ALA Virtual Midwinter 2021

Stan Sakai & Usagi Yojimbo at #alamw21

This morning’s Graphic Novel/Gaming Stage featured the renowned cartoonist and storyteller, Stan Sakai. The creator of the famed fantasy comic book series Usagi Yojimbo, Sakai presented a compelling introduction to his artistic process and the sources of inspiration that brought about this epic anthropomorphic saga. Sakai relates memories of visiting his local library in Hawaii to return books and the joy it brought him to see his book on top of the pile. He explains the Italian origins of the term “cartoonist” and how this profession started with poking holes in cardboard to create an outline. Stan Sakai absolutely loves comic books! They brought him his lifelong love of reading! A favorite was delving into the Lord of the Rings books, which became an annual adventure due their exciting plots.

Stan Sakai understandably does a lot of research for his stories. He is a third-generation Japanese American and he strives to pay respect to his Japanese ancestry through educating readers on Japanese history, culture, and its focus on honor. These aspects are purposefully woven into the artwork and storylines. Sakai admits to making mistakes in the past but makes great effort to improve his accuracy and to show the deep respect he has for his heritage. Sakai has created stories for Star Wars and Marvel, where Japanese culture and history was also incorporated, and honor is again a strong theme throughout. Another crossover appearance occurred in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where Usagi was included in television episodes and merchandise.

I was very excited to hear about the strong female characters that Sakai described from Japanese history that he drew inspiration from, such as Tomoe Gozen and the influence she had on his character Tomoe Ame in Usagi Yojimbo. Details like this make me want to learn more about history and culture, and I can imagine that other readers may be inspired as well.

Stan Sakai’s Tips for (Comic Book) Writing:

  • Be a good reader! Reading helps you become a good writer
  • Practice! Draw from life (not comic books)
  • Look into the works of film directors (Japanese film helped influence Usagi Yojimbo)

Stan Sakai now thinks more long-term about his work, not only about what he needs for the next issue. Stan Sakai and his wife, Julie Fujii Sakaii, have created a new series for school-age/middle grade readers called Chibi-Usagi. We will also see Usagi in a new animated series on Netflix.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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