Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Michael Dante DiMartino on ‘The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars’ *Updated*

Michael Dante DiMartino looks back at recent developments in the Avatar-verse.


Best known for his role as co-creator of the epic Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, DiMartino also recently published Warrior Genius, the second book in his Rebel Geniuses trilogy. DiMartino spoke to Hypable about The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Dark Horse’s three-volume original graphic novel which officially continues the saga of Korra, Asami and the rest of the cast from the beloved Nickelodeon animated series, plus reveals how his own experiences have impacted his work, and what’s ahead for his further creative pursuits.


How is the [The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars] series going?

It’s three volumes, and I just finished the script for the third volume and finished that little story arc. It’s been a long-gestating project, but it turned out really cool, so I’m really excited.

What can you tell us about the overall arc of the story?

Once people read Volume I they’ll get a better sense, but the villain who emerges out of this story goes through a transformation of sorts, and becomes a bit more powerful and dangerous and scary…. it’s the type of villain that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and it fits in with what’s going on in Republic City.

Were there any ideas that you were able to incorporate in the comic that you hadn’t in the show? Of course, there’s Korra and Asami’s relationship…

Yeah, that’s probably the biggest one, but it’s more extending out from the show. The biggest challenge of this was that there were too many storylines! It’s the same problem I have with my book. We had all these characters, especially with Avatar, there’s like a million characters, and all these storylines that I needed to deal with.

There’s also a presidential election going on in Republic City. I have to ask, were you at all inspired by current events?

You know, it ends up being somewhat related, I suppose! [laughs] But when I started it, it was well before the election. I think it was before anyone knew who the main candidates were. But I guess Raiko has a little Trump in him sometimes! [laughs]

His wife actually looks a little like Melania…

That’s so funny. I tried to get her in the comic — not Melania! I tried to get Buttercup Raiko in there, but it just didn’t work out. She was one that I couldn’t organically weave into the story.

How much are you working with your Avatar co-creator Bryan Konietzko on Turf Wars?

I basically would pitch him ideas, and we would go back and with developing the stories, and stuff he wanted to see in the books. And he’s also been helping out consulting on the art with [artist] Irene [Koh]. So he’s definitely involved in making sure it feels like the show!

[Turning to Warrior Genius] do you have to get in a different head space to write the villainess of the series?

Nah, I guess that stuff just comes naturally from Avatar and Korra. You’re never doing it from [the villains’] point of view, but you are trying to get into the characters’ heads and figure out where they’re coming from. [Nerezza’s] motivations get much more fleshed out and there’s some of her backstory, and it definitely deepens the characters and the world, and their relationships.

Does being a dad influence the way you work on your stories?

Not so much with this book, but I am more aware of kids’ books, and stories for kids. Because my wife and I love books, so we just want to get them a lot of books! It’s one of their main toys in the morning, putting out a bunch of books for them to check out. We read to them a lot, but they’ll also just sit there with a book and play with it! Seeing through their eyes, what makes something interesting in a book to them — obviously, it’s not really the plot — there’s so many things moving in the book. So many things you pull and slide, and so they definitely really like those types of things, like textures. There’s a cool book, Never Touch a Monster, it’s got these little prickly things on all the pages and stuff.

The books I write, they obviously won’t read them until they’re a little older. But I am excited to one day read them to them, or have them watch Avatar.

Do you have any future projects in mind for after you finish Rebel Geniuses?

I’ve got a bunch of story ideas, [and] I’m trying to decide which one I want to pursue next, and what format. Maybe graphic novels would be fun — writing Korra was my first graphic novel script, and it was fun to collaborate with one artist on it. I learned a lot about telling a story in that medium, which I really enjoyed. So maybe I’ll explore that down the road!

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 2 and Warrior Genius are available from booksellers and comic book stores today!

Click here to read Michael's full interview with Hypable!
Also, from Vulture:

How Turf Wars Part 2 Continues Korra and Asami’s Relationship

A little more than three years ago, the popular and critically acclaimed animated series The Legend of Korra — the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender — ended with a bang. Well, two, if we’re being fair. The first was an actual boom in downtown Republic City, the series’ main setting. The second was the explosion of excitement from fans and critics alike when the show had its title character, Korra, begin a romantic relationship with her best female friend, Asami. Over three years since the show ended, the pairing’s dedicated subreddit is still active.

