When I was a little kid and was first starting to read, a friend of the family’s son was tasked to distract me with his collection of comic books and graphic novels. He presented me with a slim edition of a series I would come to know and love, and still read to this day. As someone in my 30s, this means that this particular series is very long-running. So long running, in fact, that this year is its 40th anniversary. It’s #FortyYearsofPointedEars for my favorite graphic novel series, Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest.
Elfquest is a groundbreaking fantasy epic that’s been around since 1978. It is a gorgeously crafted story of elf tribes meeting, warring, and loving in a World of Two Moons. The elves encounter humans, trolls, and other fantastical creatures, all of whom propel the story into a body of groundbreaking work. It’s the longest-running American fantasy comic series with good reason.
As I got a little older, I began a ritual with my dad where we’d hit up the local comic book store to see if a new book was out. There always was since it was a few years old by now. But it was always a joy to find the next one that I didn’t already have. Eventually I began to collect the large softcover collections in their glorious full color. These original editions from Warp Graphics will always be my favorite, with their Art Nouveau-inspired cover designs and rich illustration and storytelling that imprinted onto my brain forever.
The best part was that it was helmed by a woman, Wendy Pini, along with her husband Richard Pini, which totally normalized female creators at a very young age for me. There’s nothing more solidifying and welcoming for comic book fans than good representation. (Related: keep going with that box office, Black Panther!)
As I grew older, my interest in Elfquest remained steadfast. I got to that annoying age where I wanted to share it with others who were clearly less interested in fantasy graphic novels and more interested in New Kids on the Block. This did not stop me from doing insufferable things like having my best friend read the first book and then have her take a self-made QUIZ about the contents. I was an insufferable Lisa Simpson from the get-go.
The art that inspired
I had always been interested in art and drawing. My mother once signed me up for a cartooning class that was intended for older children and lied to get me in. So I was starting out young (and illegally at that!). And when I hit school age, it was all about art for me. What better muses for a young artist than the Pinis’ characters in vivid color and the marvelous worlds they inhabited. I must have attempted to re-create the dreamy pastel portraits of the characters over and over. I know they still live in my mother’s basement somewhere to this day. Elfquest, along with Brian and Wendy Froud’s masterful works, were interwoven into my childhood portfolio for a good decade.
When I entered college, I made that silly choice to major in something “useful” (political science, in my case), but after just one semester, I switched to art. I eventually graduated with a BFA in painting and design. I can say definitively that without the influence of Wendy Pini and the Elfquest world, that path in life would not have been as certain.
Defying stereotypes at every turn
While Ms. Pini’s artistic influence was certainly apparent, as I got older, I saw pieces of Elfquest’s influence in other facets of my life. Because of Elfquest, very early on in my life I was exposed to nuanced and fiercely strong female characters, unafraid of their passions, strength, and independence. Conversely, I saw male figures who were gentle, nurturing, and equally unafraid of embodying non-stereotypical traits. I saw alternative lifestyles (LGBTQ and non-monogamous influences), and the detriments of hatred, bigotry, and othering. It was the progressive foundation that grew a neural network in my brain that lives to this day.
When I found my partner, he was a Redlance to my Nightfall. I was always drawn to gentle men (and gingers!) and I can guarantee that Redlance was behind much of it. (Shout-outs to Bob Ross and Fred Rogers, too.) Said partner is now the one who bee-lines to the “E” section in every comic book store to scour for classic editions of Elfquest to add to my collection.
Meeting those who made us
There’s something so strange about meeting and acknowledging someone who has influenced you so greatly who knows nothing about you at all. It’s the whole crux of fame and its surrealism. I have spent many years waiting in the online lobby trying to acquire tickets to San Diego Comic-Con as it was the one convention where the Pinis could be found in a given year. But if you’ve ever tried getting tickets to that behemoth, you know that it was futile. Then this year the Pinis decided to create an Appearances page to list where they’d be traveling for their most momentous 40-year anniversary tour. I figured just New York, San Diego… the usual suspects. But no, my own Chicago convention, C2E2, was also on the list for April 2018. Commence shrieking and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yeah, I am excited.
I’ve met creators and celebrities at conventions before with varying degrees of anticipation and good experiences, but this would be another level of, as they say, meeting your heroes. How do you convey what someone’s art, storytelling, and leadership in an industry (especially as a minority in that industry!) means to you in only the briefest of moments along with thousands of others, all trying to convey the same thing? Especially when your fandom is as close to the heart as I know this one is to so many. It may not be the biggest fandom, but it sure is devoted.
My plan to meet my heroes
The plan is just this: express what Elfquest means to me and how much I appreciate their work. Know FULL well that it won’t be anything new and will be instantly forgotten in a pile of similar sentiments. Appreciate that there are so many similar sentiments and how well-deserved they are. Hope that it will contribute to the overwhelming and cumulative appreciation all of us fans feel towards them and their work.
Become best friends instantly — I kid. And attempt not to cry and ruin the whole moment. Wish me luck.
Comments on On meeting your heroes: the Elfquest creators who helped create me
Oh man does this take me back!
I wish I kept my old books. I think I have one or two somewhere…
I have some that are SO old and well-loved (aka almost torn up) 😉
Do you have any of the regular books ( not graphic novels )?
I do! A couple of the novels. Have you read them?
I only came across one. That one I think I still have…
I hope to be able to do this someday, although in my case the books would be Warriors (the cat books). I have an incredibly battered copy of Into the Wild that I’ve had for something like fourteen years now that I want to get signed. It wasn’t as liberally minded as Elfquest – no openly LGBT kitties, no polyamory, etc. – but it gave Small Me a way to approach and process some fairly adult material, which I needed at the time. The books are published under a pen name and the person who does the publicity stuff doesn’t do the writing, but I’d still like to be able to say thank you.
Awesome! My first tattoo at 18 (25 years ago!) was the Warp graphics symbol from ElfQuest; the crescent moon with the howling wolf head in silhouette. ElfQuest was huge for me in my late teen years and opened my brain to all the things you said. I think it’s always good and important to tell people how much their work has meant to you. Don’t even think about how many times they’ve heard it. Always nice to keep hearing and hear that they are still relevant!
I am so with you on your love of this series. I consumed it like water in my junior high years. What a treat to meet the authors. Hope it’s as delightful as you imagine it will be!
Oh I love these comics! Let’s not forget that they’re also mind-opening about race and class. Can I relate to good ol’ boy white elves (like Dad) meeting up and intermarrying with dark-skinned desert elves (like Mom)? You bet! In fact, if you pictured Strongbow with a sense of humor and six-and-a-half foot tall, and Leetah’s little sister at five foot even, you’d get a good visual on my parents. Anyway, Dad loved Elfquest, too.
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