Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Dark Horse's 'Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire' Embraces Political Roots with the Return of Kuvira

A new arc of Dark Horse’s Legend of Korra graphic novels from series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko is on the horizon – one that returns Korra’s big bad Kuvira to the story, and offers her a shot at redemption.

With the new arc, which kicks off with Tuesday, May 21’s Ruins of the Empire, artist Michelle Wong joins the Korra creative team to explore the situation in the Earth Empire as it transitions from monarchy to democracy.

Newsarama recently had a chance to talk to Michael Dante DiMartino and Michelle Wong about what fans can expect from the upcoming graphic novel, including the series politics, the return of Kuvira, and the development of Korrasami.

Newsarama: Michael, What can you tease about this upcoming arc that kicks off in The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire?

Michael Dante DiMartino: At the end of the series, King Wu talks about abdicating his throne and turning the Earth Kingdom democratic. I started wondering what that would look like in real life. It's one thing to have a noble ideal of democracy, but the Earth Kingdom's history is entrenched in tradition, bureaucracy, and monarchies, so the challenges to making free elections a reality would be enormous. In the real world, people aren't always keen on upending the status quo, so it seemed believable, and quite relevant to our times, to tell a story that dealt with an old regime refusing to yield to progressive politics. That conflict forms the spine of the story through the three-volume arc.

Credit: Dark Horse

We also get to see Zhu Li in action as the president and Bolin performing a new job. We'll also return to some familiar locations from the series and revisit some old friends.

Nrama: Michelle, how did your collaboration with Bryan and Michael come about?

Michelle Wong: You know what, I actually never asked about the specifics behind how I was chosen for this job! I just received an email from Dark Horse one day asking whether I was interested in drawing the Korra comics, which, yes of course, sign me the hell up. Dave Marshall, the editor who contacted me at the time, mentioned that the team at Nickelodeon were fans of my work -- which was flattering and mildly terrifying at the same time. I did some style tests, they liked it, and now here I am. It’s been a great honor and a great learning experience.

Nrama: How did you get into the Avatar franchise?

Wong: Toph was the character who pulled me into the original series -- I remember seeing her character design and thinking, wow she looks awesome, I have to see where she’s from. I loved her story and her attitude. She remained my favorite in ATLA, and I’m really happy I get to draw her in Ruins too.

Nrama: Do you have a favorite character from Avatar/Korra that you like to draw?

Wong: Toph! But also Asami, Wu, Kuvira -- I’m cheating and just listing a bunch of characters but it’s difficult to choose. Asami is beautiful, who wouldn’t like drawing her? And Wu is fun because he can be so ridiculous.

Nrama: What’s your favorite style of bending?

Wong: Waterbending. I’m completely biased about this, having taken those online quizzes in the past that told me I was a waterbender. But I also just think it’s got the most interesting range of sub-skills, and I love how graceful it is.

Credit: Dark Horse

Nrama: What can you tell us about Korra and Asami’s dynamic this arc?

DiMartino: They are an established couple, who would do anything for each other. But when Korra proposes working with Kuvira (who killed Asami's father), it definitely creates some strains in their relationship. They aren't always on the same page when it comes to how to approach the conflicts in the main story, but they admire and respect each other so much that they can work through those disagreements. In the later volumes, outside forces end up putting unexpected pressure on their bond.

Nrama: Korrasami has been such a huge part of these graphic novels. How do you approach drawing their relationship?

Wong: At this point in the graphic novels, Korra and Asami are a solid couple -- they’ve been together for a bit, and were friends for years before that, made their love confessions in Turf Wars -- so a lot of their interactions in Ruins just show how comfortable they are with each other. I love being able to depict the quieter moments between them. Whenever there is a group scene, I try to draw them together. I know it will make the fans happy, and I also just want to show that even if they’re at a point where they need to work through some conflict, they still naturally gravitate towards each other.

Nrama: What made you want to bring back Kuvira for this storyline?

DiMartino: Kuvira was one of my favorite antagonists from Legend of Korra. I wanted to explore whether or not someone with her past, who had done a lot of terrible things, could be redeemed. I thought it would be interesting to see Kuvira stand trial for her war crimes and join forces with Team Avatar to combat a group of Earth Empire loyalists who try to reassert their power. And although Kuvira had surrendered at the end of the animated series, she had caused a lot of mayhem, both in the world and with her adoptive family, the Beifongs. I knew there was a lot of great character moments to be mined between Kuvira and Su, as well as the other Beifongs, and see if a family could heal after such a terrible rift.

