Longevity isn’t a word mostly associated with American fantasy comics. There are favorable stories, but with their limited runs they tend to fade away from memory, except for one. Wendy and Richard Pini are the creative team behind the long-running fantasy epic ElfQuest, which has survived, suffered, and persevered in the comics industry close to forty years. ElfQuest is one of the most successful independently published comics and also helped spur the manga boom in the early 2000s. Wendy and Richard are considered two of the best comic book storytellers in the country and they are close to ending ElfQuest, but it’s final chapter is far from over.
To her delight, Whitney Grace chatted with Wendy and Richard Pini and the conversation veered into Whitney getting some long held questions answered about ElfQuest.
Whitney Grace: I first encountered ElfQuest in a library over ten years ago and I haven’t stopped reading it since.
Richard Pini: We love that ElfQuest got into libraries and schools. It was just another indicator of acceptance beyond comics fandom. We would get letters from parents, teachers, ministers and it was wonderful to us, because it meant that ElfQuest was something different, something more.
WG: What’s really great about seeing ElfQuest in a library is that you’re able to get access to all the comics, but also you’re able to reach audiences who are normally too afraid to step foot into a comic shop, especially back in the early days.
Wendy Pini: Totally. I agree. When parents see ElfQuest in a library they assume its safe for their kids to read.
RP: At least a little bit. You mention something that’s one of the things we’re most proud of. Many of readers discovered ElfQuest not in comic book shops, but in bookstores. The reason there are big sections of manga and graphic novels today is due to ElfQuest.
WG: I do know you have anime and manga influence in your work, Wendy.
WP: That is a given. I discovered anime when I was ten years old, particularly the works of Osamu Tezuka who created Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion.
WG: The god of manga.
WP: Yes, the god of manga. He was my sensei and I was so grateful to be able to meet him in the late eighties and thank him. It was a tremendous honor and my understanding is that a little drawing of Cutter I did for him is still on his desk, which has been preserved in the Tezuka Museum. So there is a little piece of me with my sensei.
WG: You realized the entire ElfQuest library online a few years ago. It’s a bold and amazing move, which I loved. Why did you decide to do that?
WP: You’re right it was a bold, amazing move. It’s all due to him [Richard].
RP: In the middle to late 2000s, everybody was trying to put comics online and make money that way. Marvel and DC were among the first. I remember Marvel putting out issues for 99 cents. I thought we had all of this material and all of our books were out of print, so there has to be someway I can put the comics online and make a few dollars. I investigated it and I don’t think anyone today knows how to monetize digital comics, but there’s twenty different ways to do it and they’re all total Greek to me. I realized I can’t be bothered with this baloney, with this chaos. Ever since the seventies, I want people to read ElfQuest more than I want to make money off it. It has been very good to us financially for years; I didn’t need to make money digitally. So I said screw it, people are saying I can’t find your books. I’m not going to put hundreds of thousands dollars into printing new copies, when I can digitize it and say, “Hey kids it’s free!’’ Nearly seven thousand pages are all free. I want people to discover ElfQuest.
WG: What is happening within the ElfQuest universe now? Will the series end? Will the final quest begin?
WP: The treatment for the final quest was completed back in 1995, so the story has been there to be told all these years. We didn’t know exactly how we would tell the story. We launched the first few pages of it through BoingBoing while we were negotiating with Dark Horse, then those came to fruition and we were set to tell the final quest. This is a story we’ve been waiting to tell for a long time. It completes our big arc in ElfQuest, the hero’s journey, so it’s a lot about Cutter. It’s certainly not the end of ElfQuest, because as we know there’s a Future Quest. There is more story to be told. This is an important storyline to us and it will take about four years, I’m already a year into it. It will be just like doing the classic quest.
RP: We did the classic quest in seven years, 1978-1984.
WP: This time I have colorist to help me.
RP: The thing is she’s being too modest. The seeds of this go back to the very beginning. When Final Quest is done you’re going to have answers to questions that were asked forty years ago. There are clues in those early black and white WARP Graphics issues to stuff that she’s not even going to draw for two years. That’s how, not every nit picky detail, but how complete her vision of this grand hero’s journey arc has been from the beginning. It makes no sense to start a story if you don’t know where it’s going and where’s it’s going to arrive.
WG: Will we find the answer to Jink?
WP: Well, she’s part of Future Quest, so whoever it is that goes on and tells her story will answer it.
RP: I love Jink. She’s a character and a half. We have story plots and treatments for her, but I do know what [comic] you’re referring too. We’re going to learn more about Jink.
WG: I loved your Masque of the Red Death. I read it mostly for the gorgeous art. Are you working on any other projects that branch out of ElfQuest like Masque of the Red Death did?
WP: Masque took me about four years to finish, just like everything else I do takes about four years. I’m physically incapable of thinking small, so I come up with these huge things. As I was working on Masque from 2008-2011, it occurred to me that it would make one hell of a musical. I took the script and turned it into a libretto musical. Through some miraculous coincidences, I met a wonderful director/producer named Calvin Remsberg who got interested in Masque. If you’ve ever seen the old Sweeny Todd with Angela Lansbury, Calvin played Beetle Bamford. I’ve been his fan since 1982 and the fact I got to meet him and actually work with him on Masque is the most surprising dream come true.
Calvin introduced me to an up and coming, soon to be superstar named Gregory Neighbors. We’ve been working together for a little over two years now on Masque and the musical is finished. It had an industry reading in October 2014.
RP: The industry reading is how we shake out some of the bugs, we get people interested to take it to the next step, and we can only do so much.
WP: We’ve already had some nibbles from Japan. Just imagine if the takurazuka all female musical group performed it or the group that does the Black Butler musical.
WG: Japan always does a fantastic job with creative properties.
WP: They have an impeccable standard. More than that as far as daring edgy storytelling they’ve always been way ahead of us. They will go there. Masque is ready-made for the yaoi audience.
WG: That I know. With ElfQuest, I’m really glad that you’re planning on tying up many of the loose ends.
WP: Yes and no. If we were to tie up every single loose end that’s not a story. Stories always leave a few questions unanswered. The majority of the loose ends will be taken care of.
WG: What about Wavecatcher and Wavelet, will we find out what happened to them?
RP: Now you’re going fan geek. You’re going down there, aren’t you?
WG: I could if you would like me too.
RP: That’s okay, we’ll fight you.
WP: I’m going to tell you to think epic, not every tiny minor characters is going to get their moment in the sun. We will do justice to all the tribes.
RP: Then the big asteroid will hit and everyone will be wiped out.
WG: Well, I don’t want the World of Two Moons to die, but please don’t kill everyone.
RP: We don’t kill anyone. Trolls, humans, and some monsters do, but we don’t kill.
WG: You two are the gods of the ElfQuest universe, so you…
RP: I’m not a god, I’m the Coyote.
WP: Actually Richard is Skywise and I’m Cutter, so you can take that dynamic however you want.