If you are a lover of graphic literature, then Wendy and Richard Pini are names that are probably already very familiar to you. Trailblazers in the world of self-published indie comics, they introduced Cutter and his tribe of elves, the Wolfriders, in the first issues of Elfquest back in 1978. Since those humble origins, the two have continued to publish Elfquest comics for more than 35 years, telling the story of the World of Two Moons in a variety of titles and with numerous publishers, including Marvel and DC.
Now the story of Elfquest enters its newest phase as Wendy and Richard Pini launch Elfquest: The Final Quest with Dark Horse Comics. The book promises to bring the story of Cutter and the Wolfriders to an exciting conclusion and marks the return of Elfquest to comic shops everywhere for the first time in years.
Richard and Wendy were gracious enough to answer a few questions about what the return of Elfquest means to them and their new partnership with Dark Horse.
That’s the kind of thought that never entered our minds back then. We really were babes in the woods when it came to creating and publishing a comic book, and every bit of energy we had – creative, administrative, spiritual – went into simply getting each issue done and out to the readers on something resembling a regular schedule. At the very start, our concerns were pretty much confined to, is this going to work? Are people going to like it? Is it going to fly or fall to earth? Even when it became pretty clear to us that the series was getting really good reviews, and the sales figures were growing with each new issue, we didn’t speculate about some vague and distant future. We just wanted to tell the story.
What has been the highpoint and lowpoint of working on Elfquest?
We’ll take those in reverse order. The low points would have to be those times – this is going to sound melodramatic but it’s appropos – when we’ve gotten blindsided by betrayal. That’s kind of an emotionally charged word, but in all the years we’ve worked on Elfquest, all we’ve ever wanted to do was tell a good story from the heart. But from time to time this or that person or group of people have decided that, for reasons completely incomprehensible to us, we should be set up to be taken down a peg. We’ve been called some nasty names. We’ve been through the snake-pit of litigation. But in the end, it’s always been the case that those who wish us ill have their own agenda which has always been built on a foundation of ignorance about who we are. So we take the sting and, like Winston Churchill said, we keep buggering on.
As for high points, there really are so many, and they’re all so different, it’s impossible to point to just one. They really do run the gamut. At the 1981 San Diego Comic-Con costume competition, we witnessed over 60 lovely and talented kids dress up in Elfquest cosplay – and keep in mind this was well before cosplay became the phenomenon that it is now – and take the stage by storm. Another entirely different kind of thrill is opening the carton or the priority envelope and seeing for the very first time, the newest issue of the book or comic that, up until then, was a collection of pages and color keys or digital files sent off to the printer. We don’t think there’s a creator in the business whose heart isn’t filled by that experience – to hold the actual, physical result of their labors. And then, in a totally different direction, there’s the personal but even more powerful feeling of gratitude when a reader comes up to us during a quiet moment at a convention, and who tells their story of how Elfquest helped them through a tough time in their life, or had some other transformative effect on them. There is nothing in the world that can top that moment of communion.
This month sees the beginning of the long awaited brand new Elfquest series The Final Quest. What’s the story about?
Oh, it’s about 400 pages… But seriously, and we can’t say too much because we don’t want to give any spoilers, it’s about a life-changing dilemma that the Wolfriders face at this point in their story. You know how it’s said, “Be careful what you wish for; you may get it.” That’s the core of their problem. In the Original Quest, they sacrificed much to win back the Palace of the High Ones, which is the vessel in which their forebears came to this primitive world, and which they regard as their ancestral home. The Palace represents great security for the Wolfriders. But for thousands of years, the elves have lived by a code they call “The Way,” which is much closer to blind, neutral Nature – you live, you take risks, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. So what happens to the Wolfriders when they start to realize that those two ways of existence are incompatible? Add in armies of humans who want to wipe the elves off the face of the planet, and assorted other dire situations, and this is a massive yet intimate tale.
Is this really the “final” Elfquest story?
