Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto, the story of a young ninja determined to become the world’s greatest ninja, is ending its run as one of the planet’s bestselling manga, with 72 volumes (some of which made general bestseller lists) and more than 200 million copies in print in 35 countries. The final volume of the series was released in the U.S. this month just as Kishimoto made his first visit to New York Comic Con.
Publishers Weekly: What do you think sets Naruto apart from other heroes?
Masashi Kishimoto: I personally never thought of him as being special or really different. In fact, Naruto is a reflection of myself, and I don't think of myself as special. If I had to put my finger on something, it's that he might be bogged down with all sorts of issues or difficulties or hardships but he always remains cheerful. I think that's what's special about him.
PW: Could it be that the reader identifies with him?
MK: He's definitely easy to relate to. And he's not perfect.
PW: How did Naruto change in the course of the series?
MK: I would say he actually did most of his maturing and growing in the very first chapter of the very first volume. He really fundamentally has not changed through the series from beginning to end. If something is different, it's the people around him and the circumstances around him, because of course in the final chapter he has become Hokage [the most powerful ninja], which is his dream to begin with.
The biggest difference in terms of the people around him is these are the same people who either ignored him or repudiated him in the beginning, and through the series they have come to realize what he can do, and they have finally acknowledged him and accepted him as one of their own.
PW: What was the first comic you ever drew?
MK: It was in late grade school or middle school. I wrote another ninja story. The character's name was Hiatari-kun, which means "bathed in sun." Ninja are often known as "those in the shadow." He was not a very successful ninja, so he never managed to hide completely and therefore he ended up being in the sun instead of lurking in the shadows.
It definitely made me realize how tough it is to draw manga. I think I got as far as 15 pages and I reached my limit after that.
Back in second grade, when I was about 8, I was quite a big fan of [Akira Toriyama's manga] Dr. Slump. There was a little contest where you had to copy a scene of Arale-chan, the main character, where she runs, and she has a very distinctive run where she goes "Keen!" It received an award and it was displayed in the area in which I live. I went to go see it, and I found out that my mom, because Arale is a girl, had painted lipstick on my drawing, and I have to say it was probably the first time I ever got PO'ed at my mom.
PW: When did you know you wanted to be a manga creator?
MK: At 14 years old, in my second year of middle school, is when I made the firm decision to make this my career. That was the year the Akira movie premiered in Japan, and I happened to catch the advertising poster in the window of a smoke shop and it was that image on the movie poster that made me go, "I want to do that too!"
PW: When you are thinking about a story, do you write a script and then put pictures to it, or do you think in terms of pictures from the beginning?
MK: It's funny that people keep asking me this, because I have heard there are people in the internet that complain that I am not good at panel layout, that it's too simple. But I was doing that consciously, especially once I found out I had a fan base outside Japan, because I wanted to make sure it was as easy for a foreign reader to follow the flow on a page as it would be for a Japanese fan who is used to reading in that direction.
In terms of the story, I do create a script-like document before I start doing the art. It's not like a storyboard--it is actually just text.
PW: How does the real New York match up to your imagined version in Mario [a Kishimoto crime manga set in New York]?
MK: I think it's completely different, in fact I realize that in the future if I am going to draw about a place, I should visit it first before attempting to set my story in that setting.