Sunday, 13 July 2014

Usagi Yojimbo: The Artist Review (Stan Sakai, Tom Luth)

Usagi Yojimbo - which celebrates it’s 30th anniversary this year! - is usually a black and white comic created entirely by the incredible Stan Sakai. So it’s a treat when we get one-shots like this issue where Sakai is joined by a colourist, in this case Tom Luth, to add another dimension to Usagi’s wonderful world. 

Disappointingly, this issue doesn’t contain any new material but instead collects a number of short stories that originally appeared in MySpace Dark Horse Presents and Dark Horse Presents. That said, even though I’d read these stories before, they’re still awesome to re-read and if you missed those titles in the first place, now’s your chance to acquaint yourself with these delightful tales. 

The first story, Saya (Japanese for “scabbards”) sees Usagi fighting an aggressive samurai who doesn’t know Usagi’s reputation and skill as a swordsman. “Cut the Plum” is a comical two-page story of a young boy trying to get Usagi to put a plum on his nose so he can cut it in half with Usagi’s blade. Buntori is a spooky tale of ghostly samurai repeatedly playing out their deaths at night until Usagi brings peace to their restless spirits. The title story, The Artist, sees Usagi protecting an artist whose western-style of artwork is forbidden in feudal Japan - under penalty of death! 

If you’ve read Sakai’s work before, it goes without saying that all of the stories are beautifully written and drawn. These are comics of the highest standard. Luth’s colours - bright and vibrant - make the comic that much more appealing. And though there’s a lot of violence in the comic, Sakai draws it in a way that doesn’t show any blood or gore, so it’s totally suitable for kids to read as well. 

Also included is a three page preview of an all-new Usagi Yojimbo series, Senso, starting next month. It looks very ambitious with Sakai drawing a number of characters in the panels compared to the spareness of his artwork here - a lot of this issue showcases Sakai’s strengths as a landscape artist with a minimal cast. 

Part of the greatness of Usagi Yojimbo is its accessibility so that even if the 28th volume is out this month, you can still start with volume 28 and totally understand the story, character and world. The same goes for this one-shot comic, so if you’ve ever wanted to sample this series, check out this fantastic issue.

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