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THE PULSE, FEBRUARY 6, 2003

An archive for interviews published both in print and on-line.

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THE PULSE, FEBRUARY 6, 2003

Postby Stan Sakai » Thu Feb 06, 2003 12:59 +0000

There is an interview with me at:

http://www.comicon.com

Accompanying it are a few covers, including one for UY 65.
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Postby Glennosuke » Thu Feb 06, 2003 18:50 +0000

Congratulations Stan! Great article! Nice cover too! 8)
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Re: On-line interview

Postby Steve Hubbell » Wed Feb 18, 2015 3:16 +0000

YOJIMBOS, RABBITS, AND LEGENDS: NINETEEN YEARS AND THREE PUBLISHERS LATER, USAGI YOJIMBO IS STILL GOING STRONG. THE PULSE SPEAKS WITH STAN SAKAI
by JENNIFER CONTINO (THE PULSE, FEBRUARY 6, 2003)


Usagi Yojimbo made the comics scene in 1984, in a short story by Stan Sakai, when black and white comics weren't that big a market and creators working on non-costumed-hero-types weren't making a zillion dollars. However, something about the samurai warrior rabbit caught on with the comics buying masses and 19 years and three publishers later, the comic adventures of Usagi Yojimbo are still going strong. Much like its creator Sakai, the series shows no signs of slowing down or stopping anytime soon.

THE PULSE: What keeps you making comics? Why - after so many years - are you still excited about creating comics?

STAN SAKAI: I've been doing Usagi for more than 18 years and am still enthused with the character. Usagi was first published about the time the Ninja Turtles made their debut, before the big black & white boom of the '80' and is one of the very few independent comics from that time to last to today. There are still so many more stories I have to tell. It seems that one plot line generates a couple more. I guess, like myself, the character keeps growing.

THE PULSE: What was your comics life changing event - when did you realize that people actually COULD make a living creating comics? How did this realization spark you on to create your own series?

STAN SAKAI: I've been reading comics almost all my life and for many years believed that they just appeared magically on the shelves. This was in the early '60's and there was no comics fandom to speak of. I got together with a few friends, including Dennis Fujitake and Gary Kato who were making their own comic books. That was a revelation - people actually write and draw this stuff. Both Dennis and Gary are now professional artists, even doing comics for awhile.

The first name I associated with comics was Stan Lee and it's such a thrill to have been working with him for the last 17 years lettering the Spider-Man Sunday strips. One thing that is almost unique to our profession is that we get to meet our heroes and they are so accessible at signings and conventions. I am friends with or have worked with so many of the people whose work I've admired (and envied).

THE PULSE: What is Usagi Yojimbo?

STAN SAKAI: Usagi is a masterless samurai rabbit wandering the landscape of 17th century Japan. It is a time of turmoil since the Tokugawa Shogunate has recently come into power and the age of civil wars had just ended. I try to as much research as I can into the history, politics, culture and folklore of the period. The stories run the gamut from humorous to very dramatic. I even did a series of stories based on whodunit mysteries. Max Allan Collins wrote the introduction to that collection.

I've already done about 130 issues from three publishers, and that's not counting short stories. They've been collected in 15 trade paperbacks so far, all of which are continuously in print. One thing I am proud of is the caliber of people who have written introductions to these books - Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Paul Dini, Lynn Johnston, Alexandro Jodorowsky, and others.

Usagi started off as a secondary character in the Nilson Groundthumper storyline. However, when I started to flesh out the character I found him much more appealing, with a lot more potential so I focused on the rabbit ronin.

THE PULSE: What were some of the inspirations for Usagi Yojimbo?

STAN SAKAI: I grew up watching those old chambara or sword fighting movies of Japan by Kurosawa or Inagaki and others. A lot of that goes into my storytelling. The character of Usagi is loosely based on Eiji's Yoshikawa's book Musashi, the exploits of a samurai that has come to be regarded as the epitome of what a true samurai should be.

THE PULSE: Had you always read adventures of Miyamoto Musashi? What was it about this historical figure that influences so many creators both in and out of the realm of comics?

STAN SAKAI: I first saw one of the many movies based on Yoshikawa's book, this one starring Nakamura Kinnosuke. I later saw The Samurai Trilogy starring Toshiro Mifune. This one is the best known of the movie adaptations. It was much later that I actually read the books. As I said, Musashi was the ideal of what a samurai should be - a master swordsman, philosopher, painter, sculptor - but he also had a lot of human flaws. I think the flaws are what makes his story particularly interesting.

THE PULSE: What are some of the biggest challenges to creating a fantasy series with roots in history, tradition, and even culture?

STAN SAKAI: Actually, basing a fantasy world on a existing culture is easier than creating one from new cloth. The groundwork has already been laid so it's just a matter of seeing how much you can stretch the boundaries.

THE PULSE: Besides Usagi, a few other characters are based on historical figures. Who was the inspiration for Tomoe and Lord Hikiji?

STAN SAKAI: Tomoe was inspired by Tomoe Gozen who lived during the Gempei Wars, Japan's civil war. She was famed for her beauty as well as her skill with the naginata, the curved bladed spear. The historical Tomoe was married to Lord Kiso Yoshinaka who conquered Kyoto, the capital at the time, and set himself up as shogun. He was driven out by his older brother. When Kiso was surrounded, he committed seppuku, a warrior's suicide, but refused to let Tomoe die with him because to have a woman die with him would lessen his stature as a warrior. So she attacked the opposing army, killed a general and went on to become a nun.

Lord Hikiji is based on Date Masamune, one of the most powerful figures of 17th century Japan. His ambition was to become shogun himself, though he never succeeded. He was one of the most advanced leaders of his age, even sending the first delegation to the Western World.