Credit: Dark Horse

Nrama: What are you most looking forward for fans to see with your artwork?

Wong: There are some brief flashbacks that show Kuvira’s backstory, and I get to draw her being an absolute terror of a child. Very, very excited to share that.

Nrama: Kuvira is damaged after her battle with Korra. What went into drawing this broken down version of her character?

Wong: I always liked the moments in Book 4 where her usually put-together appearance came loose after a fight. She was unafraid to get down and dirty, and to be ruthless to her enemies. At the start of Ruins she no longer has her carefully maintained dignity and control, and I tried to focus on this more feral part of Kuvira that I imagine was always lying under the surface.

Credit: Dark Horse

Nrama: Are there any new character designs you were able to introduce? Any favorites?

Wong: Yes! Some villains, some side characters. A lot of the cast are already established, this series being quite closely tied to Book 4. The new villain, Commander Guan, was not designed by me, but he’s got a bunch of smug villain moments that have been very fun to draw.


From CBR:

The Legend of Korra's New Evil Empire May Be Its Most Sinister

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire -- Part One, from Michael Dante DiMartino, Michelle Wong, Vivian Ng and Rachel Deering, on sale now.

As much fun as it's been watching the elemental tribes of Air, Water, Fire and Earth groom warriors in Avatar: The Last Airbender and then on The Legend of Korra, the franchise's most important aspect is the philosophy of how nations should coexist rather than war.

Following the end of the latter Nickelodeon series in 2014, a new trilogy of graphic novels has begun plotting the way forward for Earth Kingdom starting with The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire. And while the in-canon comic embraces the idea of democracy, we're quickly finding out the series' newest villain is weaponizing that concept en route to shaping the most dangerous empire ever.


This perversions of the series' main lesson comes courtesy of the sinister Commander Guan, in Gaoling. He's taken over the Earth Empire from Kuvira, who gave up as the series ended after the Avatar, Korra, talked her out of her wicked ways. Guan, however, doesn't believe the Earth Empire Kuvira started as a tool of evil, and decides to repurpose it for his own nefarious means -- to win an election.

While we first see Guan possibly looking to seize power with the remnants of Kuvira's military and technology, it turns out he's all about the brainy approach. With King Wu making it clear each state can elect a governor now freely and fairly, Guan isn't forcing his way to power in Gaoling through military might -- he's actually going to run for office. The kicker is, he's planning to steal the election through mind-control technology.

Guan saw the error in Kuvira's endgame, and he's course-correcting the approach of the Earth Empire. Politics, after all, is even more powerful than guns and tanks, even if cheating is his strategy. He knows the king, Korra and all the heroes can't stop him, as it'll look like a dictatorship if they bar him from attaining his goal. In other words, he can turn the people on them for good if they oppose him too strongly. Korra, however, pulls a Hail Mary solution out of thin air by suggesting their old friend Toph stick up for her homeland and oppose the wannabe ruler.

Guan's new direction is even ticking off Kuvira, who wants him to stop what she basically started. But as he feigns the cutting of ties with war and arms, the people are playing right into his hands, lapping it all up. They, too, believe Korra's warriors are instruments of mass destruction, who if unchecked could lead to disaster and civilizations crumbling again. Guan is cleverly playing on their fears, embarking on doctrines and principles we'd find with Nazis or other fascist regimes, but he's doing it subtly enough that most people won't notice.

Brainwashing the populace like this is true testament to the ruins Kuvira left her rebellious empire in. These people are so close to the tipping point, it's not hard to knock them over. They're mentally susceptible and easy for Guan to reprogram after being collateral damage in years of war between nations. If he fully converts them, Guan could have a shield similar to what Cersei had at King's Landing, with a fleet of innocents in front of him and stopping Korra, Kuvira and Co. from throwing him off his high horse. We may not like Guan's direction, but credit where credit is due, he's perfectly manipulating the system to his advantage, becoming a politician who's stacking up artillery on the down-low for when things get out of hand.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire -- Part Two goes on sale Oct. 8, 2019.


From The Beat:

INTERVIEW: Michelle Wong admits that illustrating LEGEND OF KORRA comics was ‘super intimidating at first’

She also warns that there's angst on the way in RUINS OF THE EMPIRE

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 2. Cover by Michelle Wong and Killian Ng.

The Legend of Korra series continued the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender in many new and exciting ways. After the Korra animated series ended with four seasons, the story of Korra, her girlfriend Asami, and their world has continued in a series of comic books. The most recent is a trilogy called Ruins of the Empire, written by series co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino and illustrated by Michelle Wong. The first volume is available now, and the second volume will be available Nov. 12.

