TCJ 300 Conversations: Stan Sakai & Chris Schweizer

Posted by on December 25th, 2009 at 4:05 AM

 

Schweizer:
What is Usagi‘s publishing schedule, currently?

Sakai:
It’s published by Dark Horse and I do nine or 10 issues [a year].

Schweizer:
I knew it wasn’t quite monthly, but I knew that it was very close.

Sakai:
It takes me about five weeks to do a complete issue. That’s from the writing to the finished artwork. That’s a good pace for me, because it gives me time to do other projects. I still do lettering for Stan Lee on the Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strips; I do lettering for Sergio and Mark when there’s any new Groo project. I also do one or two fun little comic-book works, for other publishers. I did a Hulk story for Marvel and I just finished a pin-up for a

Simpsons/Futurama

book, and little things for other publishers. And for me, that’s a good schedule. We also do one trade-paperback collection a year. And this year I am also doing a fully painted original graphic novel, titled Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai. Yokai are the ghosts, goblins and monsters of Japanese folklore.


From Crogan’s Vengeance, ©2008 Chris Schweizer.


Schweizer:
You’re using watercolors?

Sakai:
Ink and watercolor.

Schweizer:
The pages that I’ve seen look gorgeous. Is it dealing directly with Usagi’s storyline? Because it seems like it’s focusing on the mythology of individual —

Sakai:
Yes, the regular series and the Yokai can be read independently, but it also advances the Usagi story. There are revelations about another character named Sasuke that happen in the story that you don’t need to know the background of Sasuke or Usagi though it helps to appreciate the story better.

Schweizer:
And you say, “stand alone” and that’s one of the things that I think is strongest about Usagi. That you can — and I have, it’s how I got into it in the first place — pick it up with any particular volume and you don’t have to be familiar with the characters.

Sakai:
Right, you can get into stories fairly quickly.

Schweizer:
You regularly re-insert the little asterisks with what things are, no matter how many times it’s been in. It never feels forced, and you always reintroduce characters. If — is it Kitsune?

Sakai:
Kitsune, yes.

Schweizer:
If Kitsune comes in, then you establish very early on that she is a pickpocket. If Gen comes in, you establish very early on that he’s a bounty hunter. Is that intentional on your part?

Sakai:
That is very intentional, because, like any book, we need new readership. Readers fall out of reading your books for some reason or another, so we always need new readers. They have to be introduced to the story and to characters as quickly as possible. The way I operate is that I do short stories that lead up to one long epic and then go back to short stories. The shorter stories are a good place for new readers to come on board, but the older readers appreciate the longer stories, with the complexity, the character development and such. That’s been my plan for quite a while.

Schweizer:
Well, it’s really nice. It’s something that I think comics should do more of. It’s one of the reasons that we designed the Crogan books the way that we did, so that you could pick up any one of them, so that if you enjoy that one, you might want to pick up another one. One of the things that terrifies me most, though, is: What if they like that one, and say, “Well, that’s good enough.” Are you familiar with the Dungeon books by Lewis Trondheim? For a long time, I only read two of them, because the other ones featured different characters and I figured I’m good with these characters and if they put out more with them, I’ll read those. And it wasn’t until after I put out the first

Crogan’s

book I realized that was a potential with mine and I got very scared.

Sakai:
They were like Catfoot, but —

Schweizer:
Exactly. Some people — I did a signing at Free Comic Book Day, and a couple people asked if I was going to be doing other books with Catfoot. The original plan was that there would be some characters that had more than one book. The gunfighter is the right age to be a younger man during the Civil War. And the Rough Rider, you know, could, two years later, be involved in the Boxer Rebellion, and then 15 years later be involved with Pancho Villa. So, there would be a lot of situations where I could do that but one thing that I’ve been thinking about doing is shorter stories that are meant for introduction, to be collected in floppies, using characters that I’ve already researched. Because I’ve already researched the pirates, I could do a Catfoot story while I’m researching a future book, because one of the hardest things for me is that period of research and no output. Although I know it is important, I feel like I’m not contributing anything and that I’m just sitting around reading all day. Your research you tend to do while you’re in the process of working on another book.

Sakai:
Sometimes. Much of my research is done while I’m already working on another project, or it may take years to do. It took about five years to do the research and write the story for Grasscutter.

Schweizer:
And all of Grasscutter, all of the details in Grasscutter are based on legend and historical fact.

Sakai:
It’s history, yes. And actually, that’s why I did so much research for Grasscutter. That’s why we started putting my story notes in the back of the —

Schweizer:
So they weren’t in the earlier books?

Sakai:
They were in some of the comic books, the Mirage comics. I did a story about the Tanabata Festival — the festival of the Weaver Star. I did a lot of research for that but I could not put all the information into the story, because it would just slow down the pacing. I put that as story notes in the back of the comic book, but it was never reprinted in the trades, which is actually going to be corrected with the new editions. People enjoyed the story notes in Grasscutter, so just put ’em in the back.

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