[Editorial comments in boldface text.]
1. What is the best way to contact you, Stan?
(WWW Board June 2000) Send an e-mail to my editor Diana Schutz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she'll forward it to me. She is great at screening and forwarding stuff to me. Or post on the DojoBoard which I visit quite often.
Todd Shogun used to forward mails to me, too, but he got so much spam lately, that he had to stop this service of him.
2. Do you speak Japanese?
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2 Interview, Dec 1994) Very very little, I wouldn't even call it speaking Japanese. I do know Japanese, but it's not like a conversational knowledge. I can pick it up. I can understand it a lot more than I actually speak it.
3. Have you spent a lot of time in Japan?
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2 Interview, Dec 1994) I was born in Japan, actually. My dad was there right after the war. He was stationed there. He was born in Hawaii, so we went back to Hawaii, where he came from. My dad was a second generation Japanese American.
(Dark Horse Maverick Board, November 2000) I'm a sansei -- a third generation Japanese American -- on my father's side. My dad grew up in Hawaii but my mom was born in Japan. My maternal grandfather was actually against their marriage because my dad is from peasant stock and she is from samurai. Sounds like something out of feudal Japan but they got married in 1948 or 49.
4. Are you related to Saburo Sakai , the World War II Japanese air ace?
(UY Vol 1, #7) No, I don't believe I'm related to Saburo Sakai.
5. Are you related to Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1829), the Japanese artist from the Edo-period?
(UY Vol 3, #28) I am not a descendent of Hoitsu. Though our family names sound similar and are spelled the same in English, we actually use different kanji characters when writing them in Japanese.
6. Being of Japanese heritage, did you grow up with all of the old samurai adventure influences?
(Comics Buyer's Guide #1235 Interview, 1997) Hawaii has a mixed culture, so I grew up with a great deal of Japanese culture around me. There was a movie theater down the street that showed Japanese movies every weekend. I'd go down every weekend and see the samurai films and the old serials. As I got older I got more into it -- not just the filmmaking, but also the history of Japan.
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987) Yes. There was a movie theater down the street from my home in Hawaii that showed all the old Toshiro Mifune films and other samurai films that I really love. It's part of my culture and I have tried to put a lot of cultural things in the background and in the story of Usagi. The Japanese have had a tradition of using funny, actually serious, animals, in their literature and I have tried to carry on that tradition. That same tradition is in western folklore like Aesop's Fables.
7. Early in your career, you were drawing really cute little animals and Bible verses. Has there been a big change in your life to now be drawing samurai animal adventures with a bit more violence?
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987) Sergio is a big fan of Japanese culture, and he kind of reintroduced me to my own heritage. I love doing the research on Usagi. Sergio has not only been an artistic influence but he has also influenced my attitude on the way you research a story. Sergio does an immense amount of research for his work and this has rubbed off. If he needed a ship, he would go out and look at all the ships he could find and then go to the drawing board and make up his own. I have a whole library with books on the culture of Japan.
8. When you were younger, what did you read?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Of course, the old Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stuff! I grew up on Steve Ditko's work. Steve Ditko was my first big influence. I loved his old Spider-Man and Doctor Strange strips. Those were great. I would buy almost all the Marvels and all the DCs. I loved those.
9. Is Disney an influence on you?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Well, a lot of those Disney things around the house were given to me -- given to Sharon, actually. She's the stuffed animal collector. Yeah, I guess so. I enjoyed his work. I enjoy the Gladstone series, I've been buying those. Those are great.
10. Have you ever been invited to teach college courses on cartooning?
(WWW Board February 2001) I have never taught a class but I have spoken to classes from the preschool to college level. What I talk about depends upon the age and interest of the group, anywhere from general cartooning to storytelling. Most of the groups just like to see a cartoonist draw.
A couple of months ago, Bob Foster arranged a seminar for a group of manga students from Japan. Some of the teachers he got were Sergio [Aragonés], Scott Shaw!, and myself as well as writers and animators in the comics and animation field. We all worked through translators. I'm also involved in the local Passport to the Arts program and speak to classes at the library.
11. Have you ever studied martial arts?
(WWW Board January 2001) I've never studied any form of martial arts but I have gone to tournaments.
Most of my knowledge of samurai began when I was a kid with weekly visits to the movie theatre down the street which showed chambara movies every weekend.
(UY Vol 3, #8) I don't practice any martial arts, but I have friends that do and I attend tournaments and exhibitions.
(UY Vol 1, #8) I have had no formal martial arts training, but I grew up with the Japanese culture and I also love the Kurosawa epics, as well as the other samurai movies I've seen.
12. What are some of your favorite books about samurai?
(WWW Board July 2000) On my book shelf are Tales of Samurai Honor by Saikaku and Legends of the Samurai by Hiroaki Sato. And there is, of course, Musashi and Taiko both by Eizo Yoshikawa.
There are many books on feudal Japan but Turnbull is probably the most prolific writer dealing with the subject. I have at least a dozen of his books in my library.
I recently got Stephen Turnbull's The Samurai Sourcebook from Heritage Source (there's a link from the Dojo website). It's one of his recent books (1998 from Arms & Armour Press). The chapters are: "Outline of Samurai History"; "Personalities and Heraldry"; "Arms and Armour"; "Strategy and Tactics"; "Battles and Sieges"; "Case Studies"; "Miscellanea" (religion, bushido, hara-kiri ) and there are also maps. I got it in hardcover priced at $39.95.
Stephen Turnbull's book The Book of the Samurai: The Warrior Class of Japan has a few maps of various eras of Japanese history such as during the Ashikaga Shogunate and during Sekigahara. There are a few other resources I have but the Turnbull book comes to mind.
I'm not sure what of Stephen Turnbull's books are currently in print. He has a website, though.
