After 16 years, critical acclaim and gathering a devoted fanbase, what's a masterless samurai rabbit to do? Go back for seconds.
"I still love working on 'Usagi,'" Stan Sakai, creator of "Usagi Yojimbo," told the Comic Wire on Sunday. "There's a lot of stories that I want to tell. Also, I'm able to cross to a number of different genres with the character. I've done humorous stories, horror, political dramas and, recently, a series of whodunnit mysteries."
It's the kind of book that likely raises a few eyebrows when Sakai explains it at parties.
"'Usagi Yojimbo' is the adventures of a samurai rabbit in an anthropomorphic 17th century Japan. I do my best to convey the history and culture of the country as well as tell exciting adventures. Among the honors I have received is a Parents' Choice Award which commended the research in the series."
Given the level of detail in the series, one might wonder why Sakai broke with strict realism to tell the story about a samurai rabbit.
"I had originally wanted to do a comic book inspired by the life of Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai who lived at the turn of the 17th century. I was drawing in my sketch book one day and drew a rabbit with his ears tied in a 'chonmage' - samurai topknot -- and loved the design. 'Miyamoto Musashi' was changed to 'Miyamoto Usagi' (usagi means rabbit in Japanese)."
The book is an odd hybrid of cartoon animals and exacting details from Japanese history and folklore, making for a book that's enjoyable by kids and adults alike.
"The book is all-ages friendly but the audience it's targeted at is an audience of one -- me. I write the kind of stories that I would like to read. I'm gratified that so many others enjoy it as well."
None of the details and realism mean the series is hard going for new readers. Far from it. And that's by design, according to Sakai.
"The series is very new-reader friendly. Most of the stories are done-in-one issue or, at most, two or three. There is the occasional epic-length arcs which the short stories lead up to. As far as having to know a lot about Japanese culture before reading the books, I think that is false. Everything is explained in the course of the stories and I include story notes and bibliographies for those who would like to know more. All the trade paperback collections are kept in print (there are 14 books so far, counting Space Usagi) so it's fairly easy to find the earlier adventures."
One such epic is about to begin, with a slow lead-in through stand-alone stories in issue #37 and #38, now published through Dark Horse Comics. After that, Usagi will be picking up the weapon known as Grasscutter once again.
"'Grasscutter' is the Eisner award winning story arc that centers around the legendary sword given by the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, to the first emperor of Japan. There is no question as to its existence in history but there is some dispute whether it was lost during the great civil war of the 12th century. Anyway, Usagi gets possession of the sword that could topple the shogunate and plunge the country into another civil war. He's in a quandary as to what to do with it. Meanwhile, there's a conspiracy aided by a sorceress after it.
"'Grasscutter II: Journey to Atsuta Shrine' begins in #39 with a prologue that gives the history of the founding of the shrine. It's a wild adventure featuring the exploits of Yamato-dake, one of Japan's greatest heroes as he faces a giant boar and snake. The sacred sword is said to be housed in the shrine and in 'Grasscutter II,' Usagi, with two friends, must transport the blade there through a gauntlet of ninja. The original Grasscutter story was full of magic whereas this sequel will take a more political or real-world approach to the story."