The Star Malaysia - Star2
Drawn from the heart
THIRTY years ago a rabbit samurai drawn by a man from Hawaii appeared in a comic book for the first time. Stan Sakai’s ongoing Usagi Yojimbo comic series has followed the long-eared warrior’s travels across an anthropomorphic feudal Japan ever since, gaining fans around the world and inspiring local cartoonists in the process.
To celebrate the milestone, Dark Horse Comics, publisher of Usagi Yojimbo, has released a book featuring various comic artists’ takes on Sakai’s character. That gesture alone is testament to the longevity and enduring popularity of his creations.
But there’s another, grander purpose behind The Sakai Project. The book is the product of the comics community coming together to help the beloved creator deal with the rising costs of caring for his ailing wife.
Sharon Sakai was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2004. The type 3 atypical meningioma tumour was benign but so rare, the Sakais were told, that among the nine million patients covered by their insurance carrier, there were only three cases similar to hers.
Radiation seemed to keep the tumour in check until 2011, when it returned aggressively, paralysing her left side, including her throat and vocal cords. The side effects of treatment have included diabetes, high blood pressure, loss of hearing and sight, and an inability to eat solid food.
Sharon is now convalescing at home in Pasadena, California, confined to bed and breathing through a tracheostomy tube. She’s had to be rushed to the emergency room several times and was down to 35kg at one point. But through it all, “she still maintains a great positive attitude and is such an inspiration to everyone who knows her”, Stan Sakai said via e-mail.
He took to posting on Facebook
The Sakaiproject. about his wife, and although he was hesitant to talk about it at first, Sakai said the support he found on social media was overwhelming. The social network also helped when the family suffered a second tragedy in December when their 20-month-old grandson Leo died in his sleep. Among those offering support was Garage Art Studios artist Tone Rodriguez, who is vice president of the Comic Art Professional Society (a group of cartoonists and writers based in Southern California, of which Sakai is a member), who said Sakai’s Facebook musings struck a personal chord.
“My mother suffered a stroke some years back and it was my father who handled her care afterward. But I saw (my father) every day, so I didn’t notice how the daily care and worry affected him,” Rodriguez said in an email. “But at our monthly meetings, I was noticing (the impact on Stan). And that’s when I decided our group could help.”
An open call went out for contributions and items from the comic industry and fan community flooded in.
“We thought we would get maybe 25 drawings, but more than 400 came in, many from artists I had never met but knew only through reputation,” Sakai said.
What was originally expected to be a “little” auction on eBay grew into a 20-week effort that ended July 20 with more than 470 original pieces of art and other comic memorabilia sold – most of it featuring Usagi but with other series represented as well. The cheapest items sold for US$9.99 (RM32); the most expensive was an original pen-and-ink poster of Scrooge McDuck by artist Don Rosa that sold for US$5,355 (RM17,500). It was the first original piece Rosa had parted with in more than five years.
A number of professional artists and industry veterans contributed to the auction effort, including Sergio Aragones ( Groo), Kevin Eastman ( Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator), Jeff Keane ( Family Circus), Joe Staton ( Dick Tracy), Mike Mignola ( Hellboy), Frank Cho ( Liberty Meadows), Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott ( Baby Blues), Jeff Smith ( Bone, RASL), Scott Shaw (The Flintstones), and Sakai himself.
The idea for The Sakai Project sprouted from the response to the auction. Dark Horse founder and publisher Mike Richardson agreed to not only donate the cost of producing the fullcolour glossy book, but also to give 100% of the profits to help the Sakais, according to Rodriguez.
Selecting the pieces for the book – originally planned for 100 pages but later expanded to 160 because of the volume of submissions – was no easy task. Cost limited the number of pieces that could be featured. According to Randy Stradley, Dark Horse editor and vice president of publishing, well-known artists whose work would attract fans and generate the most money for the cause were obvious picks, then came work from lesserknown artists that was “arguably great”.
“Finally, we wanted to include some of what we called the ‘love contributions’ – those pieces which were maybe not the most polished but which were so heartfelt in their execution that the emotion behind them flowed off the page,” Stradley said in an e-mail.
Sakai said the outpouring of love that has come from the project has been humbling.
“We are both overwhelmed with the show of support from all around the world, even from countries such as Macedonia, in which Usagi Yojimbo is not even published,” he said. “A few bookstores in the United States and France designated a Stan Sakai Day in which they arranged in-store artist signings and a portion of the day’s profits was given to Sharon’s care.”
All money donated is going into an account that is used solely to pay for her care, Sakai said. – The Honolulu Star-Advertiser/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
TO know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know Japan. The tale of 47 masterless samurai warriors who undertook a mission 300 years ago to avenge the honour of their late daimyo (feudal lord) is one of Japan’s most celebrated stories, a national legend, and the true embodiment of the honour and traditions of the samurai code of bushido.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, the titular 47 ronin were actually samurai warriors loyal to Lord Asano Naganori, daimyo of the Ako Domain. Lord Asano was sentenced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, who had insulted him by calling him a country bumpkin and treating him badly for refusing to pay a bribe.
After the death of their daimyo, the 47 loyal but now masterless warriors vowed to avenge their master’s honour by killing Kira and laying his head on Lord Asano’s grave.
After the incident, however, Kira was placed under heavy security to prevent such a thing from happening, so the 47 ronin – led by Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio – were forced to secretly plan and wait a year before finally exacting their revenge.
First things first – this graphic novel is not an adaptation of last year’s 47 Ronin movie starring Keanu Reeves, which really should have been called Keanu And The 46 Ronin. Unlike that Cub)