Troy got the opportunity to interview the owner/creator of Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai.
Stan Sakai began his career by lettering comic books (notably Groo the Wanderer by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier). He also wrote and illustrated The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy. This is a comic series with a medieval setting. The comic was influenced by Sergio Aragonés’ Groo the Wanderer.
The characters first appeared in Albedo #1 in 1984 (Usagi Yojimbo first appeared in Albedo #2). They were subsequently featured in issues of Critters, GrimJack, Amazing Heroes, and Furrlough.
Sakai became famous with the creation of Usagi Yojimbo. The epic saga of Miyamoto Usagi, a samurai rabbit living in late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth-century Japan. The comic was first published in 1984 and continues to this day. Sakai is the lone author and nearly sole artist (Tom Luth serves as the main colorist on the series, and Sergio Aragonés has made two small contributions to the series).
Sakai has worked on other titles as well. He wrote and illustrated the story “I’m Not in Springfield Anymore!” for Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #7 and illustrated the back cover of Treehouse of Horror #6.
Sakai was the artist for Riblet, the back-up feature in the trade paperback of Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails.
In 2013, Sakai illustrated the limited comic book series 47 Ronin, an adaptation of the famed story of the 47 Ronin written by Dark Horse Comics Publisher Mike Richardson and with Lone Wolf and Cub writer Kazuo Koike as an editorial consultant.
Several of the characters in Usagi’s world are inspired by or make reference to samurai movies. Usagi’s former lord is named Mifune. This is a nod to Toshiro Mifune, an actor who starred in countless classic Samurai films. Gen, the rhino bounty hunter, was inspired by the characters made famous by Toshiro Mifune in the samurai films Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Zato-Ino, the Blind Swordspig, is a reference and tribute to the film character of Zatoichi. The story arc “Lone Goat and Kid” features an assassin who wanders with his son in a baby-cart, referring to the film/manga series Lone Wolf and Cub. Most significantly, the main character’s name, Miyamoto Usagi, is a play on “Miyamoto Musashi”. Miyamoto Musashi is Japan’s most famous historical samurai and the author of The Book of Five Rings. Usagi is the Japanese language word for “rabbit”. His friend Tomoe Ame, a feline samurai, is inspired by the female samurai Tomoe Gozen. The storyline “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy” includes elements reminiscent of the classic Akira Kurosawa films The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress.
While Usagi Yojimbo draws most heavily upon samurai and chanbara films, it has also been influenced by Japanese films from other genres. For example the three-part story “Sumi-E” features monsters resembling Godzilla (identified as “Zylla”), Gamera, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Daimajin.
Usagi appeared in episodes 32 and 34 in the third season of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon and in episodes 23-26 in the second season of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon for an interdimensional tournament against the Turtles (along with Gen). Also in episodes 13 and 22-23 of season 3 for a Christmas party and a continuation of the season 2 storyline (which prominently featured his world and characters). Usagi again appeared in episode 13 of season 4 for a confrontation with Leonardo. The focus was mainly on Gen. Usagi and Gen also attended the wedding of April O’Neil and Casey Jones in episode 13 of season 7 (Back to the Sewer) titled “Wedding Bells and Bytes”.