Interview: My Hero Academia Creator Kohei Horikoshiby Deb Aoki,
Kohei Horikoshi scarcely needs an introduction; he's the writer and artist behind the massive global phenomenon known as My Hero Academia, the superhero manga that first thrilled fans in the pages of Shonen Jump back in 2014. Four years later, the manga has over 13 million copies in print worldwide and a smash hit anime adaptation currently in its third blockbuster season, with a hotly-anticipated movie due for release in North America this September 25th.
An enormous fan of North American comics himself, Horikoshi made his first-ever professional American appearance at this year's San Diego Comic-Con to an overwhelming crowd of adoring fans, and we had the opportunity to chat with him about his humble beginnings, his love of American comic books, and whether or not My Hero Academia will turn into an 80+ volume Jump monster like One Piece.
Kohei Horikoshi signs autographs for fans at San Diego Comic-Con 2018
ANN: I heard you really wanted to come to San Diego Comic-Con – what were you looking forward to doing here?
KOHEI HORIKOSHI: I wanted to see the Sideshow booth, so I did that yesterday and it was very exciting.
What did you buy?
The products were not available for sale yet. For most of what they have there, you have to preorder them online. So, I just saw the figures on display. There are lots of things I'm interested in purchasing once they go on sale to the general public after ComicCon, so I'm looking forward to it.
In Avengers: Infinity War, they had Iron Spider-man; I'm after that one.
You're one of the few mangaka I've spoken to that seems to know American comics very well.
It's a lot more mainstream in Japan now as well, thanks to all the superhero movies.
How did you get started as a manga creator?
Ever since I was a child, I've been drawing. I'd show them to my parents and they were very encouraging. When I was deciding on whether or not to go to college, that's when I was also deciding what to do with my career. I wound up going to a design school, but I realized the skills I was learning there weren't really applicable to becoming a manga artist. But I graduated anyway, then I freelanced for a while.
Did you do some freelance work when you were a college student?
I did some part-time work as an illustrator.
So how did you get started in Jump?
In college, Jump had a lot of submission contests. I submitted one back then and won.
How many times did you submit to the contests?
I think I got lucky.
Well, your work is very polished.
It was nothing like it is now, but I guess they saw my talent. Whoever was judging, they liked my stuff.
So when you were young, who did you try to draw like? Which characters did you like to draw?
Dragon Ball. I was a huge fan of Dragon Ball, so I'd try to think about what sort of other characters would exist in that world and drew those characters.
Are there any lessons you learned from the manga you read when you were younger that you use now as a professional manga creator?
At the end of the day, the characters are the most important. Are they cool? Do they do cool things? I think that's the core of these characters.
One thing I like about My Hero Academia is how well you've developed the characters’ personalities. They have lavish backstories, parents, individual fashion styles – how do you create such a rich world with characters like this?
Sometimes I'll have already thought of how the characters will be, but sometimes things just come out while I'm drawing. I just have to imagine how they might react to a given situation.
Viz Media's San Diego Comic-Con 2018 Booth
The powers and outfits you've given to your characters are so unique! There are many, many superheroes and villains in comics, but I've never one that looks like Best Jeanist or Tomura Shigaraki, (with the dismembered hand over his face). Did you purposefully try to come up with super powers that were unlike anything in American comics?
It's momentum. I have these light bulb moments – I don't spend hours and hours thinking about it. I just get inspired. So for example I'll be at the convenience store, and I'll see a roll of clear tape and I'll think “hmm, maybe there's a face in here somewhere”. And it'll just happen that way.
Is it more fun to create female characters or male characters?
I don't really think about it that way. First and foremost I care about their personalities. The storytelling part – when I'm actually drawing it, illustrating the female characters is more fun.
Is there a character that you've created that fans reacted to in a way you didn't expect?
Bakugo has been a bit of a surprise. I assumed everyone would hate him, but it's been the opposite. In the character questionnaires we do, Bakugo comes in #1 most popular.
Why do you think that is?
Bakugo has always been the bully, and he ends up going to school with Deku. So I had them in a big fight pretty early on, but through that fight you were able to see Bakugo's humanity, that he was just a short-tempered kid.
I was surprised at how many people loved Deku's mom.
That was also a surprise to me!
So All Might looks and acts like the classic larger than life All-American superhero, and uses attacks with American city names, like Detroit Smash! So I was surprised to find out in the story that he's Japanese! (His name is Toshinori?!) Why did All Might take on this American hero persona?
It was more of a callback to older Superman – the “ultimate existence”, that's why he has that kind of character design. But the story's still set in Japan – I don't think it would've quite hit the mark if All Might had been from overseas.
Do you know what the ending of My Hero Academia is? Do you think it'll be 80+ volumes like One Piece?
No, it won't be infinite – I don't have the stamina for it to be as long as One Piece. I'd like to keep it concise.
A whole lot of people in America wanted to meet you – do you have any message for them?
Thank you for reading! When I first started My Hero Academia I had no idea it would be a worldwide thing. Seeing everyone at the Comic-Con panel this morning definitely gave me an idea how many people enjoy it.
For all the people inside that panel room, there were at least 4 times that many outside waiting in line to get in to see you.
That sounds scary!
Our thanks to Viz Media and Kohei Horikoshi for this opportunity.
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