The life of a successful manga artist is a hectic one, especially for a creator like Tite Kubo who works on a hugely popular weekly series like Bleach. So it was a rare treat to have Kubo-sensei take a break from his intense work schedule to visit San Diego Comic-Con and meet with his overseas fans for the first time.
As part of the 40th Anniversary of Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan and the 5th Anniversary of the U.S. edition of Shonen Jump magazine, VIZ Media pulled out all the stops to give Kubo-sensei a welcome that he'll never forget. Huge banners saying "Kubo is here," lots of Bleach cosplayers and a big display of color pages from Bleach were all on display at the VIZ Media booth. At Saturday's Spotlight Panel, Kubo-sensei was greeted enthusiastically by an overflow crowd who squealed and cheered for him like he was a visiting rock star.
This really shouldn't have been too surprising. Bleach is one of the most popular and best-selling shonen manga series in Japan, U.S. and Europe. The adventures of Ichigo and his Soul Reaper friends and foes have already inspired a successful animated TV series, a musical and a few feature-length films including the recently released Bleach: Memories of Nobody.
Kubo-sensei does carry himself like, well... if not a rock star, then like a very cool, confident and easy-going thirty-something artist. With his light brown hair, designer sunglasses, heavy silver jewelry, black t-shirt and jeans, he could pass for a Japanese rock star fairly easily. Even with his sunglasses off, he came across as a relaxed and affable guy who seems just a little bit amazed that his appearance at Comic-Con has inspired such fervor from his fans.
At the panel, attendees got to see a video tour of Kubo-sensei's clean and modern studio, complete with six-disc CD player and a collection of over 2,000 CDs. There were also huge flat screen TVs and lots of autographed shikishi from other manga artists. As the clip rolled, Kubo-sensei shared some interesting tidbits about his work habits, including why the kitchen is so clean ("We don't cook!") and his big white office chair ("I based the design of Aizen's chair on my office chair"). Fans also got to see his Shonen Jump editor Atsushi Nakasaki visit him to pick up the finished artwork and drop off fan letters ("Usually, he doesn't bow that deeply when he visits," Kubo teased).
After a busy weekend that included his spotlight panel appearance, receiving the Inkpot Award from Comic-Con International (an honor he now shares with Osamu Tezuka, Monkey Punch and other manga legends who have visited Comic-Con in the past) two autograph sessions and a screening of Bleach: Memories of Nobody, I got a chance to chat briefly with Kubo-sensei. Between his panel appearance and the questions I was able to ask him at our session, I got a sampling of quotes, questions and answers from Kubo-sensei about Bleach, his impressions of Comic-Con, his fans, his creative process and his plans for continuing the adventures of Ichigo, Rukia and the rest of the Soul Reapers, Quincies, Vizards and Arrancars.
A ROCK STAR'S RECEPTION AT SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON
Q: First of all, welcome to San Diego. It's been so exciting to have you here at Comic-Con!
Tite Kubo: Thank you! It's great to be here. I was really looking forward to coming to America. This is really my dream come true.
Q: You got this incredible rock star-type reception from your fans today! Did you expect that?
Tite Kubo: I had heard before that American fans are very, very enthusiastic, but I didn't expect this much!
Q: When did you realize that you had such a broad fan base in America?
Tite Kubo: Yesterday. (laughs)
Q: What are your impressions of San Diego Comic-Con so far? Is there anything like this in Japan?
Tite Kubo: This is really impressive. Compared to Japanese events, Comic-Con is immense! I go to Jump Festa, but compared to that, Comic-Con is many times larger.
Q: Is this your first visit to the U.S.? What do you think?
Tite Kubo: It's the first time for me to be abroad from Japan. I got my passport just so I could come to this event. Compared to Japan, the sunlight is very different and it's very strong. It makes things look very colorful as well.
Q: I heard that you have to draw 19 pages of manga every week, and that you drew ahead so you could take a break to come out to San Diego. Have you done any drawing since you've been here?
Tite Kubo: I worked really hard so I could take the time to come here, so no, I haven't worked on any drawing since I've been here (big smile).
EARLY INFLUENCES AND THE BEGINNINGS OF BLEACH
Q: When did you decide to become a manga artist?
Tite Kubo: I had already decided when I was in elementary school. When I became a manga artist, I became interested in architecture and design, but I've really only wanted to become a manga artist.
Q: Which artists influenced you then, made you feel like it would be really cool to become a professional manga artist?
Tite Kubo: Hmm. My number one favorite manga then was Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro (by Shigeru Mizuki)! I've always liked the yokai (monsters) in that series. The other one that I liked a lot is Saint Seiya (a.k.a. Knights of the Zodiac by Masami Kurumada) -- the characters all wear armor and have interesting weapons.
Q: Huh! I guess that makes sense. I can kind of see some of the influence of both series in Bleach -- the Japanese supernatural themes from Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro and the weaponry and battle scenes from Saint Seiya.
Tite Kubo: Yes, I think so, definitely.
Q: What was your inspiration for Bleach?
Tite Kubo: I wanted to draw Soul Reapers wearing kimono. When I first designed Rukia, she wasn't wearing kimono, but i wanted to create something that no one has seen before. From there I created the world of Bleach.