Fan Art by Chuck Dillon
& comments to: "USAGI LETTERS," c/o Fantagraphics Books,|
7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115
[Well, here we are with the last
Fantagraphics-published issue of Usagi Yojimbo, before the
battlin' bunny departs for the greener pastures of Mirage Comics -
literally greener, in fact, since Mirage will be able to present his
adventures in full color on a permanent basis.
[A few quick notes on the transition. As I
mentioned last issue, please send all letters of comment on this and
future issues to USAGI LETTERS, c/o Mirage Comics, PO Box 417,
Haydenville, MA 01039. Usagi has some of the nicest, smartest, and most
diligent letter-writers in comics, and I hope you'll continue this
tradition with the new publisher. As for subscribers, your subscriptions
will continue with the Mirage issues (if you sub runs through
#40, you'll get Mirage's first two issues, etc.); however, while Mirage
figures out just how they want to handle subs, do not send in any
new subs or renewals. I'm sure Mirage will have up-to-date sub info in one
of their first few issues.
[A few special bonuses this issue:
[On the last page you'll find Stan's notes for
Usagi Yojimbo Book Five - a fun look into how he put together the
stories that comprise that volume. And on the inside back cover we've got
the long-promised "Usagi Concordance," a complete listing of Usagi's
appearances to date, cross-referenced with all subsequent reprints in
comics and books. (Usagi stories not drawn by Stan are not counted as part
of the continuity and aren't included here, but I'll bet that Mirage will
cough up a more complete list of Usagi stuff by other people if you badger
them about it a little.)
[Ah, yes, before I forget, here's the answers to
last issue's name-the-critter quiz.
1. Mariko (Critters #10)
2. Gennosuké (Critters #1)
3. Shingen (UY #12)
4. Genta (UY #5)
5. "Obaasan" [old woman] (UY #8)
6. Komori Ninja (UY #21)
7. Lord Noriyuki & Koro (Albedo #3)
8. Ocho (Doomsday Squad #8)
9. Captain Torame (UY #13)
10. Zylla (UY #6)
11. Tomoe (Albedo #3)
12. Gunichi (UY #1)
13. Lord Hebi (Albedo #4)
14. Katsuichi Sensei (UY #1)
15. Zato-Ino (Critters #6)
16. Kenichi (Critters #10)
17. Atsuko (UY #19)
18. Kappa (UY #6)
19. Nishimura the book store owner & lackey (UY #33)
20. Husband & wife woodcutters (Critters #3)
21. Jei-San (UY #10)
22. Spot the Wonder Lizard (UY #7)
23. Kitsuné (UY #32)
24. Yagi the Lone Goat Assassin (UY #24)
[This issue's header is once
again by Chuck Dillon (inked by his pal Dusty). Chuck recently shed his
fan status and landed a regular comic strip called "The Inside Dirt" - in
the Philadelphia Daily News, no less. (As if that weren't enough,
his editor tells him that the strip may go national soon, so keep an eye
out for it!) Stan and I send out our heartiest congratulations to Chuck
and hope that when he's become the next Garry Trudeau or Jim Davis he
won't forget his old pals Kim and Stan, who'll probably be destitute
has-beens by then.
[On to the letters!
Inked by "Dusty" Rhoades
Dear Mr. Sakai,
After living in Hawaii for two years I ran across my
first Usagi Yojimbo in Jelly's. I didn't know at the time how that two
dollars would change my life. I was amazed and thoroughly pleased, to say the
least. I really love Usagi. I think that your art wonderfully expresses
the true spirit of Usagi and the whole samurai concept. After becoming
a devoted fan, I wanted to know more about Japanese culture and history. To make
a long story short I'm writing this letter from Japan, where I live with my
Japanese wife and study Japanese. Before I left Hawaii I got a tattoo. I'm sure
that you would not believe me if I just told you that I got a tattoo of Usagi
Yojimbo so I'm sending a picture with this letter. I want to clarify that I
didn't get a tattoo because I'm a fan of Usagi himself, but because of what he
represents. He represents the true spirit of the samurai, and to me that is the epitome of what I want
my life to be. I hope that you'll not be upset because of what I've done. But I
wanted to tell you that literature (even comics) is a powerful tool that can be
used to make people's lives better, to instruct, to inspire. The pen can be
mightier than the sword, even Usagi's. On behalf of all of the people that never
write I'd like to thank you for all of those things that make life great. Duty,
honor, loyalty unto death, bravery, and love, all of these things are a part of
Usagi and they represent the hopes of his followers. Thank you for all you've
done in my life.
