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Tag Archive: Stan Sakai


 

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a comic book nearly two years in the making.  Or maybe 27 years.  And it may be the best single comic book issue of the year.  But as strange as the tale between the covers, the story of its creators is stranger still.  What you probably know is this:  In 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published a single issue comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Intended as a spoof-parody-mash-up concoction of Marvel’s Daredevil and The New Mutants, Frank Miller’s Ronin, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus, the book sparked something much bigger for readers, becoming one of the most popular franchises for a few generations of readers and cartoon watchers (not to mention the impact it had via toys and movie tie-ins).  A couple unrelated–short-lived–parody spin-offs of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came and went unrelated to Eastman and Laird, including Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.

What you don’t know is that eight years after the Turtles saw their first comic–in 1992–comic creators Shane Bookman and his brother Paul released their scrappy indie creation on the unsuspecting comic book universe: Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls Like Eastman and Laird, the Bookmans had their own share of ups and downs, tales of fame and fortune (evidently Eastman sold off his rights to the Turtles some 20 years ago, etc.).  So in 2017 Eastman and writer David Avallone and artist Ben Bishop (with Troy Little, Brittany Peer, Tomi Varga, and Taylor Esposito) took the Bookmans’ story to Kickstarter, and nearly 1,200 backers brought in more than $100,000.  Now it’s all done, first to tell the Bookmans’ story in a new monthly comic beginning this past week called Drawing Blood, and at the same time with a companion comic they created and discussed in their comic industry exploits, Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, Issue #1.

 

The result?  Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is an idea as good as any Turtles tale you’ve read, and as finely crafted an origin story, full of action, top-notch writing, beautiful layouts, and exciting new characters: referred to as the Ragdolls (from the cat breed), they are three female cats who encounter gamma rays, cosmic rays, genetic mutagens, and who knows what other comic book superpower trigger was tapped, to become Tezuka, Otomo, and Miyazaki.  Speaking, Ronin-trained, defender cats.  Otomo is the most fearsome, Miyazaki speaks in Haiku poems, and Tezuka is a master tactician.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you drift along through IDW’s new mini-series, Ghost Tree, don’t be surprised if the story evokes Japanese folk tales, like Momotarō or last year’s Oscar-winning animated short film Bao.  Unlike so many comic book stories today, Ghost Tree is not an action-driven spectacle, but a refreshingly slow supernatural journey into the past for a young Japanese expatriate.  His name is Brandt, and he is returning to the home of his youth because of a promise made to his grandfather a decade ago.  And that takes him to a meeting in the woods near his grandmother’s home.

Writer Bobby Curnow (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and artist Simon Gane (Godzilla) paint a delightful, engaging, and haunting snippet from Japanese culture, bridging two generations, with a tale steeped in the otherworldly realm of so many Asian legends.  Take Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo and merge it with something spooky that awaits in the forest–like something just this side of the dark of Kim Eun-hee’s Kingdom–and you’ll find the setting for Ghost Tree.  

  

It’s a journey of self-discovery for grown-up Brandt, but what more can he learn from his grandfather now that he’s gone?  Can he help the lost souls in the woods and take home lessons from his grandmother to solve his own problems?  Learning from mistakes and regret, a haunted tree, and an assembly of souls that are drawn to it, plus monsters, and disembodied samurai?  It’s no wonder the first printing of Issue #1 has already sold out in pre-orders.  What prompted the advance sell-out?  The description or that creepy character standing atop the cliff?  Whatever the reason, the first chapter matches the hype.  It’s coming to your local comic shop this week, and if you happen to miss it, don’t worry because the second printing is close behind.

Take a look at this preview of Issue #1 of Ghost Tree, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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A classic board game and TV show are getting new tie-in comic book series and a classic creator and character are all coming to IDW Publishing this year. IDW announced several new books this week to expand their line of monthly series. The Hasbro board game Clue/Cluedo is getting a new comic book mini-series. The Netflix award-winning TV series GLOW is getting a limited series.  And Stan Sakai is bringing his world of the swordsrabbit Usagi Yojimbo to IDW with stories old and new, including a full-color, three-part series.