It can’t be, if for no other reason than we’ve already published stories about the world of the future, in the “FutureQuest” comics and books. But if you look at the core saga, the history of Cutter and his Wolfriders, “Final Quest” completes the Hero’s Journey for Cutter. This is the life-arc of every mythic character, from King Arthur to Beowulf to Gilgamesh, and Cutter is no exception. He’s been on this ride since the very beginning, in 1978, and we’ve known all the way back then where that ride was going to take him.
It’s great! We had a somewhat imposed hiatus in publishing new Elfquest material from about 2008 to 2012, and it was tough sometimes to go into a comics shop or book store and not see new material. So when, last October, the “Final Quest” special “prologue” issue was released, we did a little tour of the local comics shops just to see the brand new issue there on the shelves or in the spinner racks. It was a total, invigorating rush! And it never gets old.
Do you still discover new things about Cutter, Skywise and the rest even after 35 years of creating their adventures?
Absolutely. We’ve gone on record many times saying the Elfquest is, to greater or lesser extent, autobiographical. You can’t tell an honest story if it doesn’t come from some place inside yourself that you know very well. You can dress it up in fantasy symbolism, but it’s still got to be a human story that other humans – the readers – can relate to. So Elfquest has always been a kind of wavy mirror of the times we’ve lived in, and the experiences, the trials and tribulations we’ve lived through. Just as life has changed us over the last three and a half decades, so those changes, those lessons learned, have found their way into how the characters think and act. They’re subtle changes, because at the core we’re much the same people as we’ve always been, but even so, sometimes they do surprise us.
What made Dark Horse the right company to partner with to publish The Final Quest?
Elfquest has always been an independent production, but we like to say that “independent” doesn’t mean “isolated.” We’ve always been willing to work with partners who could bring resources to the table that our company, Warp Graphics, might not have had. We’re probably the only indy title published at one time or another by both Marvel and DC. And now Dark Horse. When we got back into gear in 2012, we knew we wanted to license the publishing. We’re at that point where it’s much more important to us personally to be able to put all our creative energies into telling and drawing the story. We’ve known Mike Richardson a long time. Dark Horse came along not all that long after Elfquest got started, and we’d always admired their approach to comics – kind of scrappy, like us. When we knew we were going to go shopping for a publisher, Dark Horse was one of a short list of companies we investigated. In the end, it was their enthusiasm to take on Elfquest that won us over, and in the few months we’ve been working with them, we’ve had a blast!
There are literally hundreds of pages of story that make up the history of the World of Two Moons. Will all of it be returning to print?
Thousands of pages, actually. And while we can’t give out specifics, because not all the details have been nailed down, we have had several discussions with our editors at Dark Horse that seem pretty clear to us that they want to do collections of everything that Warp Graphics published, in new compilation volumes, so that the entirety of the Elfquest library is available once again – both in print and digitally.
For those who may be scared off by 35 years of Elfquest comics, what would you tell them to convince them to give the book a shot?
We would say we know that it’s a daunting proposition, jumping in after nearly 7,000 pages of Elfquest story have been published. You can, if you want, pick up a copy of the “Final Quest” special issue that came out in October, which is a 60-page setting up of the pieces on the chess board. It’s all new, yet it does reintroduce the major characters and plot lines to come. Or, if you’re feeling more like going back to the beginning, you can go to our web site, www.elfquest.com, click on the “Read It Now” link, and find every one of those almost 7,000 pages available to read online – for free. Start at the very beginning and see where the story takes you.
What does the future hold for Elfquest?
Oh heavens! Over the years, we’ve had dreams both big and small for Elfquest. Perhaps the most well-known, and the one the fans have been waiting most impatiently for, is an Elfquest movie. Once upon a time, that was a major motivating wish that we had, as well. And, as everyone knows, we’ve been to the altar on that one a number of times. So now we’re taking a kinder, gentler look at the future. We still hope for something to happen with either film or TV. But we’re being careful what we wish for! We’re also having such a good time now working with Dark Horse, that it’s going to be great simply seeing the wonderful books and other print projects they have planned. What will be, will be.
Elfquest: The Final Quest #1 is in stores now.