Toph goes solo in new Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel

Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy
(Image credit: Peter Wartman/Adele Matera (Dark Horse Comics))

Return to the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender (opens in new tab) in another in-continuity comic book adventure this month - this time focusing on Toph and her Metalbending Academy.

Following up from 2020's Avatar: The Last Airbender - Katara and the Pirate's Silver (opens in new tab), writer Faith Erin Hicks and artist Peter Wartman are back here with Avatar: The Last Airbender - Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy (opens in new tab). In this new OGN, Toph is bored by the day-to-day routine of teaching, and is looking for more adventures, which leads her to an underground bending fight ring.

With Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy going on sale on February 16, Newsarama spoke with both Hicks and Wartman about the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise, its future, which Avatar characters they'd like to give the spotlight to next.

Newsarama: Faith, what made you want to work on a Toph-centric graphic novel with the Metalbending Academy at the center of the story?

Faith Erin Hicks

(Image credit: Nathan Boone)

Faith Erin Hicks: Toph is my favorite Avatar character, so when we started doing one-shot Avatar The Last Airbender stories, I knew I had to do one about her. I liked the idea of exploring Toph in the role of a teacher; she's clearly great at the job, but she's also pretty reluctant. It's a role forced on her by necessity, and it's fun to see her rise to the challenge, usually through lots of yelling.

Nrama: Are there things from her past that you get to explore?

Hicks: We didn't really explore her past, although Toph looks back on parts of it as she realizes she has to move forward. 

The theme of the book was me thinking about different stages of your life, and how when you're more secure, stable, and settled you can look back at earlier, more difficult stages and observe them with rose-colored glasses. In the past, Toph loved beating up other benders in the Earth Rumble tournaments, but she was also hiding her true self from her family. 

Now she's able to live openly and is renowned as one of the most powerful earthbenders in the world, but that notoriety also comes with responsibilities. And she has to accept that change in her life.

Nrama: Will we see more of Toph's original students?

Hicks: Yep, they're all in there! They've grown up a bit as well.

Nrama: What other Avatar characters can you tease that will be joining Toph on this adventure?

Hicks: Besides Sokka and Suki, we also see the return of the traveling musicians from the 'Cave of Two Lovers' episode. I thought it would be great fun to see what that group was up to after the war. Their success is a little surprising, but I think it's hilarious.

Nrama: Now Peter, from an art perspective, did you have the chance to explore different sides of earth bending in this volume?

Peter Wartman

(Image credit: Peter Wartman)

Peter Wartman: Without spoiling anything too much, there absolutely is some unique earth bending that happens in this book. I've always liked how each of the elements has a lot of complexity and variation within them, and it was fun to explore some of that (and to figure out how to draw it).

Nrama: Did you get to draw any new characters? If so, what went into designing them?

Wartman: A few! Some of the new characters draw a bit from professional wrestling (or at least echo the Avatar episode 'The Blind Bandit,' which was also pulling from that world), and I took some character design cues from a certain '80s Hong Kong action movie star that I'm curious if people will pick up on.

More importantly though, I tried to design the characters to fit the story. A naive kid who is in way over their head and a bit out of place, in this case. Hopefully, it comes through.

Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy

(Image credit: Peter Wartman/Adele Matera (Dark Horse Comics))

Nrama: What do you like working on more, these one-and-done graphic novels or the three-part stories? Do you see doing more three-part stories in the future?

Hicks: Doing these stand-alone stories is a LOT less stressful than doing a massive, post-show story like Imbalance (opens in new tab). I really like playing around with the characters when they're less powerful, and still in the process of trying to complete their main quest to defeat the Fire Lord. 

Overall, I'd say these shorter stories are just a lot of fun to make. However, I'd definitely be up for doing more post-show, post-Imbalance stories if the opportunity presented itself.  

Wartman: I'm not sure what form these graphic novels will take going forward, but I have really enjoyed telling the shorter, self-contained stories. It was great being able to develop Imbalance over several books and let us set up character arcs that wouldn't have worked otherwise (especially with our villains), but doing the shorter books lets us experiment a lot more. 

I had to draw a LOT of rooftops for Imbalance as we were stuck in one location, but with the last three books we've jumped all around the Avatar world and that's been a lot of fun.

Nrama: Is there another Avatar character you'd like to put the spotlight on with their own graphic novel?

Hicks: I'm itching to take a crack at Azula. We'll see!

Wartman: I'd love to focus on Sokka at some point!

Nrama: Would you like to work on a sequel to this story or do you feel like it was a one and done narrative?

Hicks: This is one and done. I feel like we've left Toph and her school in a good place, where you can see the natural progression to where she ends up in Legend of Korra. Maybe we'll see Toph and her students again in future stories, but probably not in the same context.

Wartman: I think there's always space for more stories set in Toph's academy, but this story is its own, complete thing.

Nrama: You also have an upcoming Suki book, Suki, Alone. What can you tell us about that?

Hicks: It's gonna break your heart!!!!

Wartman: It has a different tone than we've done before -- much more melancholy -- which has been interesting to work on. Also - it's Suki, and Suki is cool.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy goes on sale on February 16 in comic shops, book stores, and on digital platforms. For the best digital reading experience, check out Newsarama's list of the best comics readers for Android and iOS devices.

Kat Calamia

Kat has been working in the comic book industry as a critic for over a decade with her YouTube channel, Comic Uno. She’s been writing for Newsarama since 2017 and also currently writes for DC Comics’ DC Universe - bylines include IGN, Fandom, and TV Guide. She writes her own comics with her titles Like Father, Like Daughter and They Call Her…The Dancer. Calamia has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and minor in Journalism through Marymount Manhattan and a MFA in Writing and Producing Television from LIU Brooklyn.