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Ephemera from the Avatar Collection at Republic City University with notes and commentary by the archivists

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Ephemera from the Avatar Collection at Republic City University with notes and commentary by the archivists.

Many of these pieces lack provenience, as they were recovered after the Great Fire destroyed the Kuei Royal Collection at Ba Sing Se University.

The Avatar Collection is not available to the public. Scholarly inquiries should be directed to the Chief Archivist.



A sepia poster with two dragons intertwined in the shape of a heart; framed between them is an illustration of Zuko and Mai. Above them is the phrase Ember Island Theater


i. an early poster for Love Among the Dragons II
circa 2nd Year of the Firelord Zuko
artist unknown

text:
餘烬島劇院

Ember Island Players

Within weeks of the fall of Firelord Ozai, Pu-on Tim released the sweeping sequel to the Ember Island Players' popular Love Among the Dragons, which is regularly performed as part of the theatrical season on Ember Island. Although this is an early print, depicting the Firelord and Firelady soon after their ascension to the throne, it is not from the first season of performances - by the time of its production, the play was so popular that the title was not included on promotional posters.

Love Among the Dragons II, unofficially subtitled "The Zuko and Mai Story," remains a contentious production despite its popularity. On-Tim's portrayal of the Firelord and Firelady's encounters during the pursuit of the Avatar strikes many as unflattering - in Dragons II, Zuko is often angry and melodramatic while Mai remains cynical and unimpressed by his efforts to woo her. There are those, of course, who argue that such a presentation is more likely to be true than a more flattering portrayal, and the Firelord's regular attendance of the production when it was performed on Capital Island is also seen as lending credence to the events of the play. Persistent rumor suggests, however, that the Firelady never attended a production, even after the death of her husband and her assumption of the Regency. Regardless of the factual accuracy of the text, the production improved public perception of the imperial couple in the early days after Zuko's coronation.

–L.B.



A sepia poster with an inked drawing of Toph and Chinese text described below


ii. wanted poster for Earthbending Master Bei Fong Toph
6th Year of the Firelord Ozai
artist unknown
by kind donation from her daughter

text:
緝拿逃犯
當局懸賞一千金幣緝捕十二歲女童
她喬裝盲人個子雖小
極之危險
報訊即賞

Wanted — The Runaway.
Authorities are offering a reward of thousand gold coins for the arrest of this twelve year old girl.
She disguises herself as a blind person, and although she is small, she is extremely dangerous.
Any information will be promptly rewarded.

Master Earthbender Bei Fong Toph reputedly enjoyed the reputation that this poster gave her; although she could not read it in its original format, she kept it through the war period and later displayed it on the front wall of her Metalbending Academy, where another Master might have displayed their training history, credential, or glowing accolades for their skill. Indeed, according to Ho Tun, one of her first students, she had a vast collection of Earth Rumble prizes as well as documents from the Fire Nation Royal Family and King Kuei attesting to her strength and skill, none of which were displayed anywhere in the Academy.

According to Chief Bei Fong, this is the original poster that her mother carried through the war; on the reverse (not pictured) are some notes about the disposition of troops, perhaps made by Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe and Kyoshi Island before the failed invasion on the Day of Black Sun.

After a few years, Master Toph replaced this poster on her wall with a raised-print duplicate - one of the early examples of her collaboration with Teo the Printer. His raised print and colored print presses, which allowed him to refine the art of print-making to a breathtaking degree, were superbly machined and produced by Master Toph at her Academy.

–P.T.O.




A poster with pale colored drawings of Iroh and Zuko, as well as Chinese text, described below


iii. wanted poster for General Iroh and Crown Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation Royal Family
5th Year of the Firelord Ozai
artist unknown

text:
承烈火君命緝捕艾洛祖寇
二叛賊.艾洛将軍曾為平西
巨龍.祖寇*王子曾為火帝
儲君. 二賊違反國令.
拒絕征剿水族蛮子及捉拿
降世神通.格殺勿論.

By orders of the Fire Lord:
Arrest the rebellious traitors Iroh and Zuko. General Iroh, the Dragon of the West and Prince Zuko Crown Prince to the Firelord.
The (two) traitors disobeyed imperial orders to eliminate the Water Tribe Savages and to capture the Avatar.
Deathly force permissible.

The is the first of several wanted posters issued for General Iroh and the banished Prince Zuko during the later years of the war. Although even this early poster authorizes deadly force, subsequent repostings were even more urgent and vehement about the importance of their capture to the war effort.

Note particularly Zuko's name, written here as 祖寇 (ancestor robber); on the official seal of Firelord Zuko, it is written as 蘇科 (resurrected rule). The implication throughout the last years of the war was indeed that Zuko had abandoned or betrayed his ancestors by his efforts to protect Fire Nation citizens and the Avatar from Firelord Ozai and Firelord Azula; these characters are still used by some historians who consider Firelord Zuko's rule nothing more than a coup.

–L.B.




