Category Archives: Comixtreme

Usagi Yojimbo 75

Quick Rating: Classic
Title: Hokashi Part 2

Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai

Over the past two years, Stan Sakai has treated the readers of Usagi Yojimbo to a tremendous series of tales chronicling the travels of the samurai Usagi with his son, Jotaro. I can think of no other comic book that has entertained as well, provoked more thought, or captured the glorious potential of sequential graphics so consistently over the same time. It is a tragedy if you’re not reading it—and not for Stan Sakai or Dark Horse or the comic book industry—for you, my friend, for you.

Am I overstating the quality of Usagi Yojimbo? Picture if you will, the mastery that could come after twenty years of working in this medium. Imagine Alexander Dumas combined with Carl Barks. Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Dum de dum dum. Fingers tapping… more and more impatiently.) You can’t, can you? Well, turn off the television and try again. We’re talking about the person who created the Three Musketeers and then wrote five, four, or more books about them. Now imagine Porthos as a rhinoceros and Athos as a stag—it could work as a pretty cool comic, but you’d have to be awfully talented to pull it off.

And Stan Sakai is awfully talented! Thank heavens—because a samurai rabbit is not going to leap off the page all by itself!

I have to pant fitfully now (exhale, exhale, inhale). I’m just a little giddy.

Now listen carefully– this issue contains the conclusion of the two-part Hokashi storyline. At the end of his travels with young Jotaro, Usagi has spent some time in the company of his former teacher, Katsuichi, and his current student, Shunji. The foursome has encountered some unhappy members of the assassins’ guild. Usagi also must decide if it is time to tell Jotaro that he is the boy’s father since the two will soon be parted for possibly years.

I’m going back into the corner now where it’s dark and quiet. I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the next person to wander past. Shhh, don’t tell them I’m here. Move along. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me!

May, 2004

Usagi Yojimbo 73

Quick Rating: Great
Title: The Pride of the Samurai

Samurai! Rabbits!

Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
Editor: Diana Schutz

Usagi Yojimbo is the story of a samurai wandering through an anthropomorphic medieval Japan. Usagi is a rabbit. For the past few issues, he has been traveling the countryside with his pre-pubescent son, Jotaro. The boy is unaware of the fact that Usagi is his father, instead considering him an uncle, a friend of his family. For some time, Usagi has been pondering whether or not to reveal the truth about Jotaro’s parentage to the lad.

This time, the story concerns the plight of another samurai released from service because peace has broken out. The old warrior is lost in a world that does not need his services. Unfortunately, his young son suffers at his side as the two of them live in a shanty under a village bridge. As surely as Othello’s path is laid by Desdemona’s lost handkerchief, any title referencing pridefulness will end in tragedy.

The art in every panel of Usagi Yojimbo does not cry out for attention and yet, I find myself studying the pictures as intently as anything offered by any other comic book artist. I love the way the action is reflected in the style chosen; the way the detail flows with the point-of-view. Visual art is presentation, which we sometimes forget.

With this issue, Usagi Yojimbo celebrates its twentieth year of publication, having passed through a few publishers, but always remaining true to its basic storyline. Bone and Cerebus are about to come to an end, leaving few long-term independents with this kind of history. The world could live without Marvel or DC. The world will continue without regular output from Jeff Smith and Dave Sim. In fact, the world would continue without Usagi Yojimbo or Akiko. Yet, the world needs all the art it can get and never doubt that comics are an art form. And never forget that art is created by artists, not corporations. Usagi Yojimbois a remarkable accomplishment, worthy of innumerable accolades. Hopefully, you will deem it worthy of the most important honor you can offer, a good word to your comic shop owner and a purchase. The series begins a set of single-issue stories here, the perfect time to discover a new world.

February, 2004

Usagi Yojimbo 71

Quick Rating: Wonderful
Title: Bells

How many great rabbits have their been in popular illustration?

Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
Editor: Diana Schutz

It’s Wednesday evening. You stand outside the comic shop, like Dante at the gates of Hell—caveat emptor does not even approach the warnings at the gates of Hell (“Please light a cigarette; keep hands and feet inside the stocks at all times; no flash photography or sound recording permitted.”), but you might want to be wary anyway. You enter the dread comic shop. Some guy in a raincoat stands at the counter, purchasing a stack of comics as high as your forearm. He is arguing with the clerk about the discount charged on one of the books. A middle-aged woman stands in the back, looking shell-shocked, as her pre-teen son selects an issue of Transformers. Her arms are wrapped around her young daughter, shielding her eyes from the action figures portraying a variety of eviscerations just at the child’s eye level. Two loud guys are arguing about the latest controversy regarding Dave Sim, Mark Waid, Joe Quesada, a quart of vodka, and an antelope. And this is where you go in the hope of finding some sort of art that will entertain and sustain you for the next week.

And yet, we ignore the good stuff.

William Stout has described Usagi Yojimbo as a cross between Carl Barks and Akira Kurosawa. I totally agree. If you like either one, then you should jump on the Usagi bandwagon. If you don’t like either one, then you need to turn in your member card for the human race. If you don’t know who either one is, then you need to seek out old Disney comics on ebay and go rent some foreign movies. (Or you may be blessed with a great public library that has both available.)

Usagi Yojimbo translates roughly as unemployed samurai rabbit, or perhaps more accurately as master-less ronin hare. Yes, he’s a rabbit. And he’s appeared on Saturday morning cartoons (guest spots on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and he’s been an action figure. So, you probably should be reading Stan Sakai’s wonderful creation.

In this issue, Katsuichi figures as the main character. Katsuichi was Usagi’s teacher/mentor/master when he was a child. Now, we see him in the midst of a fight when his concentration is interrupted by a passing girl. This sparks the memories which drive this issue.

Usagi has been around for twenty years. The next issue should be out in the next couple weeks. What are you waiting for?

January, 2004