The Art of Usagi Yojimbo Review

Reviewer: Paul Sebert
Story Title: N/A

Art by: Stan Sakai
Concept & Design by: Cary Grazzini
Consulting Editor: Diana Schutz
Digital Production: Chis Horn, Jason Hvam, Dan Jackson
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

This is as good as it gets, comics fans. Really it may pack a high price tag, but for my money art books don’t get any better than this.

Since debuting in the pages of “Aldebo” in November of 1984, Stan Sakai’s venerable character has proven to be one of the most enduring characters in both independent and mainstream comics. Stan Sakai has meticulously written, drawn, and inked over 140 issues of this book bringing in a run that has outlasted Jack Kirby’s 104-issue Fantastic Four Run, and may very well rival David Sim’s 300 issue run on Cerebus.

That’s quite an accomplishment particularly in this day and age when numerous titles don’t make it past the 6th issue and this book does a splendid job of presenting just what has made the character so endearing. It perfectly captures the strange blend of moral conviction, generosity, and ferocious swordsmanship that have defined Miyamoto Usagi.

Studying Sakai’s artwork shows a strange and wonderful metamorphosis as the cruder earlier sketches of the character gradually evolve into masterpieces of sublime animated design. Though seemingly simplistic at first glance, Sakai’s figures demonstrate a refined elegance and fluid grace that no one has ever come close to imitating. Especially not in the creeping artistic stagnation of the genre of superhero comics.

Brimming with historically accurate touches mixed with fantasy aspects like the beloved Tokage lizards, Usagi’s world is simultaneously whimsical and alive and real. If you are a stranger to Sakai’s work, and this sounds paradoxical to you… well let me say this. Usagi Yojimbo is the best of both worlds. It’s an anthro book for people who hate anthro books. It’s an American manga title that can accessed and read by those who hate American attempts at Manga. It’s the rarest of all clichés a book that actually is fun for the whole family.

But enough gushing. What all can be found in this 12.3 x 9.2 x 0.9 inch, 3.3 pound tome of all things samurai hare related? Convention sketches, 2-making of comic strips in which Stan Sakai explains his crafts, concept drawings of the character from before the book began, and two beautifully painted stories that have long been only available in out of print limited edition hard covers collections. You have painted comics covers, unused pages, and promotional art. Oh and did I mention the gallery in which you have sketches of Usagi from some of the biggest names in both Independent and Mainstream comics? People like Jeff Smith, Frank Miller, and Tim Sale? Yes that’s right illustrations of Usagi by Jeff “Bone” Smith, Frank “Dark Knight Returns” Miller, and Tim “Long Halloween” Sale, among others.

The Art of Usagi Yojimbo is one of the most elegantly put together, thoroughly collected art books on the market. One that a person can just get lost into gazing at the beautiful illustrations.