Michael DiMartino and Irene Koh discuss Korra and Asami's expanding relationship in 'Turf Wars'
It’s been almost three years since The Legend of Korra signed off, leaving fans with the tantalizing scene of the show’s two female protagonists (Avatar Korra and Asami Sato) embracing and looking into each other’s eyes before going off into the sunset together. Fans have hungered for more ever since, and now Korra and Asami’s story finally continues in the sequel comic Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, the first installment of which is now available everywhere from Dark Horse.
Written by Korra co-creator Michael DiMartino and illustrated by Irene Koh, Turf Wars picks up right where the series left off, with Korra and Asami embarking on a romantic vacation to the Spirit World together. Even though Republic City is once again threatened by a dangerous new villain, Turf Wars‘ focus is squarely on Korra and Asami’s relationship. After their romantic getaway, they return from the Spirit World only to learn that Avatar World is plagued by some of the same prejudices and struggles as our own.
In the wake of the book’s release, DiMartino and Koh talked to EW about taking “Korrasami” relationship to the next level, and its role in larger queer representation in media. Check out that conversation below, along with the exclusive cover reveal for Turf Wars volume 3, due out next year.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Legend of Korra ended with Asami and Korra embracing and going off into the sunset (a.k.a. glowing spirit portal), which was awesome for fans but also left them wanting more. What did you like about picking up right where the show left off and showing both a fairy-tale vacation and the growing pains of a young relationship?
MICHAEL DIMARTINO: I wanted to see what happened after Asami and Korra stepped into the portal as much as anyone! And storytelling-wise, it was important to see how Korra and Asami’s romantic relationship began. If you skipped ahead too far, you’d miss out on so much, especially those growing pains. The challenge was to balance the fun and romance of their relationship with some personal strife. I didn’t want their romance to be too perfect, but I also didn’t want to saddle it with too much conflict, either.
Michael, at what point did you and (Legend of Korra co-creator Bryan Konietzko) first realize Asami and Korra were right for each other?
DIMARTINO: I think we always knew they were a good match, but like Korra and Asami, we first saw them as just friends. As the series progressed, we realized there might be more between them.
Irene, how do you pay homage to the art style of the show while also adding your own take to these characters?
IRENE KOH: I actually don’t aim to emulate the show’s art style, but I think because the core influences are the same (very figurative anime styles), my work is a sensible transition from screen to print. As well, I love really expressive character acting both in face and body language and put a lot of effort into it. The animation also has some great faces and movements (the foaming mouth guy from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the famous season 1 exchange between Korra and Lin Beifong, etc.), and so sharing these sensibilities hopefully makes the comic feel like a satisfying addition to the show.
For a franchise that has a lot of epic action and elemental battles, this story obviously focuses a lot more intimately on Korra and Asami’s relationship. What did you like about those small moments?
KOH: As I mentioned, character acting is my favorite thing to draw, and principally of that category is moments of intimacy. There’s a lot you can say with eyes, with little hand gestures, the way a body rests next to another, and it’s satisfying to be able to indulge in those moments. The audience can linger on them for a little longer because it’s on paper, and that’s something I definitely appreciate about the comics medium.
Asami and Korra’s burgeoning relationship prompts Kya to come out to them and explain a brief history of queerness in the Avatar World. How did you approach incorporating a history of queer representation/struggle into this universe?
DIMARTINO: This was a tough one, to be honest. I didn’t want to bog down the story with a lengthy history lesson, but it was important to address how LGBTQ individuals were treated in the general context of the Avatar universe. Bryan and I thought the best approach was to view LGBTQ representation through the lens of the different cultures. Admittedly, the background I wrote in Turf Wars volume 1 is brief, but I think it provides a context to LGBTQ history in the Avatar world, which could be expanded upon in the future.
KOH: The writing of that moment had been done, discussed, and edited far before I came onto the project, but I did chat with the team about it as I was drawing the pages. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to feel about a sort of very black and white approach to homophobia in the Avatar universe (I wanted it to be a little more nuanced, more complicated, maybe not even at all an issue in this world), but after a lot of reflecting and talking about it, I realized that there’s a lot of potency to seeing loved, powerful characters like Korra and Asami dealing with the same struggles I (and other queer people) face.
In that discussion, Korra and Asami reflect on how attitudes have changed over time. What kind of changes have you noticed in queer media representation since Avatar: The Last Airbender started, and what impact do you think Korrasami’s relationship will have in that regard?
DIMARTINO: Hopefully a positive one. The enthusiasm with which the finale and Turf Wars has been received has been humbling, to say the least. I’ve always intellectually known that diversity in media is important, but after hearing so many personal stories about how Korra and Asami’s relationship has inspired young adults to come out to their friends and family or let them know they aren’t alone, I feel that truth on a much deeper, emotional level. It reaffirms for me the undeniable power stories, and the media can have in our culture. When used in an affirmative way, a character or story can literally change a person’s life.
KOH: At least in my bubble of consumed entertainment, I have definitely noticed more overt expressions of queerness and gender identity than I’ve seen in western media before. There just isn’t a lot of queer content out there, so what we really need is diverse approaches. We need coming out stories, but we also need stories that have queer characters but are not centered on identity; we need both and everything in between.
For Turf Wars, we decided that we wanted Korra and Asami to be the kind of heroes who display resilience in a world that could possibly reject them, to be empathetic parallels for the audience. I know I would have needed this kind of thing as a teenager, so I hope this book can do some good for a young person reading it and struggling internally, to let them know that they’re not alone.