The Sakai announcement is bigger than a single series, as IDW says it plans to bring all 35 years of his Usagi Yojimbo stories into new collected editions–the black and white comic will be in full color for the first time–and new stories are being prepared.  Beginning in June, a three-part story set again in the Edo period in 17th century Japan finds Usagi “embroiled in a puppet drama where the players are not quite what they seem.”  According to Sakai, “Bunraku (Japanese puppetry) captures many elements that make the world of Usagi Yojimbo unique: an adventure filled with Japanese culture, folklore, and history.  It also features the return of a long-awaited fan favorite character and Yokai (Japanese supernatural creatures).”  Usagi Yojimbo #1 will be released in a main cover by Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson (Murder Falcon), Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and comics legend Walt Simonson.

IDW returns to Clue tie-in mysteries with CLUE: Candlestick, a three-issue comic book miniseries launching in May. “Rife with puzzles, secrets, and lies, and everyone’s a suspect,” the series will be created by animator Dash Shaw writing, illustrative, coloring, and lettering a new Clue mystery.  Check out a preview of the new Clue series below, courtesy of IDW Publishing.
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Review by C.J. Bunce

The second of the new TKO Studios titles we dived into this weekend is The 7 Deadly Sins.  Yesterday we reviewed Sara, which conjured scenes from Sands of Iwo Jima, and now The 7 Deadly Sins feels like a modern twist on the John Ford/John Wayne classics Stagecoach (celebrating its 80th anniversary this year) and The Searchers.  Despite the basic story building blocks from a John Ford movie, this isn’t a John Wayne film or Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western, or something like more recent Western comic book series like Dynamite’s The Lone Ranger.  This is a far less traditional Western–far from Classics Illustrated, this is a story that could wrap up the trilogy of Quentin Tarentino’s bloody violent modern Westerns The Hateful 8 and Django Unchained. 

1867.  A post-Civil War frontier “cowboys and Indians” era tale, the story introduces readers to a white man raised as Comanche whose signature is a unique style of scalping homesteaders and U.S. Cavalry soldiers.  A priest wants to broker an unholy peace with the Comanche, and a black ex-Union corporal named Jericho Marsh is trying to find his daughters.  Marsh finds himself in jail and breaks out with a pregnant ex-slave, a cannibalistic ex-Confederate soldier, a Chinese prisoner, a well-known crack shot, and a woman mistaken for a man, and they bring on an orphaned mountain boy and a Comanche child along the way.  The story pulls from Three Godfathers and The Magnificent Seven–not so much derivative, it pulls on the strings of plenty of Western tropes.  A handful of strangers, all outlaws, must join to fight off the Cavalry, a wealthy landowner, and Comanches, and it’s anyone’s guess who might make it out alive.

The 7 Deadly Sins comes from writer Tze Chun (Gotham, Once Upon a Time), artist Artyom Trakhanov (Undertow, Turncoat) and if the color work looks familiar to Western readers that may be because it’s created by Giulia Brusco (Scalped, Django Unchained).  Letters are by Southern Bastards’ Jared K. Fletcher.  Parts of Trakhanov’s panels are drawn similar to the very traditional, archaic layouts of Stan Sakai’s Japanese motif Westerns, landscape shots reminded me of the stark feel of Moritat’s work on the Jonah Hex book, All-Star Western, and choreographed action sequences carry the more stylized influence of Frank Miller’s interiors later in his career.

Take a look at these great preview pages:

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This past April we previewed here at borg.com what we predicted would be the crossover event of the summer.  We’re glad we were right!  The crossover is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo from IDW Publishing, by arrangement with Dark Horse Comics, Nickelodeon, and Miyamoto Usagi creator Stan Sakai.  Sakai returns to his nimble samurai rabbit warrior 33 years after its first appearance, writing, drawing, and lettering the new book, with Tom Luth supplying the color.  Kevin Eastman, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even lends a hand, supplying a cover variant for the book.  Both series featuring anthropomorphic martial arts heroes were created in 1984.