A poster with a pale inked drawing of Aang, as well as Chinese text described below


iv. wanted poster for the Avatar Aang
5th Year of the Firelord Ozai
artist unknown

Text:
緝拿 - 降世神通
該逃犯身懷截氣神功
能制起旋風飛遁如風
捕者慎之慎之
烈火君令

Wanted — The Avatar.
This fugitive knows Airbending, can create whirlwinds, and flee like the wind.
Hunters, be extremely cautious!
By decree of the Fire Lord.

This is the earliest extant wanted poster for the Avatar Aang that was issued by the Firelord Ozai. Admiral Zhao is said to have produced an earlier, unofficial poster that he frequently used to threaten other Fire Nation officials into permitting him to use whatever resources he required, facilitating his passage, or abandoning their own projects. His unofficial poster reputedly did not duplicate the Firelord's seal (which was a treasonable offense); instead, he relied on his ability to intimidate his fellow soldiers into overlooking its absence.

Regardless, this poster contains only the most basic information about the Avatar Aang; it does not list his name or the powers he utilized in the Avatar State, describing him only as an evasive airbender who would run instead of fight. I speculate that the misdirection in the poster text may have been indirectly responsible for the Avatar's ability to escape capture and subsequently defeat the Fire Nation Navy at the Siege of the North; if Admiral Zhao had only seen the Avatar airbend (which was the Avatar's preferred weapon throughout his life), and the descriptions of the Avatar listed only his airbending skills, this misinformation may have led Admiral Zhao to overlook the powers of the Avatar State.

–L.B.




A poster with a drawing of the Blue Spirit mask and Chinese text described below


v. Wanted poster for the Blue Spirit
5th Year of the Firelord Ozai
artist unknown

Text:
緝拿
蓝神
劫持降世神通
頭戴蓝色土國面具
身份不明外傳為鬼之說不足信
如探得行踪須全力以赴

Wanted
The Blue Spirit
kidnapped the Avatar from the Fire Nation.
Wears a blue Earth Kingdom mask.
Unidentified rumor has it that he’s a ghost.
This has not been confirmed.
If you locate his whereabouts,
use maximum force to capture him.

One of the enduring mysteries of the later war period is the symbol of the Blue Spirit. Military reports from the Pohuai Stronghold of the Fire Nation indicate that Aang was briefly a prisoner of the Fire Nation Army under the command of Admiral Zhao at that location. His escape was facilitated by the so-called "Blue Spirit," presumably an Earth Kingdom resident sympathetic to the Avatar's cause. The Blue Spirit wore a common Earth Kingdom theatrical mask, which has led several scholars to suggest that he was originally trained as a gymnast or tumbler and that his movements around the Earth Kingdom were driven by a theatrical tour. Others argue that the Blue Spirit was not an individual, but a group; the range of his operations throughout the Earth Kingdom may indicate a group of saboteurs acting against the Fire Nation. Almost every famous name of the war period has been proposed as a potential member of this group of saboteurs: Master Piandao of the White Lotus (though he was observed in Shu Jing during most of the attacks), Princess Azula's confidant Ty Lee (who was indeed an acrobat, though she never used the paired dao or any other blades), or Jet (though he typically used a pair of hook swords).

I must admit that I am partial to the suggestion, initially made by Master Toph, that the Blue Spirit was a disguise adopted by Firelady Mai to permit her to act against the interests of the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom to undermine Azula and the war effort. Scholars have tracked the Firelady's travels throughout the Earth Kingdom in the last years of the war and found numerous correlations between her presence and Blue Spirit attacks: the Firelady was docked near the Pohuai Stronghold on her way to Omashu (then New Ozai) at the time of Aang's escape; when the Blue Spirit attacked the Dai Li of Ba Sing Se and rescued the Avatar's Sky Bison, Mai was undercover in the palace of Emperor Kuei as a Kyoshi Warrior. Indeed, as Master Toph pointed out, Firelady Mai has a history of such activities, including the rescue operation to recover her children that she led during the later years of her Regency.

Regardless of the identity of the individual or individuals involved, the Blue Spirit continued to attack Fire Nation outposts in the Earth Kingdom until at least the 7th Year of the Firelord Zuko and has never been captured or unmasked.

–P.T.O.




A poster with a blue arrow on a gray background; the poster says 'let him be the last airbender' and 'end bender supremacy'


vi. Anti-Avatar Equalist Poster
circa 25th Year of the Firelord Zuko
artist unknown

Text:
let him be the last airbender
end bender supremacy

This is the earliest known Equalist poster, distributed in Ba Sing Se before the Great Fire, apparently in reaction to Avatar Aang and Master Katara's decision to open the Airbending Academy outside of Ba Sing Se. Although their son was then the only known airbender, the Equalists clearly saw the continued practice of airbending as a way to secure the continuation of bending practices after Aang's death. This poster picks up on a theme often expressed by the Fire Nation during the war: if the Avatar Aang was the last airbender, the cycle of the Avatar could perhaps be broken if he was unable to train airbenders to carry on his traditions.