Eiji Yoshikawa's Musashi and Taiko are two I recommend. Erik Christian Haugaard has written a few juvenile fiction books-- The Revenge of the 47 Samurai, The Boy and the Samurai, and a couple of others. The same with Katherine Paterson with Of Nightingales that Weep (set during the Genpei War), Master Puppeteer (about bunraku which I've been wanting to do a story about) and The Sign of the Chrysanthemum.
Dale Furutani is a good friend of mine and his books are excellent. The last part of the Kaze Trilogy should be out soon and they are well worth reading. He also has a detective series set in modern times starring Ken Tanaka.
If you're interested in samurai mysteries, also check out Laura Joh Rowland's work.
Check out the Heritage Source link on the Dojo website. They have a section on samurai fiction.
[Also check out Stan Sakai's Story Notes for references used to create stories in Usagi Yojimbo!]
13. Have you done anything besides Usagi?
(WWW Board July 2000) I've done everything from Ninja Turtles to Shi. I'm currently doing a pin-up for the next Simpson's Treehouse of Horror [#6, September 2000] and just finished a cross-over for Dan Brereton's Nocturnals ["Nocturnals: Troll Bridge", October 2000].
14. Do you sell your original artwork?
(WWW Board July 2000) Dark Horse has acted as agent on-line for a few covers. Otherwise, catch me at a con. At San Diego, I had art ranging from $10 to $1100. I do some free sketches but these have been greatly simplified to simple head drawings because so many of these freebies have been appearing for sale on the collectors' market -- a problem that so many cartoonists have.
(WWW Board March 2000) As a rule, I don't take commissions through the mail. I have enough work keeping up with my deadlines. I did make a couple of exceptions but they took me more than a year to complete.
The best place to get a drawing from me is at a
convention. I'm glad to do quick sketches for no charge or I have finished
drawings for sale.
15. Do you sell any of your interior pages to Usagi Yojimbo?
(WWW Board July 2000) As of this writing, I still own all the interior Usagi pages.
Actually, it was a good thing I do. When I went over to Dark Horse, Mirage had given me the film negatives kept in storage at the printer. When it came time to collect those stories in the trade paperbacks, we went back to the printer who told us that they had destroyed the plates. We could have gone with photocopies but the quality would not be as good.
Friends have suggested I transfer my art to CD ROM and maybe I will once I get accustomed to all this new technology-- my closet is getting pretty full.
(WWW Board May 2000) It's pretty well-known that I don't sell my original, published art. I still have possession of about 99% of my work.
16. How did you get into the business of cartooning?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001) I always read comics, even when my parents threw out my comic book collection. When I realized people actually made a living doing comics, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Working on an independent comic gives me total control of all aspects of the creation. I have talked to creators in other fields and even mainstream comics in which the creators' vision is filtered through so many other people and there is usually disappointment in the final result.
(UY Vol 1, #24) My first break into comics was as the letterer for Sergio Aragonés Groo the Wanderer, which I still do. My first comic book story and art was printed in Steve Gallacci's Albedo comics. Kim Thompson, publisher extraordinaire, immediately recognized me for the genius I am and offered me a contract.
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987) I collected comic books as a kid and I also copied the drawings as I was growing up. I've been freelancing as a professional for the last nine years now. Before that I was production manager for a silk-screening company. I worked for that company in Hawaii and then after we were transferred to the mainland, I worked for them another year.
17. Was it hard to break into the business in the beginning?
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987) Yeah, because I grew up in Hawaii and had never left there and then suddenly I was on the mainland without any contacts whatsoever. I started hitting all the ad agencies and whoever else would buy artwork. The first few years were pretty hard but then it started to come in steady.
18. How did you become interested in anthropormorphic comics? Do you read anybody else's anthropormorphic titles?
(WWW Board July 2000) I'm not that much into anthropormorphic comics. I know and appreciate a lot of the work in the field but then the same goes for the other genres as well. One of my favorite comics, Bone, is an anthro book. One of my favorite cartoonists, anthro and otherwise, is Mike Sagara whose work, unfortunately, I haven't seen for quite some time. Mike even did a back-up story for Usagi in the old Fantagraphic days ["Turbo and Kit", UY Vol 1, #26].
(Comics Buyer's Guide #1235 Interview, 1997) I grew up reading superheroes. But at one point I really got into the Japanese culture. I'm third generation Japanese, for one thing. But I really wanted to do a series, an historical series, based upon a samurai who lived at the turn of the seventeenth century named Miyamoto Musashi. Basically, one day I just drew a rabbit, tied up his ears to make a samurai top-knot, and fell in love with the design. Instead of Miyamoto Musashi, he became Miyamoto Usagi (usagi means rabbit). From then on, I just stayed with the rabbit!
19. Who influenced your style of art?
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) I guess Steve Ditko was the first real influence. Lately, of course, it's Sergio, because I work with him so closely and I see the way he works and I see his influences. Lets see....inking style: I like Milo Manara. Sergio showed me some of his work and I fell in love with it. Beautiful linework. Those three I think are the biggies. Funny, though, you can't really see their influence in my work, I think.
I love Moebius's work and there are a lot of artist's whose work I really enjoy but I don't think I've really consciously incorporated their styles into mine -- like Jack Kirby, Almost everyone's been influenced by Kirby. There's also Bill Stout, who's a friend of mine whose compositions are great -- great artwork. There's so many. Of course Carl Barks, too.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) And also, of course, Sergio, just because I've worked with him so long and so much over the past years. But the first real influence was Steve Ditko.
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Well, Dave Thorne...I've always loved his work and it's primarily funny animals. I guess he was my very first funny animal influence. Before that it was always Ditko or Kirby or, you know, that type of thing. Walt Kelly, I loved his Pogo work. I can't really think of any one funny animal person. There's a lot of European stuff. I think my present influence primarily is Sergio Aragonés, and for inking style a European artist, Milo Manara, Sergio introduced me to Manara's work, oh, about 1980, and I've been looking everywhere for his books and things and I've gotten quite a few. Now they're being translated into English so I finally know what's going on. (Laughter)
20. Have you always been a fan of funny animal comics and drawing in that style?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Not really. I started off doing more realistic illustrations, but funny animals just came naturally to me. It's a lot easier, too.
