The "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and "The Legend of Korra" panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego kicked off with a full house and a deafening round of applause as show co-creators Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko looked back on the hit Nickelodeon series and looked to the future of the franchise, in a panel moderated by Dark Horse Publicity Coordinator Steve Sunu.
And while the big announcement was saved until the panel's close -- a new "Legend of Korra" comic book will be launching with DiMartino at the helm, picking up where the series ended -- the creators held the attention of each and every fan in attendance as they revisited the beloved animated show.
"It's been so great to see how much ['Korra'] connected with everyone, especially the very end of the series," DiMartino said. "It's touched people on an emotional level in a way that I didn't expect."
Konietzko talked about how overwhelmed he was by fan reaction during an impromptu tour speaking at colleges right after the show ended and reflected on the range of reactions that the finale inspired. "No matter what you do, statistically, you're going to get every reaction... If you choose one pairing, a certain number of people are going to be happy, and a certain number of people are going to be unhappy. We're just making sure that we like it and that it's right and organic."
Both had high praise for the creative team behind Dark Horse's "Avatar" comics, writer Gene Yang and art duo Gurihiru. DiMartino said Yang "brings a thoughtfulness and emotional depth to the characters." "We're lucky to have the three of them, and Dark Horse," Konietzko added.
"Their lives did go on, as we allude to in 'Korra,'" DiMartino said. "In the comics, we get to explore some of those."
"I don't feel the need to keep hanging out with the characters," Konietzko interjected. "We have a story to tell and we told. I imagine in my heart that they keep living, but I don't need to see them go to the grocery store."
"That's the next volume," joked DiMartino.
As previews of the upcoming fourth volume of the "Legend of Korra" art books, due out in September, appeared on screen, Konietzko said, "These are really fun for us. The 'Korra' crew were like a family, and they're so unbelievably talented and dedicated, and got along so well... Putting together these books, it's like a love letter, like a family album."
"I just wanted something that would look cool in cosplay," Konietzko said of Kuvira's character design. He was excited to design a uniform for a military dictator because "they're horrible people, but they have cool outfits."
Sunu speculated that Korra featured more different looks in the fourth season than the rest of the series combined. "It's not that I get tired of the characters' looks, but you see it over and over again making the show, so it's like a fashion show when they put on something else," Konietzko said.
"There's so much art that goes into the show, and a lot of it is only seen for a couple seconds," DiMartino said. Through the art books "you can really appreciate some of the detail work that went into the show." Konietzko explained that because of Sokka's complete lack of artistic talent, one of the writers for the show drew all of Sokka's art, which is presented in the book. For "Korra," they reversed that idea: "At some point, we decided Meelo should just be amazing," Konietzko said with a laugh.
"I kept pushing for a redesign of her main costume [by the end of the fourth season]," Konietzko said. "I thought it was a chance to update it, and I thought it would also show that she had gone through a change." While his initial inspiration came from teenage snowboarders, with large boots and an athletic top, her last outfit took more inspiration from superhero costume design.
About the metalbending city Zaofu, DiMartino said, "It's one of my favorite locations and cultures that we've done. We just liked the idea of Suyin establishing this almost utopian society of very skilled people. But there can be problems with that."
While looking at Hummingbird schematics, Konietzko said, "I want to see a cosplay of this thing."
"Whatever his story was, it never kinda dovetailed with what was going on in the present day story," DiMartino said of Sokka.
"The characters become so real to us, the longer you work on them, that the version you had in your head before you started changes so much," Konietzko said. "The character grows, and we just respond to that."
Sunu posed a fan question about why the Harmonic Convergence affected the airbenders. "We always talked about it as an energetic shift in the universe," explained DiMartino. "The world has this consciousness and it's rebalancing itself, in a way."
Both creators are now pursuing their own projects: DiMartino's middle-grade book series "Geniuses: The Creature and the Creator," coming Fall 2016 from Roaring Brook Bress and Konietzko's "Threadworlds" graphic novels, coming from First Second in 2017. DiMartino reassured fans, "We didn't break up, but we are working on different things."
The panel ended with the announcement of Dark Horse Comics' "The Legend of Korra" series, written by DiMartino, which will continue the story after the show. Sunu encouraged fans to spread the word: "Let them know Korra's coming back!"
The first of three planned volumes will focus on Korra and Asami's relationship, promised DiMartino. "It's tough for me to have our characters and our world continue on with some other team," Konietzko said. But when DiMartino agreed to write the comics, his reluctance disappeared: "Now, I'm super excited!"