s a great question. It’s hard for me to answer, because we are such a niche, such a sub-genre of a genre. It’s fantasy, but because of the anthropomorphic angle of it, I know it locks some of those readers out. Or maybe it doesn’t, but at least to me, it isn’t super clear on how much we’re benefiting from the current fantasy explosion, but I hope it’s helping. Our numbers have gone up after our last series, so things are looking good.

B: We share the same intrigue and violence, and characters placed in heavy consequential circumstances for the fate of kingdoms, but I’d never read George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic before the HBO series began. And when the episodes began to air, our series was unfortunately falling behind, and then went on hiatus for a year. So it is truly with Volume IV coinciding with GoT season three that I believe our two visions are finally comparable. Fans of both have told us they feel Mice Templar is extremely similar to Game of Thrones…but on a really small scale!

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Victor Santos has taken over the art reigns for this run, what do you think he brings to the title as an artist and does it make you jealous Mike to see someone else drawing your characters? Any plans to return to the artist’s seat before the end of the series?

M: I am soooo grateful to have Victor drawing Mice Templar. When I knew we needed help to continue the book there were only two options…. Mike Mignola or Victor Santos! I figured Mike might be too busy so I asked Victor and was VERY lucky, not only that he said yes, but that he was already a big Templar fan — now he is a co-creator and co-owner of the book as well, as Bryan and I recently made him a solid partner, which was long overdue. I love seeing Victor’s approach to the book, it certainly helps me keep my game up when I get to draw these guys. I look forward to inking Victor on some Templar in the future.

B: I love working with Victor Santos so much, that I asked him to become a part of my new secret project that was just picked up by a major publisher. It will show completely different styles for both of us, in both writing and art, than what fans have become accustomed to in reading our Mice Templar work.

As for Mike…if all plays out as we hope, and everybody’s schedules coordinate, Mike will return to the last issue of Volume IV, entitled “Epilogue.” I love the idea of bringing everything involving the creative team on the series full circle.

Censorship has reared it’s head this month with the banning (and unbanning) of Brian Vaughan’s Saga. Mice Templar is certainly not a title to shy away from the more violent elements of story telling so how do you regulate your own content to avoid such an issue? Do you have an internal limit of how violent is too violent (the torture scene of Mornae in issue 2 I would say skates very close to the edge) and what about sex – do you draw a line and say ‘no sex’ because this is ultimately a book about talking mice, or is not there because that is just not a part of the story you want to tell?

B: A cursory perusal of any random issue of Mice Templar will shock the viewer with its brutality, particularly as it comes from a seemingly kid-friendly, all-ages “talking mice” series. Yet I don’t believe any of the violence we’ve ever presented has been for shock. The moments can definitely be shocking and unexpected, yet when taken in the context of the story we’re telling, I believe those moments are necessary. So much of Templar relates to both our ancient and modern world, where individuals can be so divided by what they believe that it leads to oppression and death. Like many of the most potent and powerful anthropomorphic tales ever crafted, these “talking animals” serve more as a reflection that as escapist entertainment.

The sequence you referenced regarding Karic’s mother Mornae in issue #2 was one of the most disturbing sequences I’ve ever written. When the art first arrived, I seriously considered revising the sequence. Our colorist Serena Guerra told me it was the most difficult “art” she’s ever been a part of. But when you’re able to look beyond the horror of that sequence, it serves as one of the most powerful catalyst moments of the entire series for 11 characters.

I’ll also warn you in advance that issue #4 is probably the darkest single issue of anything I’ve ever written. But as the topic is how racial hatred is passed down from one generation to another, the potency of the message far outweighs the kneejerk squeamishness this one story may generate.

As for sex…this story doesn’t need to dwell upon that. Relationships and attractions, both healthy and distorted, are a huge part of this series, and serve as the primary motivation for many actions. But to showcase such moments with graphic anthropomorphic titilation would do this story, I believe, a serious disservice.

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Speaking of Saga, Image Comics seem to have a really strong roster of titles, including Saga, at the moment, is there any internal rivalry to create the best book you can? Or any pressure to maintain the quality of your Image rivals?

M: No rivalry, but the pressure to produce a quality book is always there. Bryan and his brother Jim Glass (a true unsung hero of this series) have always designed what I think are some of the best looking hardbacks and TPs Image has ever put out. I can say that because I don’t do a thing on the design; it’s all Jim and Bryan. The fold-outs, the design and page markers are class and beauty all the way. The interiors of course speak for themselves. Between Bryan’s writing, Victor’s art and our amazing colorists — Serena Guerra, Chandra Free and veronica Gandini — it’s just a beautiful series.

The tone for Templar is getting even darker in volume 4, do you ever have the urge to just write something light and fluffy and fun for the characters to do – just for an issue or two – this is a book about talking mice after all?!

B: As I’ve said, we realized we were tackling some pretty heady stuff early on, so Mice Templar was never going to be light and fluffy, and solely involved with heroic adventure. Yet we’ve also had wonderfully light moments — Karic’s “date” with Aquila in the stream comes to mind. There have been jokes. Poop jokes are always a favorite; or in the case of the mice, “pellet” jokes! But as we look across everything Volume IV needs to convey to bring us to the end, there will terror and death, extraordinary sacrifices and noble heroics…and very little humor. Volume IV Legend is truly the darkest of the dark before the dawn. And in the world of the Mice Templar, dawn’s approach represents a flesh-eating horror.

Finally, with so many fighting/talking rodents in the world of fantasy and comics, if you had to assemble an Expendables style Dream Team of talking rodents from other books to aid Karic in his fight against Icarus and the rats, who would you pick and why?

B: I’d enlist Basil the Great Mouse Detective to help our heroes solve the great mystery King Icarus represents.

Mice Templar volume 4 issue 2 is available now via ComiXology and the Image Comics app for £2.49/$3.99 and pick up issue 1 for just £1.49/$1.99.