I got the chance to talk with Michelle Wong via e-mail shortly after this year’s New York Comic Con about her experience creating art for Ruins of the Empire and what it was like to continue Korra’s story.

Amanda Steele: When did you first get into doing art for comics? Did you read them as a child or teen?

Michelle Wong: I did read comics as a child — stuff like Garfield, Archie, and a Hong Kong manhua called Old Master Q. I got into superhero comics and manga as a teen, but I didn’t start drawing comics myself until I was about 21, when I realized, “Hey, I love this thing, why not try to do it for a living?”

Steele: When did you first discover a love and passion for art? You’ve done art for Goosebumps, Power Rangers, and Lumberjanes; what do you enjoy about working on a variety of projects?

Wong: I used to never pay attention in school unless there was an art lesson involved, so I have always loved to draw — but I wasn’t always sure about art as a career. There was a time when my lack of confidence led me to leave it behind, but I found that I wasn’t happy unless I was creating. It’s still funny to think that I do get to work on all these projects now, and I love that there has been such a variety. I get to entertain a lot of my interests, from horror to fantasy to superhero action, and that keeps things exciting.

Steele: The Legend of Korra, along with Avatar: The Last Airbender, is an extremely popular franchise. How has it been working on a series with such a big fan base and continuing on the story of Korra?

Wong: Not gonna lie, it was super intimidating at first. Knowing that there is such a big fan base, the last thing you want to do as a creator is to let them down. Not to mention that with so many talented people working on this series before me, there were certainly some big shoes to fill. I’ve had to push myself a lot on this series, but it’s been very rewarding.

Steele: Where you a fan of the series before you started working on Ruins of the Empire?

Wong: I watched the series when it came out, but working on Ruins has made me appreciate it more. When I got the job, I went back and rewatched a lot of the episodes and found myself paying attention to things that I hadn’t thought about at first, like all the different character nuances going on in a scene, or just how imaginative some of the fighting sequences are.

Steele: What is the collaboration process with Michael Dante DiMartino like?

Wong: Our process is pretty streamlined, and most of our communication is done through email via our editors. Most of the back and forth happens during layouts — if I have questions I will write notes on the pages, and Mike might send back a diagram or specific reference to solidify the point. I will receive a few lines of feedback when I turn in lineart, but usually just for minor changes.

Steele: What is your process for creating the artwork for Ruins of the Empire?

Wong: I start with layouts for the whole book after going through the script a couple of times. I like writing down notes and drawing stick figures in the margins while reading, especially if there is a specific shot that I think will work well. The stick figure drawings eventually get cleaned up to make sure my editors can tell what’s going on. Once layouts are approved, I move onto pencils — since I’m doing the lineart myself, my pencils tend to be very loose and I’ll do the bulk of the drawing in inks. Then the lineart is handed off for [colorist] Killian Ng to work their magic on.

Steele: Do you have a favorite panel or page?

Wong: It’s so hard to choose a favorite! I’ll just pick one that I like. In Volume 2, there is a panel where King Wu gives Toph a hug, and she is very unimpressed, and I loved drawing that.

Steele: Are there any particular characters or scenes that you love working on?

Wong: I like working on the funnier scenes with Toph, and Kuvira’s flashbacks. I also love drawing Asami, because her design is just so gorgeous.

Steele: There are quite a few fighting sequences. How do you convey the movement and excitement of these scenes? What is your process for that?

Wong: I try to aim for a snapshot that will convey action without sacrificing clarity. Story comes first, and if readers are immersed, that already helps with the excitement. There’s also panel layout to consider. In comics, you get to make use of panel shape and space to emphasize a moment, which is one thing animation doesn’t have, and I try to take advantage of that. Since bending is the main attraction of this universe, I also spend a lot of time going through the “bending bible” when planning out fight sequences — it’s a collection of short videos and stills created by Nickelodeon to show all the different styles of bending, and it’s a lifesaver.

Steele: One thing that many people love about The Legend of Korra is the diversity in the series, especially the inclusion of an LGBT couple with Korra and Asami. How has it been working on a comic that has such diverse characters? Can you talk about the importance of that?

Wong: I’ve been fortunate enough to be given projects all featuring diverse casts in my career, and it’s always nice to work on something that reflects my own life experiences. I think everyone belonging to an underrepresented group knows how much it means to see yourself in works of media, and to know that there are other people like you, that they belong, and they’re worth looking up to. With Korrasami in particular, all the support for them has been inspiring. I did not get to grow up seeing LGBT characters in cartoons, or even many characters resembling myself in Western media. It makes me happy to know that things are changing and to be a part of that change.

