Stan Sakai on BCC yearbook, ’47 Ronin’ and new Usagi stories
Attendees at this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con are in for a special treat, as they’ll have the opportunity to purchase an art book featuring Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo as drawn by more than 30 artists.
Earlier today, we heard from Thom Zahler and Brad Tree on how the project came together, and now Sakai shares his thoughts on the book, his work on the recently wrapped 47 Ronin and some details on his next projects, which include a new Nilson Groundthumper tale and a Usagi story that will be out of this world. My thanks to Stan for his time in answering my questions, and to Thom and Brad, who arranged the interview.
JK Parkin: Stan, first off, congratulations on 30 years of Usagi. What was your reaction when you were approached about this project?
Stan Sakai: Thank you. I was very flattered and excited, because I have a copy of last year’s Baltimore Comic-Con book, 15 Years of Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows. It was a great souvenir book, and I was anxious to see what artists would come up with for Usagi.
What kind of involvement did you have with putting the book together?
My involvement was minimal — just doing the cover, and providing a link to Dark Horse’s website, which has an Usagi section featuring all my covers for them. Artists could use these as reference. The Baltimore Comic-Con staff, especially Thom Zahler, did all the real work. My cover, of Usagi on horseback in full armor, is an ink-and-watercolor painting based on a color sketch I did in Chris Sparks’ sketchbook. That sketch will be used as a variant cover.
Have you gotten to see the final pieces that the artists submitted? If so, what’s it like seeing other artists draw your character?
I have seen the art and love them all. I really enjoy seeing other artists’ interpretations of Usagi. They range from pure humor to very dramatic to high action, just like my own stories.
We actually haven’t seen any new Usagi stories in a while, as you took a break from the character while working on the recently completed 47 Ronin miniseries. What was it like working on something other than Usagi, particularly something you didn’t write, and now that it’s over are you itching to get back to Usagi?
I am so glad I accepted Mike Richardson’s invitation to draw 47 Ronin but, to tell you the truth, I was itching to get back to Usagi after completing the first issue of the five-issue miniseries. 47 Ronin gave me a chance to stretch my artistic muscles, and this is a story I grew up knowing so is very important to me. I even made a pilgrimage to their grave site the last time I was in Tokyo, this is a couple of years before I knew about Mike’s project. I used my photos as reference for Sengakuji temple in the opening pages. Mike gave me full scripts, but he encouraged me to add or change things as I saw fit. He did so much research, however, that my input, story-wise, was very minimal. The 47 Ronin is one of the most well known incidents in Japanese history. I am really pleased that the reviews have been so overwhelmingly positive.
What plans do you have for the character?
I just finished another non-Usagi story, this time for Dark Horse Presents. My characters, Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, preceded Usagi by a year or two. This is the first Nilson story I have written and drawn in more than 20 years. Dark Horse will be publishing a color collection of Nilson and Hermy stories in 2014. Currently, I am working on a two-part Usagi story also for Dark Horse Presents. This will be a color story where Usagi meets a painter who was trained in Europe and brought some radical ideas and techniques to Japan. Because of this, the traditionalist Artist Guild have hired assassins to kill him.
Then I will finish a six-issue Usagi miniseries, “Senso,” that takes place about 15 years in his future. Usagi is now a retainer of the Geishu Clan, as well as his son, Jotaro, and Gen the rhino. It opens on the final battle between the Geishu and Lord Hikiji, who has been the great evil in the Usagi storyline. The battle is going badly for the Geishu, but the tide slowly turns and it seems they will be victorious … then the Martians attack. The entire premise is, “What if the Martians from HG Wells’ War of the Worlds had sent a few scout ships 200 years before their invasion of Victorian England?” It may not be as historically or culturally accurate as my stories usually are, but it sure will be fun.