12:12 am EST, July 24, 2017

The spirit of ‘The Legend of Korra’ burns brightly at SDCC

By Michal Schick | Edited by Donya Abramo

The Legend of Korra returned to San Diego Comic-Con this year, with a panel heavy on comic book developments and Korra’s continued vitality.

The Legend of Korra kicked off with arrival of co-creator Mike DiMartino, Janet Varney (the voice of Korra), and “Turf Wars” artist Irene Koh (no relation to the creepy, face-stealing spirit of Avatar fame.) The first part of the panel looked back at the legacy of the series and its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

“I’m still amazed that we’re still coming to Comic-Con, you guys are still dressing up… it warms my heart,” DiMartino admitted. He and co-creator Bryan Konietzko had “set out to do something that had a timeless quality to it,” he said.

Previous work on animated sitcoms had given him and Konietzko experience in the business, but DiMartino noted, “for our souls, it wasn’t the greatest.”

“It’s not my forte,” he admitted. “We just both had a natural affinity for these deeper, spiritual stories.”

For Irene Koh, The Legend of Korra‘s legacy also lay in a personal experience. was more direct in her appreciation. The show continues to endure “Because it’s gay!” she laughed, referring to the show’s pairing of Korra and Asami.

“Seeing queer asian women as a queer asian woman,” said, “I was like, yes!!”

Janet Varney, who brought Korra to life, opined that both The Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender “are perfect to the core, both shows are so wise.” DiMartino and Konietzko, she says, “made a thing and you made your thing, you didn’t make somebody else’s.”

Their work “comes from the heart,” Varney concluded, and therefore persists in its power.

The conversation then turned to “Turf Wars,” the Legend of Korra comic book. First announced at San Diego Comic-Con two years ago, Part I will be released on July 26.

Mike DiMartino, who is writing the book, thanked fans for being patient over the long wait, and promised that “Turf Wars” will pick up immediately where The Legend of Korra left off.

“Usually between seasons we’d skip ahead,” DiMartino said, “But when Bryan [Konietzko] and I were talking about stories for this [we said,] you can’t just skip over the part where they go on vacation and the start of their relationship.

Irene Koh teased that Korra and Asami will have a nice time in the Spirit World — before the action kicks off, of course. Koh noted that she “was not asked to draw the book in the show style, which opened me up not just stylistically, but emotionally,” and that she still feels lucky to have been selected for the book.

“I just scribbled some lines and it worked out, with a lot of help from Bryan too!” she said.

DiMartino also felt cautious as he embarked on the script for “Turf Wars,” which was his first comic script. “You want to be clear about what the panel is supposed to show, but not dictate it,” he says, noting that the process was ultimately similar “what we did on the show.”

“There were definitely times when I was writing the panels when I was like, ‘How would Janet say this? or how would PJ [Byrne, voice of Bolin] deliver this?” DiMartino said. “Maybe someday we’ll stage a reading.”

“Your going to be the next Hamilton,” Koh quipped.

Like Dark Horse Comics’ previous outings with Avatar: The Last Airbender, “Turf Wars” will be released as a three-part comic. The cover for Part II, coming in January, was also shown at the Comic-Con panel — and makes it clear that things are going to get a little darker as the story progresses.

Though the comic book doesn’t require Varney’s voice, the actress said that, even years later, the character continues to resonate with her.

“I felt like I immediately identified with [Korra],” she said. “We want to see the humanity in our heroes and we want to see what tests them and their weaknesses too… It was the stuff about her that was the most vulnerable that made me connect with her.”

“I know that drove people crazy!” Varney acknowledged with a laugh. Still, those flaws continue to motivate her today.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to myself because I got to play this amazing character and she went through so much,” Varney continued. “I have said out loud, Korra wouldn’t stop here.”

Koh said that she feels a similar loyalty to the property and character of Korra that fuels her work.

“I don’t think my work is specifically politically charged, but my existence feels political,” she said. “I feel like being a bisexual asian woman working on this feels like an active act of defiance.”

The Legend of Korra panel concluded with a trivia game, with winners delivered signed art books by Janet Varney. The lighthearted atmosphere briefly shifted when one fan, dressed as Asami Sato, came to the mic to thank DiMartino, Varney, and Koh for their portrayal of queer Asian women.

Fighting tears, the girl recounted how the finale of The Legend of Korra served as a personal watershed, giving her the courage to come out months later. After a fierce hug from Varney, the trivia resumed, with the fans freshly reminded of Korra’s continued relevance.

And, of course, the essential humor at the heart of the series. When another fan hesitated over a trivia question — “This is really nerve-wracking, with the creator right here,” he said — DiMartino laughed.

“Guys,” he said, “I don’t remember half the answers!”

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