Saturday, July 25, 2020

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Co-Creator on Why the Show Thrives in 2020

Series co-creator Michael DiMartino spoke in a Comic-Con@Home panel about why Avatar: The Last Airbender's popularity hasn't diminished over time.

During a panel for ComicCon@Home, Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creator Michael DiMartino shared his thoughts about Nickelodeon's beloved animated series' lasting power.

"At the time, doing a kind of continuous story in kids' animation was not a thing that was happening-- you know it was more common in Japan, but certainly not in the U.S. and certainly not on Nickelodeon," DiMartino said. He then went on to praise Nickelodeon for letting them continue with the series, despite being unaccustomed to their chosen format.

DiMartino went on to say that Avatar's continuous storytelling format is likely the reason it has done so well on Netflix, despite originally being released more than a decade ago. "I think part of the reason why now, that the original series is back on Netflix, why it's doing well is 'cus it kind of fits that format already. Even though there's standalone episodes."

In 2005, Nickelodeon began airing Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The series saw major success and even spawned a comic book series, novel series and live-action film adaptation.

A live-action TV series based on Avatar: The Last Airbender is planned to release through Netflix sometime in the future. As of now, an official cast, release date or plot details about the live-action series haven't been announced.

All three seasons (or "Books") of Avatar: The Last Airbender are currently streaming on Netflix, with its follow-up series, The Legend of Korra, set to drop on the streaming service in the U.S. on August 14.

Original source:



With Avatar: The Last Airbender arriving on Netflix in May, the animated series has since settled into its next incarnation, with several new viewers discovering the series — as well as its sequel, The Legend of Korra, which will soon be joining it on the streaming platform, thus opening up the animated world further.

But even before the former Nickelodeon originals took on this second life, it’s had a devoted legion of fans, which have further inspired the development of the shows’ universe in the form of YA novels, comics, and graphic novels.

This year’s Comic-Con@Home panel celebrated that with Faith Erin Hicks (The Nameless City), F.C. Yee (The Epic Crush of Genie Lo), and Eisner winner Gene Luen Yang (Superman). Together with one of the series’ creators, Michael DiMartino, they discussed the franchise's growth and some of the changes that have taken place since that first series ended 12 years ago.

“Avatar shaped and broke the mold for an entire layer of creatives,” said Yee, the author of The Rise of Kyoshi and The Shadow of Kyoshi, two YA novels that focus on one of the previous avatars in the show’s universe. “It inspired so many of us. It’s where our heads go, and what we really love, and what we would love to be like, and what we would like to accomplish as creative professionals.”

Hicks, who’s currently penning the Dark Horse continuation comics set between Avatar and Korra, as well as an original Katara-centric graphic novel coming out this fall, agrees.

“Avatar is the platonic ideal of what is an amazing fantasy story for kids. It has everything,” she says, citing its influence in her own original graphic novel trilogy The Nameless City.

“It’s established that it’s a living world,” says Yee. “It’s got a past. It’s got a future. It’s got a present.”

When it comes to the essence of what it is that makes Avatar (and by extension, Korra) stand the test of time, Yee, Hicks, and Yang all agreed that it’s the combination of the shows’ impressive worldbuilding and characters who grow and change over the show’s three-season run, something that was unusual in American animation at the time Avatar was airing.

“The characters are incredibly real,” says Yang, who penned five arcs' worth of comics for Dark Horse set after the original run of Avatar. “They all have very relatable flaws. Even the hero, Aang, struggles with anger and cowardice. These are all things that we all deal with on a daily basis.”

According to Hicks, part of the show’s success also comes from the range of female characters it featured at the time.

“Now we’re having this huge surge of women in animation and shows with female leads, which is important,” she says. “But back then, in the ‘90s, it felt rare to have a show with multiple female leads. We had Katara, Toph, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee.”

