Cartoonist Gene Luen Yang discusses his work on Dark Horse Comics’ “Avatar: The Last Airbender” OGN series with CBR TV, including how his involvement in protesting M. Knight Shyamalan’s whitewashing of the live action movie led to him landing the gig adapting the Nickelodeon cartoon to comics, how he views Avatar fan-fiction and ‘shipper writing, his role in wrapping up dangling plotlines from the first Avatar animated series, his upcoming project about the Boxer Rebellion and much more.
On landing the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” writing gig from Dark Horse: I was a huge fan of the original animated series. I watched it on DVD, late at night, usually way past my bedtime, I’d be watching “Avatar.” When they announced this live action movie, I was super excited about it. I thought it’d be amazing to see Appa’s fur in real life and all that kind of stuff. But then they announced the casting. When they announced the casting, I felt like it fit into Hollywood’s history of yellow-face, of taking roles that would most logically go to Asian or Asian-American actors and giving those roles to white actors instead. There’s just been a long history of this all the way from Fu Man Chu to Charlie Chan all the way up to movies like “21,” which came out recently. “21” is a story about these MIT students who do all sorts of crazy things in casinos. In real life, these MIT students were all Asian-American. In the movie, they’re not. I felt like the casting decisions behind the “Avatar” movie fit in with that. I was mad enough about it that I decided to do something online. I drew this little webcomic that said why I wasn’t going to go see this movie. It got a huge response, much bigger than anything I’ve done online ever before. One of the people who saw this comic was an editor at Dark Horse. When Nickelodeon asked Dark Horse to create this comic book series that would continue the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” story, this editor was assigned to that project and she asked me if I wanted to write it for them. I jumped at the chance.
On the dangling plot thread of Zuko’s mother from the original animated series: Mike DiMartino, one of the original creators, actually just did a blog post about it. He did it to coincide with “The Search’s” release in the comic book market, and he talks about exactly why they did that. It was his idea to leave that dangling plot thread. I remember watching that last episode and freaking out when that happened. They cut the scene exactly when Zuko asked that question to Ozai. Scene cut, you never find out. In the blog post, Mike actually talks about how he wanted these characters to feel like they had a life beyond the end of the series. Leaving these little threads was a way of doing that, showing there are other mysteries for them to solve, there are other questions they need to answer.
On his upcoming project about the Boxer Rebellion through First Second: In September, I have a project coming up called “Boxers and Saints.” It’s two volumes about the Boxer Rebellion and it examines the Boxer Rebellion from both sides. The Boxer Rebellion was a war that was fought on Chinese soil in the year 1900. It was between — on one side there were these poor, illiterate Chinese teenagers who believed that they could call down Chinese Gods from the sky and these Gods would give them superpowers. That was one side. They eventually team up with the Chinese Imperial Army. On the other side were European soldiers, European missionaries and Chinese Christian converts. The Boxer rebellion is in two volumes because in one volume, the Boxers — these teenagers — are the protagonists, and in the other volume, the Chinese Christians that they fought and killed are the protagonists. I actually picture this as two graphic novels that would be released in two different seasons. I actually finished the Boxer side a year or two ago. I thought First Second was going to release it then. I just finished the Saints side just a few months ago. First Second decided to put them together and give it the fancy box. That fancy format just puts so much pressure on me now.