The quality of this book can’t be overstated–it’s gorgeous.  With most comic books a panel or two per page always seems to get short shrift, sometimes an image with no details or silhouette, but that’s not the case with Sakai’s work here.  You can see Sakai’s love for these characters in every panel on every page–emotion, action, or attitude is always present–as he conjures a tale derived from Namazu, a legend in Japanese tradition.  He combines his samurai hero with Kakera–his version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sensei Splinter–and everyone’s favorite ninja turtles as they embark on a quest to save Japan.  Sakai’s story is based on the story of a giant catfish that lives under the Japanese islands, whose movements are the cause for frequent earthquakes.  A great hero was able to pin the fish under a massive rock at Kashima Shrine.  In his new twist on the legend, a piece of the rock has broken off, weakening its power, and now the catfish threatens to destroy the country.  Our heroes must face the demonic spearman Jei, who wants the country destroyed and threatens to interfere with their efforts as they return the rock to its rightful place.

As you can see above, Sakai’s sound effects are brilliant!

   

Look for cover variants from Sakai, longtime Sakai collaborator Sergio Aragonés, Mouse Guard’s David Petersen, and Kevin Eastman–ten covers in all.

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It’s not every day we get to read a new story by its original creator, especially 30 years later.  Comic book readers are getting just that this summer as Japanese-American comic book writer/artist Stan Sakai returns to his creation Miyamoto Usagi, a samurai rabbit living in late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth-century Japan whose exploits were chronicled in his Usagi Yojimbo saga.  Usagi will partner with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a one-shot graphic novel crossover event.  Both series were created in 1984, the Turtles created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

The new story written and illustrated by Sakai is called Namazu, and the conflict centers on the Japanese myth about a giant catfish that lives under the islands of Japan.  A god named Kashima trapped the fish and it now threatens to free itself and destroy the islands, helped in Sakai’s story by Jei, a character on a mission to destroy all the evil in the world.  Can Usagi and the Turtles join forces to save the future of Japan?

The catfish is featured prominently in a beautiful variant cover by Mouse Guard artist David Petersen (below).  Sakai will provide the standard cover for the book.  A softcover and hardcover edition will be available, the hardcover edition including extras like concept art and story notes selected by Sakai.  Sakai has won a total of seven Eisner and Harvey Awards, and was nominated for 21 Eisners, over his long career.

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A secret project nearly three years in the making was shared this month with the announcement of a tribute to the artist who created the fantasy comic book series Tellos.  Artist Mike Wieringo, a friend of many, died from a heart attack in 2007 and the industry banded together as the “Secret Friends of Ringo” led by Tellos writer Todd Dezago to create a heretofore undisclosed tribute project and give something to one of Wieringo’s favorite causes in the process.  The Mike Wieringo Tellos Tribute is a giant 500 page, original graphic novel to be released in two over-sized, hardcover volumes.   It features the artwork of more than 200 of the comics industry’s most popular and talented artists, dedicated to the memory of Wieringo, with all proceeds from this project being donated to the ASPCA.

The Mike Wieringo Tellos Tribute continues the adventures of characters in the original Tellos series created by Wieringo and Dezago and published by Image Comics (and briefly by Gorilla Comics): Jarek—a young hero with “magikal” abilities, Koj—a tiger-warrior who is Jarek’s partner and protector, Serra—the swashbuckling pirate queen, and Rikk—the fox-thief bent on finding his fortune.  The original comic book series of ten issues ran from 1999 to 2000.  Three one-shot issues followed:  Maiden Voyage, The Last Heist, and Sons and Moons, followed by a three-issue mini-series, Tales of Tellos, in 2004.  Not long before he passed away, Wieringo had talked about working on a new Tellos.

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You can only order the books at this link.  Because of they way the group is providing the proceeds to the ASPCA, these books will not be available through any other source.

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