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Originality in live-action fantasy is scarce. However, in the world of animation, there’s an explosion right now with Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning Tales of Arcadia trilogy, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts putting digital streamer Netflix at the epicenter. But, the streamer’s best animated fantasy is arguably The Dragon Prince, which levels up the quest archetype with its immense creativity, bold characters, and emotionally complex storylines that celebrate diversity.
The series, which premiered in 2018, takes place on the continent of Xadia, a magic-rich land derived from six primal elements. Humans can only use Dark Magic, extracted from the essence of Xadian creatures, with dragons at the top of the food chain. As human hunger for black magic intensifies, so too does the struggle for power.
The Dragon Prince is co-created by Aaron Ehasz, who was a co-executive producer on Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Justin Richmond who was the game director on the Uncharted franchise. They’ve constructed a world so massive that their first three seasons of the animated series offer just a glimpse of what’s still to come, including comics, books, and an immersive video game currently in development by their team at Wonderstorm.
The Dragon Prince utilizes a blend of computer graphics and 2D/3D hybrid animation, created through a partnership with 224 artists and animators of Bardel Entertainment (Rick & Morty, Teen Titans Go), as well as through the development of new, in-house technology. The results put the series on its own pedestal, both in its story and aesthetic. It’s a lot to take in, which is perhaps why Dark Horse Comics just released an oversized hardcover book, The Art of The Dragon Prince, offering a closer look at the creative process and some gorgeous details from the world of Xadia.
Hot off the announcement of Netflix green lighting The Dragon Prince for four more seasons and a Daytime Emmy win for Outstanding Children’s Animated Series, SYFY WIRE spoke with co-creator Justin Richmond about The Dragon Prince and the new reference book.
Congrats on securing the entire saga with Netflix, how does it feel to have that weight of the season-to-season renewals lifted off your shoulders, and just have the ability to crank out the next four seasons?
Justin Richmond: It’s incredible. Netflix is giving us this amazing chance to make the entire Dragon Prince saga. We always had a seven book/season vision for this story, and to actually get to do it is an honor that we aren’t taking lightly. Thank you to all the fans that watch this show and were vocal about wanting more!
It’s cool to have reference books like Callum’s Spellbook through Scholastic and now The Art of Dragon Prince to showcase the creativity and thoughtful world-building. Each adds to the whole picture created by the show (and video game). What do you and Aaron set out to do with each book?
We want each book to have its own flavor and style. The Art of The Dragon Prince was a chance for us to let people behind the curtain a little bit and show how the series was created and grew across the first three seasons. The writing team, Dark Horse, and Bardel all dug in and really put together something that I think our fans are going to love. If you want to know more about Xadia and our earliest thoughts on things like Dark Magic or things like what the alternate designs for the characters were, it’s all in here.
Like a Hayao Miyazaki world, the creatures help set The Dragon Prince from other series, and in the new book, readers will get to see the detail and thought that went into making the giant leeches, Phoe-Phoe, the Adoraburrs, and Runaan’s shadowhawk. What goes into creating the creatures and giving them a unique look?
One of the best things about the fantasy genre is that we get to play with monsters and creatures and things that don’t exist. The writing team spends a ton of time thinking about the creatures and how they might fit into our world, as well as being unique and awesome in their own way.
We also invite anyone at Wonderstorm or Bardel to pitch ideas for these things as well. Once we decide what is going into an episode and the designers at Bardel get their hands on the descriptions, they come back with some early sketches. We go back and forth for a few rounds and then move forward on the final design. It’s a very collaborative process and we always come out with something that is far beyond what we could have imagined.
Everything that I wanted to know more about while I was watching the show — learning about the primal sources, the Sunfire culture, Dark Magic, even developing Amaya’s sign language — you explain in one page “spotlights.” Why was it important to give fans this important background?
In the show, we have extremely limited storytelling time. You’d be surprised how quickly a 22-minute episode speeds past when you are trying to do world-building and tell a great character-driven story. So, when Dark Horse approached us about doing this book, we were super excited. This is the perfect format for us to give our fans a deeper look into the world that they can take their time with.
Will The Art of Dragon Prince hint on what’s coming next?
Although this book was all about the development of the first three seasons, there are definitely a few threads that will be picked up that are sprinkled throughout the chapters.
So is it safe to expect more artbooks, knowing that there are four more seasons to tell, and a video game in the works?
We’d love to continue working with Dark Horse to make more. The world of Xadia is expansive and we are just getting started. There is so much more coming, and we are excited to give everyone this same behind the scenes look at all of it when we get there!
Be sure to check out our eight-page preview below of The Art of The Dragon Prince, which is available now at comic book shops and bookstores. The first three seasons of The Dragon Prince are now available to stream on Netflix.