21. What do you see the difference is between working in black-and-white and color? Which do you prefer?
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) It's mostly a matter of choice, though it is a bit of a matter of economics. But colorists in America really don't know how to color. They either try to hide bad artwork or they oftentimes wind up hiding good artwork. They don't push it to the limit like they do in Europe. In the United States grass is always green, the sky is always blue -- American audiences have a very literal color sense. There are just a few colorists in America who really know how to color. Tom Luth, of course, is one. Anyone who can color Groo is terrific [laughs] and he's my colorist of choice whenever we do a color special or color covers. Lynn Varley's another one; terrific color sense. There's a new book out from Disney, White Fang, colored by Christine Schearer, and she's terrific; the coloring looks great.
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) I prefer black-and-white. I've talked to Scott Shaw! about it a lot -- he prefers color -- but I prefer black-and-white, I guess because you can't hide anything with black-and-white. What you see printed is what the artwork looked like. I don't like to work with tones or airbrushing or washes or zip-a-tone just because you can hide a lot of detail that way.
22. Have you ever been surprised when Tom Luth colors your work and gives it back to you?
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) I'm always suprised! (Laughs) No, I'm not. I trust Tom explicitly. What color instructions I give him are things that he would not know about: For example, the second Color Special involves a few mythological creatures such as a Tengu, which is a Japanese mountain goblin. A Tengu is traditionally red with green clothing, and of course Tom would not know about that so I did some color instructions for that. Also I indicated a few places where I wanted a specific type of effect, like a sunrise effect and an evening effect -- but as far as the other color, it's completely up to him.
I was really surprised at how well the first Color Special came out. I loved opening up the book and seeing that first page. Tom did a great job on that. Actually, that's the type of work that almost any colorist could do, but their page rates are really bad, so I don't wonder why Marvel and DC have such poor coloring jobs. Also, their printing's terrible. I like Art Adam's work, and I try to buy whatever Art Adams does, but Marvel has never printed an Art Adams story well yet.
[Interviewer: "Comico's Gumby special looked very good...."]
Oh, I loved that. But again. Marvel's X-Men books have all been terribly printed. The Groo books have too, I think, especially the first graphic novel. Tom did a terrific job coloring that and the printers just mangled it. It was terrible.
23. What courses did you take in high school?
(WWW Board May 2000) I took the usual college prep courses in high school. I also took my first art class when I was in the 10th grade (I dedicated the 11th UY collection to that teacher who I still correspond with).
I went to Kaimuki High School. I even went to Kaimuki Intermediate. Kaimuki High is where I took my first art course. I dedicated UY Book 11:Seasons to Lorraine Kawahara who is still there, though she'll retire in a couple of years.
24. Did you have any favorite high school classes?
(WWW Board May 2000) When offered a choice, I took Japanese language courses.
25. What are some of your favorite movies?
(Silver Bullet Comics Interview, November 2000) My favorite film is Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. It's a classic that has been remade for western audiences a number of times most notably as The Magnificent Seven. Another "chambara", or Japanese sword-fighting film I enjoy is Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy which adapts Yoshikawa's book, Musashi. Miyamoto Musashi is the person that inspired my own character, Miyamoto Usagi.
(WWW Board May 2000) It's difficult to answer this off the top of my head. Certainly, Seven Samurai would be on the list. Bride of Frankenstein. Satomi Hakkenden -- 1959(?) version. The Godfather Saga (parts 1 and 2 edited in chronological order with much new footage).
Favorite musicals -- though not necessarily on the top 10 list -- Fiddler on the Roof and Westside Story (though Tony was a bit weak).
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) Oh, I love The Seven Samurai. I think that's probably the best movie ever made. The storyline.....the cinematography is great, the characters are wonderful. [Toshiro] Mifune's terrific in that movie. It's been remade a couple different times as a western [The Magnificent Seven] and even as a science fiction movie [Battle Beyond the Stars]. nothing ever quite as good as the original, though. Kurosawa's a genius. Actually, I'm influenced more by the movies than I am by comic books. I try for that epic scope that Kurosawa achieved and I think more as a filmmaker than as a comic book artist. I try to make the panels of the story flow more like storyboards than a regular comic book. You see, I don't really read that many comic books -- but then I don't go to that many movies either.
26. What movies influenced you in writing Usagi Yojimbo?
(WWW Board May 2000) I've been greatly influenced by Kurosawa's films. His cinematography, pacing, staging, etc. are wonderful. But if you're asking if there is a particular movie that contributed to the creation of Usagi, that would probably have to be Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy, one of many films based on Eizo Yoshikawa's book Musashi.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) I grew up watching the samurai movies. The theater down the street from where I lived showed them every Saturday; you'd get in for a quarter and you could stay there all day. So I grew up on all those Toshiro Mifune movies, I used to see them every week. There's one that I've been trying to find on videotape for the past, oh, 20 years. I don't know if it's out. I remembered it as a kid, it's called Satomi Hakkenden. It's based upon a classic 49-volume book from the 12th century, and that movie had everything. It had huge battles, lots of magic, witches, monsters, giant snakes, devil dogs, it had a transvestite prince, it had everything! I loved that. It was remade again in the late '80s, but I'm still looking for the 1957 version. Can't find it! I want to do a story that's inspired by that one. But if I find that video, I'm not sure if I should actually see it again, or I should just build the story upon my memories of it.
I'm more inspired by the movies than I am by the comic books -- the method of storytelling. Bill Stout and I were once talking about how characters are introduced in the movies, and I brought up the point where in Frankenstein, the old classic Karloff movie, when you first see the Monster, he comes through the door backwards, and then he slowly turns around and then you see him and that tells a lot about the character. James Cameron is another one who really introduces characters well. I was watching Terminator 2 the other day. When you first see the Linda Hamilton character, Sarah Conner, you see her from the back, she has her bed on its side and is doing chin-ups, using the leg of the bed for a chinning bar, and then she steps down and slowly turns around, and she has all this hair in front of her face, and that's great, and you see the strength in here, so different from the first Terminator movie.
