From Strip To Script – Naruto Chapter One

It's Josh Hechinger again, here with another installment of everyone's favorite public writing exercise, From Strip to Script.  I'll take a finished page of comics by someone else, and try to reverse engineer the script for it, either in my preferred style, or in a different script style (full-script, plot-first, etc.)

I'm not much of a planner, but the plan I'm kind of growing into for these columns is to touch on a variety of comics pages, reverse-scripted ala me, before starting to get into mixes of page styles and scripting styles.

And the way I'm loosely exploring the variety of comics pages is to trace my own history as a reader.

I started off, like many American kids, reading superhero comics and newspaper strips (or at least collections of them via Scholastic), before sort of discovering independent comics (really, just Bone; the Image stuff was also on my radar, albeit in a "that looks scary" way (look, I was a pretty sensitive kid)).

I got into webcomics and manga as I was moving into and through high school. In college, I started getting exposed to more independent work, more webcomics, more Japanese comics, and finally starting to add British and European comics to the diet.

Nowadays, I basically just read anything that interests me, regardless of origin and format. It's all just comics, y'know?

But let's double-back to Japanese comics. At the start, I got more into anime and games; I was in sixth grade when Pokemon hit, eighth grade was DBZ, Gundam Wing, Ronin Warriors, Final Fantasy 8, Xenogears, etc.

The first time I went bonkers for Japanese comics was when I bought a dozen or so volumes of Ranma ½ from an Indigo Books in Canada on a family vacation; like, literally just sitting there reading through volumes, and walking out with as many as my saved allowance would let me.

That said, it wasn't until the manga boom in the early double-aughts, and the publication of a US version of Shonen Jump when I was in high school, that I started getting voraciously into Japanese comics.

While One Piece was and remains my Shonen Jam, the recently-concluded Naruto, written and drawn by Masashi Kishimoto (and assistants), was my second favorite out of the initial crop. I lost track of the series after a while, but in the early days?


Kishimoto was nigh-untouchable at fight scenes that mixed team tactics, strategic maneuvering, clever magical powers, and some of the smoothest fight choreography I've ever seen in comics (Sasuke and Kakashi grappling over the bells in volume 1 is still an all-time favorite).

Let's look at how he has a fight kick off in the first chapter:



P1. NARUTO, beaming, throws up the shinobi hand-sign.

– NARUTO      He said if I could show you I'd learned the techniques in this scroll…

– NARUTO      …you'd let me become a shinobi!

P2. IRUKA has a look of dawning horror; MIZUKI'S head, with a cold expression, hovers in the background.

– IRUKA (thought)      …Mizuki!?

P3. Tight on IRUKA'S eye as he picks up something in his peripheral vision.

P4. Tight as he strikes/shoves NARUTO out of the way.

P5. The big shot: we're looking at a half-dozen or so kunai coming at our faces at blurring speeds.

– SFX            SHHOOOO

– SFX            SHHOOOO

– SFX            SHHOOOO

P6. NARUTO is flying backwards; he hasn't even landed from IRUKA'S attempt to get him clear. IRUKA, meanwhile, is throwing himself backwards against the shed wall, shielding his face as the kunai strike him and the shed like machine gun fire.


P7. IRUKA'S food skids to a stop an inch from the shed wall, but blood's also splashing: he's hit, but he's upright.

– SFX      SCRR

So, What'd We Learn?

– Japanese comics get called out, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, for being quick reads. The panels zip by in a way you don't often see in Western comics (er, unless they're jacking the page composition of Japanese comics, of course). Usually, I've seen that attributed to low panel counts, but…well, that's a seven-panel page there, and it still zooms. Here, at least, it's the lack of dialogue; or rather the lack of the emphasis on dialogue.

– Maybe this is just me, but the actual text, the "Mizuki!?" in P2? Barely registers as a panel element. Partly that's that my Western eye is trained for horizontal text, not vertical, but mostly…it's really that you get everything you need from that scene by way of Iruka's expression, the black background, and his mental image of Mizuki.

– Japanese adventure stories often have that kind of call-and-response effect to dramatic revelations? Whether it's "Mizuki!?" "Metal Gear!?" or "Over 9000!?", revelations become a mix of mental image and parroting back the highlight of the information that sparked the revelation.

To me, it's a way to simultaneously underscore the twists, but also exaggerate it to be a dramatic shock, rather than a moment of horror. Iruka's face by itself is a beat from a thriller; throwing Mizuki's cold expression and name in there makes it slightly more exaggerated/cartoonish that Mizuki's a traitor, and having Iruka think Mizuki's name with incredulity makes it more exaggerated still.

– The pacing of this page, though, the events that happen on it…it's berserk, and I love it. There's no hard physics to this, there can't be, but just in terms of narrative? That wave of kunai was in the air from at least panel 2, and Iruka reacts, protects Naruto, and takes the hit before Naruto hits the ground. It's rationally procedural, the sequential progression is completely clear, but there's five panels that happen in the span of a blink, within the story. That's pretty great.

– Iruka stopping his backwards momentum, but still obviously bleeding? That's ending a page on a little cliffhanger that makes the reader turn the page a little faster. That's always a good thing to aim for in adventure comics like this.

And with that, I think I'm done with this page; I've gushed enough and taken enough from it. I hope this has been educational for you at home.

Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. He enjoys cool-looking stationary, yakitori, and strategy games. He was told that if he learned all the techniques on this scroll, you'd let him become a shinobi. Look out!

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Hannah Means ShannonAbout 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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