Stan Sakai Usagi Yojimbo: The Complete Grasscutter Artist Select

Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo has been critically acclaimed worldwide since the character’s debut in 1984. This Artist Select volume collects both storylines of the Eisner Award-winning Grasscutter epics (Usagi Yojimbo issues 13-22, 39-45) in their entirety. Each interior page has been scanned from Stan Sakai’s personal archives and is printed “Artist’s Edition” style. Each copy has a bound-in signature plate signed by Sakai, and is part of a numbered edition of 999. This mammoth 464-page hardcover comes wrapped in a dust jacket that features a new cover painting by the artist, inside a handsome slipcase.

  • IDW Publishing, December 2019
  • ISBN 978-1-68405-660-6
  • 9″ x 13″, 464 pages, slipcased hardcover
  • $150 USD
  • Order online: IDW
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As with all AE format material (Artist’s Editions, Artifact Editions, Gallery Editions, Art Editions, Studio Editions, etc), this is a collection of classic comic material and I’ll be reviewing the book and not the story. For a complete list of all current and announced editions, with review links, please visit our Index. Also, see What is an Artist’s Edition and our Artist Index.

Possibly the best combination I’ve seen this year: Scott Dunbier’s approach to original comic art and IDW’s Artist Select format. Yes, the pages have been reduced from their original art size, but not that much. And since this covers material not previously published in the two Dark Horse Usagi Yojimbo Gallery Editions, it’s a must-have.

Scan quality is excellent. All pages are clear and remarkably clean. From past exposure to Sakai’s original art, he rarely uses correction fluid. The art is offwhite to light tan and is clearly discernible from the book’s white borders. All interior pages are scans of the original art, with edited art for the covers and chapter dividers.

Sakai’s art is notoriously clean, and judging from the original pages here it’s basically print-ready. Even the very detailed issue number, story name and page number line atop each page give it a completed feel. It must come from his lettering experience.

This is a gorgeous book. Lee’s design is inspired. With any book that contains black and white images only, it’s left to the designer to bring colour and life. Interestingly Lee decided to use almost no colour; you will only see blue used for Sakai’s name and page numbers. Chapter dividers use character illustrations pulled from the art, along with a page number in a word balloon. Lots of great small details such as arrows for borders and other unique text dividers or frames.

Production is, quite simply, luxurious. Clothbound book and slipcase with silver foil lettering. Heavy matte paper stock in a sewn binding. A dust jacket, which I’m not a fan of in general, with a new painting by Sakai in a design to match the Dark Horse Usagi Yojimbo Saga signed and numbered hardcovers. A silk ribbon! Why doesn’t every book over $50 include a silk ribbon?

The name of the book appears in three different ways: the colophon, the UPC insert, and the company website. We see “Stan Sakai”, “Stan Sakai’s”, and no Sakai. As always I went with the colophon.

Scott Dunbier was kind enough to answer a few questions that arose as I worked on this review.

Did Sakai no longer have the covers?

Stan keeps all of his story pages but sells his covers. Dark Horse was kind enough to supply B/W files for them. When I was putting together the book the stark black and white was jarring next to the original art, so I had my designer sample the color from one of the interior pages and add to each cover. I think it made for a more consistent package.

Were any corrections made to the art?

The only one I can think of was on one of the covers, at the artist’s request, and that was just to fill in some areas in black because, without the color added, it looked a bit sparse.

Was this your first work with the Artist Select line?

More or less. I had finished up the John Byrne Fantastic Four one, but all the heavy lifting on that book was done before it came to me.

Why Artist Select for this material and not Artist’s Edition?

Simple, the complete Grasscutter saga is a massive story, enough for three Artist’s Editions, so I thought it made sense to do this in Artist Select format.

When will this be available through Diamond?

Sometime next year, no timetable yet.

Any thoughts you’d like to add about this work?

Just would like to thank Stan for all his help and support in going this project, and my talented designer Shawn Lee—who worked very hard to make this book pretty close to the one I saw in my head.

The above image is a comparison of an Usagi Yojimbo Saga hardcover, this Artist Select, and a Sakai Gallery Edition. With all three the art is crisp and very polished, with an increase in size for each format. The “finished” production pages from the Saga hardcover show the change from the submitted artwork; a pop from the art that is helped by that brilliant white paper. There is a significant size difference when comparing the Artist Select with the Gallery Edition.