Interview With Manga Artist Tite Kubo

Tite Kubo, manga artist and creator of Bleach manga and anime.
Tite Kubo. Courtesy VIZ Media

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. 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 the 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 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, we got a chance to chat briefly with Kubo-sensei. Between his panel appearance and the questions we were able to ask him at our session, we 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.

Q: You've been drawing Bleach since 2001, seven years now. Has it changed dramatically from what you thought this story would be when you first started drawing it?

Tite Kubo: At first, I didn't plan that there would be Taicho, the head Captain of the Soul Society. The captains, they didn't exist at first.

Ichigo, Chad, Uryu and Kon: Creating the Many Characters of Bleach

Q: What comes first? the characters, or the story's plot?

Tite Kubo: (emphatically) Characters first!

Q: Bleach has so many characters with so many different powers, weapons, personalities, and relationships! How do you come up with them?

Tite Kubo: I really don't intend that characters have certain personalities when I come up with them. Sometimes I can't think of any new characters. Then other times, I come up with 10 or more new characters.

Q: Are there any characters that you thought fans would love but didn't, or a character that caught on with fans in a way that you didn't expect?

Tite Kubo: I don't really recall any characters that I've created that I thought fans would love but didn't, but usually I notice that when I start describing a character's personality or backstory, the fans start to really respond to them, and really start liking them.

However, in the case of Suhei Hisagi (Lieutenant / Acting Captain of Squad 9), fans got hooked on him before I even started describing his personality, so that was very unusual.

Q: Are there any characters that are most like you?

Tite Kubo: I feel like all the characters have a little bit of me in them! (laughs)

Q: How do you come up with the clothes for the characters in Bleach?

Tite Kubo: I just put the characters in the clothes I wish I could buy, but can't find in stores.

Q: What do you consider to be Ichigo's greatest strength and his greatest weakness?

Tite Kubo: His strength is that he is always considerate and thoughtful. He always thinks about other people's needs. That is a great strength, but it's also his greatest weakness, because worrying about his friends puts him in danger too, sometimes.

Q: Speaking of Ichigo's relationships with his friends, there seems to be a love triangle between Ichigo, Rukia, and Orihime. Do you delve more into this in later volumes?

Tite Kubo: (laughs) I get asked about that a lot! I don't want to make Bleach into a love story because there are much more exciting things about their personalities and things that they can do instead of getting into the romance aspect of their relationships.

Q: Your male characters are great, but your female characters are also very strong, interesting women. Are you influenced by strong women in your life when you create these characters?

Tite Kubo: I have quite a few female friends who are not physically strong, but mentally, they are really very strong people.

Q: Do you have a favorite female character in Bleach?

Tite Kubo: Hmm. Yoruichi and Rangiku! Their attitude is like, they just don't care what people think of them! (laughs) I have a lot of fun drawing them and creating stories with them.

Q: What inspired you to have a Mexican character like Chad and to include Hispanic culture in Bleach?

Tite Kubo: It wasn't something intentional. When I designed Chad, he looked like he had a Mexican heritage, so I just wrote that in.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of the Quincies?

Tite Kubo: I created Qunicies to be Ichigo's rival characters, so I put Uryu in white clothing (compared to the black kimono worn by the Soul Reapers). Qunicies use arrows because they're long range weapons, so it's difficult for Ichigo to fight them with his sword, which is more for short range combat.

The Quincy cross has 5 points, kind of like the Japanese 5-pointed star. 5 points, quintet, Quincy! Quincies use arrows, so if you call them Qunicy archers, it sounds like a name, so I kind of liked that.

Q: Is the Kon doll based on anything from your childhood?

Tite Kubo: I wanted to create something that looks fake, that looks like something that was just random things put together. Normally you don't have a sewing line in the middle of a stuffed doll's face unless it's done to make the face look more three-dimensional. But look at Kon! His face is flat so that line is unnecessary -- so I kind of like that fact.

Ichigo and Rukia first find Kon on the street, so I made up a backstory about how he got there. At a festival, a child wanted a stuffed animal, but since the one that he wanted was too expensive, so the parent bought a cheap one instead. The child didn't like it and threw it away, so that's why the Kon doll was found on the street!

Bleach Story Development and the Future of Bleach

Q: One thing your fans love about your manga is that you always keep them guessing. Do you plan very far ahead how your characters will interact with each other, and the various plot twists you throw into your stories?

Tite Kubo: After I finished drawing chapter one, I already knew that Ichigo's dad Isshin would be a Soul Reaper. At the time, I didn't plan on having leaders in the Soul Society, so I didn't plan on him being one of the leaders.

Q: Will you feature a back story about Isshin?

Tite Kubo: Yes, I will draw it!

Q: One thing I enjoy about Bleach is that there are many moments of humor as well as drama. Is that intentional to break up some of the heavier moments in the story?

Tite Kubo: I don't really plan on it, but when I get bored drawing battle scenes, then I throw in a joke or two to make it more fun for me.

Q: How do you draw your action scenes? Do you have models?

Tite Kubo: Nobody poses for me -- I just have rock music going in my head and just imagine the action scenes. I pause the action and rotate the characters and find the best angle, and then I draw it.

Q: What part of the creative process do you enjoy most?

Tite Kubo: When I think about the story, if it's something I've wanted to draw for a long time, it's fun.

I usually have this rundown of scenes I want to draw in my head. My job is to try to make it interesting. When it comes to drawing a scene I really want to do it's fun. When I draw the connecting scenes, I try to make it lively. And when it comes to inking, I really enjoy doing that work too.

Q: You're already up to 33 volumes of Bleach -- how much longer do you think this story will go?

Tite Kubo: I can't really say how long this story will be by the time it ends, but I have a few more stories that I want to tell, so this series will go on for a while. (laughs)

Meeting His Fans and a Few Words of Advice for Aspiring Manga-Ka

Q: Let's talk a bit about your encounters with your fans this weekend. Are there any memorable experiences, or anything that stands out in your mind as your favorite memory so far?

Tite Kubo: One of my favorite experiences so far was seeing the artwork from the winners of the fan art contest. The color illustration (by Christy Lijewski) was especially impressive. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet the artists, but it was really great to see their work.

Q: So as you can see, there are a lot of American fans who love manga and who would love to be a professional manga artist like you are. Do you have any advice or secrets to your success that you could share with them?

Tite Kubo: Just believe in your talent. Maybe others will tell you otherwise -- but just believe in it. It's very important for readers to enjoy what you create, so you must do something that you find enjoyable too. Otherwise, it's dishonest to charge people for something that you don't enjoy.

Q: Do you have any message that you'd like to pass on to your fans who weren't able to meet you here today?

Tite Kubo: I really get it now that American fans are really enthusiastic (about my work). I would love to come back to America again to meet more of my fans and maybe see them where they live next time.