FanimeCon - Day Three - Stan Sakai
Why a rabbit? When artist Stan Sakai set out to retell the stories of Japan's feudal era in his Usagi Yojimbo series, why did he choose to make the lead character a rabbit? "He looks good with his ears tied up," Sakai joked at first. Then he noted, "The rabbit has been long revered in Japanese culture. Instead of a man in the moon, it's a `rabbit in the moon.'" Sakai also said that he grew up with another rabbit character on U.S. TV, the mostly-forgotten Crusader Rabbit animated cartoon from the 1960's. The other "Yojimbo" influence, the noted samurai film by that name, shows in the appearance of the rhinoceros Gen, whose five o'clock shadow came from actor Toshiro Mifune.
Sakai has been drawing Yojimbo's adventures for 16 years, and there's a lot left to be told. "I just started to scratch the surface of the stories I want to tell," he said. He produces one page of the book each day, using stories that are based on Japanese folklore, while other stories are his own invention. Yojimbo may be more popular in Europe than in the U.S., with the book now going on sale in Italy, France and the Netherlands - even in Croatia. "When the (Croatian) publisher approached me, I asked him `Isn't there a war there?' He said `That's Bosnia, not Croatia,'" Sakai recalled.
As Sakai stood at his table in the FanimeCon artists' alley, there was a steady stream of fans who walked up to visit. In turn, Sakai showed them pages in progress from a Yojimbo series he's writing on a deadline, which places his characters into the story of the building of a historic shrine in Nagoya. Sakai said that was a tough story to tell because he wanted his drawings of the shrine to be accurate, and he had experienced a hard time finding reference pictures of the building.
Yojimbo is deliberately drawn in a cartoony style, in the manner of Sergio Aragones, the artist whose Groo the Wanderer is lettered by Sakai. That cartoony style of drawing has gone out of fashion with some artists, following the example of Todd MacFarlane, who have adopted a hyper realistic style for their super hero books. "They've gotten too extreme," Sakai comments, "with fists the size of heads - it's gotten so distorted." Sakai recalled Aragones confronting one of those hyper-realistic artists at a dinner and complaining that "You are the guys who ruined comic books! Now everyone expects us to have perfect anatomy."

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four