Yee feels it also has to do with the quality of villains showcased in the show’s run, from Zuko, the disgraced prince of the Fire Nation, to his ambition-driven sister Azula, to Ozai, their father and the current Firelord himself. “I joke that it’s why anytime anyone of a certain age sees a compelling villain you always see [them ask], ‘How are they going to be redeemed? What kind of redemption arc is going to happen?’ Because that’s my ideal storytelling.”

Avatar co-creator DiMartino thinks that it's this kind of long-form serialized storytelling that’s made the show particularly successful on Netflix, where it’s remained in the platform’s Top 10 streamed shows list for weeks.

“At the time, doing a continuous story in kids’ animation was not a thing that was happening. It was more common in Japan, but certainly not in the U.S. or on Nickelodeon,” says DiMartino of his and co-creator Brian Konietzko’s experience making Avatar. “Part of the reason that the original series is doing so well on Netflix is it's because it fits that format already. It’s a continuous storyline.”

As for expanding the show’s universe through comics and novels and letting its legacy continue that way, DiMartino admits that he may have been a bit hesitant at first.

“I was wary of becoming the kind of property where it was like, ‘Here’s the novelizations and here’s the comics,’ without adding any value to the property,” says DiMartino. “That’s why Brian and I have tried to stay as involved as we have while trying to give them the space to put their own spin on things.”

For Yang, that’s involved answering all his burning questions after the series wrapped — including what happened to Zuko’s mother, while for Hicks, who actually picked up writing the comics after Yang’s tenure, it’s involved slowly developing the Avatar world so it turns into the one that fans will recognize in Korra.

Meanwhile, Yee coined "dust-stepping," a way for the avatar to bend dust, something DiMartino says could only really be explored in prose, as opposed to animation.

All three creators feel that Avatar and Korra’s influence runs deep and will probably be felt in future creations as more people discover the show through Netflix, especially fans who may not have been born during the shows’ original runs.

“It’s hard to describe the extent of the influence of that show,” says Yang. “I think you can find it in almost any story that’s being told right now, especially for kids. Even if it’s not a fantasy story, I think there’s an element of Avatar in there.”

Hicks agrees, pointing to recent Netflix series that have inspired their own devoted fandoms.

“Looking at all these animated shows, like Hilda, and She-Ra, that feels like Avatar: the next generation,” she says. “These creators are inspired by Avatar are now getting their own shows, which is so amazing.”

Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently available to stream on Netflix. The Legend of Korra will join it on Aug. 14.



Avatar Creators Discuss the Legacy of Avatar: The Last Airbender

One of the most popular animated series of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is having something of a resurgence due to being added to Netflix’s library of shows. With the news that the sequel series Legend of Korra, would be joining Netflix in August, we’re all thinking about how the Avatar universe influenced our world. During today’s Comic-Con@Home 2020 panel, one of the original creators of the show, Michael DiMartino, sat down with comics creators Faith Erin Hicks and Gene Luen Yang, as well as author F.C. Yee to discuss Avatar‘s lasting influence.

On the legacy of Avatar:

F.C. Yee: “I feel like Avatar both shaped and broke the mold for an entire generation of creatives. It inspired so much of us, it’s just where our heads go when we think about what we really love and what we would like to be like and, you know, what depths we would like to accomplish as creative professionals.”

Faith Erin Hicks: “I feel like Avatar is just this Platonic ideal of what is an amazing fantasy story for kids; it has everything. It’s absolutely influenced and inspired my work right from the beginning.”

Mike DiMartino: “Brian and I just were animation dudes back in the early 2000s who wanted to make a TV show that was cool and that we liked and that hopefully would stand the test of time, which it somehow has. In some ways I feel like we got lucky too in that this show even got made, and that we got to tell the story the way we wanted to. At the time doing a kind of continuous story in kids animation was not a thing that was happening. It was common in Japan, but not in the US and certainly not on Nickelodeon, they were kind of confused by what we were making. But to their credit, they were like alright, you guys seem to know what you’re doing so we’ll let you run with this idea. I think part of the reason why now that the original series is on Netflix, why it’s doing so well is that it kind of fits that format already. Even though there’s standalone episodes, it’s a continuous storyline.”

