Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently having a resurgence in the
United States. While the show initially aired from 2005 to 2008, the
recent re-release on Netflix has brought in a new wave of fans, and the
15 year-old show is currently one of the most viewed shows on
While the animated Avatar series, and its sequel The Legend of
Korra, have long since ended, the two spin-off comic series (one for
Avatar, one for Korra) have continued their stories. Michael
DiMartino was the co-creator of both shows, and continues to write the
comics. He spoke with me about diversity within the series, and the
difference in writing for comics versus writing for animation.
Note: This interview was conducted in late 2019 but has been
unpublished until now.
This interview also contains spoilers for the ending of The Legend of
Had you worked in comics prior to working on the Avatar series for
My first experience working in comics was on the Avatar graphic
novels. I learned a lot working with writer Gene Luen Yang and seeing
how he would take the story and execute it on the page. Then, I got to
see how the artist team of Guri Hiru translated Gene’s scripts into
visuals. It served as my crash-course in comic creation.
When the opportunity came to write the Korra comics, I felt like I had
a good handle on how the process worked. Plus, my background as a
storyboard artist helped when it came to describing visuals that someone
else would have to draw.
In the last episode of Korra, we see Korra and Asami travel together
into the Spirit World. You quickly confirmed, via social media, that the
two of them were together as a couple, and it was one of the first LGBT
relationships depicted on an animated property. However, there was some
criticism at the time that the confirmation of them being a couple was
mostly via the announcement, rather than in the show itself.
Asami and Korra’s relationship in the comics is far less ambiguous (they
kiss on page 13 of the first Turf Wars book, which takes place right
after the series ends). Do you have more freedom to depict LGBT
relationships in comics than in animation? As someone who has worked in
both industries, can you discuss the differences?
The simple answer is: Yes, there is more freedom to depict LGBT
relationships in comics than on TV. No question.
However, the culture has changed a lot in the years since Korra
ended, so I think if we were making the show now, we would have more
freedom in depicting a same-sex relationship on TV. But from what I’ve
read, publishing in general is far more progressive and open to
exploring topics related to diversity.
Charles Schulz once described how it was strange looking at animation
of his Peanuts series because the art style on screen didn’t match his
own. As a creator who’s worked with the same characters in both comics
and animation, how do you navigate the difference between the print and
the animated models? And, is there pressure on the artist to try to
mirror the television style?
The comics are meant to give more freedom to the artists to interpret
the characters in their own style. In the collected volume, Team Avatar
Tales, there is a variety of unique styles on display. The comics give
us the opportunity for more exploration and experimentation.
As a follow up: For you personally, since you’ve written for television,
comics, and novels, how does writing for comics compare to writing prose
in novels, or scripts in television?
In a way, they’re all similar. And in a way, all completely different.
Each genre has its own conventions and things they are great for, and
not so great for. For example, in a novel, you can deeply explore the
inner life and thoughts of a character, but you don’t have the benefit
of sound or music or visuals to help tell the story.
It’s been a fun creative challenge to try these different mediums. I’m
actually writing an audio drama now for Audible, and that is a whole new
challenge, where you only can use sound and dialogue to tell the story.
One last thing – The second volume of The Legend Of Korra: Ruins of
the Empire was just released. What was your favorite part?
Vol. 2 was fun to write because I got to bring back elderly Toph again.
I love writing for her.
The Legend of Korra comics are available from Dark