I’ve read some single issues of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo over the years, and seen plenty of short stories in various anthologies, but have always been a bit intimidated about plunging into the trades.
It’s one of those books that’s been going on so long, had more than one publisher, and been available in multiple formats and editions over the years that I’ve always been a bit shy about plunging into it.
But faced with the piss-poor selection of graphic novels at one of my new local libraries, I decided to read one at random just to see how it went.
I started with Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 23: Bridge of Tears (Dark Horse; 2009).
Rather than a review, I’m going to offer an anecdote as a way of expressing its quality.
I took it to bed with me one night, intending to read a chapter or two before turning the light off. I couldn’t stop at the end of the first chapter, or the second, or third and, before I knew it, I’d finished all seven in the volume, and it was a two hours later than I intended to go to bed. I didn’t feel at all tired; I felt like getting dressed, sneaking to the library, breaking a window and making off with some more of their Usagi collections.
Rest assured I didn’t do that; that’s just how I felt.
I couldn’t even quit reading this volume when I got to the last story it collected, as this particular volume includes an anniversary “roast” of Stan Sakai and Usagi Yojimbo.
It was quit a clever idea, one I don’t recall ever seeing in another comic book. Over the course of 20 pages, several creative teams took turns creating scenes of themselves at a podium on a stage in front of little tables around which Sakai, his friends, family, peers and random comics characters are seated. Between each, Sakai himself would take the page and the podium.
So it’s basically an almost 30-page jam comic by a who’s who of comics talent: DH Publisher Mike Richardson and Rick Geary, Frank Miller, Diana Schutz and Matt Wagner, Sergio Aragones, Jamie S. Rich and Andi Watson, Jeff Smith, Mark Evanier and Scott Shaw and, finally, Guy Davis, who provides a bravura four-page, silent Usagi adventure, presented as a dream that Sakai has while falling asleep during Davis’ speech.
I learned an awful lot about some comics people while reading this, including the fact that Richardson is a giant, Davis used to look totally punk and now draws himself to look exactly like Sluggo and Rich dresses exactly how I always imagined editors to dress (a supposition that my time in the newspaper industry was constantly disabusing me of).
Anyway, Usagi Yojimbo is every bit as good as everyone always says it is, and surprisingly accessible—even if you start with the twenty-third volume.