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2 Interview, Dec 1994) Most of my stories are more based upon either historical fact or Japanese folklore or basically just stories that I think up or from movies, things like that. Akira Kurosawa is a big influence of mine, especially his Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. Those are...well, again Kurosawa is one of my big influences.
(UY Vol 1, #28) While I can't list all of the Zato Ichi movies, some of them are: The Story of Zato Ichi, The Return of Zato Ichi, Zato Ichi Enters Again, Zato Ichi The Fugitive, The Sword of Zato Ichi, Zato Ichi's Challenge, and Zato Ichi's Trip Into Hell.
In Zato Ichi Meets His Equal, the blind swordsman confronted a popular martial artist, Wang Kong, who had his own movie series in China. Two endings were filmed, one with Ichi winning the final duel and the other Wang Kong the victor.
While we're on the subject of blind samurai, you might also want to note the Crimson Bat movie series which featured Oichi, the blind swordswoman. In the Tange Sazen series, the star was blind in only one eye but he was further handicapped by having only one arm.
There were only two movies which featured the Yojimbo/Sanjuro character but Toshiro Mifune starred in at least two TV series, one of which, I believe, was inspired by Yojimbo. Incidentally, the character he portrayed in Zato Ichi Meets Yojimbo was different than the one in the two Kurosawa films.
The Lone Wolf series is also known as The Baby Cart series. It originally appeared as a trilogy: Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart at the River Styx, and Baby Cart to Hades. Coincidentally, the executive producer was Shintaro Katsu, who portrayed Zato Ichi in movies and TV. Lone Wolf went on to become a popular TV series.
27. You mentioned Kurosawa and Japanese films -- what about your other influences? What do you enjoy reading and what are your other influences in film besides that?
(UY Vol 2, #8) “Shi” [UY Vol 2, #4-5 and UY Book 8] is actually closer to Fred Zinnemann's “High Noon” than anything by Kurosawa. In that movie, Gary Cooper (in an Oscar-winning performance) has to go up against a bunch of gunmen in an old western town but none of the townspeople is willing to help him. It's an old formula that's been redone numerous times, most notably in Clint Eastwood's movies such as “High Plains Drifter” and “Pale Rider”.
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) I read a lot of books. As far as comics go, I read, of course, the Alan Moore stuff, which I really enjoy, and Mark Evanier's stories, which are fun. I like Mark's writing. Of course, Groo. I buy copies of Groo and give them away because I like it so much. Beyond that I don't follow any series very religiously. I pick up books here and there and I enjoy those, but I don't follow anything really closely, not the way I used to.
28. What do you like/dislike about your job?
(WWW Board May 2000) I get to do something I enjoy, set my own hours, set my own schedule. This job gives me a lot of freedom.
What I don't like about this job: Even though I approve my schedule, deadlines have a way of sneaking up on me. Also, I have to be conscious of numbers -- how the books are selling, especially during this comic book slump.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) It gives me the autonomy. I have my studio at home. I have a separate room that I can set up in, and the commute time is almost non-existent (laughter).
(UY Vol 1, #28) One of the best things about having a comic book series is meeting the readership. Usagi readers tend to be very nice and there has never been a booksigning or convention that I have not enjoyed.
29. How does the job affect other parts of your life?
(WWW Board May 2000) I spend a lot of time with my family and even when I'm at work I'm accessible to the kids (except during deadline time). Just yesterday, I did a class visit to my son's second grade class.
30. How did you qualify for this job?
(WWW Board May 2000) I went to art school but more importantly, I drew whenever and wherever I could. I did freelance artwork from an early age and was published fairly young, often working on speculation.
(Comics Buyer's Guide #1235 Interview, 1997) I was a freelance commercial artist here in Los Angeles. I did book illustrations, magazine advertising, record album covers, you know, that kind of stuff. But I've always loved comic books. I grew up reading comic books and I just wanted to get into it.
31. How important is your job? What are the positive effects of your job?
(WWW Board May 2000) In the scheme of things, what I do isn't that important but I enjoy it and so do many others. I have heard from quite a few people that my work has meant a great deal to them.
32. Where was your start in this career -- 1st job?
(WWW Board May 2000) I first started sending work to fanzines (I don't think these are around anymore with the growth of the independent comic book market) and started getting a reputation in the industry. Through contacts in the industry, I heard that a cartoonist named Steve Gallacci was trying to put together a comic book out of Seattle. I submitted a story to him. He published it in Albedo #1. That was almost 16 years ago and I've been working full time in the comics industry since. Prior to comics, I was a freelance artist in the Los Angeles area, doing magazine, book, record illustrations.
I got started by first being a reader. I also contributed to a number of fanzine when there were still such things.
I was a freelance illustrator and through the grapevine heard that a guy named Steve Gallacci was looking to put together a comic book so I sent him an 8-page story called "Nilson Groundthumper" and have been in comics ever since.
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) Before starting Usagi I worked as a freelance artist around the L.A. area. I did advertising, book illustrations,record albums, stuff like that -- nothing really important. But I also taught calligraphy and because of that Sergio [Aragonés], whom I've known for years and years now, asked me to letter his new comic, Groo the Wanderer. That was my first foray into legitimate comic books. Before then of course, I used to contribute to fanzines and APAs -- whatever you call them now.
33. What's your job title -- duties?
(WWW Board May 2000) I'm a cartoonist, the creator of Usagi Yojimbo. I'm also the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Usagi Studios which has one employee -- me.
34. What myths are there regarding your job stereotypes and what people think about your job that aren't true?
(WWW Board May 2000) Well, I'm not raking in the big bucks but I enjoy what I do. As far as people's perceptions of what my job is, I really don't know.
