Well-Worn Pages: ELFQUEST by Wendy and Richard Pini

I’ve seen lots of posts lately about the 35th anniversary of Elfquest. The combination of those reminders and my son’s current fascination with the series has me wanting to express my own appreciation. I’m not going to go into a description of Wendy and Richard’s series, there’s plenty of that available online. In fact, the entire Elfquest archive is available to read in their online gallery.

treestump

These graphic novels were a big deal for me when I was young. Elfquest, along with Asterix & Obelix, were the only “comic books” I read until someone gave me a copy of The Watchmen in college.

… which is the last comic book that I read.

I’m not even sure those count as comic books. So purists, yeah… please feel free to berate me if I’ve got the vocab wrong.

Anyway, I had the comics. I had the graphic novels. I had the role play game. I had the clunky Ral Partha miniatures. I remember reading an anthology of short stories. At one point I even ordered an “animated” version of the first graphic novel. I waited for over a year for it to come in the mail. One random afternoon there was a VHS-sized package waiting for me after school. It was… disappointing, to say the least. Basically, it was a frame by frame version with some narration.

Needless to say, I was (am) a big fan. Thanks Richard and Wendy for years of entertainment with your characters and their grim world of perilous adventure.

I want to start this post with a note on subversive material. Also, you can’t talk about Elfquest without discussing Wendy’s amazing artwork. Lastly, I’ll talk about how the story itself resonated with a daydreaming, bow-hunting, farmhand hick from the outskirts of a little town in Alaska.

All of the artwork that’s used in this post, including the reproductions of Wendy’s characters, is my own from the mid to late-80s.

strongbow

Subversive Material

I’ve been surprised at the amount of conversation concerning the subversive nature of Elfquest. I’m either remarkably tolerant or completely naïve – or, perhaps, a bunch of both. But whatever it is, I never picked up on the subversive undercurrents of the Elfquest story.

elfnpcFor me, Elfquest is the tale of a dude. The dude’s entire race is under siege and in decline. He wins the heart of an amazing woman and then loses his own to their children when they are born. Worried about what the future holds for the kids, the dude sets out to find others of their kind. Strife and turmoil ensue.

That’s what I got.

However, my experience with Elfquest centers on the first four graphic novels. Those books take Cutter and his tribe from their ruined forest home to the battle for their ancestral one. Maybe stronger political or cultural agendas were introduced in later works. I don’t know. At any rate, I can’t speak to any of that and there are already plenty of people who are. Go read their stuff.

The Artwork

For me, the art is the magic of Elfquest. I find Wendy’s work completely amazing and it had an enormous and obvious impact on my own artwork.

I managed to collect a complete set of the original 32-page magazine-sized issues. Somewhat sadly, I traded the set away for in-store credit at a local gaming store some twenty years ago. But I’ve never been much of a collector so c’est la vie. Those magazine issues let me see the evolution of the artwork from black and white on crappy paper to the awesome graphic novels. I loved it when the art went from black and white to color. Everything came to life.

However, the artwork lost some of its appeal when it went from hand drawn to digital. I think that’s why I didn’t keep up with the series after the

elves found the palace. I understand the rationale behind a move to digital media. I get it, but… I don’t know. It’s just not the same.

The Story

humanduelistI think one of the appeals of Elfquest is how different it was from the other fantasy and science fiction that I was reading at the time. Wendy’s fantasy world is a vast departure from the bulk of Tolkien-inspired material out there. It’s not human-centric with a plot driven by the machinations of great cities or states of man. There are no dragons or winged horses. There are strong characters of both genders. Not just strong in the martial sense, although there is plenty of that. There are characters made powerful by the strength of their conviction. There are characters made powerful by their adherence to tradition. Come to think of it… Elfquest is pretty character driven for a comic.

If I had to choose a real life analog for the tribes in Elfquest, I think it would have to be the Native Americans as settling Europeans were displacing them. Understand that this is a comparison that I drew as a kid. I’ve never heard the Pini’s mention it but at the time, it rang true for me. I grew up bowhunting in a very rural community. Reading and listening to my Dad tell stories about legends like Ishi had as much impact on me as any of the fiction that I read. Maybe that made it easy for me to find or imagine correlations between the plight of post-colonization tribes and the struggles of Cutter’s Wolfriders.

The two are very closely tied in my mind. So much so that in the mid-80s my dad made me a sinew-backed shortbow to replace the recurve that I’d outgrown. I loved that bow and, sadly, I eventually outgrew it as well. It still hangs in the library at my parent’s house.

Dad did, of course, let me name it New Moon.

suntoucher

So, there’s a random ramble about Elfquest on the year of its 35th anniversary. It’s a shame that I’ll never get to read those four graphic novels again for the first time and with the eyes of a ten-year old. Maybe I’ll pick a favorite scene and draw something for the first time in a long, long time. I’ll post it here if I do.

What’s your favorite Elfquest scene, character or bit of lore? Leave it in the comments, below.

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One thought on “Well-Worn Pages: ELFQUEST by Wendy and Richard Pini

  1. I have a similar path of discovery. I saw Wendy’s portfolio at a NYC Creation Con. Her pastels are SO AWESOME that you’d swear the elves themselves were posing for her. Their self published B&W comic was just too disappointing in comparison to the original art, but I rushed to snag a copy of Epic Illustrated #1 (fresh off the press) just for the short color comic by Wendy.

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