Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #174: The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumpher and Hermy by Stan Sakai

It's not uncommon for a creator's most popular character -- or book, or painting, or whatever -- to have clear precursors, since artists usually have a continuity of interests. But they're only occasionally really, really blatant -- though those can be the most interesting cases.

Stan Sakai is most famous for his samurai rabbit, Usagi Yojimbo. He's written and drawn about thirty books of Usagi's adventures (depending on how you count art books and Space Usagi) over the past thirty years. But Sakai created the adventures of a different rabbit with a sword first -- and, in his introduction to this book, he explains how Usagi was originally going to be an important secondary character in a very long graphic story, but that the samurai took over his ideas quickly and sent him in a different direction.

So, finally, The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy has been collected -- the first few fragments of what Sakai originally expected would fill 2500 pages, plus some later stories done after he'd already shifted gears and given most of his serious attention to Usagi. Sakai's original conception, as he describes it, bears a very clear debt to Dave Sim's Cerebus, though Sakai never mentions that. This book has about a hundred pages of stories about an adventuring rabbit and his sidekick (as required: lovable, loyal, honest to a fault, and more than a little dimwitted), in a cod-medieval world full of anthropomorphic animals. They read a lot like Sakai's version of those first dozen or so Cerebus issues, taking standard fantasy-novel tropes  (mostly from Conan, and probably mostly via Conan comics and secondarily via Groo) and translating them into comics. Nilson and Hermy run into wizards and witches, kings and thieves, lurking monsters and lost cities -- all of the expected trappings of adventure in the early '80s. Each story basically stands alone, though the nasty wizard does return a couple of times.

This is minor work, of course, but it's a cute little package of amusing fantasy stories -- suitable for readers of nearly any age. Sakai's serious fans will probably find the most to enjoy here, with a Sakai rabbit hero probably previously unknown to them

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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