35. How many hours a week do you work? What hours?
(WWW Board May 2000) I set my own hours so it's difficult to say. I work at least 10 hours a day. Rather than keep track of hours, though, I gauge my day by how much I get done. For instance, when penciling I try to do at least 2 pages a day, sometimes as many as 5 depending on complexity. I just keep working until I think the day's work is done.
36. What is your compensation? Pay, benefits, perks-salary/hourly/commission?
(WWW Board May 2000) I'm self-employed or rather, an employee of my company. I'm a salaried employee though Usagi Studios is paid royalties and advances against royalties of the books, etc that are produced. Unlike so many freelancers I have a paid medical plan. Since I determine my own schedule, I take time off at my discrestion.
37. Best thing/worst thing that has ever happened?
(WWW Board May 2000) I enjoy traveling and I have been fortunate to have been invited to many different areas. Two years ago [January 1998], my wife Sharon and I went to Japan as guests of the Osamu Tezuka Productions. I went to Norway with good friend Sergio Aragonés as guests of an international cartooning festival [Bergen Tegneseriefestival, September 1999]. This year [October 2000] Sharon and I are invited to Northern Spain to receive an award [2000 Haxtur Award for "Best Script (in Spain)", for UY's "Grasscutter"]. There have also been trips around the country such as for a presentation I did at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. My family had a wonderful time in Santa Clara as guests of Fanime (one of the best ways to get me to a convention is to invite my family).
The downside has to do with anyone who is self-employed or owns their own business: taxes, self-discipline, etc.
As a creative person though, there are times when I run into "the block". Where it's difficult to get into the work or when the muse doesn't come. Others have talked of this. Writer Marv Wolfman went through a couple of years in the block. It's frustrating, as if your creative wheels are spinning but you're not going anywhere.
38. When did you first get interested in this job?
(WWW Board May 2000) I have always liked drawing and in my mind there was no doubt that I would be doing something in the arts.
39. What kind of education is most beneficial to this job?
(WWW Board May 2000) Being a cartoonist is much like being a writer in that everything you experience helps you in your occupation.
I have a pretty traditional education, however. I majored in drawing and painting at the University of Hawaii and furthered my education at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.
(UY Vol 2, #16) 6.) I have a Fine Arts Degree from the University of Hawaii and I also attended the Art Center College of Design.
40. What kind of sacrifices did you make to get where you are?
(WWW Board May 2000) I've been a freelance cartoonist for the past 20 years or so and the initial sacrifices have to do with starting any business. There are the lean years as I was trying to get myself established. There were times when a regular pay check sure looked tempting but we were young and had relatively little to lose.
41. What kind of support system do you have in this job?
(WWW Board May 2000) My family, of course is my major support. And then there are the readers who have been very supportive. This entire website (usagiyojimbo.com) is owed to the devotion of the readers -- something I really appreciate. I've been online just a few months and I'm constantly amazed at how comprehensive this site is.
Like many freelancers, I work alone in a studio and so I get together with fellow cartoonist once a week for lunch -- the lunch group has been meeting for the past 16 or so years. I'm also a member of a couple of cartooning group, most notably CAPS (Comics Arts Professional Society) that was started by Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier and Don Rico and meets once a month.
Over the years, I've also been recognized by the professional community with a number of awards and recognitions such as multiple Eisners.
You know, one of the neatest things about my work is that many of those people that I read about when I was a fan I now work with or call my friends -- people such as Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Lynn Johnston and Sergio. I even knew Jack Kirby. For me, that's really something.
42. What was your favorite experience when you started out?
(WWW Board May 2000) There have been so many. I really am blessed. Seeing my stories in print for the first time, actually signing stuff at a San Diego Comic Con -- at an early Comic Con, we met a woman who drove all the way from Claremont (about two hours) to meet me. Sharon laughed for about an hour: "You came here to meet him?" Now we meet people from all over the world -- realizing that many of the creators whose works I grew up with considered me their peer...so many.
43. What part of the day do you find most suitable for your job?
(WWW Board May 2000) It really varies but I would have to say either morning or at night. Also, what's on television affects the speed of my work. I have the TV or some CD's on during the day, mostly for background. I like the TV because I have to refocus my eyes when I look up at it every so often. Jack Kirby used to work with the TV tuned to a Spanish language station even though he didn't understand the language.
44. Now that you have your job, is it what you expected it to be?
(WWW Board May 2000) I think even more so. Starting out, how could I imagine that my work would be reprinted and read around the world. There are people in Italy and Spain able to read Usagi in their own language. Along with other editions, there has even been a Croatian editions.
I'm also very happy with my work situation with my publishers. And the readership has been very supportive.
45. Is there anything you want to change in the past when working to get this job? Is there anything you would want to change now? Regrets?
(WWW Board May 2000) I really have no regrets. Even mistakes that were made in hindsight seemed to have worked out for the better.
46. What are good procedures to prepare you for your job?
(WWW Board May 2000) Aside from the aforementioned courses, Draw. Carry your sketchbook around. Draw from life as much as possible. And more important than practicing your drawing skills, show you work around -- to editors, fellow artists, friends, teachers -- to learn how to accept constructive criticism. Learn what your strong points are and what areas need to be developed. Also, showing your work, such as at conventions or submitting to publishers will help to get your foot in the door.
(UY Vol 2, #16) The best lesson is to practice, practice, practice. Carry a sketch book around with you and don't copy comics, draw from life. Just as important as practicing, is to show your work around to others. Get feedback. Learn your strong points and weak areas.
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987) I think if you do a lot of research, that's what makes the stories unique. There's been a lot of the stories recently with ninja, etc. but those stories often don't have the spirit. If you do the research, especially on the background, that's what makes the story different from the rest.
47. Any advice that you would like to give me and to anyone who wants to become a comic artist?
(WWW Board May 2000) See the answer to the previous question.
48. What do you normally wear everyday to your job?
(WWW Board May 2000) I wear whatever is comfortable that day.
