Even though the animated series The Legend of Korra wrapped up in December, fans of the show and its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, were still surprised when creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino announced at a tribute art show in March that they would—at least temporarily—no longer be working as creative partners. There was much speculation on why the split happened and what the creators would be doing next, and this week both answered the latter question with the reveal of two intriguing new projects.
In a Tuesday blog post, DiMartino said his first solo work would be a book trilogy for middle-grade readers titled Geniuses. The opening book, Geniuses: The Creature and the Creator, will take readers into a Renaissance-era fantasy world where an artist’s muse is a living being that acts as a guardian angel. In this universe, twelve-year-old artist Giacomo hides in a secret studio to develop and protect his Genius from the overbearing government that seeks to destroy them. Yet circumstances will lead him to setting off on a quest to find a “Creator’s Compass” that a rogue artist plans to use for nefarious purposes.
DiMartino said the idea, which he has been thinking about off and on for about a decade, came from a passage in a book about painter Leonardo Da Vinci that said in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, geniuses were conceived of as the artist’s protective spirits. He said he would also be illustrating in the book in the style of Da Vinci’s sketches.
“In high school, as I became more serious about art, I hungered for stories about artists, but they were hard to come by,” DiMartino wrote on his blog. “I read biographies of painters, but in the fictional realm, only The Fountainhead and My Name is Asher Lev provided stories in which the artist was the hero. My hope with the Geniuses series is to give kids the type of book my younger self would’ve loved growing up—a novel where artists are heroes, where creativity and inspiration can lead to a life-changing adventure, and where art is magic.”
The announcement came one day after Konietzko said that he has started work on Threadworlds, a planned five-volume sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel series to be published by First Second. Konietzko says the title Threadworlds refers to five planets that share one orbit in his particular world, and that the main character will be a girl named Nova who he describes as a “scientific superheroine.” Nova comes from the most primitive of the planets, an empire where girls aren’t allowed to read or write, but her scientific pursuits takes her on a journey across the five planets to search for others like her.
“Once I came up with the idea for Threadworlds and spent some time thinking about its main character, Nova, it became less of a choice and more of something I simply had to do,” Konietzko said. “The things Nova wants to learn, I want to learn. I am compelled to go on this journey with her and explore these worlds together.”
The concept art for the project shows pictures of two sisters who are some kind of cross between people and kangaroos (although I think they look a bit more like rabbits), what looks like a robot, and gorgeous landscapes. Konietzko told Entertainment Weekly in an interview that he’s still in the process of writing volume one now and doing concept art and character designs.
DiMartino’s first book will be published by Roaring Brook Press and is set to come out in Fall 2016. The first volume of Threadworlds is set to come out in 2017.
While neither project is possible to judge at this time, publisher First Second seems like a good home for Konietzko. Gene Luen Yang, the writer of Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender spinoff comics, has published most of his independent work with the company, including The Green Turtle, Boxers & Saints, and the National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese. Faith Erin Hicks, a popular webcomic artist and longtime Avatar fan who drew a Yang-scripted story about fan-favorite characters Suki and Sokka for Free Comic Book Day 2014, has also published two books with the company: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong with Prudence Shen and Friends with Boys.
As for DiMartino, I haven’t read middle-grade books in years, and I don’t recognize anything from the Roaring Brook line, but it seems to feature similar fantasy novels like Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith and Abby Carnelia’s One and Only Magic Power by David Pogue, as well as period books like The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry and Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper.
Avatar and Korra were far from the first project for either creator. Both worked on animated comedy series, such as Invader Zim, King of the Hill, and Family Guy. Yet this one-two punch of announcements is an interesting study in comparison and contrast to their previous work and each other. Like Avatar, Geniuses follows a special twelve-year-old boy from a fantasy world based on a past civilization going on a journey, while the superheroine scientist Nova’s storyline has much in common with Avatar’s second lead, Katara, who fought for her right to learn how to waterbend upon journeying to the sexist Northern Water Tribe. Like Aang, both Giacomo and Nova will be going on a journey with other talented people, and Nova will even get to explore radically different cultures. On the other hand, scientist Nova stands in contrast to Geniuses’ artist hero. While both will probably have elements of fantasy and sci-fi, like Korra’s steampunk-influenced world, it’s also clear that Geniuses will have its foot more in the former genre and Threadworlds more in the latter.
At this juncture, Threadworlds seems to have more appeal to me. As one of the fans who thought Asami Sato was woefully undeveloped, particularly considering the end of the series, I’d like to see what Konietzko can do with a female scientist front and center. And while I do like the idea of a novel series about artists, the censorship and “artists are wonderful and special” metaphors at the heart of Geniuses seem a bit too on-the-nose (that DiMartino brought up The Fountainhead in his blog post in connection with this story makes me a bit nervous).
Still, while many Avatar and Korra fans are speculating if Konietzko and DiMartino will return to the world that made them famous, especially in anticipation of their panel with Dark Horse at the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) on Friday, many are also pleased about the announcements. Konietzko’s Tumblr post on his new project earned almost 9,000 notes as of Tuesday evening, and DiMartino’s had almost 1,700.
Despite fears of an acrimonious break-up, each creator had a congratulatory note for the other on their Tumblrs.
“[DiMartino] has had this project in the works for so long, it is truly wonderful as his friend to see him finally bring it to life and share it with the world,” Konietzko said of Geniuses. “I can’t wait to read it!”