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Review: 'The Sakai Project: Artists Celebrate Thirty Years of Usagi Yojimbo'

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The Sakai ProjectStan Sakai created his first Usagi Yojimbo story in Steve Gallacci’s Albedo: Anthropomorphics #2 comic book, November 1984. Only 2,000 copies were printed.

From there, Usagi Yojimbo has grown to become a very famous comic book, traveling through several publishers, the most recent being Dark Horse Comics since 1996. The comic has always been written and drawn by Stan Sakai. During that time, he has become one of the most popular artists in the professional comic-book community, for his friendliness and readiness to join in numerous benefit projects. When furry fan artist Michael-Scot McMurry was dying of cancer in 2000, he drew the cover for a benefit comic book for McMurry’s expenses for an operation, showing Usagi and McMurry’s Zonie the coyote fighting monsters.

Stan has often been an attendee of furry conventions, sometimes with his wife, Sharon, and their two daughters. I remember one convention, probably a ConFurence in the mid-1990s, where Stan’s daughter Hannah, then about 3 years old, tried to climb up Kjartan Arnörsson, a lean 6'9". Stan was a member of Rowrbrazzle, the furry amateur press association, from 1990 to 1998. He is a member of the Furry Hall of Fame. His Usagi Yojimbo won the Ursa Major Award in the Best Anthropomorphic Comic Book category in every year from 2001 to 2005. He has also won non-furry awards such as the Eisners, a Parent's Choice Award, the Comic-Con's Inkpot, Spain's Haxtur Award and many others. He has been a furry convention guest-of-honor on three continents, at an Anthrocon, a EuroFurence and an Australian MiDFur.

If you have not heard – it has been widely publicized - Stan’s wife Sharon has had an inoperable brain tumor for the past decade. It was mild at first, but has gotten progressively worse until she is now confined to bed and in need of round-the-clock care. The Sakais have medical insurance, but their medical expenses have far exceeded the amount of the insurance. Dark Horse Comics and the Comic Art Professional Society have organized The Sakai Project, this 160-page hardcover book, to both celebrate Usagi Yojimbo’s 30th anniversary and as a benefit project for the Sakais’ medical expenses. All proceeds go to them. Dark Horse is not even reimbursing itself for the printing expenses.

By various, foreword by Mark Evanier, preface by Tone Rodriguez, Milwaukie, OR, Dark Horse Books, July 2014, hardcover $29.99 (160 pages).

The art book is an oversized 9” X 12” hardcover on glossy, pure white paper, with a cover by Stan Sakai himself. It was published on July 23, just in time for the 2014 Comic-Con in San Diego. Aside from the brief foreword and preface, practically all of the 160 pages are full-color paintings (a very few are black-&-white line art) of comic-book artists’ tributes to Usagi Yojimbo; from full-page drawings or paintings to four to a page. One, Sergio Aragónes’, occupies two pages, but you know Sergio’s elaborate panoramas. The multi-artist pages are necessary because there are 262 artists in all. These have created 262 pictures in the artist’s own art style; from serious like Paul Gulacy or Stéphane Roux, to cartoony like Mike Kazaleh or Scott Shaw!(although Shaw!’s is surprisingly realistic for him). They range from serious portraits to gag cartoons to pin-up art of sexy female anthro rabbits or human girls sporting a Usagi tattoo or wearing a Usagi T-shirt. Most show Miyamoto Usagi alone, but some include one or two of his supporting characters such as the panda cub Lord Noriyuki, the cat samurai Tomoe Ame, or the bounty hunters Gennosuke the rhino and Stray Dog. One, Michael Anderson’s, shows Usagi surrounded by seven supporting characters. Some are in art styles almost indistinguishable from Sakai’s own; others are extremely different. Most show the rabbit ronin in shogun-era settings, but there are a few of Sakai’s futuristic Space Usagi, and a few do not include the rabbit at all, such as Ron Ferdinand’s of Dennis the Menace dressed in Usagi’s samurai garb. Joseph Wu’s is not a drawing or painting; it is a photograph of a paper sculpture. Most artists are U.S. or Canadian, but some are European such as Juanjo Guarnido or Jean-Marc Pau.

Here are four of the pictures, by Frank Cho, Jack Davis, Adam Hughes, and Mike Mignola (colored by Dave Stewart), showing the artistic range in this book. Other artists include Neal Adams, Brian Michael Bendis, Howard Chaykin, Dave Gibbons, Matt Groening, Adam Hughes, Jeff Keane, Bill Morrison, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jeff Smith, William Stout, Matt Wagner and Phil Yeh. 262 artists! This is a rare opportunity to see anthropomorphic art by comics artists who do not usually draw anthro art.

Frank ChoJack DavisAdam HughesMike Mignola

Because Dark Horse wants ALL the sales of The Sakai Project to go to the Sakais, the book is not available online from Amazon.com or even Dark Horse’s own online catalogue, the websites of which automatically deduct a percent of each sale. If you want this book, you will have to order it through your local comics shop, which will special-order it from Dark Horse.

You had better hurry. Dark Horse has not announced its print run, but this is likely to sell out fast, and no second printing has been announced.

Comments

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I would like to publicly thank my sister Sherry for buying this $30.00 art book for me, and Blastoff Comics in North Hollywood for getting it in less than a week.

Fred Patten

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I hope I have $ when it's still available.

Well, I'll be...

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I'm privileged to remember Stan when my own son worked with him on a Comic Book called Rib, Andrew M. Ford http://mbasic.facebook.com/drew.ford.712
http://www.usagiyojimbo.com/other/uyletters/special/cover/sakai_rib1.jpg

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Amazing (and pleasing) to see the great Jack Davis -- last survivor of the infamous EC Comics creators -- still drawing at 90 years of age.

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According to Mark Evanier, who wrote the foreword in this book, some comic shops have ordered extra copies and are selling them for $35 to $45 to impulse buyers who see it and want a copy immediately, without waiting for the shop to special-order one from Dark Horse for them.

Fred Patten

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics