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‘The Legend of Korra’ Cast And Creators Chat About The Series’ Success [SDCC]

I’m a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, so it almost goes without saying that I love the follow-up series, The Legend of Korra, just as much. Like a lot of fans, I came away from the season finale wanting to know more, and fortunately, Comic-Con gave me the chance to get a few questions answered.

I talked to series creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, as well as actors Janet Varney (Korra) and P.J. Byrne (Bolin) about the show, the new, pulpier direction, the finality at the end of the first season, and the reactions they’ve gotten from fans — one of whom joined us for a few seconds of the interview!ComicsAlliance: Before I get into anything about the show, I always see that there’s a ton of people at Comic-Con cosplaying as your characters.

Bryan Konietzko: Yeah, there’s one right behind you.

CA: That’s the fifth Korra I’ve seen today, and I haven’t been on the floor. So what’s it been like to create something that the fans have reacted to and embraced so much?

Michael DiMartino: It’s awesome. I’m always amazed at the level of sophistication of the costumes sometimes, like that guy’s got faux fur on him. It’s very nice. It’s a very nice Sokka.

PJ Byrne: It’s only faux fur though, by the way.

MD: I’m pretty sure it’s not real.

BK: I think seeing the costumes is one of the most fun ways for us to really see the appreciation from the fans and how much they enjoy it. This guy has a full Pro Bending outfit. I love what they pick out and decide to embody.

Janet Varney: And representing the ladies, one of the first things that I thought when I saw Korra for the first time was “I want to look like that!” So I totally get it, because I really do. I love all of the clothes, and we were laughing because at the panel, these guys revealed some of the new costumes for Book Two, and people went nuts when they saw a cloak. But I was right there with them going “I love that Tenzin has a new cloak!”

CA: When you moved from doing The Last Airbender to Legend of Korra, did you feel like there was any pressure from fans, or even from yourselves, to tie them in more? You’ve got Toph’s daughter and Aang’s kids, but did you ever want to go any closer to that first series?

MD: Not really. Actually, that’s why we came back to do this. Nickelodeon was like “Hey, do you want to make something new in the Avatar world? As long as there’s bending and it’s Avatar, that’s cool.” So we didn’t have to retread the characters or anything. Any pressure was just on ourselves to make a really cool show, and make sure it was better than the old series, that the art was better and the stories were better. But we were never like “Everything’s got to tie in together!” We wanted to draw from the old series and definitely make it feel familiar and everything.

CA: Do you feel like it is better than the first series?

BK: To us, we weren’t trying to just continue the old series. We were trying to tell a different story, a different kind of story, different art direction. It’s got a different length for the arc so it has a different characteristic. On everything we do, even on the old series, on every episode we were trying to make it better than the last one. Every season, we try to make it better than the last one. So we decided to age it up a little bit and make it a little more sophisticated, not as many gags. We love the old series, and we’re not trying to knock the old series, but we’re just always trying to tell something different. Korra is its own series. Obviously it’s tied in, in the same world, a similar story, but it’s not just Book Four of The Last Airbender.

CA: As performers, were you fans of the first series, or was it something you had to go back and watch after you got the job?

JV: I wasn’t really going back, I had started watching the series before I knew anything about Korra, and the timing was actually really bad because you don’t want to want something that much when you audition for it. I just wanted it, so I’m really glad that it worked out, because I had just discovered the series, and I’m watching it and got a call like “the guys who did the Last Airbender are doing –” and I said “Don’t tell me any more!” So yeah, huge, huge fan.

PJB: I don’t think they told you, Nickelodeon actually asked them to create a vehicle for P.J. Byrne. I was like “I don’t want to be the main focus…”

JV: To be clear, I was a huge P.J. Byrne fan.

PJB: Correct: She was a huge fan of me, so I said “let’s put her in the show, give her a big part, I like her personality.”

BK: We were in the spectacle shop.

PJB: We both put our hands on the same frames and were like “Oh!”

PJB: And then we had to look through the glasses. If you look through these, you’ll actually see Bolin. Hey! Bolin!

[P.J. pulls a cosplayer dressed as Bolin into the interview.]

PJB: See, in real life I’m actually bigger than Bolin.

CA: Have you guys had any favorite moments from doing the show?

JV: These guys are tired of me crying every time I see new animation, that definitely keeps happening.

PJB: I was just saying the other day, right before we went out to do the panel, they showed that quick little two-minute blurb of the show and we were all emotional. It was just us and we knew this is their baby and it’s the culmination of their moment, and we were able to hear 4,000 people getting totally stoked, and we knew we were right about to walk into this wave of love. That pre-moment is always a wonderful, magic moment and it’s a great time for me.

CA: For the feel of the show, Last Airbender was very historically rooted, but also very fantastic — I mean, obviously, there were people throwing fire out of their hands, so there are a lot of fantasy elements. But for Korra, you followed a set timeline where things progressed and ended up with very much a pulp feel, like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Was there a time when you considered sticking with the older-style fantasy themes, or did you always want to get to this point and do a pulp story?

MD: The fantasy stuff has not gone away at all. When people see Book Two, that stuff hasn’t gone away, it’s all part of the world and that’s what’s going to be interesting as these stories develop. It’s this kind of more modern setting juxtaposed against much more spiritual, fantastical stuff. Those two worlds colliding.

CA: I actually just watched the last episode last night.

PJB: How’d you do?

JV: You all right?

CA: I got a little emotional.

PJB: That’s fine. You’re safe here.

CA: I was shocked when Amon and Tarrlok were on the boat. It was so surprising.

BK: It’s hard to surprise people with everything leaking on the Internet.

MD: You had to know!

CA: I stayed away from spoilers! It seemed like there was a lot of finality there, as opposed to continuing with that story. Was that always the plan, to do really defined arcs?

BK: Yeah, that was the big difference of Korra. The network originally wanted to do it in twelve-episode blocks, and that’s a length we really liked for storytelling. They wanted them to be a little more standalone. Obviously the main characters continue, anything that happens doesn’t reset in our world. Again, not that there was anything wrong with Avatar as far as we’re concerned, but it’s a different style and we like changing things up. It’s kind of like 24, a new bad guy every season, a new challenge every season, and the characters still have these arcs through the whole series.

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