[Editorial comments in boldface text.]
What is the story of Usagi Yojimbo about?
(Worlds of Westfield Interview June 2000) It's a funny animal series set in 17th century feudal Japan. It follows the adventures of Miyomoto Usagi who's a masterless samurai. It's a time of turmoil. The Tokugawa Shogunate has just established control over the entire empire after generations of civil war. It's a time of change. Because the Shogunate has just established peace, the samurai as a warrior class have become obsolete. A lot of them turn to banditry. Many become bodyguards to the emerging merchant class. And many, such as Usagi, wander the shogyusha, the warrior's path FIXME Is this correct?. This is to develop their inner spirit as well as their samurai skills. That, in about 15 sentences, is it.
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987 FIXME broken link) The storyline takes place roughly around the turn of the 17th century in ancient feudal Japan. This is a time of turmoil. The Shogunate has just been established. The age of rebellion in Japan has just barely ended. Usagi is a wandering samurai or ronin.
The first four issues deal with his early life. It's primarily flashbacks. In the first issue, he learns his swordsmanship and meets his teacher. The second issue deals with his first tournament and how he gained his swords. In the third issue he goes back to his old village and cleans out some unpleasantries there. The fourth issue has him serving his lord and ends with the great battle which left him a ronin [masterless samurai].
The character of Usagi is based very loosely upon a historical figure named Miyamoto Musashi who lived during that time and is considered the epitome of the samurai. Musashi was the author of The Book of Five Rings which is now used in big corporations by executives as a guide to strategy. (Laughter.)
It's very loosely based upon his early life, and of course I've taken from other sources, like all of those Kurosawa films and those Japanese movies I was brought up on. "Usagi Yojimbo" literally translates as "rabbit bodyguard." I guess a bodyguard in feudal Japan was a position similar to a gunslinger or hired gun in the old west. The character's actual name is Miyamoto Usagi, a take off on Miyamoto Musashi's name.
(Comics Buyer's Guide #1235 Interview, 1997 FIXME broken link) He's a creature of honor. He follows the path of bushido, which is the path of the warrior. It teaches that honor and loyalty are above all things.
First of all, he has to be true to himself. He's been offered positions with other lords but he's always maintained that a samurai only serves one lord in his lifetime. His lord died a while back, so to remain true to himself he takes the path of the wanderer.
Usagi grew up in a small, northern village. He was sent away to learn swordsmanship under a mountain hermit [Katsuichi-sensei]. From there he served a lord [Lord Mifune]. This was right at the end of the age of civil wars with the great wars coming. Then, when his lord was killed [at the Battle of Adachigahara] he became a wanderer.
Would you tell us about Usagi's "Secret Origin"?
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996 FIXME broken link) Yeah. As you know, Usagi was based upon Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai during the turn of the 17th century Japan. But when I first created Usagi he was a secondary character in the Nilson Groundthumper epic. Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy are characters I created before Usagi. I had a definite storyline for them that would take about 1,000 pages; it was a Tolkienesque story where they'd be on a quest and basically the entire story would deal with Nilson's life: First he'd meet Hermy and then they'd go on to meet Usagi and have adventures. Then it would lead to the death of Nilson and Usagi, until finally it would end with the death of Hermy. Basically, the entire story was about funny animals who were devolving into animals, and a race of goblins who were evolving into humans, and they were out to find out why. So the very first Nilson story, which appeared in Albedo #1, was the first story in the Nilson Groundthumper storyline; it was eight pages, and there was supposed to be 992 pages after that. But I did one Usagi story (in Albedo #2) and I preferred working with Usagi to the others so...what can I say? There are about 2,000 pages of Usagi now.
Where did Usagi first appear?
(WWW Board December 2000) I had originally wanted to do a series based upon the life of Miyamoto Musashi, a 17th century samurai.
However, after I sketched a bunny with his ears tied up in my sketch book I changed it from a human to a rabbit. Also, the similarity in names -- Musashi/Usagi -- was too good to pass up.
