The first Joe Kubert Distinguished Storyteller Award has been presented at Ontario’s Comic Con Revolution, and the recipient is a comic book veteran whose career has lasted for more than thirty years and multiple publishers. Stan Sakai, the creator of epic anthropomorphic historical series Usagi Yojimbo, has nabbed the honor.
Sakai, who was born in Kyoto, Japan and raised in Hawaii, got his start in comics as a letterer in the early 1980s on a number of independent comic book series, including cult classic Groo the Wanderer by MAD Magazinecartoonist Sergio Aragones and Mark Evainer. He was soon writing and illustrating his own characters, beginning with The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy in the debut issue of the anthology title Albedo. Usagi Yojimbo followed in the very next issue, setting Sakai’s career path for years to come.
In addition to the ongoing Usagi Yojimbo series, the character has appeared in a number of different comic books, as well as on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated television show and merchandise including video games, toys and apparel. Sakai also created the spin-off series Space Ysagi, which was the basis for a never-completed animated TV pilot. The central Usagi series was optioned earlier this year for development into an animated series with James Wan’s Atomic Monster and Gaumont on board to co-produce with Sakai.
Beyond Usagi Yojimbo, Sakai’s work has appeared in comic book series including 47 Ronin, Critters and Dark Horse Presents. In addition to lettering Groo the Wanderer, he also worked on the syndicated Spider-Mannewspaper strip, and has won numerous awards for his work including an Inkpot Award for “Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Cartooning” and the 2016 Harvey Award for Best Cartoonist.
The Joe Kubert Distinguished Storyteller Award was created this year by the Kubert School and Atomic Crush Events in tribute to the work of Kubert, who died in 2012. The award is given to a creator who not only produces high quality work, but is also committed to helping the comic book community at large with a focus on helping new creators.
In a statement supporting the announcement, artist Bill Sienkiewicz said, “Stan Sakai is a personal hero of mine, the epitome of what one person with a unique vision can do creatively. His singular commitment to his art, and story, mainly via his brilliant Usagi Yojimbo, should be inspiring to anyone with their own story to tell. This is how you do it. You commit, every single day. So here we are, 34 years later, enriched by his wonderful tapestry of humor, wit, empathy, artistry and history. And thankfully, there is so much more to come from him.”
David Mack, creator of the critically acclaimed Kabuki, added, “Stan is such a great choice to receive this award. He’s been such a great example of a creator having a vision and seeing it through. I had the good fortune to do some signings in Paris with Stan many years ago, and meeting him very early in my career. In addition to his work and commitment to his work being a guiding example of a creator manifesting his vision, as a person, he has always been kind and nurturing to new comic creators as well.”