Hidden in the halls of Comic-Con International in San Diego was a first time creative crossover many fans probably assumed had already happened: the first meeting between “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comics writer Gene Yang and original TV show creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.
Though Yang has been writing the Dark Horse Comics continuation of the popular Nickelodeon animated series for over a year, his only connection to the creators has been through phone calls. Despite that, Yang admits their work bled heavily into his own process as he and artists Gurihiru prepared the next trilogy story in their comics run, “Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift.” “I feel really lucky to be working with them,” Yang told CBR News. “They’re world class storytellers and getting up close to get some insight into their process has been great to me. They tell me bits and pieces about ‘The Legend of Korra,’ and I try to throw in references to the bits they tell me, but I don’t think there will ever be that direct of a connection. ‘Korra’ is its own thing.”
“The Rift” continues the format set by earlier series “The Promise” and “The Search,” though Yang joked that the creative team failed to shorten the title of the book as they expanded its story scope. “We talked about the ‘The’ part. No one was too tied to it. But the problem became that when you look at the solicitations, it’s this long title. ‘Avatar Colon The Last Airbender Dash The Search.’ That’s gigantic! We tried to keep part of it short, but even with this new one, we ended up having a ‘The.'”
The new trilogy shifts its focus back to Aang and the building of Republic City — now well known to “Legend of Korra” watchers. Though it was too early in the process to talk specifics, Yang said he was looking forward to return to some of the core “Avatar” cast after spending time away in the Fire Nation for the currently running “The Search.” “That story felt like a story of the Fire Nation royal family. The core relationships are Zuko, his sister and his mom. Those are the relationships we wanted to explore all the way through, so how we thought about it was, “if these are the core relationships, how do the other characters reflect what’s going on there?” That’s why we only touch a little bit on things like Sokka and Katara’s relationship.”
In particular, the writer is aiming at a larger role for his favored cast member. “What happened to me is that as I watched the show, Zuko was my favorite character, but now that I’m writing it, it’s Toph. I mean, I liked Toph before, but now I love Toph,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the focus on the characters. We want to talk about the world in relation to the characters, so what we learn about the world will always be filtered through their eyes. Aang and Toph will be the center of this one. I missed having Toph in ‘The Search!'”
Wherever the titular rift forms amongst the comic’s cast, Yang promises plenty of story movement, and is looking forward to moving the overall plot forward in a way that’s slightly more substantial than the average TV episode. “I don’t know if there’s a one-to-one correspondence. A trilogy covers a little bit more than an episode, and each issue covers a little bit more than a segment of the show. It’s kind of its own thing.”
As Yang prepared the next volume, he’s continuing to learn lessons from the creators he met at Comic-Con, as well as from those he hasn’t yet encountered. “I think I’ve grown in admiration for those writers. It’s amazing what they were able to do. I have to rewatch the episodes that have to do the issues I’m currently working on. Just the other day, I rewatched ‘Avatar Day’ episode, and it’s amazing! The writer John O’Bryan — the connections he made between the parts of the show were so deep, and it was all in 22 minutes. Shockingly good!”
Finally, while the “Avatar” comics have operated as trilogies since their start, fans shouldn’t necessarily look at “The Rift” as a finale for the series’ comic incarnation. “I think it will just continue,” Yang said. “What Mike and Bryan wanted to do with the comic was show that the characters still had a life after that last episode, and we’re going to keep going on that idea.”
“Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift, Part 1” debuts March 5, 2014 from Dark Horse. The second volume of “The Search” is available now.