Dave Marshall Talks "Avatar: The Last Airbender"

On Free Comic Book Day, fans will have the chance to read two seldom-seen adventures of Aang, Katara, Sokka, and company as "Avatar: The Last Airbender" returns to comics. The issue, offered as a flipbook with "Star Wars: Clone Wars," is the beginning of Dark Horse Comics' plans for comics based in the world of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko's popular animated series, which concluded in 2008 after three seasons. The cartoon, created in America but with significant Asian influences in theme and style, starred a boy named Aang who is an Airbender by nature -- a person skilled in manipulating one of the four elements, according to his or her tribe -- but is also the current incarnation of the Avatar, a person capable of mastering all four elements. Joined by his friends Katara (a Waterbender), Sokka (her brother), and later Toph (Earth) amongst others, Aang endeavors to learn the several bending arts and combat the forces of the Fire Nation, the tribe responsible for the near-extermination of his people.

The Free Comic Book Day issue features short stories set during seasons one and two, the first by Johane Matte and the second written J. Torres and Ryder Wyndam with art by Gurihiru and Ben Dewey, and in July Dark Horse will publish "Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Lost Adventures," collecting material that originally appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine along with 70 pages of never-before-seen comics. In addition, Dark Horse has plans to release original material set in the "Avatar" universe. CBR News spoke with editor Dave Marshall about plans for "Avatar" and the broad appeal of Dark Horse's FCBD flip book.

Even before announcing the comics based on the cartoon, in 2010 Dark Horse published the coffee table volume "Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Art of the Animated series." "I think that both projects came from a deep love of the property and material. There are a lot of people here that were huge fans of the show, so I think Dark Horse wanted to be a part of that for a long time," Marshall told CBR. "That's how we go after a lot of our licenses. We tend to not pursue a broad swath of licenses, we tend to focus in on a few that we believe are very high quality and that we are very passionate about and think we can expand in a meaningful way."

The Free Comic Book Day offering includes two short "Avatar" tales set during different seasons of the animated series. One may look familiar to readers of the late Nickelodeon Magazines, but the other will not. "The first story, 'Relics,' has not been seen before," Marshall said. "Both of these of these stories are going to be collected in the 'Lost Adventures' trade paperback that's coming out in July. All of that material was produced for Nickelodeon before Dark Horse took on the license, but there's a bunch of material in there, 70 pages, that was never published before, that was produced for Nickelodeon and then never found a home. So 'Relics,' the first story, is one of those stories that's never been seen before, and then the second story, 'Dirty's Only Skin Deep,' is a fan-favorite story from Nickelodeon Magazine.

"'Relics' focuses on Aang and the group during the time of the first season of the show, and he discovers something that leads him to believe there are other Airbenders still alive, so he goes off to investigate that. It's sort of an exciting, sweet, sad little story," the editor continued. "Then 'Dirty's Only Skin Deep' takes place during the second season of the show, and that's a story that takes place shortly after Toph, the Earthbender, joins the team. There's some sort of hilarious antics that ensue."

Turning over the Free Comic Book Day issue, readers will find a new "Star Wars: Clone Wars" adventure. CBR News asked Marshall how these two series could serve as ambassadors for the rest of Dark Horse's all-ages line. "I think the two properties fit together very well because they are these kid-friendly properties that are also adult-friendly. They're very action-oriented, they have audiences that span generations," Marshall said. "If you've seen the 'Clone Wars' show, it really does't write down to the audience, and 'Avatar' of course is famous for being the same way. If you look at the comics market as a whole, the superhero genre is basically a kids' genre that has grown into an adult genre, and so I think 'Star Wars: Clone Wars' and 'Avatar' fit very cleanly into the comics market and into what Dark Horse does."

After getting a taste on Free Comic Book Day, readers can pick up a trade paperback of all Aang's comics to date in "Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Lost Adventures," featuring the talents of Aaron Ehasz, Josh Hamilton, Tim Hedrick, Dave Roman, J. Torres, Joaquim Dos Santos, Elsa Garagarza, Gurihiru, Corey Lewis, Johane Matte, Ethan Spaulding, and more. "There are also a couple of things from the DVDs as well, so not just Nickelodeon Magazine. It's basically every 'Avatar' comic ever, prior to the stuff that we're going to do," Marshall said. "A lot of that material was produced while the show was still on the air, and a lot of the show's writers and creators and stuff have contributed to that volume. I think that a lot of people have never seen this stuff, and I think 'Avatar' fans are going to be really excited by what's in here, because it dovetails into the show tremendously well."

Looking further into the future, Dark Horse plans to publish new "Avatar: The Last Airbender" comics, but Marshall said it was too early to talk about details such as creative teams for those projects, or whether there will be books based on the upcoming spinoff cartoon, "The Legend of Korra." Marshall did say, though, that the new series "takes place right after the show's ended, right afterward." "It's the core 'Avatar' team, and much like the art book, we're working very closely with Michael [Dante DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko] on the comics. They're intimately involved in the process. This isn't something we're doing on the side, this is very much an extension of their show and they're going to be involved at every step of the way."

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