Thomas C. Chester-Yamano
Suita, Osaka, Japan
Dear Stan and Kim,
Issue #36, "Gen," part 3, proves that the UY
series can still kick butt in the area of comic-book storytelling. The
artwork was sano as usual and complemented this tale of vengeance and
comradeship perfectly. I especially liked the scene where Usagi breaks off Gen's
ceramic horn to reveal a hidden blade. This trick maneuver can come in handy in
those tight situations when Gen would be without his swords, but I'm surprised
he's never actually used his horn itself as a weapon. He could sharpen it down a
bit and...instant katana. Anyway, wouldn't a screw-on, screw-off horn
with a slot hollowed out in its center be more convenient for concealing a small
implement? I mean, it must be quite irritating breaking off his pride and joy
like that every time he's in a jam. Geez...
Tom Stazer's latest "Lionheart" story brought up an
interesting twist in reality. I'm not sure whether or not this whole thing
called living is a big computer program, but my life is so full of glitches
right now that it doesn't seem to be too much of a far-fetched idea. Seriously,
though, I can see why you start Stazer's stories right off where Usagi
ends, instead of sandwiching the lettercol in between them. In terms of
quality, "Lionheart" definitely is "next to" Usagi. Needless to say,
I'd like to see Lionheart in every issue of Usagi; he's got some really
hilarious stuff. Here's to a second Stazer/Sakai collaboration...perhaps this time
with Tom drawing one of Stan's high-fidelity samurai tales. Hmm. I can dream, can't I?
I just read Scott Shaw!'s Sonic the Hedgehog
and I was wondering when Usagi'll get his own anthropomorphic video game.
I'm sorry, but that boring computer game just didn't cut it, Usagi deserves
better; he's a big star now! Also - who did Usagi vote for? Last I heard,
rabbits are republicans, at least according to Steve Gallacci. Boy, this would
explain why the deficit has been multiplying so rapidly over the past
several years. And finally, it can be told: Dan Quayle does have the
IQ of a carrot.
PS: I can identify with the well-read letter-writer in
that issue's letter column who says there's no challenge in trying to order the
much-coveted hard-to-find issue of one's favorite comic book. I can remember,
when I first started collecting Usagi, the long and agonizing trek I
took in the quest for the super-scarce Summer Special. My search
brought me to the '87 San Diego Con, where I discovered four on sale. Of course,
I bought them all.
Fan Art by Todd Shogun
"Gennosuke (after Albrecht Durer)"
[So if any of you other fans were at the '87 San
Diego con looking for that issue and couldn't find it, it's because Todd scarfed
them all up. I think you should hunt him down this year and beat him up!
[Thanks for the amazing rendition of Gennosuké, Todd. - ED.]
Dear Stan and friends:
I only caught up with Usagi Yojimbo a year ago.
But its extraordinary qualities - not least its moral dimension - immediately
appealed to me. Since then, I've tried to make up for lost time. I've scouted
out all the back stories, I've recommended Usagi to all my friends,
and I've even sold Usagi books along with my own titles at science fiction
Also in this past year, my wife Cory and I have been
schooling our older son Adam at home. One of the things we've concentrated on is
a study of Japanese history and culture. Adam has read The Chrysanthemum and
the Sword and The Book of Five Rings, seen a dozen Kurosawa Akira
movies, gone through art books, watched Japanese cartoon movies like
Nausicaa and Laputa, read
Lensey Namioka novels, looked at many tv documentaries, and much more. right
now, we've been getting up early to watch subtitled Japanese news broadcasts on
a New York tv station. I don't know how much Adam is absorbing of this, but I've
learned a lot more about Japan in this year than I ever knew before.
But all of this cross-cultural study has given me some
questions to ask about Usagi Yojimbo. It seems to
me now, for instance, that Usagi is a very American samurai
rabbit in some ways. He doesn't pull class
rank on anyone. He isn't pride-and-shame motivated. He isn't ruthless. I can't
see him committing seppuku to make a point. I can't see him committing
seppuku at all. He doesn't even run with the low center of gravity
pad-pad-pad I see in Japanese movies (from sandal-wearing?) but with a
more loose-limbed free-stepping gait - or so it seems to my eye. The question I
have is - what do the Japanese make of Usagi Yojimbo? I've seen letters
here in the letters column from all over the world. But I don't remember any
from Japan. Do the Japanese see Usagi Yojimbo as right on, as a delightfully American take on Japan, or as an intrusion
and a desecration of what is privately and specially their own thing? I'd like
to know if they love Usagi or ignore him.
I also wonder where you can take Usagi Yojimbo
from here. Space Usagi was fun as a stunt - but it was really
limited. Its science-fictional future wasn't probable or even remotely possible.
And it wasn't original, either. It was a light Japanese wash over a Star
Wars base - which itself was borrowed and co-opted in the first place from
older SF stories in print rather than being an original and solidly
knowledgeable creation. One of the strengths of Usagi Yojimbo is that
for all its acknowledged influences, it is an original creation solidly rounded
in a lot of study and research. But there are some signs that Usagi
might close in on itself and lose itself in repetition and self-imitation.
