Category Archives: comics

20 Random Facts About Samurai


Originally ran Feb. 17 in GeekMom.


Satsuma samurai from the Boshin War period (circa 1868). Image: Public Domain

From sainthood to swords, video games to cartoon series, the Japanese military nobility known as samurai are still making news in both history and pop culture.

For those that love the mystique and the myths surrounding these warriors, here are 20 random, fun facts about samurai:

1. According to a respected American translator named William Scott Wilson, the word “Samurai,” meaning “to wait upon or accompany,” appears as early as 905 AD in the imperial anthology of poems Kokin Wakashū. The collection was conceived by Emperor Uda and later published by his son, Emperor Diago.

2. To celebrate the release of Ubisoft’s action fighting game, For Honor, which allows players to choose Samurai, Knights, or Vikings, Death Wish Coffee came out with limited edition packaging depicting each of these warriors. The game was, ironically, released worldwide this year on Valentine’s Day.


Death Wish Coffee offers limited edition packaging in celebration of the new fighting game, For Honor. Image: Lisa Tate

3. Many historians say the last Samurai battle was during the Battle of Shiroyama in 1877. However, the social class known as the Shizoku, who merged with the Samurai, continued to be recognized as late as the World War II era.

4. The first warrior to attain the samurai position, and establish the first samurai-controlled government, was the military leader Taira no Kiyomori during what is known as the Heian period in Japanese history (794 to 1185).

5. Yes, there was a type of female Samurai, the Onna-bugeisha. They were part of the bushi class in feudal Japan, and were trained to use weaponry to protect their household, family, and honor. They sometimes did take part in active battle, often alongside their samurai husbands.


Katana may wield a weapon of a samurai, but there were real women samurai, Onna-bugeisha. Image: Lisa Tate.

6. On February 7, the Catholic Church beatified its first Samurai on the road to Sainthood. Justo Takayama Ukon abandoned his status to devote himself to his faith and lived his remaining years in exile in Manila. When sainted, he would likely stand for persecuted Christians and Japanese immigrants.

7. This is common knowledge to many Star Wars fans, but George Lucas is said to have adapted the name “Jedi,” from the Japanese word Jidaigeki, referring the genre of Japanese film devoted to period dramas, often about samurai. Toymaker Bandai came out with its “Movie Realization” line of Star Wars figures, making members of the Empire, including Royal Guards, Stormtroopers, a ronin Boba Fett, and Darth Vader, into and ancient line of samurai warriors.


Bandai’s “Movie Realization” line of Star Wars figures gave the Empire a samurai makeover. Image: Lisa Tate.

8. Akira Kurosawa, the creative mind behind the film classic the Seven Samurai (on which the classic western The Magnificent Seven was based), is regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. He received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1990. He died in 1998, and was named “Asian of the Century,” in the Arts, Literature and Culture category.

9. There are countless movies and books (as well as a minichip action game) with the name The Last Samurai, including:

  • The 2000 Helen DeWitt novel that centers on a child prodigy whose male role models are the Seven Samurai.
  • The 2003 fictional movie about a retired 19th century U.S. Cavalryman who travels to Japan and becomes absorbed in the culture Dances With Wolves-style.
  • The 2011 Japanese World War II drama based on the true story of the Captain Sakae Ōba (The Fox of Saipan) and the last organized Japanese resistance of the war. Also called Codename: Fox, the movie is based on a novel by Don Jones.


    Samurai have always been a popular topic for books, movies, and games, especially the mystique of a “last samurai.”

10. Samurai were often very literate and well educated. When a more western style of armed forces was being created in Japan, many took up prominent roles as educators, writers, government representatives, and businessmen.

11. John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen was part of the very first season of Saturday Night Live. The character was modeled after a character in Akiwa Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and Beliushi’s samurai held down a variety of unlikely occupations from 1975 to 1979, including and optometrist, stockbroker, and dry cleaner.

12. The multiple Eisner Award-winning Stan Sakai comic series Usagi Yojimbo, featuring the rabbit ronin (Samurai without a master) Miyamoto Usagi, has been ranked in the top 100 of IGN’s list of comic book heroes, as well as being named in the top 50 non-superhero graphic novels in a Rolling Stone magazine ranking. Sakai also illustrated the Dark Horse graphic novel 47 Ronin with writer Mike Richardson in 2013, based on the legend of the a group of ronins’ mission to avenge their wronged master.

