From Strip To Script – The Webcomic Bear Beater Bunyan

By Josh Hechinger

Welcome once more to From Strip to Script, where I take a shot at reverse-engineering a script from a finished page of someone else's comic.

Having done ten of these now, I've decided to turn my gaze Inward, seeking greater knowledge through self-exami—nah, I just thought it'd be interesting to try to derive a script from something I wrote in the first place.

Bear Beater Bunyan was originally the webcomic Yon Kuma (we changed the name when we started charging people money for it…who the heck knows what a Yon Kuma is, y'know?). I was getting squirrely waiting for the first GN I wrote to come out, and I wanted to do a punky-fast comic. To my continued good fortune, artist Jorge F. Muñoz was into the idea of doing something like that, and we proceeded to pound out an 88-page bear-wrestling comic over the course of a year or so.

There was a structure to it, though. In the same way that the Ramones songs are simple-but-fast, right? The goal was new pages Tuesdays and Thursdays (which we mostly kept to), and the panel count…okay, this is Me Being Me, but "Yon Kuma" is a weird pun on "yonkoma", which are four-panel Japanese gag comics. "Yon" means "four", "koma" means something like cell, panel, etc. Trade the O for a U, though and you get "kuma", meaning bear.

So we did "yon kuma": a four-panel-a-page comic about this kid wrestling four bears to become The Greatest Bear Wrestler in the World. Every page, bar the second-page splash, I wrote four panels. Unlike an actual yonkoma, we didn't stick to a rigid, vertical-strip layout, though: because we were an action/comedy comic, not a straight-up gag strip, Jorge was given free rein to lay out those four panels in any way he could think of.

This is a page from the first issue. Let's see what I get from it today, and how I scripted it waybackwhen.

BC_11PAGE SIXTEEN

P1. CHEYENNE catches himself, pushing up the dirt behind his heel.

– SFX      SKFFFF

P2. CHEYENNE, fully stopped, has BUNYAN in a bear hug.

– CHEYENNE      This ain't sumo, boy!

– CHEYENNE      Are you seriously trying to push around Cheyenne, the Great Bear of the West!

P3. ROCHELLE gasps. Behind her, we see CHEYENNE and the shadowy figures of the other four Yon Kuma (don't worry about the designs just yet…it's just four shadowy bears for now).

– ROCHELLE      This kid's really taking on one of the four great bears!?

– ROCHELLE      But they're the pinnacle of human/ursine grappling! Even just beating one takes most pros a whole lifetime!

CAPTION      Note: Ursine = bears.

P4. A KID from the tour group pokes ROCHELLE in the back. She smiles at him.

– KID      Who are you talking to?

– ROCHELLE      All y'al! This is still a tour, after all!

Now, how did the Josh of 20XX script all that in the first place?

PAGE SIXTEEN

1) CHEYENNE is dragging his feet on the ground to avoid being pushed back any further by BUNYAN'S tackle.

2) CHEYENNE, now fully stopped, with a huge mound of dirt pushed behind him, grabs BUNYAN with both paws.

– CHEYENNE      THIS AIN'T SUMO, BOY!

– CHEYENNE      ARE YOU SERIOUSLY TRYING TO PUSH AROUND CHEYENNE, THE GREAT BEAR OF THE WEST?

3) ROCHELLE recoils in shock. Behind her are the figures of CHEYENNE and three other shadowy bears.

– ROCHELLE      CHEYENNE! THIS KID'S REALLY TAKING ON ONE OF THE FOUR GREAT BEARS?

– ROCHELLE      THEY REPRESENT THE PINNACLE OF HUMAN/URSINE GRAPPLING! BEATING EVEN ONE IS A LIFETIME TASK FOR MOST PROS!

– CAPTION      NOTE: URSINE = BEARS

4) One of the tourists taps her on the shoulder, hesitantly.

– GUY      WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?

– ROCHELLE      ALL Y'ALL. THIS IS STILL A TOUR, AFTER ALL.

So, What'd We Learn?

– One stylistic thing with YK/BBB was that Jorge and I decided he should do all the SFX and bear voices as hand lettering…I think he originally digitally lettered the human dialogue too, but I took that over when we first did a mobile version (long story). Anyway, I'd forgotten that I hadn't scripted that SFX in P1.

– Cheyenne pushing up a huge pile of dirt before he stops, in the original script, seems to me like I was trying to sell Bunyan's freakish strength. But the kid's already pushing a bear around, I think losing that bit of background verisimilitude isn't the worst thing in the world.

– The silhouetted Yon Kuma is me playing with the "we know there's X people-to-beat, but their silhouettes do not reflect their respective final designs" trend in a lot of late-90s, early-00s villain team intros. Rurouni Kenshin had the Juppongatana, Trigun had the Gung-Ho Guns, One Piece had Baroque Works and the Shichibukai. Establishing a head count and general sense of mystery lets you make up the designs as you go, without really betraying the narrative set-up.

– Comparing the two scripts, the main thing I'm seeing is that when I reverse-engineer scripts, I slip into a scripting style where I'm not writing for me (when I do, I'm mostly trying to find words for storytelling effects I want to be in the finished comic), and I'm not writing for a specific artist (where I'm more conversational and loose, and try to play to their strengths), but I'm writing in a style that mixes reportage and writing to be read by strangers.

It's not a bad thing, but I'm writing more deliberate scripts from working off of a finished product, because the page is already there, and I don't know who's reading what I'm writing.

Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. He enjoys sumo wrestling, pro wrestling, and those animal crackers that come in a giant plastic bear jar. He in no way represents the pinnacle of human/ursine grappling, but please bear with him.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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