49. Do you have anything you always do when you draw like sit in a special chair or something?
(WWW Board May 2000) No. But I first write most of my ideas for plots in a specific book. This is more to keep things organized and in a place I can find them rather that any sort of ritual.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) When I'm drawing, I like to have the TV on and a lot of times, just because I don't have to watch the TV to know what's going on and whenever there's some explosion or something, that's when I can look up and watch for a while. That's my companion while I'm working. Other creators would have the radio on. Jack Kirby, I think, had the TV on to a Spanish station; he didn't understand a word of Spanish, but he liked the distraction and the company.
50. What kinds of people do you meet?
(WWW Board May 2000) All kinds of people -- fellow pros, fans, friends and any and all combinations of the above. Most of my business communication now is done by phone, fax, e-mail, messenger, post or FedEx since most of my clients are out of state. I have lunch with other cartoonist once a week to keep in touch with the industry and our sanity.
51. What was the most difficult experience when acquiring the skills needed for this job?
(WWW Board May 2000) Learning to take rejection especially when just starting out as a commercial freelance artist. I knocked on a lot of doors -- ad agencies, magazines, cartoon syndicates, anyone who might buy art -- and of course, you can't take such rejection personally but it's difficult not to when it's something as personal as your art.
52. Were there times when you felt pressure?
(WWW Board May 2000) Oh sure, especially at the beginning of my career, relocating to an unfamiliar area with no friends, family or any real support system. It would have been so easy to abandon the idea of freelancing and gotten a "real" job -- and I was offered a few and some of them were very difficult to turn down but I'm glad I did.
53. I read in a career book that some 'business' knowledge is needed. Did you have to take some classes dealing with the business industry?
(WWW Board May 2000) I didn't take any business courses but I wish I did take a basic course that covered such things as bookkeeping, taxes and the other everyday things that every business deals with. However, I've been freelancing since I was 15 so I knew much of the general stuff and which licenses I needed.
Also, a basic course on contracts would also have been helpful. I handle most of my own contracts however, the more complex deals are turned over to lawyers.
54. Have you ever considered publishing and distributing your comic books yourself?
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) I have a lot of friends who do self-publish and I hear more headache stories than anything. In fact, at one point Sergio (Aragonés) was really encouraging me to self-publish -- not only self-publish, but self-distribute. "I can't do that!" "Sure you can!" He had this whole plan where I'd make up a mailing list and basically mail out each issue every month. "I don't want to do that! 10,000 copies in the mail? No!" Then he'd say, "Well, how about this...?" He came up with all these ideas and self-publishing would definitely be one of them, but the thing is, he's such a big advocate for me to go into self-publishing but he would not self-publish himself. I think he wanted to see how I do first before he steps into the water.
55. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) I used to crawl through sewers. Sharon always reminds me of my sewer days. Friends and I made homemade candles and went down the manholes and crawled through and came up in the middle of the street on a different block. I just did this a couple of times. Back then the sewers were cleaner. (Laughter)
56. You are a member of C.A.P.S. What exactly is C.A.P.S?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Well, C.A.P.S. -- Comics Art Professional Society -- was founded by Sergio and Don Rico and Mark Evanier as a social organization because cartoonists are primarily loners. I work at home and I don't see anyone during the day, and most cartoonists are like that.
They figured there are so many cartoonists in the L.A. area, we could get together, form an organization so we can just talk and shoot the breeze without publishers or anyone getting down on us. That's how C.A.P.S. was born and I think this is C.A.P.S. tenth anniversary year.
Jack Kirby is a member. I think for one year Stan Lee joined, too. Well, I'm not sure. His agreement was, "I'll join if I don't have to attend meetings." (Laughter) You know, I work with Stan now and that's the kid of guy he is. Yeah, Stan would say that.
57. Do you have any ambitions in the future to ever try to get your feet wet doing some other genre? If DC approached you and said, "Gee, it'd be great to have you do a fill-in issue of Teen Titans," would you?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Yeah, I think I would. But like I said, I don't consider myself a good writer. I think I'm able to get by. Whenever I'm stumped in a storyline I think, "What would Mark Evanier do about this?" (Laughter) Really, I've done that a couple of times. I'm sure Mark would never do the types of things that I came up with. I don't consider myself a good writer, but then if the opportunity arose for me to do a story like that, sure, I'd jump at it.
58. How would you approach a superhero story? What would be the difference between doing the kinds of stories you do now? What do you think the process would be?
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Well, first of all, all their ears would be tied up. (Laughter) I have no idea. It's something I've never thought of and I'd have to really think about something like that.
59. Why is the sky blue?
(UY Vol 1, #21) Because if it was green, we wouldn't know when to stop mowing.
60. Do you autograph items sent to you through the mail with a SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope)?
(WWW Board December 2000) Actually,
quite a few people have done just that -- written in care of DH [Dark Horse Comics]. I usually do send a simple,
personalized sketch providing a self-addressed stamped envelope is enclosed
along with paper or card to draw on. I don't do requests of specific characters
or poses and it may take a while before you get a reply and I take no
responsibility for the US postal system.
(WWW Board April 2000) I've had comics forwarded to me from Dark Horse for signatures. I'll sign them if they're sent with a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage but I cannot guarantee that the post office will not fold, spindle or mutilate it during transit. The safest way to get something signed is to bring it (or have someone else bring) to a convention or store signing.
61. Did you study Japanese history or do you get your information from your own research?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001) I enjoy doing the research. When I first started, I didn't expect to do so much. It was Sergio Aragonés who encouraged me. Even though Groo is a humor book, he does an unbelievable amount of research for his stories.
(Worlds of Westfield Interview June 2000) I do as much [research] as possible. In fact, on my drawing board right now I've got about four books out; two on horses, one on the Japanese warrior culture, from 200 to 1500 A.D. and one on the kofun, or tomb-building period, because the story I'm working on now starts in Japanese pre-history. I've done stories on kite making, on pottery, on sword-making. I've touched on the feudal judiciary system and fire fighting methods as well as traditional festivals.