The same-sex relationship between the bisexual women (both had previously dated the same guy, Mako) was a landmark moment for American and family animation. Korra and Asami’s relationship also just made sense as a couple — Korra’s hotheaded and sarcastic tendencies were nicely balanced by Asami’s calm, collected nature.

As a result, fans have long craved for more Korra and Asami. Enter Turf Wars, a trilogy of comic books from Dark Horse that has explored the beginnings of the women’s relationship, as well as consequences of the events from the show’s last episode. The first volume was released last August, and the wide release of Part 2 is today. Vulture spoke to Korra series co-creator and Turf Wars writer Michael Dante DiMartino about the process behind writing and drawing the second volume in the trilogy.

The Legend of Korra ended about three years ago. What made you want to return to write about these characters with this trilogy?
I know it has taken a while for these books to be released, but I began outlining this story back in July of 2015, so for me, not much time had passed between the show ending and graphic novel starting. Like with the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels, [Avatar co-creator] Bryan [Konietzko] and I felt that Korra and the new Team Avatar characters would have more adventures after the show ended. And with the state of things such as they were after Book 4: Balance — a new spirit portal in the middle of Republic City, displaced civilians, and Korra and Asami’s new relationship — there was a lot of material and ideas to explore.

One of the great appeals of this trilogy of comic books is that we get to see the beginning of Korra and Asami’s relationship fleshed out. Vol. 1 was essentially the coming-out part for their immediate friends and family. Is there a different aspect of their relationship you wanted to explore with Vol. 2?
The relationship story puts Korra’s sympathy for her enemies to the test. One thing that’s always been interesting to explore with both Aang and Korra is the area where their job as the Avatar intersects with their personal lives. And for Korra, she’s reached this place of having compassion for her rivals, but now Tokuga comes along and poses a threat to her friends, and to Asami. Can Korra still maintain her newfound levelheadedness or will she resort to her old way of charging in full bore?

Over the course of Vol. 2 and Vol. 3, we’ll see Korra and Asami open up to each other more as they come to realize the depth of their feelings for each other. But their relationship isn’t without some interpersonal strife. Asami is just as capable of taking care of herself as Korra is, so conflict flares up when Korra — driven by her desire to keep Asami safe — becomes overprotective.

How has the pairing changed the Avatar fandom? Anything you can trace from the show to anything about television today?
In person and online, I still hear from fans who want to express to Bryan and me how consequential it was in their own lives to see Korra and Asami come together at the end of the series. In 2014, I was aware we were doing something different, but I’m still gaining new insights as to how vital it is for people who are underrepresented in media to see themselves on TV or in movies, or in comics. This lack is not a minor thing, and hopefully, The Legend of Korra has played a small part in encouraging media companies not to shy away from depicting LGBTQ characters on children’s TV and elsewhere.

One of the things I liked most about Vol. 2 had nothing to do with Korra and Asami, but with a Korra side character, Zhu Li. She decides to run for president. Can you tell me how that decision came about? I had never considered that arc for her but the moment I read about it in the comic book’s summary I was like, “Oh yeah. That totally works.”
Yes, Zhu Li has been underestimated one too many times! Again, Bryan and I conceived this story back in 2015, so the U.S. election was in full swing and very much on our minds. We had discussed the fact that at some point there would be an election for a new president of the United Republic, and with all the changes going on in the city, this seemed like a good time to give Raiko some much-needed competition. In Vol. 1, we see Zhu Li’s leadership skills in action as she manages the evacuee crisis with little to no help from Raiko. And as Asami points out in Vol. 2, Zhu Li would have no problem running the Republic after keeping up with Varrick’s outlandish demands for years. And while we have yet to have a U.S. female president in the real world, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the United Republic’s election turns out better for Zhu Li.

I really liked the ending of this part. Without going into spoilers, could you tell me how you arrived at a cliff-hanger? Was it planned this way or did it evolve organically? Vol. 1 was more open-ended.

Since I conceived of the three volumes as one story, I designed the end of each volume to be similar to an act break in the show or the end of an episode. So while there is some resolution to the events in a particular volume, I was also introducing more danger to come. The nature of a three-act structure is that the end of act two commonly ends with a dramatic moment and the feeling that the situation is dire. You want to leave the reader wondering: How are they going to survive? Will they triumph or fail?

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More Nick: A Desolate Spirit World is Revealed in 'The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars' Part Two!

Originally published: Friday, January 19, 2018.
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