12.17.2010

The 12 Days of Comics: 2010 - Day 5


"Usagi Yojimbo" by Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
Demographic: Short-Story Historian
Selected by: Ryan Claytor
Subsequent Interview by: Justin Giampaoli

Ryan: In my humble opinion, one of the most consistently solid monthly titles being released right now is "Usagi Yojimbo" by Stan Sakai. Sakai, the series author, illustrator, and original creator, has been producing the title for a quarter century and shows no signs of slowing down. With such a considerable amount of experience behind him, Sakai deftly crafts single-issue stories (a dying art-form) on a monthly basis as a single creator.

*Pause for reflection on that last sentence*

Work ethics aside, "Usagi Yojimbo" follows the character, Miyamoto Usagi, an anthropomorphic rabbit bodyguard, as he wanders through Feudal Japan in the 17th century. Sakai builds a surprisingly somber mood (for a "funny animal" series) through his use of tempered pacing, well-crafted character demeanors and philosophies, and multiple-panel establishing shots. Bits of history are woven into each tale and there are usually historical reference notes at the end of each issue.

I'd like to address a couple common concerns for newcomers to "Usagi Yojimbo." First, contrary to what one might think, the historical facts do not get in the way of Sakai's storytelling. It feels more like the creator is leading you into an unexpected education, rather than forcing a bunch of facts into some semblance of a narrative. Another potential set-back for new readers is that they might be intimidated about entering a series with 25 years worth of publication history to catch up on. In response to that I would re-emphasize the fact that nearly every issue is a done-in-one format (each issue is a self-contained story), making almost every issue an entry point.

Conveniently, there are introductory, middle-grade, and aficionado ranges of “Usagi” gifts to accommodate any level of interest this season. New issues are available every month and usually self-contained, eliminating the need to track down those hard-to-find back issues in order to complete a storyline. “Usagi” is also collected in several reasonably priced trade paperbacks which compile half-a-dozen or more issues in each collection. Finally, for the “Usagi” enthusiast on your list, Fantagraphics (the first of several publishers of the "Usagi" series) is releasing the preeminent holiday gift on December 17th, 2010: a 1200-page volume collecting all 38 issues of the original Fantagraphics “Usagi Yojimbo” run with tons of bonus material included.

Justin: Hold on, I'm still reflecting on the lost art of the done-in-one single issue story... Yeah. I can't really think of another ongoing book that's structured that way. That's interesting. I've tried random issues of “Usagi” when I've found them in quarter bins, but I can't honestly say I've ever given it a serious fair chance. I know you made it a point to indicate that every issue can function as a potential jumping on point, but give me a story arc or two that really has the magic. What specific collected edition would you have me read to maximize the potential of getting hooked on the world Stan Sakai has created? BTW, the Fantagraphics edition, nay - tome, looks great! I had the "Art of Usagi Yojimbo" book that Dark Horse put out, and that was also gorgeous.

Ryan: Honestly, I’d probably point you toward his more recent Dark Horse trades (Dark Horse being his most recent and longest-lasting publisher). I think Stan Sakai has grown more confident in his storytelling and pacing with age. “Grasscutter” won the Eisner Award for “Best Serialized Story” in 1999, if you fancy that sort of thing. But, really, so much of his recent work is a lesson in storytelling for me. Each issue, I’m impressed with his zoomed-out environmental shots, nicely paced 22-page tales, and quick, effortless line work.

2 Comments:

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Hey Justin,

I thought I'd alert you to a comment we got on our Usagi post. It's over at my site. It sides with my feelings on this title, but I thought the brief description might help you to appreciate the title more than what I was able to get across.

Food for thought,

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey Ryan,

Yeah, I read that this morning and thought it was a nice little pitch!

J

 

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