I do make mistakes. It's inevitable. Such as, I confused the boardgame Go with Gomoku which uses the same pieces and board but different strategies. I heard about the mistake from readers, one even from Germany [laughter] It will be corrected in the trade paperback collection. The readers are always keeping me on my toes.
However, the research is secondary. Usagi is still, after all, an adventure series.
(WWW Board May 2000) I took Japanese language classes since the 8th grade and promptly forgot almost everything I learned. I grew up in Hawaii where there is a large Japanese-American population so the Japanese culture was all around me. I am a "sansei" (third generation Japanese-American). There was even a theatre down the street that showed "chambara" (sword-fighting) movies every Saturday.
Most of my research now is done through my personal references or first-hand observation.
(UY Vol 3, #9) When I do extensive research, I usually include a list of references in my story notes.
(Comic Culture Vol 2 #2, Dec 1994) Very much so, in fact I try to do as much research as I can into the culture and history of Japan. The story I'm working on now deals with Usagi's swords, so I did a lot of research, about a week's worth, basically looking up about ten different books on how swordsmiths actually created those swords. It's pretty hard because a lot of the methods by these swordsmen were secret. So even today, with today's technology they can not equal the swords that were done seven hundred years ago. In the story I tell how one swordsmith would create the swords from the raw iron to the folding, the hammering, the prayers and things like that, until he created Usagi's swords.
Then a lot of the stories I write have a lot of the Japanese culture in it. Another story that I'm pretty proud of is a kite story where I pretty much told how the giant forty foot kites were made, taken from the making of the paper to the making of the bamboo frame to the actual kite festival. I even told about the origin of the kite festival. And one of Usagi's stories is taking place with that in the background.
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) Oh I do do as much research as I can. I have a pretty extensive reference library at home, and again, I try to make it as authentic as I can, within reason. There are a few minor things, such as sandals, that I use a lot of artistic license on, but as far as the big things -- The code of the samurai, bushido, houses, and the general culture -- I try to get it as accurate as I can. In fact one of my very favorite Usagi stories was "The Kite Story" [UY Vol 1, #20 and UY Book 5], and that actually took about two years to write just because of all the research involved. It started out as a grain of an idea when I bought a book on Japanese kites. It dealt with a kite festival, so I figured, "Oh, it'll be terrific to have an Usagi story based on the kite festival." I did some research and I found out how kites were made in that time, so I created a story from three different viewpoints; the kite maker, a gambler who was in town during the kite festival, and Usagi. I integrated all three elements into one story and I was really pleased with the outcome.
Also, a lot of characters are based on historical figures. Usagi, like I said, was based on Miyamoto Musashi. Tomoe Ame, the female cat warrior, was based upon Tomoe Gozen, who was a female warrior famed for her beauty and her skill with the lance. She's an interesting character. There's not that much written about her, but I think she lived during the time of the Heike Wars, and her husband was a famous general who eventually committed seppuku but refused to let her die with him because he would have lost face if he was to die with a woman. So she eventually became a nun. Lord Hikiji, around whom a lot of stories revolve, is based upon Date Masamune, who lived around the turn of the 17th century, and he was one of the most powerful lords in feudal Japan. He too wanted to become Shogun, but he never did. Interestingly enough, he sent the first Japanese emissaries to Rome to meet the Pope, and it was a mission that ended in failure. But he was one of the most powerful lords of feudal Japan.
There are a lot of other characters that I took from Japanese movies. there's a movie theater down the street from where I lived as a kid and I used to go there every Saturday because they showed Japanese movies. Zato-Ino, the blind swordspig is taken from the blind swordsman, Zatoichi. He had a very unusual fighting style and he appeared in a TV series as well as 27 films. (Rutger Hauer starred in a movie that was based upon those films a couple years ago called Blind Fury, but I haven't seen it). Of course I used "Lone Goat and Kid" from Lone Wolf and Cub. Gen the bounty hunter is a tip of the hat to Toshiro Minfune's Yojimbo character.
[Interviewer: "Right, from Yojimbo...all the way down to the way he scratches himself all the time."]
His [Gen's] scratching himself, his five o'clock shadow, and also the way he kind of manipulates people and things.
(Witty World #1 Interview, 1987) I'm third generation American and I haven't been back to Japan so it's really a matter of trying to do the research in order to make the stories as authentic as possible.
(Comics Interview #44 Interview, August 1987) Well, I grew up in Hawaii watching samurai movies and reading Japanese comic books and I've always had an interest in them, but the person who really pushed me into doing a lot of research was Sergio Aragonés.
For Groo, Sergio does an immense amount of research. If he has to draw a ship -- that Groo sinks, of course -- Sergio will go to the library and look up different research books on ships and he'll go home and make up his own design and it'll be accurate from different points of view. He'll learn everything there is to know about ships before he actually draws one.
He encouraged me to do my research on Usagi, so I've got a lot of books on Japanese history, folklore, the samurai class, war tactics, folk houses and country life. I've accumulated quite an amount of research because of him.
62. What are some of the comic books you enjoy?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001) My son, Matthew, likes superheros though most of them are written above his level. He enjoys the Batman books that are based on the animated shows and still likes Pokemon. He's discovered Usagi in the past year. Hannah likes to read Archie.
I enjoy a variety of books. Guy Davis' work is phenomenal. I also enjoy Bone, Akiko, Supernatural Law, Castle Waiting... I won't list them all because I know I'll leave a few of my favorites out but they tend to run more independent than mainstream. I like to read novels. I especially enjoy detective or mysteries. My favorite authors are Max Allan Collins, Greg Rucka and Laura Joh Rowland.
(WWW Board May 2000) Astro City is indeed a wonderful series. Another different take on superheroes is Alan Moore's Top Ten.