Steele: In a panel at New York Comic Con, you mentioned how fan input has inspired you to include more moments between Korra/Asami. Can you talk more about The Legend of Korra fandom and what interacting with fans is like?

Wong: The fans have been so warm and enthusiastic, and getting to talk to some of them at NYCC was definitely a highlight in my career! Though I try not to dig too deep into reviews and such, I do very much know what it’s like to be a fan and to be so deeply, lovingly invested in something. So when someone gets excited about Korrasami in the comics I can’t help but want to acknowledge them, like, yes! Me too! Most of their important moments are already there in the script, but if I can add a little extra hand-holding or casual touches here and there, I will definitely try.

Steele: What else are you working on? Are there any other projects you would like to spotlight?

Wong: I have been working on some original projects in my spare time, but for now the Korra comics are my main focus.

Steele: Although I’m sure you don’t want to spoil it, is there anything you can say about Part 2 of Ruins of the Empire and beyond?

Wong: I hope you all like some angst!

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 2 hits shelves Nov. 12 from Dark Horse Comics. To keep up with Michelle Wong on social media, follow her on Twitter @lokhelle. You can also visit her website, wlokhelle.com, or her shop.


From The Beat:

NYCC ’19: Water, Earth, Fire, Air: Continuing the AVATAR legacy

Meet the people bringing AVATAR to comics.

Photo: Amanda Steele.

Avatar: The Last Airbender series and The Legend of Korra have been hugely successful animated television series, and these stories have continued in books and comics ever since. This franchise has a large fan base, and fans have especially flocked to the series for its endearing, relatable characters and diversity including many characters of color as well as making Korra, the main character of her series, queer.

Fans of the series got together at NYCC on Saturday morning in room 1A21 for Dark Horse’s “Continuing the Avatar Legacy” panel and the house was packed. The panelists included three people who have contributed to the world of Avatar and Korra in one way or another: The Rise of Kyoshi series co-author FC Yee, Dark Horse Assistant Editor Jenny Blenk and lastly, Michelle Wong, artist for The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire series.

The focus of this panel was discussing these panelists’ role in the comics as well as answering questions about the world of Avatar and Korra.

They discussed their various parts in bringing these stories to life. One interesting question was given to Yee as he was asked what it was like working on a story about Kyoshi when much of her life and the ending of her story was already known from the series. He said this allowed him to show that character “complete a journey of change culminating along an arc to an endpoint…It was a matter of trying to figure out that arc and have it make sense.”

Since the series has been so successful and fans have really attached to the world as well as the characters, the panelists were asked about what it is that brings people back to this world time and time again.

Yee: “One theory is that the world is so complete and rich. Characters you love come and go, but the world keeps happening around them…The best stories are set in places that draw you to the characters, but life will operate in ways without them, hinder them, and push them forward.”

Wong: “The world is full of such great characters. The plot and fight scenes are important, but the characters draw you in. These stories have such a great and wide cast to draw on.”

Since the stories of this world changed from television to print, there are changes that need to be made and challenges that present themselves. The panelists were asked what some of the challenges appeared in bringing the animated series to print.

Wong pointed out that in comics you have to “take a snap shot and make sure it gets the point across clearly” as opposed to animation where there is more room to get the scenes across.

Yee added to this by talking about how there is a lot of movement in the series that can be difficult to put to the page. Instead of trying to capture every single moment, he tries to capture the feeling and what the world is like.

And, many fans are probably wondering if these creators were fans before they started creating for the universe as their job. Wong said that she came to appreciate the series more after working on the comics. She also talked about how many people she knew who were thrilled with Korra/Asami, and how that felt like a “dream come true” for many people. Wong also noted that because of fan reactions they try to include more Korrasami moments in the comics.

For Yee, The Rise of Kyoshi was a “dream project.” He first started watching the series during season two and says he has always been a huge fan. Blenk,also a big fan, started watching the Avatar series in high school. She felt like the series was full of joy and really loved the first Korrasami kiss in the comics.

For fans looking for announcements of what’s next, there wasn’t a lot of information given. Fans asked questions about the Netflix show and more, but they didn’t have answers. However, fans can look forward to part 2 of The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire which is available November 12.


More Nick: Netflix to Host Open Casting Call for Live-Action 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Series!

Originally published: Friday, May 10, 2019.

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