SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 16, 2014

'Airbender' artist brings his prints to Beverly

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Bryan Konietzko always wanted to work on a large scale.

“Even as an art student, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “But I knew that I wanted to do something big and epic.”

That ambition has been realized in “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and its sequel “The Legend of Korra,” which have appeared over the last 12 years on the cable television network Nickelodeon.

Konietzko and co-creator Michael DiMartino have conjured entire worlds for these animated series, along with the people who inhabit them, many of whom possess magical abilities.

“We both started out as artists but had a lot of interest in storytelling and, ultimately, writing,” Konietzko said. “We both oversee and take part in pretty much every part of the process.”

But Konietzko’s ambition also extends to helping others, which is evident in the 17 prints he has donated to raise money for the One Fund and the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Currently hanging in the Schlosberg Gallery at Montserrat College of Art, the prints, which feature characters from the two Nickelodeon series, are up for bid in a silent auction through tomorrow

Konietzko will also hold a signing at the gallery, in the Hardie Building at 23 Essex St. in Beverly, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. tomorrow.

People are welcome to bring DVDs, sketchbooks or anything else for him to sign, or to just stop by and meet the artist.

“Sometimes, people just want to shake hands or get a picture,” Konietzko said. “Kids are into taking these selfies with people now; they actually like them more than autographs.”

The prints are drawn from the past 10 seasons of the two shows and depict a variety of characters, settings and moods.

“The show, at heart, is an action-adventure series, but it also has humor, serious or sad scenes and delves into some scary tones, as well,” Konietzko said.

There is a menacing aura to the figure in the print “The Blue Spirit,” who wields a pair of swords and played an important role in “Avatar.”

“This was one of the main characters, who would dress as his alter ego in a Chinese mask,” Konietzko said.

The swords are part of his disguise, because the character, named Zuko, would normally summon fire to use as a weapon.

“This Blue Spirit persona was something he created initially to do nefarious things,” Konietzko said. “He started out as a main villain, but over three seasons went through a character arc and ultimately became a good guy.”

In addition to serving as co-creator and executive director of “Avatar” and “Korra,” Konietzko has worked on the animated programs “Family Guy,” “Mission Hill” and “King of the Hill.”

He studied illustration at Rhode Island School of Design, where he and DiMartino were classmates, but explored several other types of artistic media.

“I was an illustration major but with an interest in animation and a lot of disciplines,” Konietzko said. “I took graphic-design classes and spent most of my time doing landscape paintings.”

Landscapes are still a major interest of Konietzko’s, and he posts photographs from a wide variety of natural and urban settings on his website, bryankonietzko.com.

“At the heart of it, I’m most interested in environments, landscapes,” he said.

Konietzko’s photographs of the Canadian Rockies and Death Valley have, at times, inspired the worlds that appear in his animated series.

“Once you have that setting, you imagine a character who makes sense in that world, and the story evolves out of that,” he said.

Konietzko has also given talks at companies and schools around the world and will speak at Montserrat’s commencement exercises today.

“It’s not easy making a living as an artist,” he said. “Since I’m usually talking to students, I like to give them some idea of how what they’re learning can be applied, an idea of how they might flourish.”