A rabbit samurai and turtle ninjas — they seem like they fit together, don’t they?
It’s been years since Usagi Yojimbo last encountered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the pages of a comic book, but these anthropomorphic warriors of justice will finally reunite this July in a new comic written and drawn by the legendary creator of Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai himself. The special one-shot story will be available both in standard comic book format and a special hardcover edition.
In an interview with EW, Sakai discussed his plans for the story and Usagi’s bright future. Check that out below, along with an interior page from the story, a variant cover drawn by Mouse Guard‘s David Petersen, and a special bonus drawing of Usagi reading a copy of EW.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you preview what the crossover will be like?
STAN SAKAI: The story is called “Namazu.” It’s based upon the folklore of a giant catfish that lives underneath the Japanese islands. When it moves, that’s what causes earthquakes. There’s a god, Kashima, who had trapped it, pinned it down with a huge capstone. In my story, a piece of the capstone has crumbled off centuries ago, and that has weakened it. Because of that, the catfish has gotten stronger and is able to move a bit more. Usagi and the Turtles come into possession of a fragment of the capstone, and they have to put the fragments back together to trap the catfish. Otherwise, it will literally tear the Japanese islands apart. One of my characters called Jei is on a sacred quest to destroy all evil in the world. He reasons if he destroys all people, he’ll be destroying evil. So he wants the Japanese islands to be destroyed and is preventing them from completing their mission. It’s just full of fun.
What’s the dynamic between Usagi and the turtles? He’s a ninja, they’re samurai; he’s unflappable, they’re all over the place.
Usagi has met the turtles many times before, but this incarnation of the Turtles is very different since the series has been rebooted. Though Usagi is familiar with the Turtles, he’s not familiar with these Turtles. So they’ve got to reestablish group dynamics, they have to reestablish relationships, and there are suspicions all the way around. As you said, these are ninjas, versus Usagi who is a samurai. However, Usagi and Leo, because they both use a sword, have always had a unique relationship. Personally, I like Leo; he’s my favorite. Fans always ask me for a fight between Usagi and Leo, and there is one here. They have different styles, ninja versus samurai, and I had a ball with it. My version of Splinter is in this as well. There’s lots of action all the way. I even have a double double-page spread, which is four huge panels of Usagi, the turtles, Jei, and Splinter having a huge fight during an earthquake. It’s a fold-out, and then if you want to see the whole thing in one long panel you’d probably have to get two copies. These four panels connect, so I’ve got to make sure everything is connected to the next page. It’s fun.
This story will come in a special hardcover edition. Can you talk about what goodies will be included?
The hardcover will include the preliminary drawings and notes I had done. These are new incarnations of the turtles, so they’re slightly different from what I’m used to drawing. For one thing, when I turned in the rough copy, my editor said these turtles don’t have tails. Oh, okay. There are little things like that. It will also have story notes, background. I also wanted to do a bibliography of story notes about the earthquake fish. It will have thumbnails, my story outline, pretty much the creative process.
You’re so good at using Japanese myths and tying them into your stories. How did you decide on using the giant catfish?
I came across the story of the catfish early on, about 15 years ago. I’ve always wanted to do a story about that, and when this opportunity with the turtles came about, I thought this would be the perfect time for it because it’s exciting and includes Japanese mythology. There’s many theories about what causes them; some have a giant insect or a giant beetle that lives underground, but the catfish seemed the most unique and dynamic. I enjoy doing stories about Japanese culture, history, and folklore.
What have you learned about Usagi over the time you’ve been writing and drawing him?
I’ve been doing Usagi for more than 30 years. He started about the same time as the Ninja Turtles did. I own the character so I can do anything I want with him — adventure stories, romance, cultural stories, ghost stories. That keeps it fresh for me. I love the character, I love drawing him, and I look forward to it every day. It seems like each story I do can be a springboard for another story. I’m really blessed because other comic artists don’t have the type of freedom I enjoy. So I’m happy, I love what I do, and each day I think I get better at doing Usagi. My storytelling has improved, character designs, and overall just the way I tell stories.
What are you most excited for fans to see in the crossover?
It’s been 20 years since Usagi crossed over with the Turtles in the comic books. People have been asking a number of times, when is he going to meet the Turtles again? I think this is a really good story with a lot of action, and I know fans will not be disappointed.
Anything else you can preview about Usagi’s future?
Usagi’s also crossing over into their animated series, Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in a three-part story arc. I’ve been really happy this year. There’s a lot of Usagi stuff coming out.