13. The classic French comic Samurai, by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio and Frédéric Genêt, previously published by Marvel and Soleil, was picked up again in a collected edition in 2015 from Titan Comics. Titan released an all-new series beginning in 2016, which sometimes included Japanese brush-style variant covers by David Mack.

14. DC Comics’ Katana, who made her big screen debut in Suicide Squad in 2016, was trained as a child by a samurai named Tadashi in one storyline from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Tadashi was killed by an evil samurai Takeo, which in her original story is the name of the brother (and killer) of her late husband. Her famous “soultaker” sword was once said to have been forged by the legendary 14th century swordsmith, Muramasa.

15. The 2016 stop-motion film Kubo and The Two Strings  features a young boy, Kubo, with a magical talent for storytelling and origami who tells the story of a samurai warrior named Hanzo (his father). The film is nominated for two 2017 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects, among several other accolades from other film and animation groups.


There are plenty of samurai comic heroes and villains from Usagi Yojimbo to the Silver Samurai.

16. There are plenty of samurai heroes, but one of the biggest samurai villains in comic books is the Silver Samurai (Kenuichio Harada), who debuted in Daredevil #111 in 1974. Harada appeared in the 2013 film The Wolverine as just a bodyguard, with his Silver Samurai being depicted as a giant robot suit worn by another character. One of the more tragic heroes in samurai-related comics, however, is Ogami Ittō in the renowned Manga Lone Wolf and Cub. The character, on a quest to avenge the death of his wife, had served as a Kogi Kaishakunin (the Shogun’s executioner). These men were tasked with assisting with the death of samurai and other nobility forced to commit the honor suicide of seppuki.

17. Iwasaki Yatarō, the great-grandson of a samurai who had to sell his family’s samurai status to settle debts, went on to become the founder of the successful multinational group for companies, Mitsubishi. The companies “three-diamond” logo may be partially influenced by the Iwasaki family crest.

18. LEGO fans got a peek at what looks like Lord Garmadon’s Samurai Mech, his robot transport in the latest Lego-based picture, The LEGO Ninjago Movie. The movie is set to come out Sept. 22 of this year. Will the mysterious Samurai X makes an appearance?

19. The latest edition of the Lucite-encased collectible known as the Mini Museum includes specimen of a circa 14th century Samurai sword, as well as other specimens from items like space gems, a rotor from the WWII Enigma, and Steve Jobs’ turtleneck. The blade from which the sword specimens were acquired came from a respected sword dealer. He deemed the damaged blade unsuitable as a collectible due to several micro-fractures, so there should be no guilt in owning a little slice of it.

20. The Award-winning Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack, created by Genndy Tartakovsky, began its limited-run, and slightly darker, fifth season earlier this year on Adult Swim, more than 10 years after the original series ended. A movie version was being planned, but creators decided to end the story via a series instead.

Want to learn a little more about Samurai?  Check out this educational Prezi created by high school teacher Rick Tate.


Titan brings English Language Sherlock to U.S, U.K. Readers…At Last!


Finally, there’s an English language BBC series-based Sherlock Manga in the works.

This original Japanese language Manga version of BBC’s Sherlock will get an English version for US and UK readers this summer. Image: Young Ace!

This original Japanese language Manga version of BBC’s Sherlock will get an English version for US and UK readers this summer. Image: Young Ace!

After unsuccessfully searching for the book at local venues, we went online to find this beautifully-illustrated piece by Manga artist Jay was only available in Japanese. Despite my daughter still wanting it for the artwork and the hopeful optimism that she will learn Japanese (a goal she still maintains), I balked.

Somehow, I felt, a story this originally interpreted will make it’s way into the hands of English-speaking readers.

As a fellow lover of all Sherlock Holmes stories (modern and classic), I really kind of wanted to get my hands on  this as well, but eventually forgot about it among the busy misadventures of my everyday life.

Thanks be to Titan Comics, this Manga will be released this June in the United States and United Kingdom in an English language version. The original artwork

Artist Alice X. will give her well-loved images to Titan’s Manga Sherlock English Language version. Images: Titan Comics

Artist Alice X. will give her well-loved images to Titan’s Manga Sherlock English Language version. Images: Titan Comics

by Jay will still be part of this adaptation with script by Sherlock series writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, but there will also be more content exclusive to this new version. This includes covers and art by artist Alice X Zhang, and if her absolutely gorgeous covers with Titan’s Doctor Who comics line are any indication, these should be spectacular.

