BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
One of comic's most famous bunnies is reaching a milestone when Usagi Yojimbo hits # 100 from Dark Horse Comics. The special issue is sort of a roast to creator Stan Sakai and the ronin rabbit, with notables like Frank Miller, Sergio Aragones, Matt Wagner and Jeff Smith, to name a few, each providing pieces. Along with talking Usagi, Sakai told THE PULSE he's waiting for approval for a new Groo project and just wait until you see who The Wanderer might meet!THE PULSE: When you were thinking about what to do for the 100th issue of Usagi Yojimbo, how did you want to make this story special?
There is no Usagi story per se. There will be tributes to myself or Usagi by other writers and artists: Rick Geary, Frank Miller, Sergio Aragones, Jamie Rich, Andi Watson, Diana Schutz, Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, Mark Evanier, Scott Shaw!, Jeff Smith, and even publisher Mike Richardson gets in there. I will provide a few framing sequences to tie the stories together.THE PULSE: Reading the description, "a good-natured roast of both Usagi and Stan," this kind of reminds me of the old Fred Hembeck Marvel specials. How does it feel to have some of comics top talents roasting you and your creation?
It's great because they are not only the top names in the industry and talents I admire, but they are also all good friends. For instance, I've known Sergio, Mark, and Scott for almost 30 years. A lot of it is just friends good naturedly kidding each other. They are all very busy--Frank and Jeff, especially--so I'm gratified that they made time in their schedule for this project.THE PULSE: There seem to be a lot of people working on that issue. How did you fit everything into just 32 pages? Was there consideration of doing more?
Actually, it was editor Diana Schutz' idea to have this roast. I made up a dream list of who I would like to have as contributors, and she contacted them, and figured out the logistics. I did not even see the stories until the artists had finished them completely, and I had to do the framing sequences.THE PULSE: How does it feel for you to reach a milestone like a 100th issue with one publisher and have this character be so popular for over two decades?
The running gag throughout the issue is that, true this is Dark Horse's 100th issue of Usagi Yojimbo, but he was previously published by two other publishers. If you count those issues, this will be more like UY #160. And that is not counting his appearances in various anthologies.THE PULSE: What have been some of the challenges with working on this series?
The biggest challenge has been the marketplace itself. When I started Usagi, there were only a few b&w titles. We could not even give them away. Now Albedo #2 with Usagi's first appearance is one of the most sought after comics from that period.THE PULSE: So many people love Usagi Yojimbo, was there ever a time when you considered ending the series? If so, what made you soldier on? If not, is Usagi Yojimbo a series you'd like to do forever if possible?
When Usagi was first conceived, he was to be in a finite series--about 3,000 pages. Things have changed a lot since then, and it is pretty much an ongoing series. I do have a related project that I would like to do, but will have to discuss it with Editor Diana first (she's in Europe right now, a guest of the Lucca Festival in Italy).THE PULSE: How do you think you've changed as a creator or grown as a creator since the first appearance of Usagi Yojimbo?
I've had to develop a discipline to meet my deadlines. There are about 10 individual issues a year, plus a trade collection. This gives me time to work on a few other projects.
I've also learned that comics can be a teaching tool as well as entertainment. I've tried to do as much research as I can on the history, folklore, and customs of Japan to give the stories a more authentic feel. My recent issue about the tea ceremony is probably one of my strongest stories ever. Many of the awards I've received have pointed out my attention to detail and the authentic feel of the stories, even if they do star funny animals.THE PULSE: What problems will Usagi be facing after this special issue?
Usagi had taken someone under his protection, but has had to abandon her in a safe location as his life just too dangerous. Unknown to him, though, a hired assassin is after him, and will use her as leverage.
I've also laid groundwork for future story arcs such as Lady Tomoe's wedding. It will take awhile to
research how marriages were arranged at that time.THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?
I've been lettering the Spider-Man Sundays
for about 20 years now. It's still fun, because I get to work with Stan Lee
. We're still waiting for the go-ahead on the next Groo the Wanderer
project: Groo Meets Conan
. And, as I said, there is something I would like to do, but will have to get Diana's input first.
Usagi Yojimbo # 100
is in stores this January.