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The Japanese American National Museum will premiere its latest exhibition, Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, on Saturday, July 9, featuring original art of the iconic comic book character and a new documentary on cartoonist Stan Sakai. Premiere Sponsor for the exhibition is Daruma. The show runs through October 30, 2011.

Sakai’s samurai rabbit has become internationally famous since its inception 27 years ago, with his comic books translated into a dozen languages. When Empire Magazine listed the greatest comic book characters of all time, Usagi Yojimbo placed 31st, ahead of Green Lantern, Daredevil and Hellboy and on an elite list with Superman, Batman, Wolverine and Spider Man.

In 1984, Stan Sakai, a sansei (3rd generation Japanese American) artist raised in Hawai`i who enjoyed watching Japanese samurai movies, wanted to develop a comic book set in historic feudal Japan. "Basically, one day I just drew a rabbit, tied up his ears to make a samurai top-knot, and fell in love with the design," he recalled. "Instead of (legendary Japanese warrior) Miyamoto Musashi, he became Miyamoto Usagi." More than just an adventure series, Usagi Yojimbo gained worldwide interest as Sakai diligently researched his stories about Japan in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Another important aspect, Sakai revealed, is "I don’t write down to kids."

In putting his comic book creation into perspective, Sakai explained, "In the scheme of things, what I do isn’t that important, but I enjoy it and so do many others. Once, a mother asked me, 'What is Usagi Yojimbo about?' and before I could answer, her son said, 'It’s about honor.' " Usagi Yojimbo’s comic books include 25 volumes and Sakai remains the sole owner and writer of his comic book, currently published by Dark Horse Comics and Fantagraphics Books.

Besides the original artwork on display, the exhibition will include fun features, including a new short documentary that follows Stan Sakai during his participation at the popular Comic Con and a life-size cutout of Usagi Yojimbo for photographs. The documentary follows Stan as he interacts with his fans, some who traveled from as faraway as South America. There are short interviews with Stan’s colleagues, including Sergio Aragones (Mad Magazine). The exhibition will contain every Usagi Yojimbo comic book ever published. This show was made possible by its Premier Sponsor Daruma, with additional support from The James Irvine Foundation and the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles. Media sponsors include Dark Horse Comics, KSCI LA 18 and the Rafu Shimpo.

Stan Sakai will make a special appearance at the opening of the exhibition on Saturday, July 9, beginning at 2 p.m. He will speak, give a demonstration and sign copies of his latest book, Usagi Yojimbo Volume 25: Fox Hunt, which will be available for purchase at the Museum store.

In conjunction with Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, the National Museum is organizing the "Year of the Labbit Custom Show" from July 14 until September 11. A group of artists will all apply their creativity to Frank Kozik’s Happy Labbit toy. Stan Sakai is one of the participants. The works, which will be available for sale, will be display through the run of the show. This show is sponsored, in part, by Kidrobot.

ABOUT STAN SAKAI Sansei illustrator and writer Stan Sakai is known for his creation of the popular comic book character, Usagi Yojimbo in 1984. Born in Kyoto, Japan, Sakai was raised in Hawai`i. Like many Sansei, he was open to cultural influences from Japan and America. He read American comic books and watched Japanese samurai movies, which led to his most famous creation. Sakai studied fine arts at the University of Hawaii and attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He began his career lettering comic books and eventually developed his own series, "The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy".

Beyond his Usagi books, Sakai has written and illustrated a story for "Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #7", blended Usagi into "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" stories and developed a futuristic spin off series, Space Usagi. His work has been featured at Japan Tower in Belgium, France’s Centre Nationale de la Bande Dessinee, the Society of Illustrators in New York, the Museum of Cartoon Art in San Francisco and the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

Recognized for his outstanding work, Sakai is the recipient of three Eisner Awards (American comic books’ highest honor), an American Library Association Award, a National Cartoonists’ Society Comic Book Division Award and a Parents’ Choice Award for the "skillful weaving of facts and legends into his work." The Japanese American National Museum recognized Sakai with its 2011 Cultural Ambassador Award. Working out of his home in Pasadena, Sakai enjoys the ability to spend time with his wife Sharon and their two children, Hannah and Matthew.