USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 1, Number 38
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USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 1, Number 38

USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 1, Number 37 <-- --> USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 2, Number 1

  Synopsis for The Last Ino Story
Letters Column
Letters Column
Send letters & 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!

[- ED.]

Fan Art by Chuck Dillon
Fan Art by Chuck Dillon
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.

Todd Shogun
Cypress, CA

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
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 conventions.

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 jacket.

Thank you for Usagi and his world. I wear my Usagi T-shirt proudly.

Alexei Panshin
Riegelsville, PA

[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!

[- ED.]


[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 their personalities.

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 presentation.

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 their clothes?

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 Samurai class.

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.


USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 1, Number 37 <-- --> USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 2, Number 1

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Usagi Yojimbo, including all prominent characters featured in the stories and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Stan Sakai and Usagi Studios. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. Names, characters, places, and incidents featured in this publication either are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events, institutions, or locales, without satiric content, is coincidental.