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2 Interview, Dec 1994) Well, oh, this is way back in 1983 I think it is, I had wanted to do a series, an Historical series based upon the life of Miyamoto Musashi, who was an actual seventeenth century samurai. But one day I created a rabbit and tied up his ears and I loved the design. It was really simple but no one had ever done it before. So instead of Miyamoto Musashi that character became Miyamoto Usagi. Usagi means rabbit of course. That's how Usagi was born.
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) He appeared in Albedo #s 2, 3 and 4 and then in Critters. He's also appeared in a color story for Doomsday Squad -- I think it was #3 -- and he's made cameos in Phil Yeh's Penguin and Pencilguin and another cameo in a story I did for Grimjack #30. It was a "Munden's Bar" story. That was fun.
Are you ever going to have Usagi in a movie?
(UY Vol 1, #7) There are no plans for an Usagi movie. However, we are negotiating to license him to areas other than comic books.
What does the name "Usagi Yojimbo" mean?
(WWW Board August 2000) "Usagi" literally means "rabbit". It's not just the character's name but also what he is.
"Yojimbo" means "bodyguard", a profession that many unemployed samurai, like our hero, had engaged in.
The name of the series, translated, is "Rabbit Bodyguard".
The name of the character is "Miyamoto Usagi".
(KCET Interview Mar 1999 FIXME link to MPEGs) "Usagi" literally means "rabbit" and "Yojimbo" means "Bodyguard", and a bodyguard in Feudal Japan was kind of like a gunslinger in the Old West, like a sword-for-hire.
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2 Interview, Dec 1994 FIXME broken link) Yojimbo literally means bodyguard. A yojimbo back in the old feudal days of Japan was like a hired sword or a gunslinger in the old west. Basically after the shoguns established the peace in the early sixteen hundreds there were lots of samurai warriors who were unemployed because there was no war or conflict. So these ronin, unemployed samurai, basically hired themselves out to whoever would pay, such as merchants or minor lords. If they hear of a minor conflict somewhere around that's where they would hire out their swords.
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987 FIXME broken link) "Usagi" literally means "rabbit" and "Yojimbo" means "bodyguard". A bodyguard was kind of like the gunslinger back in the old west days. Usagi is a ronin, a masterless samurai. His master was killed in a big war and that big war is the thread that holds all the stories together. I make references to that war every so often. Since his master was killed, he has become a sword for hire. It's kind of a serious funny animal adventure although there is some tongue in cheek humor. The samurai is pretty violent genre. The story takes place about the early 1600's in Japan. Usagi's real name is Miyamoto Usagi and he's kind of based on an historical figure called Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi wrote the Book of Five Rings and is kind of revered as the "sword saint."
What is Usagi's real name?
(UY Vol 1, #7) "Usagi Yojimbo" literally means "Rabbit Bodyguard." His real name is "Miyamoto Usagi," a name inspired by a famous 17th century samurai, Miyamoto Musashi.
What does Usagi like better: the Wakizashi or Katana?
(UY Vol 1, #7) Usagi prefers the Katana, which is the standard fighting sword and is much longer than the Wakizashi.
Will we find out who Usagi's parents are?
(UY Vol 1, #7) You've already met Usagi's father, who was the town magistrate and was killed defying Lord Hikiji.
Whatever happened to Usagi's mother?
(UY Vol 1, #8) I don't know but maybe he'll tell us someday.
Will Usagi ever settle down and find a wife?
(UY Vol 1, #8) At the moment, Usagi is a wandering ronin, which isn't the most conducive atmosphere to raising a family.
What is that mark above Usagi's left eye? Is it a scar?
(UY Vol 1, #8) Yes, indeed, it is a scar. There is a really unusual story connected with that mark and someday I'll actually think of it ["Return to Adachigahara Plain"].
What color are Usagi's eyes? Sometimes they look pink, and other times they look blue.
(UY Vol 1, #8) Usagi's eyes are indeed pink, but he tends to wear tinted contact lenses, hence the discrepancy. No, actually, I tend to color his eyes pink, while Tom Luth colors them blue. We'll try to be more consistent in the future.
