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Learning how to metalbend with FAITH ERIN HICKS

Cody of Keeping it Geekly welcomes Faith Erin Hicks into the Yeti Cave today to talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender - Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy, which was published through Dark Horse Comics on February 17, 2021 and accompanies her suite of Avatar graphic novels. It’s time to dive into this 80-page trade paperback and learn about its creation!

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Hello and welcome to the Yeti Cave, Faith! Thank you for joining us today to talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender - Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy. Feel free to have a seat and tell us a bit about yourself!



FAITH ERIN HICKS: Thanks for having me! I’m Faith, I live in Vancouver, Canada and I’ve been making comics foreverrrrr. I started out writing and drawing webcomics before transitioning into print. I’ve had sixteen (I think?? Kinda lost track) original graphic novels published (mostly by First Second Books and Dark Horse Comics) and have written Avatar: The Last Airbender comics for about six years now. 



CBY: You are credited with an astounding amount of titles, including several from Avatar and one of my favorite video games to comic book adaptations - The Last of Us: American Dreams. Can you explain to our readers some of the challenges of translating a story from a different medium into comic book format?



FEH: With comics, especially licensed comics which often have a limit on page count, you have so much less “time” to tell a story than with a video game or TV show. It’s always a challenge trying to squeeze an Avatar-style fight scene into a handful of pages, but my collaborator Peter Wartman does an incredible job! The advantage of comics is that you get the opportunity to tell stories that the TV show or game might not want to focus on or have the budget to tell, so you are able to explore the fringes of that world in a way that’s really fun. A story like Azula in the Spirit Temple wasn’t possible in the Avatar TV show, but in the comics, we get to throw Azula into this wild situation and see how she reacts.



CBY: How many titles from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series have you worked on? What were the circumstances that led to you getting involved with the franchise?



FEH: First there was Imbalance, which is one complete story but originally was published as three separate books. That takes place after the events of the Avatar show and also after the comics made by Gene Yang and Gurihuru. Then Peter and I did three stand alone Avatar graphic novels, one about Katara that happens during the season 2 timeline (Katara and the Pirate’s Silver), one about Toph that’s after the show and about her setting up her metalbending academy (Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy) and one about Suki about her time at the Boiling Rock prison (Suki Alone). We just had another stand-alone graphic novel come out about Azula after the events of the show (Azula in the Spirit Temple) and a GN about Uncle Iroh and June the bounty hunter going on an adventure together will be out in the late summer. That is a LOT of Avatar! As for how I got the job writing Avatar comics, I’d met Bryan Koinietzko and Mike DiMartino through being an online fan of Avatar (I did a bunch of comics and artwork talking about being a fan of the show), and I’d written and drawn a fantasy graphic novel trilogy called The Nameless City that was partially inspired by Avatar. So Bryan and Mike knew my work and knew I loved the Avatar world. Dark Horse reached out to me when Gene Yang wanted to move on from the project, and I got the job! I’m still pinching myself, to be honest. 





CBY: I had the opportunity to read a copy of Avatar: TLA - Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy and loved the path that was given to Toph. It feels rare that we get to see such highly regarded individuals get a spotlight on basic human needs such as excitement. What was your reasoning for exploring this path with her?



FEH: Man, I get Toph. Like, I love my job, I love making comics. It’s my dream job, but also some days it can feel kind of rote, you know? And I saw that happening to Toph as well, once she’d settled down and started her Academy. There’s enjoyment in having your life figured out; it’s not nearly as stressful as when you’re dealing with early career days, and struggling to make ends meet, but there’s an excitement that comes with that stage of your life. Everything is new and different and you get to try things you’ve never done before. That’s Toph’s experience as well. She’s done these incredible things, discovered a whole new way of bending, and it’s just become…kind of boring, eventually. She’s climbed all the mountains in front of her. I don’t think she’s the kind of person to just stay put and be content. She needs new challenges, and that’s what she goes searching for.



CBY: Toph is most notably a blind earthbending master who was the most powerful of her time and taught Avatar Aang how to earthbend. What were some of your favorite aspects of working with this character?



FEH: This feels a little cliched to say in the year 2024, but back in the Aughts when Avatar first aired and I first watched it, I loved that she was such an unconventional girl character. She was tough and dirty and talked smack and reveled in her power as a bender, and that was something I hadn’t really seen in animation, like, ever? Now things are different, and we see more of a variety of girls and women in animated shows, but back when season 2 of Avatar was airing, there was no one like Toph. And I loved her.



CBY: In a world that is so rich with lore and so many different adventures, was it hard to refrain from touching on multiple parts of the series? I feel like I would be prone to trying to leave bread crumbs to everything I could!



FEH: I’ve done that, actually! The first Avatar story I wrote, Imbalance, was very much inspired by events in The Legend of Korra. In Korra, we see non-benders pushing back against bender rule after years of benders abusing their powers. Imbalance is about the rise of bender supremacy, which made perfect sense to me. Avatar is a world where some people have literal superpowers. Wouldn’t some of those benders be horrible people who’d see themselves as better than others, and want to oppress and exploit them? A lot of the fun of writing the comics for me is picking up the story crumbs left by the show and expanding on those unexplored ideas. 



CBY: If you could bend any element what would it be and why??



FEH: I’m partial to earthbending. It just seems so cool to be able to chuck rocks. 



CBY: Are there any upcoming projects you can discuss with us or anything you would like to promote? Where can our readers stay up to date with you?



FEH: Find me on Instagram at @faitherinhicks. I post about my comics and also pictures of my cat. As for upcoming work, check out the newest Avatar comic, The Bounty Hunter and the Tea Brewer, in which Uncle Iroh and June the bounty hunter go on a life-changing adventure together! It’s drawn by Peter Wartman, colours by Adele Matera and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing an Avatar script. I believe it’s out in August from Dark Horse Comics. 




CBY: Thank you again for chatting with us today, we wish you the best with your future endeavors and can’t wait to see what titles you work on in the future!



FEH: Thanks again for having me!


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