Stan Sakai Celebrates Usagi Yojimbo's 200th Anniversary

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Reaching a benchmark such as a 200th anniversary issue for any modern comic book series is a big deal. When that series is the sole intellectual property of the creator and independently published over a period of almost twenty-five years, it becomes a true milestone. This October, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo celebrates over two decades worth of some of the most exquisitely crafted comics ever produced, with issue #141 of its current Dark Horse run.

A lot has changed in both the industry and medium of comic books over the last quarter-century. New delivery methods and distribution models have come and gone, as publishers large and small continue to seek out more innovative ways to compete with new forms of entertainment and media. Even the way in which comics are produced has evolved with the burgeoning digital age, with the industry embracing new creative techniques and technologies. Through it all, Usagi Yojimbo has remained a sterling example of the craft of creating smart, fun, exciting comics for all ages.

Still one of the coolest, classiest guys in the business, Mr. Sakai took a few moments away from his busy schedule to speak with Broken Frontier about his creator-owned masterpiece.

BROKEN FRONTIER: When you first created Usagi Yojimbo, did you ever think it would reach a milestone such as 200 issues?

STAN SAKAI:  I was just concerned about getting the next story done.  I never imagined I would still be doing this 200 issues and 27 years later.

BF: What does a milestone like this mean to an independent creator? How is it different from a Marvel or DC book reaching the same anniversary?

SAKAI:  I have had a lot of help and support over the years, but really I'm Usagi's sole creator. I write, pencil, ink, and even hand-letter every story.  I also own the series, so can determine the direction of the story lines and development of characters.  It is very different than Marvel and DC because they have a lot of hands working on their books, each with their own idea of where to take the series.

BF: How have things changed for Usagi over the course of the series? How have you changed/grown as a creator? How has the industry changed over the course of 200 issues?

SAKAI:  Usagi has developed his own personality and his appearance has changed, mostly unconsciously on my part.  Physically, he started at about 3 heads tall.  Now, he is more like 5 heads, and has a bump for a nose.  These changes happened gradually.  All characters develop this way.  You can see the same thing happened with Sergio Aragone’s Groo the Wanderer.  Groo looked very “primitive” when he first started, and has become more polished over time. 

I like to think that I've matured as both an artist and a storyteller.  I've become more confident doing both.  I've been told that people are first attracted to Usagi because of the art, but they keep returning for the stories.  

When the first Usagi story was printed in 1984, there were very few black and white books.  We could not give away copies.  That changed, of course, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle which started the black and white boom.  Now, not only do we have b/w books, but we have a lot of alternate ways for creators to get their stories out—graphic novels, foreign publishers, small-run printing, and the internet.

BF: How is Usagi Yojimbo different from other creator-owned properties on the shelves today?

SAKAI:  There must be a reason that Usagi has passed the test of time.  I like to think it's good art and stories.   I don't aim Usagi for the comic book market.  I try for a broad appeal, the main stream.  A three-month retrospective of my art just ended at the Japanese American National Museum, and it received very positive reviews.  Usagi can be found in many libraries, and is translated into a dozen languages.  I also received a few non-comics awards—the American Library Association Award and the Cultural Ambassador Award to name a couple.

BF: What’s in store for Usagi post-200?

SAKAI: I'm continuing with short stories for a while, however, they will lay the ground work for a long story arc in a year or two.

For more of Broken Frontier’s coverage of Usagi Yojimbo’s 200th Anniversary, check out our Spotlight in The Frontiersman #28 !


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