Will Usagi ever meet the Lone Wolf and Cub?
(UY Vol 1, #10) Usagi will definitely not meet the Lone Wolf and Cub, but he will run into the Lone Goat and Kid [Lone Goat and Kid].
(UY Vol 1, #38) "Lone Goat and Kid" is, of course, a homage to Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's epic manga series Lone Wolf and Cub, which featured a wandering samurai, Itto Ogami, and his son, Daigoro.
I based the characters of Yagi and Gorogoro on my recollections of the movie series I had seen almost 15 years ago. The cub has always been the more appealing of the two characters. The fact that he could be replaced by a brick and not change any of the storylines is, possibly, what gives him his charm. However, I did deviate from their established characters by allowing them to exhibit emotions and actually giving the Kid a speaking part (something a brick cannot do unless under great duress).
Is Usagi ever going to end being a ronin; Will he find another lord?
(WWW Board Aug 2000) Not in the near future. In the original storyline, abandoned long ago, he does go on to serve a new lord... and you would be surprised to learn who it was to be.
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2, Dec 1994 FIXME broken link) For the time being he will be unemployed.
(UY Vol 1, #7) I don't have any plans for Usagi to serve a lord anywhere in the near future but I am plotting a story with Tomoe and Lord Noriyuki, who appeared in the 1986 Summer Special/Usagi Book One.
Will Usagi travel to the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa)?
(WWW Board June 2000) I don't think so or rather, I don't have any such story planned.
Stan, did you have a hand in making the character Usagi Yojimbo who appeared in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon?
(WWW Board February 2001) My participation in the episodes were little more than providing approvals and giving initial input to the character designers. Fortunately, the people at Murakami/Wolf Films were fans of Usagi and followed my character designs rather than basing it on the toy design. They even had Usagi initially beat the Turtles, so naturally, I approved the script.
The episodes Usagi appeared in are titled:
Usagi Yojimbo and Usagi Come Home.
I don't believe either have appeared for sale on pre-recorded tape.
(WWW Board June 2000) Usagi's appearances in the TMNT cartoons were based on my designs. The actual animation was done in Korea.
I approved the script because Usagi got to beat the Turtles.
Where did Usagi's mon (crest) come from? Is it a real one, or did you make it up?
(WWW Board May 2000) The Mifune mon which Usagi wears is based on a rabbit's footprint. I wanted it to be easily recognizeable and easy to render, especially in smaller drawing. Tomoe's mon is based on the footprints of a bear and Gen's is a daikon turnip. My own family crest is a plum blossom within a circle. I had considered using it as Usagi's mon but it's too complicated.
Samurai armor is supposed to have a neckguard to prevent decapitation, and a face mask made of steel hard enough to blunt a spear point, yet Usagi never wears these with his armor. Why not?
(UY Vol 1, #17): If Usagi were to wear a face-mask during battle, he would be just another anonymous samurai. I wanted to keep him easily recognizable, so I used my artistic license (which I do fairly often) and kept the area around his head uncluttered. That's also the reason I left off the neckguard and got rid of his helmet so soon after the battle.
Does a samurai shout out his lineage in battle to demoralize his enemies? Why doesn't Usagi do this?
(UY Vol 1, #17): A warrior did, indeed, shout out his lineage during pre-battle challenges to intimidate the enemy forces and also in the hopes that a samurai with an equally prominent background would answer his challenge. However, Usagi doesn't proclaim his ancestry now that he's a ronin to avoid disgracing them with his masterless status.
Will Usagi become a teacher soon?
(UY Vol 2, #6) Miyamoto Musashi, whose life Usagi is based on, did for a while have a young pupil named Jotaro. However, Usagi won't have one because I plan to continue, for a while at least, the "Young Usagi" stories of how he, himself, learned to become a samurai.
(UY Vol 1, #24) As for being a teacher, Usagi, like Musashi when he was a wanderer, considers himself still a student.
Where in Japan is Usagi's village?
