Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition
By Stan Sakai
There is, it turns out, a marked downside to turning something you love into a job. After a while, it begins to feel like work. That includes even so enviable a path as reviewing comic books for a living. Complaining will get you nowhere, of course, because there’s likely not a soul on earth outside of the field itself who would empathize with your privileged moanings—and besides, most of the folks I know who toil over comics reviews day in and out still have a fundamental love for the medium.
It’s just that it’s often difficult to divorce yourself from the work enough to remember what it is read for sheer pleasure—not analysis, not context, not criticism—just a pure love for the material. If you’re lucky, however, a book comes along every so often that kicks your critical ass, bringing you back down to earth for a second and reminding you of more innocent days reading comics on school buses and under bedspreads.
It was clear from the moment I unwrapped it that Fantagraphics’ two-volume Usagi Yojimbo collection was destined to be that book. I lay down on my bed, cracked it open, and promised myself I wouldn’t start another comic—not for work, not for fun—until I had finished all 1,200 pages. It’s not so much issues of continuity—the seven volumes that comprise the set are largely broken up into relatively short vignettes—it’s just that, while reading, it’s hard to imagine stumbling upon another book capable of maintaining such a joyfully electric pace for so long a period.
Indeed, Usagi Yojimbo is a work of pure joy, one that, for a variety of reasons, I’d only enjoyed in fits and starts, during my relatively late flirtations with the black and white comics boom of the mid-80s, brought on by a youthful obsession by kindred cartoonists, Eastman and Laird, who happily adopted San Sakai’s ronin rabbit as one of their own for a number of crossovers.
But as my own reading habits have focused on other works, I’ve waited with fingers crossed for a sufficient entry point into Sakai’s ever-broadening world, and thankfully, one couldn’t ask for a more perfect red carpet than Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition. Fantagraphics has faithfully reprinted the first seven volumes (the publisher’s full run) of the epic here, easily consumed in one devoted weekend, or, if it helps justify the admittedly large price tag, spread out indefinitely.
The publisher has also backloaded the second volume with a number of extras, including a pair of Ninja Turtle crossovers, full color cover reprints, an extended Comics Journal interview, and a goofy “How I Do Usagi” bonus strip. Good extras, but for those already in possession of the first seven volumes, likely not enough to justify the $100 cover price.
If, however, those old trades and single issues are distant memories, you’ll likely not find a better reason to reacquaint yourself with Sakai’s magnum opus. And for those waiting idly by for an excuse to dive into Usagi, this Special Edition offers up about 1,200.