The comic has offered in a limited edition “English/Japanese” bilingual version, with the help of Gatiss and Moffat, by the English Agency in Japan, but it isn’t an easy find for UK and US readers.

Even though Series 4 of television’s Sherlock isn’t scheduled until 2017, at least Sherlock fans can be treated to a new look for a familiar adventure this summer.

Keep Reading:

mangarecommendationsWhile we’re still waiting for this much-anticipated volume to hit the book shelves, here are four other Mangas I recommend that even non-Manga readers should love:

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga (DC Comics) These retro-style stories date back to the 1960s when Kuwata wrote a 53-chapter serial for a manga magazine. Now, these stories are available in three beautiful paperback volumes for Batman fans of all generations.

Star Wars Manga (Dark Horse). In 2015, Hisao Tamaki put out a Manga interpretation of Star Wars A New Hope, based directly on George Lucas’s script. There have since been Manga interpretations of all the first Star Wars episodes by a variety of artists like Toshiki Kudo, Kia Asamiya, and others. Like everything else Star Wars, chasing down and collecting this entire series is half the fun.

Big Hero 6 (Marvel). Anyone who saw Stan Lee’s “cameo” in the Disney animated film Big Hero 6, should realize the hit movie is Marvel. The movie is based on a 1998 Manga-style, relaunched via Marvel in 2008 by David Nakayama and Chris Claremont. This original Tokyo-based story will give readers a closer look at the edgy adventure that spawned one of Disney’s cuddliest characters, Baymax. Although Marvel doesn’t plan on creating any new comics featuring the Big Hero 6 team, there are newer film-based Manga adaptations by Haruki Ueno from Yen Press.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (Disney Press). In 2005, The Tim Burton cult classic film got some Manga treatment, suitable for younger readers. Although this one-shot is only a simple interpretation of the film, the Manga style images are a wonderful tribute the imagination and characters created by Burton, including Jack Skellington, Sally and Oogie Boogie. Perfect for any Burton fans in need of drawing and sketching inspiration.

— Lisa Kay Tate

Bat-cessorizing from Cheap Plastic Rings


Turn those plastic rings into cat bling! All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

According to DC Comics, Batman is the “World’s Most Popular Superhero.”

It’s only proper for Batfans to accessorize accordingly.

Here’s a way to make some unique bat jewelry out of those cheap plastic novelty rings that I’m assuming are now a legal requirement for most birthday goodie bags and carnival game prizes. All it really takes is some paint, rhinestones, and ambition.

First, use small wire cutters to clip the back off the rings, unless you really want it to remain a ring. Be careful with this step. Some backs are really flimsy, but some may be a little thicker than others. This leaves a little shaped template to work with without the ring back in the way.


A simple paint job can turn cheap to chic.

The easiest way to improve on these is with a paint job, particularly those cheapy Halloween bats. Even if the ring is already black, go over it with some black glossy craft paint to give it a more finished look. Once dry, use a toothpick and glossy white craft paint. This is really very easy, and is great for Halloween or Dia de Los Muertos as well. Using some jewel adhesive or a glue gun, tack it onto a pin back or hair clip.

The Bat Logo necklace is a little more complicated, but still easy enough for kids and beginner crafters. Lightly cover the entire surface of the ring with jewel glue or tacky glue and cover the bat outline with small black craft rhinestones. There’s already an image to follow, so no drawing skill is needed.

Use clear, yellow, or gold fine glitter, and allow the image to dry again. Once dry, cover the entire surface with decoupage glue. Mod Podge makes a “Dimensional Magic” type used in bottle cap crafts that works well for this.

To make it a necklace, form a loop out of beading wire and use either a glue gun or E6000 jewel glue to place it on the back. Hang with a black piece of ribbon or silk cord, and you wouldn’t even know it was brought home from a school birthday party.


Simple wire and glue gun turns an over-sized ring into a wearable necklace.

Now, here’s the best part: If “die fledermaus” is not your style choice, this works with any plastic ring. Try painting them, decoupaging magazine images, or adding string art, rhinestones, or seed beads to any of these oversized rings, and turn them into little bits of wearable art.