(UY Vol 1, #34) Adachi Plain, the city of Sendai (mentioned in Book 2) and Usagi's village are all in Mutsu Province which takes up the entire northeast portion of the main island of Honshu. Lord Hikiji was inspired by Date Masamune (1566-1636), the lord of Mutsu who also aspired to become Shogun. The Geishu (also called Aki) Province is located in the southern portion of Honshu and is now a part of Hiroshima which my family, three generations ago, came from.
Where has Usagi traveled so far?
(Silver Bullet Comics Interview, November 2000) I have a rough idea of where Usagi has traveled to. He started off in northern Honshu (the main island) and is currently working his way to the city of Nagoya near Kyoto.
I don't know how many lords have been introduced but the principal political figure in the land is the new Shogun (historically Tokugawa Ieyasu). There is a power in the shadows that is attempting to gain the shogunate for itself. The "shadow lord" is Lord Hikiji who was based upon Date Masamune who had tried to set himself up as Shogun (military dictator). One interesting historical note is that Masamune was the first lord to send emissaries to a foreign country: a contingent of samurai went to the Vatican by way of Mexico. The travels took a year. They made it into the room adjoining the papal chambers where the pope refused to see them. They turned around and went home, their mission a failure.
Ha! I bet you can't tell us how may dots are on Usagi's shirt, can you?
(UY Vol 3, #6) Incidentally, there are 500 dots on Usagi's shirt.
Okay then, what is Usagi's favorite food?
(UY Vol 3, #23) Sushi.
Do you have the ending to the saga of Usagi Yojimbo in mind now?
(Worlds of Westfield Interview June 2000) I had an ending in mind when I first started [laughs]. I had Usagi's death all planned and everything. But right now, there's just so many stories I'd like to tell. It's been fifteen years now and I'm just starting to scratch the surface of all the storylines that I want to do. It'll be around for a while.
How has Usagi been able to duck under sword swipes all this time without losing his ears?
(Silver Bullet Comics Interview, November 2000) He has actually had his ears clipped a number of times. But he is pretty good at dodging those cuts.
Why did you change Usagi's personality and appearance over the years? (Groo had changed over the years too!)
(WWW Board March 2001) I never changed Usagi. He matured on his own. Any changes both physically and story-wise were unconscious on my part.
Many other creators have said the same thing about their own characters. Since you brought up Groo, Sergio [AragonÚs] once remarked that the barbarian was getting stupider as time went on -- completely unconscious on Sergio's part. He continued to devolve until issue 100 when Groo learned to read. Also, if you look at the earlier Groo stories, he was a lot deadlier and looked a whole lot different.
How did you feel about the TMNT episodes featuring Usagi ("Usagi Yojimbo" and "Usagi Come Home")?
(WWW Board March 2001) I enjoyed the stories. The animators were fans of Usagi even before they got involved with the Turtles and wanted to retain my design rather than that of the action figure. The scripter had even had the rabbit beat the Turtles, until he got smacked with a pizza, and I approved the script.
I don't know who the voice was but I do remember brainstorming as to how he should sound. A Brooklyn accent was suggested as well as having him speak in Japanese with English subtitles. One guy even suggested he be dubbed like a foreign movie with his mouth out of sync with his words. In the end, we decided on a voice somewhat like Splinter's.
Fred Wolf Film which was also Murakami/Wolf did the animation for the Turtles' TV series and also did the 3 1/2 minute Space Usagi promo.
Tell us about your new "Young Usagi" story guest-starring "Young Tomoe" found in "Demon Mask" (UY Book 14)!
(WWW Board March 2001) It's not actually a new Tomoe story. It is a reprint of the 8-pager, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tournament", which appeared in the 1999 DH Annual [Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999: DHP Jr.]. That story was originally written for the Trilogy Tour III book as a fully painted story. Unfortunately, when the tour was cancelled, so was the book and the story was filed away. Fortunately, DH [Dark Horse Comics] asked me to contribute to their annual however, since the theme was "heroes before they became heroes", I would have to do a Young Usagi story. The story, which had already been pencilled, came out of the files.