Yee: “It’s established that it’s a living world, it’s got a past, it’s got a future, it’s got a present and any time you dip in for a particular story for part of that timeline, it’s alive, it’s going to evolve over time. It evolved from all the worldbuilding that the show had.”

Hicks: “It’s so unusual, particularly in the time [Mike was] making it, it was unusual where you had an animated show where the characters would evolve. They would change and grow over the course of three seasons. I do feel like the characters are probably why it stands the test of time. People return because they love these characters so much. I feel like Toph in particular was such a big deal for me. I was this huge tomboy as a kid, and now I feel like we’re having this huge surge of women in animation and female characters and animated shows with female leads that’s incredibly important. But earlier in the 90s, in the aughts, it felt like that was incredibly rare to have this strong, tough, tomboy female character in an animated show. And also to have a show with multiple female leads—we had Katara, we had Toph, we had Azula, we had Mei, we had Ty Lee, there were so many women in this show. That was something that really spoke to my heart as someone who worked in animation… and watching the characters grow and transition and change over the course of three seasons, it was so unusual. And that’s why I continued to return to that show and continue to be inspired by it, and wanting to put that heart and that empathy into my own work. It was so different.”

Gene Luen Yang: “I think it’s hard to describe the extent of of the influence of that original show. I think you’d probably find it in almost any story that’s being told right now, especially if it’s for kids. Even if it’s not a fantasy story, I think there’s some element of Avatar in there… I do think some of the magic is like, you can’t even put your finger on it. It’s almost hard to capture. But it is the worldbuilding, and the characters I think are really incredibly real, they all have very relatable flaws. Even Aang has these struggles with anger, these struggles with cowardice—these are all things we deal with on a daily basis. And I think, as somebody whose written in that world, you can tell that it’s a really good world because some of those stories write themselves. Some of those characters… you just give them a little nudge, and then you can hear Toph talking in your head and you just write down what you hear, because she’s so well defined. That world and those characters are so well defined, they write themselves.”

Check out the rest of the panel above, and share your favorite Avatar: The Last Airbender moments in the comments!


From Black Girl Nerds:

The Avatar Series: From Animation to Comic Book Creation at Comic-Con@Home

Dark Horse Comics, Abrams Books, and Nickelodeon treated fans to a panel worthy of the Avatar! BGN was able to join Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra creators and writers, Michael DiMartino, Faith Erin Hicks, F.C. Yee, and Gene Luen Yang for further exploration of the beloved world as it has grown and changed since the animated series has ended.

Fans were delighted to watch the most adorable nerd out session filled with Avatar writers just gushing over the show and DiMartino looking humble as they fire off compliment after compliment. If nothing else, this panel was the place for Avatar nerds to go crazy and learn more about the literary world of Avatar.

Yesterday, after the panel, the co-creator korranewsofficial dropped an announcement on Instagram that Toph will be getting her own solo graphic novel. Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy, is coming in February. This is the second standalone graphic novel revealed after Katara and the Pirate’s Silver by Hicks.

There is also excitement about the new deluxe version of the ATLA artbook that features 8 brand new pages and more! It’s been out of print for years, and now they’re finally bringing it back with a deluxe second edition that includes a new cover, a slipcase, and a collectible lithograph.

Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Art of the Animated Series (Second Edition) hits the shelves on November 24th.

Michael DiMartino’s Thoughts on the Avatar Adaptations

DiMartino started by sharing with fans that he is involved in the creation and development of each Avatar adaptation. He consulted with the writers on all comics and novels. He joked that his involvement means he’ll never be free of the Avatar universe.

He told viewers that he is amazed how much impact Avatar has had on the lives of so many people. He shared that since Avatar was added Netflix recently, he’s had his old friends message him that their kids are watching the show. While others were rewatching for 30th time and some friends, kids that are watching for the first time.