Not into The Bat? Use your imagination.

I’ve had more than one person compliment my little cheap Batman logo, asking me where I got it. One even asked me if I got it at a Hot Topic.

“No,” I tell them. “It came off the top of a grocery store cupcake.”

Post originally ran in GeekMom on Sept. 26, 2015.

Turning those Comic-Con “Cons” in to Positive Experiences


Comic-Con movie imageSince I’ve yet to make it out to the fangirl Mecca which is Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), I took advantage of the con’s official Preview Night to enjoy the event from view Morgan Spurlock’s exceptional documentary “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope,” on the chaos, anxiety, passion, disappointment and dream-making that melds together to make the event each year.

As much as I enjoyed (and related to) the film, it left me with a sense of uneasiness and well, a bit of despondence for this ever-growing event that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Was it the idea the mega-film world taking over the purity of the original Comic-Con mission, the flippancy in which the comic book “ins” treat the hopeful artists or writers, the celebrity worship (yes, I’ve written about those I like, but never consider them at a “higher lever” than myself) or just the sheer amount of humanity in all its supernatural forms pouring in and out of one place.

I’ve decided to turn my inner turmoil into a constructive guide to avoid post-con depression by taking five possible Con cons, as it were, and turning them in to positives:

Con: The movie industry (and its fans) has invaded the purity of the event.
Solution: There is no doubt about it, the “comic” in Comic-Con sees hidden amongst the flash of Hollywood hype, but don’t forget these cons are still the best places to buy signed artwork and books directly from some of the industry’s best, as well as haunt a few of the nation’s top comic book shops. While huge throngs crowd around the latest celebrity appearance, there are slightly smaller numbers around comic book dealers and artists. I’m not telling you to avoid the “movie and television” feature, particularly those inspired by comic book properties, but if you want to avoid feeling lovingly patronized by the “pretty people,” skip the panel presentations and head to more immersive set mock-ups and prop displays. Those are the real stars.

Con: There are so many others trying to get their “foot in the door” in the comic industry…too many!
Solution: For those wanting to “make it” as a writer or artist, keep in mind (and I know you’ve heard this before) some of today’s biggest names in comics were give the old “brush off” by some well-meaning critics. Frank Miller even said he was told to go back and “pump gas” somewhere since he obviously wasn’t meant to break into the business. I know this type of “tough love” can hurt. Trust me, as a long-time writer, it cuts deep to hand your artistic “baby” over for sacrifice only to have it passed over with a “you’re just not what we need” remark. But there is an advantage of getting out there, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean a job. First, a little humility doesn’t hurt. There are a ton of over-the-top talented artists out there, most of whom will never see a published work from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse or any other recognized labels.  This is where you need to face one tough question: “Are you doing this for the love of the craft, or for ‘celebrity status’ recognition?” I’m not judging here, attention, applause and recognition can be addictive.  But take any rejection and criticism with a grain of both salt and sugar…don’t discount the critiques and use them to better your work, but don’t let them spiral you into self-loathing.  If you are doing this for love of the craft and don’t get any “bites” from the big wigs, look for small, regional or local publishers, self-publish, start a blog or get your work on social arts sites that provide encouragement and feedback such as deviantART or etsy (depending on what you’re medium is). Above all, relish in the talented folks you meet while at the ‘con and leave with the resolve to never stop creating….and sharing…your work.

Con: Look at that guy? Am I really that nerdy? Do I really want to be around these people…BE these people?
Solution: Yes you do, along with thousands and thousands of others. Don’t be uptight and smug. Yes, there are those stereotypes that make you feel either a lot worse (of a whole lot better) about yourself, but if the draw to embrace the inner fanboy wasn’t so strong, the birth of the “Hipster” movement of cool poser nerds would never have happened. Everyone secretly wants to let their guard down and just relish life and its eccentricities. This is a place where you can do this!

Just dive in and enjoy it!

Just dive in and enjoy it!

Con: There are just too, too, too many people. It’s like India with capes instead of saris.
Solution: This is a legit gripe. I kind of adhere to Randal’s ironic “Clerks” philosophy of disliking people but loving gatherings. One thing you need to realize, prepare for and understand early…there will be many, many, oh so many people at SDCC. If this is the one thing keeping you from moseying to San Diego, I’ve learned there are a lot of smaller ‘cons worldwide with similar offerings of artists, celebrities, book signings, cosplay opportunities and traveling exhibits that aren’t so overwhelmingly large. I have a blast at my local cons, and so do plenty of others across the nation. But keep in mind, every relationship between a large con and con-goer is special, but will never be an exclusive one. You’ll have to share it with others, and meet others you’ll want to share I with, too.