During the construction of the Airbending Academy by Avatar Aang and Master Toph, these posters were distributed around the city by Equalist terrorists. Several attacks on the Airbending Academy forced its closure within weeks of its completion; Airbending is currently taught only in the protected ruins of the Southern Air Temple.

–B.C.




A line drawing of bodies in various positions showing chi meridians; there are orange dots on several of the lines


vii. chi-blocking leaflet
circa 5th Year of the Regency of Firelady Mai
artist unknown

The art of chi-blocking has been taught in select academies in the Fire Nation for centuries, though its exact origins are unknown. As anti-bending sentiment grew stronger in Ba Sing Se, however, chi-blocking became a popular topic of discussion and speculation; initial interest focused on the skills of the Kyoshi Warriors, but eventually the techniques were made public, either by keen observers of the Kyoshi Warrior techniques or by trespassers into the Ba Sing Se Library. This is a fragment of an early chi-blocking diagram that was distributed throughout the outer ring of Ba Sing Se; though the diagram's indicated points are not well-marked, many citizens were able to use the techniques against the Earthbending Police, resulting in the eventual admittance of non-benders to the Ba Sing Se Police Force.

–B.C.




A poster with a color-reversed diagram of Aang from the energy-bending scene in the series finale; he's a gray profile against a light background, with orange lines throughout his body


viii. Anti-Avatar Equalist Poster
circa 10th Year of the Regency of Firelady Mai
artist unknown

text:
he could have been the last airbender
end bender supremacy

Another Equalist poster, from a later period, this image draws on the Avatar's use of energybending against the Firelord Ozai and the Dai Li Earthbenders behind the Ba Sing Se coup. Although the Avatar Aang describes energybending as an ancient practice, it was entirely unknown to the public before his use of the technique in the last years of the war, and the details behind its practice remained mysterious until his interview with the Republic City newspaper in the 9th year of the Regency of Firelady Mai.

In that infamous interview, the Avatar Aang revealed the process of energybending, including its dangers - that the energybender could be consumed, corrupted, or killed by his target - as well as its potential - that in addition to removing the power from a bender, the skill could be used to transfer knowledge and power or to remove memories or skills. Energybending immediately became the target of a number of protests; there were those in Republic City who were concerned that the Avatar might use this power to create new airbenders, and those who were concerned that he might remove the anger or memories from anti-bending dissidents (or, indeed, that he had already done so). The Avatar Aang was reportedly surprised by the strength of this reaction; Masters Toph and Katara suggest that he had not previously been aware of the depth of anti-bending sentiment in Republic City.

This poster series by an unknown Equalist artist focused in turn on the possibility that the Avatar as we know him might cease to exist if he were consumed during energybending or on the absolute power that energybending gave him.

–B.C.




An image of a group of sky bison in flight; they are hornless and have manatee faces


ix. sky bison image from the Royal Zoological Collection of Kuei
17th Year of the Firelord Zuko
unknown artist

Then-King Kuei's interest in animals resulted in multiple Zoological Expeditions led by scholars at Ba Sing Se University. Though most of these expeditions resulted only in minor curiosities - Kuei's bear Bosco being perhaps the most well-known - the expeditions of Kuei's last years of rule discovered a group of sky bison near the Southern Air Temple, fancifully depicted here with airbenders in flight by the expedition artist. Sky bison were previously considered all but extinct after the destruction of the herds by Firelord Sozin. Although a single individual was brought back with the Avatar Aang, his companion Appa was the only known extant sky bison and the species was expected to die with him. The discovery of the herd of sky bison in tandem with the birth of Avatar Aang and Master Katara's airbender son Tenzin gave the world new hope for the future of the Avatar and the airbenders.

Note, however, the distinct facial features and lack of horns on this herd as well as their small size. Although the herd closely approximately the descriptions of the airbender's sky bison before great war, these distinct differences have lead to speculation that these sky bison were not the return of the sky bison of old, hidden away for a century in distant mountains. Rather, some zoologists say, they were likely the offspring of Appa and the manatee-sheep common in the Eastern Islands of the Earth Kingdom. For a comparison of these sky bison to Appa himself, see below.

–W.W.




A brown-and-cream line drawing of a sky bison with a smaller tail and more pronounced horns than the Appa in the show


x. sky bison image from the Royal Zoological Collection of Kuei
6th Year of the Firelord Ozai
King Kuei

After his first encounter with the sky bison Appa, King Kuei immediately sketched him from several angles to preserve a record of the magnificent animal. Although Kuei was no great artist, the general shape and size of this depiction can easily be contrasted with the later artist's work above.

Note in particular the horns (depicted here with an exaggerated curl or twist), the flat back, and the shape and placement of the tail. Male and female sky bison in the pre-war era were always depicted similarly, with curved horns and a flat back, characteristics that are not present in our modern sky bison.

Despite the suggestions of critics that modern sky bison only approximate the appearance of older sky bison and lack their skills and temperament, modern sky bison are capable of flight (and consequently must be airbending) and have been known to bond with modern airbenders.

–W.W.