by Max Allan Collins (with Nathan Collins)
Max Allan Collins is the author of the
Shamus Award winning Nathan Heller novels (including Damned in
Paradise, in which Chang Apana appears), and his comics scripting
includes the Dick Tracy comic strip (1977-1993), Ms. Tree,
Batman, Johnny Dynamite, and the acclaimed graphic novel
Road To Perdition. Nathan Collins is a seventeen-year-old high
school student whose interests include band, computer games, and Usagi
Yojimbo. He has appeared as an actor in three independent features
directed by his father.
I am grateful to Stan Sakai for a number of reasons.
First, and foremost, he has created one of the best and longest-running
independent comic-book series in the history of the medium.
Second, he has been nice enough to acknowledge me, in the story notes for
"The Hairpin Murders," as one of his two favorite mystery writers. (His
other favorite is Ed McBain, whose 87th Precinct novels I have
followed since I was about the age that my son Nathan discovered Usagi
And finally, Stan Sakai did the impossible: he (however briefly) managed
to make my teenage son impressed with his old man.
Stan Sakai is Nate's favorite cartoonist, and Usagi Yojimbo is
his favorite comic book. None of this is surprising, because Stan's work is
about as good as current comics get, and Nate was raised on a steady diet of
Lone Wolf and Cub manga, John Woo movies, and Japanese video
For my entire life (short as it may be), I have been a great fan of
comics. Living with a writer of comics made it inevitable: I grew up on
everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Calvin and
Hobbes. But at the tender age of eleven, I was subjected by my father to
a different type of comic book - the manga. After I had read
graphic novels like Barefoot Gen and the Lone Wolf and Cub
series, my father steered me to Usagi Yojimbo.
These brief moments of respect I receive from Nate - however fleeting -
have occurred at comics conventions when we have approached Stan, to get
copies of Nate's Usagi comics signed. And, invariably, inevitably,
Stan lights up, seeing me, and informs Nate and me that he - the creator of
Usagi Yojimbo! - has brought books of mine to have me sign.
This admiration of course bewilders my son, but somewhere in the
confusion is a stirring notion that his father may have some value... after
all, Stan Sakai approves.
Which is fine with me, because I sure approve of Stan Sakai. Having
worked, off and on, in this field since the late '70s, I've become pretty
jaded and little impresses me, particularly new stuff. But Stan Sakai is an
exception: he stirs in me memories of the classic comic strips, where the
likes of Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie and Wash
Tubbs could - despite their cartoony depictions - enjoy thrilling
adventures. His "funny animal" approach invokes the great Carl Barks guiding
Uncle Scrooge through journeys of mystery and excitement, in exotic
settings, thrilling tales that dared not to be terribly funny...just
terrific. His boyish yet courageous Usagi summons the ghost of Herge's
Tintin, that kid reporter whose exploits managed to have a childlike
innocence while being extremely adult.
I quickly became addicted to the cute rabbit and his adventures. I
was drawn in by many aspects of the comic: the beautiful artwork, so
detailed and simple at the same time; the Japanese culture and mythology,
with demons, ninja, and sword fights; and the rich story lines that
held it all together, stories that brought alive Japanese folklore to an
audience that would never have seen it otherwise...and fueled my interest in
Stan Sakai has written and drawn a series that both Nate and I can read -
and that Nate has been able to keep reading as he grows to adulthood.
In the stories in this book, Stan introduced one of his best characters -
Inspector Ishida - who shares the same real-life role model as Charlie Chan:
Honolulu detective Chang Apana. Ishida - who spouts wisdom in a vaguely
Chan-like manner - is more like the hardboiled Apana than the
mild-mannered Chan of Earl Derr Biggers' novels (and the many films they
spawned). Ishida is an action hero, and Usagi makes a great, sword-slinging
Watson for him in mystery yarns that are involving, exciting, and
Besides being an expert storyteller and artist, Stan Sakai is a
genuinely kind man. He has always been very nice and personable to me and
the rest of his fans I have met at various conventions. Stan Sakai deserves
every bit of praise and respect that he has received, and I have no doubt
that after reading this collection, you would agree with me.
- Max Allan Collins (with Nathan Collins)