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.

Well-Worn Pages: REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

REDSHIRTS is actually the first Scalzi that I’ve read. I’ve loved his blog and twitter feed (@scalzi) for a long time. However, I hadn’t been driven to read any of Scalzi’s books until I heard the theme song that Jonathan Coulton wrote for REDSHIRTS.

Spoiler alert for the Star Trek illiterate – the term ‘redshirt’ is a reference to the nameless and soon-to-die extras who accompany main characters when they embark on ill-fated away missions. A redshirt’s sole reason for existence is to die a sudden and tragic death in some alien setting. They make their dialogueless sacrifices for us, the audience. They selflessly up the stakes for the imperiled – yet destined for future greatness – main characters.

Coulton captures the tragic absurdity of that meme perfectly. The song rocked. I loved the quirky play of an away mission gone bad story told from the point-of-view of a doomed, red-shirted nobody. I bought the song and learned the lyrics and how to play it on guitar. Eventually, Kindle decided that I should probably buy the novel that inspired the song. On a whim, I clicked on the recommendation and downloaded a copy. Having now read the book, I realize that Coulton had an awesome platform of inspiration for his song.

Turns out, I’m a Scalzi fan.

I don’t think I can give much more than the premise of the book without spoiling the story. Like the song, REDSHIRTS is a story about the universe’s expendable extras. I will say that Scalzi does a wonderful job of casting the unsung, the JV, the underdog. Of weaving the hopes and dreams of the unremarkable into the small, empty spaces that remain between lives of greater significance. He takes what is at heart an absurd premise and gives you a set of innocuous but motivated underdogs to cheer for.

It’s well worth the read.

I will say that I wasn’t a big fan of the codas. It’s nice to have a little glimpse into the story after the story. I’ll grant that. Also, the codas are an absolute clinic in first, second, and third person writing. However, I found them unnecessary and felt like they detracted from the story. I don’t know, maybe I was just worn out and ready for a break. I moved through the second half of the book at a bit of a sprit. Maybe I needed a little timeout before tackling the trio of epilogues. Despite that, I liked REDSHIRTS well enough that I went right out and picked up a copy OLD MAN’S WAR.

I finished OLD MAN’S WAR a couple weeks ago and will probably blog about it here in the next post or three. Right now, I’m treating myself to Scott Lynch’s RED SEAS UNDER RED SKY, sequel to THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. Lamora, incidentally, might just be the best book I read in 2012.

So many good books to read.

So many…

Let me know if you read REDSHIRTS and what you thought about the book in the comments.

UPDATE 2/22/13 – Check out Scalzi singing REDSHIRT with Jonathan Coulton and his band. I have no words. John Scalzi…. you, sir, are a trooper. 

Well-Worn Pages: CHILD OF FIRE by Harry Connolly

For years, I have been on a quest to find Urban Fantasy with awesome male protagonists.

There’s a lot of bleed between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, so you end up flirting with some of those genre’s female leads. I actually enjoy those books quite a bit, just so long as they don’t go all Ally McBeal – Season 3 on me. I am a staunch proponent of chicks in leather kicking monster-ass.

Regardless, it is definitely difficult to find cool male protagonists in Urban Fantasy.

So, how in the world did I miss Ray Lilly from Harry Connolly’s (@byharryconnolly) Twenty Palaces series?!?

Yeah… I’m going to be reading all of these books.

First off, thanks to CE Murphy (‏@ce_murphy) and Betsy Mitchell (@Betsy_Mitchell) for turning me on to the series. Second, shame on you two for doing it right when I was starting NaNoWriMo. Child of Fire was a wonderful way to spend a couple evenings curled up in front of the fireplace with the dogs and a bottle of wine. However, it most certainly did not net me any words.

This book is the first in the Twenty Palaces series, and it’s worth the read. However, if I understand correctly, Connolly recently released a prequel. I’m looking forward to that as well, but I don’t know if it would be best to read the prequel before or after the other books. Maybe someone who’s read them all can chime in with their opinion in the comments.

Child of Fire is not your modern day swords and sorcery type of story, it leans a little more toward the horror side of the genre. Connolly has his own style, to be sure, but his fantastical elements remind me more of Stross’ The Atrocity Archives than Butcher’s Dresden Files or Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles. There are big, bad nasties out there and they are not at all timid about gobbling up the whole planet.

This is a fast, fun romp over forty miles of rough road. Strong, distinct characters have the wheel, and don’t climb in if you’re a little squeamish.

I have a couple other books on my must-read list, but the sequel, Game of Cages is one of my post-NaNo, December rewards.

Well-Worn Pages: LEGION by Brandon Sanderson

A couple years ago, I stumbled on to the Writing Excuses podcast. The cast of host characters and their focused, topical style immediately hooked me. Since finding the podcast, I’ve read the works of several of the host authors, including an alpha-read of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Valour and Vanity. However, I had never read anything by Brandon Sanderson.

At several points, I’ve thought it would be interesting to create a poll asking: If you could spend an afternoon talking shop with any author who’s work you’ve never read, who would that author be?

For the past couple years, my answer would have been Sanderson. Again, I had never read a lick of his writing. I just love what the podcast gives to the writing community and I’d like to draft some Magic cards with the guy. Sounds like an ideal afternoon to me!

Well, I can no longer claim to have never read any Sanderson.

I just finished his new novella, Legion. I’d guess the book is approximately 20k words and it is chock-full of awesome.

Sanderson is mostly known for high thud-factor epic fantasies, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a shorter piece of his fiction. What I got was a small and rich cast of characters working to solve a straightforward problem. However, the story is driven by unexpected turns and carried by the most average – yet over-powered – protagonist ever. You’ll, uh… have to read it to know what I mean by that.

I doubt that I’ll make a habit of reviewing or recommending books. If you want to know what I like and don’t like, track me down on Goodreads.com. Legion, however, is a fast, fun, non-committal read and I highly recommend that you give it a look.

Also, if you have an author that you’ve never read but would love to meet and hang out with, let me know who and why in the comments.