From Strip to Script – Eiichiro Oda's One Piece

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.

So, I'm still working my way through my #fourcomics picks: this time out, we'll be tackling what's been my favorite comic series for years, Eiichiro Oda's One Piece.

I never really know how to describe why One Piece is my favorite; it's funny, it's moved me to tears, there's interesting powers used in interesting ways, it's staggeringly well-plotted at times…those are all merits, sure, but there's any number of series that has any or all of those elements.

But…I don't know. One Piece just has a je ne sais quoi to it; having all those elements above, and such a singular voice to it (ain't no comic like an Eiichiro Oda comic), even within the friendship/effort/victory structure of shonen comics, makes it something like my Platonic ideal of a comic.

Still, that same singular voice means that One Piece has always had a harder time catching on over here, especially compared to its contemporary Naruto. Usually, people who it caught on with, like me, will tell folks who are game but struggling with getting into the series is to try the first hundred or so chapters, or through the Arlong Arc.

That sounds nuts, but that's only 16-18 pages a chapter, and they're not terribly dense reads. Those hundred chapters establish the core cast, see the series find its voice, and gets the characters into the larger, series-long journey they'll undertake. If you don't dig it by then, you won't dig it at all (not that there's anything wrong with that).

My own experience with the series was that I was hooked from the "But Shanks…YOUR ARM!" moment in the first chapter, but I literally threw both fists in the air like I was watching sports while reading scanslations of the Arlong Arc on a school night waybackwhen and that's the moment I became a lifer.

(The only other comic that's happened with has been Taiyo Matsumoto's Hanaotoko, which, to be fair, is at least an actual sports comic.)

The nature of this feature prevents me from walking you though, at minimum, the entire Arlong Arc to provide the context for this (awesome) scene (and how satisfying it is), but let's look at one page from One Piece volume 10, chapter 82.

(Remember, like it says up top: <<read this way<<)

BC_14

PAGE 10

P1. LUFFY marches purposely past the FISHMEN, his face unreadable. Most stand around watching him, unimpressed, but two (A and B) attempt to stop him.

– SFX                                             SHFF SHFF SHFF

– FISHMAN A                               Where do you think you're going?

– FISHMAN B                                Heh heh heh. Stop right there.

– FISHMAN B                                First you gotta tell us your story.

– FISHMAN C                                Aye…

P2. FISHMAN A and B are leering as they crowd LUFFY; we're looking at him from behind, to keep his expression a little mysterious. His arms stretch off panel, almost like he's going to pull them in for a hug.

– SFX                                             SWUP

– FISHMEN A and B                     You'd better stop…

P3. And we see LUFFY'S face, as he slams the two FISHMEN'S heads together. He's snarling mad.

– SFX                                             KRAK!!!

– LUFFY                                         Outta my way.

– REACTION (no tail)                  !!?

P4. ARLONG draws up slightly, insulted, glaring out from under the shadow of his hat brim.

– ARLONG                                     !

P5. The FISHMEN crowds are shocked.

– FISHMEN (no tail)                    Hey!!

P6. LUFFY keeps on marching past the two KOed FISHMEN, towards ARLONG, who hasn't gotten up from his throne.

– SFX                                             SHFF SHFF SHFF

– ARLONG                                     What business do you have with me, pirate?

– SFX (KO'd FISHMEN)               Kerplonk

So, What'd We Learn?

– Oda's sense of pacing, maaan…it's like I can see just enough that I'm sure there's stuff beyond me that I'm missing, right?

– There's the three-tier approach to the page, for example: the biggest action on the page gets a tier to itself that mostly bisects the page, but it's also the most compressed tier, vertically. To me, compressing it, but giving it most of the width of the page, gives it a feel of sharp, sudden, important action. Panels one and two are kinda leisurely and open…and then there's this snap of action that breaks the page in two, and everything else is tight panels on the fallout.

– Oda not showing Luffy's face for two panels, then doing so on the snap of action, too…flipping around this chapter alone, there's a lot of that: we always know why Luffy's here, but we're constantly seeing an emphasis on everyone else's reactions to him, with brief and/or important flashes of Luffy's expression.

Saying that it keeps him "mysterious" doesn't seem quite right…it's more like a tightrope walk between "we know this character, we know why he's here" and "we don't know what he's going to do moment to moment, because we're not in his head or face the entire time".

– Non-verbal reactions…meaning all those no-tail exclamation and question marks… are a tool I'm not actually sure how I feel about. I'm very much of the school that if Superman is punching through the wall, don't have the caption and dialogue be about how Superman is punching through the wall, right?

So, as that guy, I don't know if you need the "!!?" and "!". But at the same time, I wonder if those might act as some kind of subconscious link to establish that Luffy cracking heads and the Fishmen reactions all take place in the same moment, before he resumes his walk?

– The page is bookended by the little slap of Luffy's straw flip flops as he marches (SHFF SHFF SHFF). In the last panel, this sound dominates the sound of bodies hitting the floor, which drives home that while we're reading things sequentially, P3, 4, and 5 happened in the span of a second, and "time" resumes its normal pace on P6. Again, Oda knows pacing.

Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+.

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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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