For instance, every time Usagi goes back home, his village is under attack. That
situation is wearing thin. I'd like to see Stan open things up a bit. Japan is a
group of islands - where is the sea in Usagi? Gunpowder and guns have intruded into Usagi's
world - where are the long-nosed devils? Are they aardvarks or anteaters? Is it
possible even that Usagi could go overseas and pit himself against larger
unknowns? Not least, one of the models for Usagi, Miyamoto Musashi, grew from
being merely a superior swordslinger into being a master of half-a-dozen
different arts. Is it too late for Usagi to learn something new and grow in
dimension and stature? He could stand to meet someone as superior to his present
self as Katsuichi was to the young Usagi.
And one last note about Usagi's influence. Last weekend, I was selling my
books at a science fiction convention in Philadelphia. A guy in a black
biker jacket ["Dusty" Rhoades?] came by and spotted the Usagi
books on my table. He turned around and showed me the large three-dot Mifune
clan symbol that Usagi always wears dominating the back of his leather
Thank you for Usagi and his world. I
wear my Usagi T-shirt proudly.
[And what better way to end the last ED-edited
Usagi letters column than with this fine, perceptive letter?
[It's been a blast, folks! Thanks to all the
readers who've supported the book, whether by writing in or simply by buying it;
to the dozens of terrific cartoonists who've supplied the extraordinary back-up
tales that have grace these pages; to my brother Mark for his fine art
direction; and of course, to the one and only Stan Sakai, who I predict will go
on to greater and greater glories as the '90s wear on.
[And for you collectors out there, know ye that
1993 should see printings or reprintings of three Usagi collections: Usagi Book
One will be reprinted (with a new deluxe signed-and-numbered edition which will
include a slew of never-before-seen early Usagi sketches); Usagi Book Three
(whose first edition is almost out of print); and the deluxe hardcover edition
of the brand new Usagi Yojimbo Book Six, featuring "Circles."
[See you in the funny papers! Bye-bye!
NOTES FOR USAGI YOJIMBO BOOK FIVE
[These notes were originally
prepared for inclusion in Usagi Yojimbo Book Five, but were
bounced out when I couldn't figure out how to squeeze them into that
volume. So here, for your enjoyment, are Stan Sakai's behind-the-scenes
commentary on the stories appearing in that volume. (NOTE: These five
stories originally appeared in UY #19-24.) - ED.]
After the lengthy "Dragon
Bellow Conspiracy," I wanted to get back into doing a few shorter stories.
"Frost and Fire"
is about relationships: Nagao's relationship with the two women,
Atsuko's relationship with her brother, and his relationship with his
"pals." Each relationship ends in betrayal except for Nagao and Atsuko's.
Theirs is the only one that remains pure and Atsuko the only one who
remains faithful. even Usagi betrays Lady Koriko's trust when he fails to
forcibly retrieve the sword.
The women, Koriko and Atsuko,
are poles apart. Even their names, "Ice Child" and "Hot Child," reflect
As I've said so many times,
the sword is the symbol of the samurai and reflects his status.
It is passed down through generations. It is the very soul of the warrior.
In the decline of the samurai, swords were often pawned and
replaced with bamboo imitations. The samurai kept up appearances
but lost their souls.
"A Kite Story" is one
of my all-time favorites. It not only tells a good story but it teaches
something about the culture of Japan. This is the one that I've given to
parents and to some classes where I've been invited to give a
It all came about when I
bought a book on the art of Japanese kites. After reading it, I wrote down
the few lines of plot and the sketch below.
It took a year before I got
enough research to write out the story. The hardest part was in trying to
find out how gamblers cheated back in those days.
"Blood Wings" was an attempt
to use an animal's natural abilities and make it part of his character, as
I did with the burrowing Mole Ninja.
For a long time, I had wanted
to introduce some flying villains, and bats seemed the obvious choice.
There's a mystique around them, created by the old vampire legends, their
ability to get around in darkness, and their fondness for hanging upside
down in caves. Besides, the Batman movie had just come out and it
was too good an opportunity for some bad puns.
Because they're adapted to
flight, it seemed a natural to put blades on their wings. Besides, they
don't have real hands, so conventional swords would be useless. There's
just one thing I can't figure out - without hands, how do they put on
This was also a good time to
reintroduce Lord Hikiji, who looms like a specter over the politics of
Usagi's world. I also introduced a possible subplot for the future - a
confrontation between the Komori and Neko Ninja clans.
" 'The Way of the
Samurai' is found in death." Those are the famous words from the
Hagakure, a literary classic written at the beginning of the 18th
century by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. It is basically a manual for the
I wanted to explore the
possibilities of an aging samurai whose loyalty is without
question but whose master no longer wanted his service and to see to what
limits the combination of failure (in his eyes) and sickness would drive
him to. We are all too often our own harshest critics and we see our
failures but not the good we've done for others (see Frank Capra's
It's a Wonderful Life).
It was also an opportunity to
set up the next story.
"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).
Incidentally, "Yagi" means
"goat" and "Gorogoro" is the sound your stomach makes when it rumbles.
- STAN SAKAI