Another series I'm enjoying but which has been plagued by delays is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Moore.
Akiko by Mark Crilley is a delightful all-ages comic.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) Actually I read -- or I don't actually read it -- I buy Generation X, just because I kind of like the artwork. I don't know if I like it or dislike it, I haven't figured it out yet, but I've been buying it ever since the first issue just because the artwork is different. A lot of it is just talking heads, but it is good talking heads.
I like Sandman Mystery Theater. Guy Davis is just fantastic and his artwork is great. I love his work a lot. He used to do the Baker Street series.
The only one I look forward to reading is Sandman Mystery Theatre. Astro City I like, because it has a different slant on the whole superhero thing. James Robinson is a terrific writer. Leave It To Chance is the best new series I read all year. And I wish Bruce Timm would do a lot more comic books.
(UY Vol 2, #5) I've recommended a few books in the past and now that the holidays are just around the corner, here's a couple more.
If you haven't been reading Bone, you're missing out on some great story and art. Cartoon Books has just released The Complete Bone Vol. 1 which collects the first six issues of the series. Run out and find out why Jeff Smith received the Eisner, Manning and Inkpot awards at this past San Diego Comic Con.
The Collegiate Hepcats by Martin Wagner, published by Double Diamond Press, collects daily strips from the Daily Texan and Daily Cougar university newspapers as well as the first issue of the Hepcats comics. Regular Usagi readers may be familiar with Martin's detailed work from his back-up story done for UY Vol. 1, #37. It's neat stuff but be advised that it does contain some funny-animals nudity.
63. Are you a fan of Manga (Japanese comics)?
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) I'm not really into manga or anime. There's a few that I like. I enjoy the early Dragonball comics and the early Dr. Slump comics but that's about it. I would sometimes pick up things here and there, but there's nothing I really dig around for.
(Amazing Heroes #187 Interview, January 1991) I'm not really that into manga. It's funny: whenever I go to conventions around the country I'm always put on a manga panel, I guess because I'm Japanese and Usagi's about Japan. But I know almost nothing about manga. So I just say my two cents' worth and keep quiet the rest of the panel.
64. Are you a fan of European comics?
(UY Vol 3, #16) European albums are difficult to come by in the states, but Asterix was and still is the exception. It was my first introduction to European comics and still has a very special place in my heart.
(The Comics Journal #192 Interview, December 1996) My first introduction to European artists was in 1971 when I saw some of the Asterix graphic novels. The stories, artwork, and coloring were wonderful. Head and shoulders above what was being put out by American publishers at that time. In many ways, Usagi is very similar to Asterix in that they're both set in very specific times in world history -- Asterix during the expansion of the Roman Empire and Usagi during the initial days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Anyway, a few years later Heavy Metal came out and I was blown away by Moebius's "Arzak". The concepts and art style was so radically different than anything I had been exposed to before. In just a few pages he told a story of high drama and humor in an alien environment that you wanted to learn more about. He has got to be the best all-around artist working today. He crosses all genres with ease -- from his bigfoot art to westerns to science fiction/fantasy to those spiritual adventures that a lot of times go way over my head -- and he's equally competent in each genre. Incredible. Other European artists I like are Loisel, who illustrated the Roxanna series as well as Peter Pan; Michetz, who does a series that takes place in feudal Japan called Kogaratu -- I just have a couple of his books. It's difficult to find his work here. Edvin Biukovic who, with Darko Macan, created two Grendel stories for Dark Horse, is terrific. His style is very cinematic, although I think Darko has much to do with it.
It's still difficult to find a wide range of European comics here but, fortunately, with magazines like Heavy Metal and companies like NBM and Fantagraphics, we're exposed to a lot more creators, such as Alfonso Azpiri or Fabrice Lamy or Franco Saudelli.
65. Do you you have your own daisho?
(WWW Board May 2000) I own a single blade given to me by a friend before he passed away. It's not a collectible blade in poor condition with nicks and fingerprints but I treasure it.
66. Have you read The Book of Five Rings?
(Silver Bullet Comics Interview, November 2000) I have that book and gave it a quick read but haven't studied it in depth. The same goes for a few other books on my shelf -- The Art of War, I Ching.
67. Does your hand get tired signing all those autographs at conventions?
(UY Vol 1, #28) My hand has never gotten tired but I've run out of ink quite a few times.
68. Do you consider yourself a role model?
(Rafu Magazine Vol. 1, #3 Interview, June 1998) Five years ago, I would have said, "No." But my wife insists, "You ARE a role model so when you meet people you should be nice." I meet a lot of Japanese-Americans at festivals like Nisei Week, so I try to think of myself as one.
69. Was it risky choosing cartooning as a career?
(Rafu Magazine Vol. 1, #3 Interview, June 1998) My Dad told me, "You can't make a living as a cartoonist. Why don't you go into accounting or computers." I wondered, "Should I go into business?" But, no, I couldn't do that. It was gratifying when I went back to Hawaii for my first [Usagi Yojimbo] book signing. It was crowded. There were kids everywhere. My Dad said, "Okay, I guess you can make a living...." But, yeah, cartooning is a very risky career choice. Parents want their kids to get a secure job. Cartooning is very iffy. It's hard to make a real living as a cartoonist. Like acting or singing, the arts.
70. Have you ever built a kite based on your research for "A Kite Story" [UY Vol 1, #20 and UY Book 5]?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001) The only kites I put together were from those kits you buy in hobby shops.
71. What do you say when people at parties ask you what you do for a living?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001) I tell them I'm a cartoonist. They usually find it a lot more interesting than what they do for a living.
72. Here is your chance to push another creator's work. What comic should we all be reading right now?
(Sequential Tart Interview, Feb 2001) Those books I mentioned earlier [see question #62] are all worth reading. I just noticed another similarity about them — they are all single-creator books, undiluted by the assembly-line system of the mainstream. They may not be big sellers but it's a lot more personal. Each creator puts a bit of him/herself into the work.
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