Stanley Masahiko Sakai (born May 25, 1953) is a Japanese American cartoonist best known for creating Usagi Yojimbo, a Funny Animal comic series which he has written, drawn and lettered alone since 1984.
His grandfather was a Japanese immigrant (issei) to the United States, making him a third-generation Japanese American (sansei). Born in Kyoto to a Japanese American father (nisei, second-generation) and a Japanese mother, he grew up in Hawaii. Today he lives in California.
Creating comics was a lifelong dream of his, but before getting in the industry he worked as a commercial artist. His comics career started in 1982 when his friend Sergio Aragonés suggested that he do the lettering for his new book Groo the Wanderer, which he still does up to the present. He has also lettered other comics, including the Spider-Man newspaper strip and some of the earliest English-translated manga like The Legend of Kamui (Kamui Gaiden), and has won an Eisner Award for his lettering alone.
In 1984, two of his creations were first published in the first two issues of the Furry Comic anthology magazine Albedo Anthropomorphics: The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy and Usagi Yojimbo. Both series had a World of Funny Animals, and Nilson and Usagi were both rabbits (while Hermy was a guinea pig), but the former had a Medieval European Fantasy setting while the latter was set in pre-Meiji period Japan.
In 1985, Sakai moved to Fantagraphics Books where his characters were published in their anthology title Critters. In 1987, Breakout Character Usagi got his own title which is still ongoing. Over the years, his work on Usagi Yojimbo has earned Sakai several awards. It has been published by Fantagraphics, Mirage Comics, Dark Horse Comics and currently IDW Publishing. Sakai's friendship with Mirage's Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has also led to Usagi meeting them both in comics and in cartoons.
Sakai has also illustrated a 2012 comic miniseries about The 47 Ronin for Dark Horse. In 2014, Dark Horse reprinted the Nilson and Hermy stories in hardcover.
Tropes in his work include:
- Art-Style Dissonance: The often-serious subject matter coupled with his cartoony style.
- Author Avatar: As drawn by Sergio Aragonés, he appears in the Groo series as a silent Scribe, and also makes cameos dressed as Usagi in Sergio Aragonés Funnies. He also put a self-insert character in the 200th issue of Usagi, an artisan named Masa.
- Funny Animal: Most of it.
- Homage: Usagi Yojimbo is one big homage to the Jidaigeki genre, especially in cinema. Sakai has stated that he's more influenced by Japanese films than manga.
- Lighter and Softer: The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy is much lighter than Usagi Yojimbo, though Sakai has stated they take place in the same world.