Sunday afternoon at New York Comic Con 2014, Avatar: The Last Airbender superfan Avatar Mom moderated a panel that included fan artist Monica McClain, puppeteer Kevin Coppa, Nickelodeon Magazine contributor Alison Wilgus, and actor Jessie Flower, who voiced Toph Beifong. This was the fifth “Legend and Legacy” fan panel for the animated series.
“I am incredibly honored to be here,” McClain said. The illustrator and cosplayer showed images of her fan illustrations and costumes, including masks.
She referred to herself as a “recent fan,” having discovered the show after The Last Airbender ended in 2008. A professional illustrator and art instructor, McClain still finds time to create art inspired by the series. “Fan art gives me the opportunity to really experiment in my work,” she said.
Coppa showcased a different type of fan expression, through puppets. His YouTube videos show “behind the scenes” interviews with the show’s characters, played by puppets. He screened a Puppetbenders parody of the SNL digital short “Threw It on the Ground,” and showed photos of the puppet-making process.
He called the convention a “homecoming” for Puppetbenders, saying that the first puppets were created for Dave Roman’s fan panel at NYCC 2008. Since that first effort, the videos have taken off, to the point that a Puppetbenders feature, “The Making of a Legend: The Untold Story,” was included in the Legend of Korra Season 1 DVD collection.
“This led to something so cool. Fans and creators of the show are coming together and enjoying each other’s work,” Coppa said. “There’s not a whole lot of TV shows out there where fans get to have so much fun interacting with each other and interacting with the creators of the show.”
Wilgus opened by sharing an unpopular opinion. “I have a confession to make: When I first heard about Avatar, I thought it sounded really stupid,” she said. However, after some convincing by Nickelodeon Magazine’s Dave Roman, she began watching the show and became a fan.
During her time at the magazine, Wilgus worked on its Avatar: The Last Airbender comics. “Nick Magazine is for kids, but especially as Avatar started getting more and more popular we knew that a lot of fans were also going to want to read these comics,” she said. After Nickelodeon Magazine was discontinued in late 2009, “We had something like 60 pages of comics that were written, drawn, and colored, were completely finished but had never made it into the magazine,” she said.
The comics were collected in 2011 by Dark Horse into Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures. “Thank God Dark Horse actually stepped in and published them,” Wilgus said. “We’re so happy that people can read them.”
Flower described her unconventional audition for the part of Toph, explaining, “I was actually in Indiana at the time, with my grandparents. We went to the closest studio, which was like 20 minutes away, and my grandmother just decided to be in the recording booth with me and do the voice of the Boulder while I did the voice of Toph. And so of course me and my mom were thinking, ‘OK, this is not going anywhere, we’re going to send this in and it’s going to be ridiculous.’ But they ended up liking it, so they called me back in and after a couple more meetings I was placed into the show.”
Flower sang a song and played the part of Toph during a reading from Dark Horse’s The Rift Part 2 comic.
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