Additionally, over the years he told fans that he’s seen people have Avatar wedding themes and entire communities and friendships form from bonding over the show.

He explained that years ago, he was never a fan of creating prequels, as he never saw the point. However, he said, “we’re digging in with the comics and filling in the middle” in reference to creating a sequel to the original Avatar series and a prequel to Legend of Korra.

He also shared that it’s great to see talented creators that use their personal experiences to make the comic, novel, and graphic novel adaptations so good. He admitted that he was nervous about the prose and comics being created with no true meaning and depth behind them. He was particularly irked about there being an actual prose novel, in reference to The Rise of Kyoshi by Yee. He told audiences that he admires Yee’s ability to turn an animated series into a novel, something he couldn’t imagine doing.

The Writers Discuss Their Experiences

In this multitalented panel, fans were able to learn more about the people behind the magic of the Avatar books. Hicks wrote some of the graphic novels, Yang wrote many of the comics and Yee created the very first solo written Avata novel by himself.

Yee explained that the novel version is darker in ways that the animated series and more adult themes come up.

He had a funny story of how the novel came to be. A colleague pitched the idea for a novel adaptation and mentioned that Yee would be a great fit to write it, but Yee didn’t know about that. Yet, by the time it was approved and Yee was put on the spot to write it, he was thrilled.

“I got lucky, really lucky” he said.

Yang was asked what it was like to create the first Avatar comics. He chuckled and explained that the first comics were actually appeared in the Nickelodean comic publication that use to come out years ago. He mentioned that he used to collect them.

He also shared that having the opportunity to join the Avatar team had him freaking out. He was already such a fan and recalled asking about Zuko’s mom during on of his first conversations with Avatar creators. For him, it was amazing.

After Yang joined the team, Hicks became a quick fan of his work as well as a seasoned Avatar fan herself. The two of them became fast friends, they would meet up at comic book conventions and nerd out over Avatar before they both were writing for the series.

Hicks explained that, “getting a change to hop in the Avatar sand box was amazing.”

After accepting the job offer from Dark Horse, she had the opportunity to write Imbalance, which is a team Avatar story.

Yang and Hicks are such good friends that they even did a comic book collaboration together for the series. The two reflected on how Avatar has such a strong influence on their friendship.

Yee also explained that “Avatar defined our aspirations got professional work and we always looked for characters with good redemption arcs”

Yee and Yang reflected on just how much the comics have grown the Avatar world. Yee explained that through the books, the world has kept growing.

“It’s hard to capture the extent of the show, it wasn’t like most shows on Nick. It’s so real, relatable. It has characters with flaws and feelings we experience on a daily basis,” Yang added.

He went on to explain that some of the character stories flowed so naturally that they told themselves.

Hicks added to their analysis, saying that over time, “characters grew and changed. Toph being a tough girl wasn’t something that happened in normal shows in the 90’s, neither were female leads.”

Writers share their Challenges in Adapting Animation to Book

Yang started off by explaining that’s difficult to creating bending in static print. He was grateful that they brought in a martial arts specialist to help them make the bending look as natural as possible, while also looking aesthetically pleasing on the page.

Hicks added that it’s also tricky to have certain page counts that stop her from making longer fight sequences. She had wanted to do more Shonen comic book fight sequences, but they were hard to shorten and compress.

She was also grateful for martial arts consultants for the drawing sequences. Going from screen to book was very hard for them.

However, some things translated to print quite well when it came to Yee’s novel. He explained that a new technique called “dust stepping” in the prose translated quite well.

Despite some challenges, Hicks expressed that Katara and the Pirate Silver was fun to write.

The writer’s felt that their struggles were worth it, as more fans have not only been reading the books, but also sharing new fan art inspired by them.

Even their family members are watching and reading the books more. Yang mentioned that his 4 children have gone from watching the entire series on Amazon Prime to watching it again after it was released on Netflix.

It would seem that both the animated shows and books are coming together to foster an entirely new generation of watchers and readers. The books and comics are available on Amazon and in stores.


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