San Diego Comic-Con is just around the corner, and we caught up with one of our favorite artists at the convention, or elsewhere — Stan Sakai. Sakai has already had a busy year, with the long-awaited Netflix animated release of Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles debuting in April of this year based on his Usagi Yojimbo characters and world.
2022 also marks the 30th anniversary of Space Usagi, and Sakai isn’t letting the anniversary pass without some announcements and exclusives (which you can find at the bottom of this article).
The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog (UBlog): The first time you collaborated with your wife was a Charles Schultz tribute in 2015 for Boom Studios. Jump forward to today and your book, Chibi Usagi: Attack of the Heebie Chibis, is nominated for an Einser for Best Publication for Early Readers. Is this the beginning of a whole new universe for Usagi and what does the future look like for Chibi Usagi?
Stan Sakai: We would definitely like to do more Chibi Usagi stories. “Chibi” is Julie’s natural style so it works really well. I’ve worked with a lot of people in the industry — Sergio Aragones, Stan Lee, etc. — but this has been my favorite collaborative effort. Julie and I develop the story together then, since I am more used to sequential storytelling, I thumbnail and rough out the story on two-ply Bristol boards. Julie “corrects” the art into more of a chibi-style, hand letters, then inks it. The pages then go to her daughter, Emi, who colors it on the computer, then back to Julie to add more texture to the colors. We are very pleased with how Attack of the Heebie Chibis turned out and are so glad it is nominated for an Eisner Award. We are preparing to work on the next Chibi-Usagi graphic novel.
UBLOG: What is the difference in your approach when writing for early readers as opposed to writing for adult readers?
Sakai: I bounce ideas off of Julie and she gives a lot of input in the creative stage, something I am not used to. I create alone with Usagi Yojimbo and it’s good to get another person’s perspective on how the story should go. The entire ending of Heebie-Chibis and the theme of “friendship” was her idea.
UBLOG: How important do you find it to start your Usagi stories in a way that any reader can pick them up regardless of if they have previously read any of your work?
Sakai: It is very important for me that my Usagi stories are easily accessible. I know that 38 years of stories can be intimidating, but I try to make it so anyone can pick up almost any book or issue and will quickly know what is going on. I intersperse done-in-one stories with longer arcs. The single issue stories are great jumping on points for new readers but older fans like the character development and research that goes into the longer ones.
UBLOG: We are approaching the 40th Anniversary of Usagi Yojimbo which was first published in 1984. Most of Usagi’s tales take place in the early Edo period of Japan, which encompasses the 260 or so years between 1603 and 1867. However, you also traveled forward into the future with your Space Usagi stories. How did you manage to infuse a futuristic tale with the same style and politics as a Edo period story?
Sakai: Yes, this year is actually Space Usagi‘s 30th anniversary! Space Usagi came about because I love dinosaurs and wanted to draw Usagi fighting those wonderful beasts. I had two options: do a story in a very prehistoric setting (which did not sound very appealing) or set it in the far future where Usagi visits a dinosaur planet (which seemed like a lot of fun). It is really fun to integrate feudal Japanese customs, clothing, architecture, and the samurai culture into a futuristic environment. For this anniversary we have made a very limited Space Usagi enamel pin and, for the first time, colored the first SU issue with a new cover and a Peach Momoko variant cover. These are both Comic-Con Exclusives.
UBLOG: Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles debuted its first season on Netflix, and has already been renewed. What was it like finally getting to see your characters come to life in that way, and how pleased are you that it was so well received?
Sakai: We at Usagi Studios are very pleased with Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles. The protagonist Yuichi is a direct descendant of my Miyamoto Usagi who is featured very prominently and with a twist that I thought was brilliant. We worked very closely with Gaumont and Netflix, approving/adjusting scripts, designs, suggesting voice actors, etc. I even calligraphed (by hand) the logo for the series. Samurai Rabbit expanded on a mini-series I created titled “Senso” inspired by HG Wells’ War of the Worlds wherein the martians invaded feudal Japan instead. Japan took that alien technology and developed it, adding their own cultural elements. Samurai Rabbit takes place in the future with Yuichi a young samurai in training who worships his famous (or infamous) ancestor, Usagi. Like my Usagi stories, Samurai Rabbit is very character driven and the first season tells of Yuichi meeting what is to become his core group of friends as they battle yokai, the haunts and monsters of Japanese folklore. I’m so glad that a second season is coming up.
UBLOG: After three years away, what are you most excited about at San Diego Comic-Con this year?
Sakai: For me, San Diego Comic-Con has always been the people — seeing good friends again, hanging with fellow professionals and meeting fans old and new. Like most freelancers, I work in isolation so this is always a great change and a way to recharge the creative energies.
UBLOG: You’ve been to San Diego Comic-Con for decades now — does any particular memory stand out?
Sakai: I think this will be my 41st San Diego Con. I have been attending since when it was at the El Cortez Hotel. Crowds were a lot smaller back then. There are so many memories. I remember sitting with Jack Kirby and chatting with Will Eisner and being awoken by a 2AM poolside serenade by Sergio Aragones. I received a Best Story Eisner Award for Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter that was presented to me by Will Eisner himself. He had written the introduction to that book so I was able to thank him publicly for his support. Will, very graciously, signed that award for me. Another very fond memory is Jack Kirby’s surprise birthday party in the San Diego Hotel basement which was organized by Mark Evanier. So many pros were there to celebrate the King and his Queen.
- Space Usagi #1 Peach Momoko Cold Foil Cover
- Limited to 500
- A limited number will be available on Stan’s website on Saturday 7/14. The rest will be sold at the show
- Space Usagi #1 Peach Momoko Platinum Foil & Space Usagi #1 Peach Momoko Ruby Red Foil cover
- Each foil variant is Limited to 500
- These will only be sold at SDCC
- Space Usagi #1 Star Wars Homage Cold Foil Cover
- Limited to 500
- A limited number will be available on Dogu’s website on Saturday 7/16. The rest will be sold at the show
- Space Usagi #1 Emerald Green Foil & Space Usagi #1 Gold Foil
- Each Foil variant is Limited to 500
- These will only be sold at SDCC