Usagi Yojimbo #100
Writers: Stan Sakai, Mike Richardson, Frank Miller, Diana Schutz, Sergio Aragones, Jamie S. Rich, Jeff Smith, Mark Evanier & Guy Davis
Artists: Sakai, Rick Geary, Miller, Matt Wagner, Aragones, Andi Watson, Smith, Scott Shaw! & Davis
Letters: Sakai, Geary, Miller, Tom Orzechowski, Watson, Smith & Shaw!
Cover artist: Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.50 US
Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo has been a mainstay of the comic-book industry for more than two decades. When people think of longtime, successful comic-book creators who work outside of the dominant super-hero genre, names such as Dave (Cerebus) Sim and Jeff (Bone) Smith come to mind. Sakai has earned a place among such creators with his single-minded dedication to this property, which he has guided single-handedly over the years. This 100th issue of the current Dark Horse series doesn’t feature a milestone story in the life of the title character or a climactic conclusion to a long-running plotline. Instead, it’s a jam issue in which the creator, not the character, is honored by colleagues in a colorful, roast-like fashion. Even if one isn’t familiar with the rabbit samurai hero of the series, this self-contained, tongue-in-cheek issue offers up an entertaining and frank look at the culture and camaraderie of the comic-book industry.
To mark 100 issues of Usagi Yojimbo under the Dark Horse Comics banner, publisher Mike Richardson has gathered creator Stan Sakai and some of his closest friends and greatest admirers together for an evening of stories and celebration. Some recall encounters with Sakai at various conventions over the years, while others take the opportunity for… self-promotion and rabbit rescues. Ultimately, speeches and poor choices of words lead to chaos, as Usagi and his sword-wielding compatriots crash the party.
Obviously, there are inconsistencies in the visual presentation of this unusual issue, but the goofier tone of the storytelling allows and the premise allows for the shifts in style. Rick Geary actually adapts his style slightly so it’s a bit more consistent with that of Sakai. Shaw’s Hanna-Barbera-esque art fits in well with Sakai’s cartoon world, and it’s surprising to see how well Sakai’s and Aragones’s simple and quick styles fit together. Guy Davis’s take on the world of Usagi Yojimbo stands out as the most unusual and striking visual in the book. The style and flow of his storytelling are completely different, but the spirit of Sakai’s work shines through all the same.
Probably the biggest appeal of the book is the self-deprecating humor with which the various creators choose to present themselves. Dark horse publisher Mike Richardson focuses on his height and Sakai’s (or his lack thereof), and writer/former editor Jamie S. Rich and cartoonist Jeff Smith contribute stories that show just how in awe they are of Sakai’s abilities. The highlight of the book has to be Sergio Aragones’s lengthier segment, in which he shares stories of the travel, cultural and culinary experiences that he and Sakai have experienced together over the years. It definitely seems as though it was the profession they have in common that brought them together, but it seems as though their interest in different foods, places and people is what serves as the real mortar that cemented their friendship over the years.
What I found the most interesting about this offbeat issue was how it offers a behind-the-scenes look at the craft of comics, the business of comics and the convention culture of comics. As a fan, it’s easy to think of one’s excitement about encountering a favored professional at a convention, but it really doesn’t occur to everyone that the pros themselves might be excited to meet a colleague whose work impresses them. I like that it wasn’t just others’ appreciation of Sakai’s work that’s mentioned in that light here, but Sakai’s admiration for others’ work (as is evident in his story about meeting Davis).
When we read online of DC and Marvel editors sniping potshots at one another through the online comics press or lawsuits arising between creators and publishers, it’s easy to view the business of comics as a cutthroat one. In Usagi Yojimbo #100, Stan Sakai and his many friends remind us that it’s more than a business. It represents art, community and connections. 7/10