Con:  Great, here’s yet another venue the “pretty” have taken over from us regular people. I am a troll.
Solution: Here’s a little something I’ve learned along my lifelong journey of low body image. At Comic-Con (and this includes all cons), NOBODY really cares how you look…. as long as YOU like the way you look. There are people there in Weta Workshop and ILM-worthy suits with animatronics and their own light shows, and those who painted eyes on an upside-down KFC bucket screaming “I’m a Storm Trooper!!!!” Comic-con crowds are bridge-building crowds, where everyone is on an equal level, as long as they want to be. Once you have built that bridge..get over it and have fun.

Don’t forget to check out Spurlock’s ”Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” if you get a chance. Well worth a look.

How to Make Patriotic Captain America Shield Signs and Buntings


Captain America Shield ArtIt’s time to turn those hours spent doodling Captain America’s shield onto the toes of your Converse into All-American, patriotic Mom pleasin’ and apple pie-eatin’”, patriotic (and kid-friendly) holiday and summer craft with tin post signs and bunting.

Okay, yes, I draw X-wings too, but they’re not round or red, white and blue. So, moving on, here’s what you need:

For tin signs:shield materials
Empty pie tins
Craft paint (red, white and blue)
Wood dowel or cheap chopsticks
Duct tape

For bunting:
Coffee filters
Sharpies or other markers
Yarn or rope
School glue

The craft is as simple drawing a Captain America’s shield on a round surface, so here’s a couple of quick tips:

  • If you can’t draw circles with a steady hand, use different sized bowls, cups or coasters and trace around.  Or, if you don’t already have one, buy a cheap artist compass. Big time saver.
  • The hardest part is making an even five-point star. The trick here is to get a little…for lack of a better phrase…evil. Draw a “five line” star like the ones you learned as a kid inside a circle lightly and evenly so it is a good shape (this will look a little…okay, exactly…like a death-metal-ish pentagram, but lighten up…it’s just a star. Erase all the center lines…or paint over them, and its instant patriotism.

    Left: "evil"....Right: "patriotic"

    Left: “evil”….Right: “patriotic”

Okay, now for the easy part — the craft itself:

For the Tin Signs:

  1. You’ll notice the pie tin has already done half the work for you, as its pattern is the same of the First Avenger’s shield….WOW, WHO KNEW? Gently cut the walls of the tin with scissor you don’t really care about (it can cut you, so be careful), and there’s your naked shield. If you’re working with young kids, you can line the edge with a thin strip of duct tape for safety purposes. Now, use the center as a “coloring page” to paint on the shield with craft paint.
  2. Attach the chop stick to the back of the tin with duct tape and place in plants, gardens lawns, or anywhere you want your patriotic geek flag to fly. These do better indoors, but if you want to place them out in the elements, I suggest coat of clear spray paint to decoupage sealer to protect it.IMG_0437
  3. Want to challenge yourself a little? Make Captain’s early shield by cutting out the shield examples (clip art of these is easy to find), and following Step 2 again.  Since the stars will be much smaller, it may be easier to cut out the stars on the pattern with an X-acto knife to use as a stencil.

Now, let’s make some matching bunting. I know the tin signs are more than enough for decoration, but I’m creating these on Fourth of July weekend, and I just want an excuse to use the word “bunting.”IMG_0436

For the Bunting:

  1. Flatten out as many coffee filters as you need (about five or seven will span a window pretty well), and use Sharpies or similar fine-tipped markers to draw the basic shield pattern.
  2. Depending on how many “shields” you made, cut the yarn or rope as long as needed and tie a loop at both ends for hanging.  If you’re not sure about the length, attach the filters before cutting the rope.
  3. Use a small amount of glue alongside the rope and center the coffee filter exactly halfway over it, the fold the filter, using a small amount of glue to attach both halves together. Do this for all your filters, and it’s done! Already!

Now, go out and hang those buntings…you may be just a kid from Brooklyn, Cap, but you’re ready to salute you’re country! And eat more pie.IMG_0439