THE PULSE: What other historical or pop culture figures found their way into Usagi Yojimbo so far?

STAN SAKAI: Lone Goat and Kid is, of course, a parody of Lone Wolf and Cub. My blind swordspig, Zato-Ino is based on Zato-Ichi the star of 27 movies and a TV series. Even an incarnation of Godzilla has appeared in an early Usagi story.

THE PULSE: What kind of research do you do before beginning a story line?

STAN SAKAI: The amount of research varies with each story, of course. I'm currently working on one that revolves around sumi-e, ink painting. I'm looking into how the ink sticks and brushes are made, what tools are used, how the brush is held, and anything else associated with the art. Most of the research will not appear in the story so I include notes and a bibliography at the end of stories.

Believe me, the readers watch that the research is right. The story Demon Mask involved Usagi playing a game of Go. I got that game confused with Go-Moku, a game I played as a kid and which we called Go. They both use the same game board and pieces but the strategies are different. I heard about that mistake in e-mails from as far away as Germany. I bought a couple of books on Go, looked up the American Go Association, went to a tournament, talked to some players, and corrected that mistake when it was reprinted in the trade collection.

The research is what got UY Book 12: Grasscutter a 2002 American Library Association Award. It had also won an Eisner and a Spanish Haxtur Award, and was used as a text book in Japanese history classes at the University of Portland.

THE PULSE: What was the strangest thing that ever inspired you to create a story?

STAN SAKAI: I was given a story by Sergio Aragones. I letter his book Groo the Wanderer and he had to drop off pages one night. He drove two hours out to my house but forgot exactly where I live. He walked up and down my street whistling show tunes at two in the morning to lure me out. Anyway during the drive out, he plotted out two stories, neither of which he could use - an Usagi story and a concept for a Terminator III movie. He gave me the Usagi story which I changed quite a bit and it became Broken Ritual. He did receive credit for it, by the way.

THE PULSE: How did Usagi Yojimbo become a part of the TMNT franchise? How did you come to work with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird?

STAN SAKAI: Usagi and the Turtles were published at about the same time, maybe a month apart. There were only a few black and white books at that time so we were drawn together. A couple of years later the Turtles' merchandising really took off. Peter and I were sitting together at a San Diego Con and he just turned to me and asked, "Do you want a toy?" How could I turn that down? The people who worked on the TV cartoon happened to be fans of Usagi and they put him in two episodes of the show. He was also supposed to make a cameo as a ten foot banner in one of their movies but had to be edited out. I think that banner is still hanging in the Mirage offices.

After I left Fantagraphics I took Usagi and Space Usagi to Peter and Kevin's Mirage Studios. I went to Dark Horse after Mirage shut down their publications division.

THE PULSE: When Usagi first appeared in Albedo # 2 what was the comics scene like? How were black and white titles regarded?

STAN SAKAI: In 1984 when Albedo #2 was published, the black and white boom had not yet happened and we could not give away the comics at San Diego. The next year they were going for outrages prices, even today. A copy sold on e-bay just a few months ago for about $700. They generally fetch about $400-600. A big difference from 18 years ago.

THE PULSE: After the action figure and explosion of the TMNTs, how do you think that change things for black and white comics?

STAN SAKAI: A black and white flood deluged the comic stores. Everyone wanted to be the Ninja Turtles - both in concept and merchandising. Of course, most of them were terrible, which is why just a couple of them are still around. When I was in high school there were fanzines, which were a kind of training ground for comic creators. Now, anyone with a few hundred dollars can publish their own comics and call himself a professional.

THE PULSE: Usagi is almost 20 years old with 2004 being his official 20th anniversary since Albedo # 2, what plans do you have to celebrate?

STAN SAKAI: I haven't discussed it in detail with my editor yet but there are plans for a couple of projects. Perhaps a coffee table type book and a mini-series. We are also talking to more licensees for some general public-type projects.

THE PULSE: What's coming up for Usagi in 2003?

STAN SAKAI: I've just started a "father and son" story arc in which Usagi travels with Jotaro his son. Jotaro, however, does not know that Usagi is his father. I get to reveal a bit more about their characters before Jotaro goes off to study swordsmanship with Katsuichi, Usagi's old teacher. During this arc they meet up with some of Usagi's acquaintances such as the Lone Goat, the Neko Ninja clan, and Kitsune the thief. There will also be a three-issue story which will be my tribute to those giant Japanese movie monsters. The arc ends with Usagi having to make the decision of whether to tell Jotaro the truth or continue having him believe someone else is his father.

THE PULSE: Whatever happened to Space Usagi? I remember a year ago at Mid Ohio Convention you mentioned perhaps plans for another miniseries. Are those still in the works? Will we see Space Usagi again?

STAN SAKAI: Space Usagi is a descendant of the original Usagi. That character came about because I like to draw dinosaurs. I figured there were two ways to bring my two favorite things together: I could have a prehistoric Usagi adventure or have a futuristic Usagi who has an adventure on a prehistoric planet. The latter had much more possibilities. A one line description of it would be, Star Wars with feudal Japanese funny animals.

Anyway, there is another Space Usagi story I have planned that will bring his story to an end. I have a publisher for it, however I just can't seem to find the time to write and draw it. I'm having too much fun with the original Usagi.

THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?

STAN SAKAI: I've worked with other characters in the past - Simpsons, Grendel, Star Wars - but right now I'm just concentrating on the Father & Son arc. Dark Horse has two Usagi collections scheduled for 2003. The Shrouded Moon will be out in January and Duel at Kitanoji should be out in August. Dark Horse is also interested in a Nilson Groundthumper collection and I want to do a new story for that.
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