Saturday, November 21, 2020

Comics Commentary: Usagi Yojimbo #13-14


Audio only.

Transcript below...

Today we're going to talk about two recent issues of Usagi Yojimbo, one of my favorite comic books. We're talking about #13, which is part three of four of a storyline called “The Return,” and #14, which is the fourth part of that story. Usagi Yojimbo is currently published by IDW, and this is number 251 and 252 in a series. Stan Sakai, who's been doing this comic, has been doing it for a long, long time. In fact, an interesting tidbit from the back of the second issue: The colorist, Tom Luth, who's pictured here in the back right is retiring from working with Stan on the comic after 30 years of doing colors on the comic.

Sakai was just recognized with an Eisner Award within the last month or so, so that was very, very cool. These two issues are a great example of why his comics are so wonderful. All of Usagi is collected. There are relatively thick reprint volumes available, and there's a color reprint series called Color Classics that IDW's also been publishing, which is earlier work back to the very beginning—but colored because the original stuff was black and white.

This is one of my favorite comics: Absolutely beautiful, wonderful cartoony art, a characteristic style—very gentle, loving comic also rooted in the history and culture of Japan given Stan's background and upbringing. This storyline is a story of Usagi Yojimbo reuniting with a friend of his, Kenichi. They've actually had a falling out, but they were childhood friends and returning to a village after Lord Mifune was deposed and his lands given over to another leader.

They've returned. There are different warring factions aligning with various people, some aligning with Mifune as renegades or rebels. They aren't quite sure where they stand, even having been friendly with and followers of Mifune as well. We've got Usagi's nurse maid, we've got Kenichi's wife and mother of his son, I believe, Jotaro, who's a youth.

This comic is wonderful. It's about rekindling friendship and difficult times. It's about a family facing struggles and challenges and having to decide where to align. And it's about kind reconciling the friendship of the past with whatever difficulties you're currently having. In the next issue, the village is going to be burned by the Mifune rebels, and Jotaro, Mariko, and I believe Usagi's former sensei arrived to save the day.

There are interesting fight scenes, relatively large-scale battles. You can see in that panel that takes up most of a page there with the three of them—a wonderful, wonderful comic. At the end, the current head man arrives, and they pass on news of the plot, the assassination plot, and all is well—with Usagi and others going off back into the wilderness leaving his friends behind. This sequence of panels exemplifies some of the stillness and the sadness that Stan can capture in his comics panels. I have to say to Tom: After 30 years of colors, this issue is one to be proud of. Thank you very much for all your years of creative work and service on the title working with Mr. Sakai. 

Usagi Yojimbo: If I could only read one comic and couldn't read any others, this might be the one that I read. It is that good. It is literary, gentle, and loving. It has history, and it has culture. It has art—it has puppetry in a recent storyline. And Stan's artwork and story is just absolutely wonderful. If you're not familiar with the book, be sure to check it out.

There's a slight Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles connection in that back when they were making the action figures in the earliest days, there was an Usagi Yojimbo action figure, also, which I was lucky enough to have as a child—and no longer do, however. There's a slight connection. If you like funny animal books like Critters back in the day, if you like the Turtles, if you like stuff like that, check it out. If you like Japanese culture, check it out. And if you just like good comic books, be sure to check it out. 

Usagi Yojimbo #13-14. There's also the Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics, which are worth picking up. These two issues came out in September and October. Stan Sakai, congratulations on the Eisner Award. Tom, thank you very much for the colors; I hope you go on to do other personally rewarding stuff. And Media Dietitians, be sure to check out Usagi Yojimbo.

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