PoP! Interview: Wendy & Richard Pini of ‘Elfquest’

Cutter

Independent comics have seen an amazing resurgence in the past couple years. Dynamite has made great strides with pulp heroes of yore, IDW remains a licensing powerhouse with a nice cadre of original titles, and Image is stronger than ever after 20 years in the game. It seems only fitting, then, that one of the original and biggest independent titles in comics history is returning in a big way.

Elfquest, the brainchild of Wendy and Richard Pini (founders of the semi-eponymous Warp Graphics), is back in a big way at a new home. After a seven-year hiatus, the classic story of Cutter is working towards its ending with last month’s Elfquest Special: The Final Quest leading into The Final Quest series that began last week. It’s a momentous occasion as the tale that began over 35 years draws to a close. One of the only non-licensed properties to be published by both Marvel and DC Comics, Elfquest now resides at Dark Horse Comics, which (along with the Pinis) has made it clear that big plans are in store for the long-vaunted series.

Panels On Pages was recently granted an audience with both Richard and Wendy Pini regarding the final arc for Cutter and the Wolfriders, what the future holds for Elfquest, and the move to Dark Horse.

PoP!: Let’s go back a bit – it was about 6 years from the last published Elfquest work from DC until “The Final Quest.” What has happened between that time and now as far as preparing this last story? Was a lot of that time spent in finding a new publishing home or more toward the creative side and how to properly close the saga?

Wendy & Richard Pini: That’s a several-part question. In 2008 we got an option from Warner Bros. to develop Elfquest as a motion picture, and for the next four years, we were advised it would be better, for a number of reasons, not to publish new Elfquest material. So during that time, Wendy produced a non-Elfquest magnum opus, her interpretation of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. But even though we were dormant, the story for Final Quest already existed. It had, in fact, existed for a long time, many years. We have documents and drawings going way back almost to the beginning, that outline what’s being worked on right now. So it wasn’t that we need to find a way to wrap up this arc; that was pretty well known. But we did want to find a new publisher. We had previously been with DC Comics, and they had produced a number of really lovely books for us, but they turned out not to be the best marketing match for us, so we moved onward.

PoP!: Going back to the series origins in Fantasy Quarterly, you decided to form Warp graphics and publish the series on your own and of course there’s also Elfquest.com where all of the stories are available as well. Now Dark Horse is publishing the final series from here. Tell us about that decision and why you decided to go with Dark Horse rather than publish this on the site on your own?

Wendy & Richard: Warp Graphics still exists as a company, but after 30+ years as a full-time publisher, Richard was tired of all the administrative duties that were keeping him from being a fuller-time partner to Wendy’s creative force. Keep in mind, Warp has never been shy about partnering with other publishers. Elfquest was licensed to Marvel in the 1980s, and to DC in the 2000s. So when Warner Bros. passed on the film option, we knew (a) the time was ripe to give birth to the next story arc, and (b) we wanted someone else to drive the bus so we could ride and focus on telling the story. We’d known Mike Richardson for a long time; we’d watched Dark Horse born in the mid-1980s, and there’d always been a kind of mutual admiration society going on between Mike and us. When we let it be known that we were looking for a new pubishing home for Elfquest, Mike was among those who expressed a lot of interest. We had other suitors, though, so we did our homework for close to a year. In the end, though, Dark Horse won – we’ve been having the time of our lives working with our editors, production crew, letterer… It feels like everyone there is in tune with what we want to do.

PoP!: Within the timeline of Elfquest when does The Final Quest take place? And what can we expect from Cutter and the tribe in this final chapter?

Wendy & Richard: Final Quest takes place some years after the conclusion of “The Discovery,” which was the most recent new story arc published by DC Comics. In that story, the Wolfriders at last met the elusive “lost” sea elves, the WaveDancers, and the bonds were forged for the opening scenes of the Final Quest special one-shot comic that came out in October. So if you’ve been following the entire time-line – which is possible to do easily since all the previous Elfquest stories have been uploaded to the Elfquest.com web site to read for free – then Final Quest begins fairly soon after. But in that short time, Cutter has begun to notice certain changes taking place in the Wolfriders, and he’s not at all sure what it may mean. As we’ve said before, there’s the time-honored “Way” of the elves, and then there’s the long-sought and now found Palace of the High Ones. One represents tradition; the other represents security. What it they can’t coexist? For Cutter, that question is starting to loom, and he has no idea what it portends.

Elfquest_FQ_Special

PoP!: Why does now seem the time, after 35 years, to close the book on what’s obviously been a labor of love throughout this time? What can fans expect from this final chapter in so far as a farewell to these characters that so many people have come to love over three decades?

Wendy & Richard: This certainly isn’t the end of Elfquest (even if the Final Quest title of this arc does sound, well, final)! We’ve been reassuring fans for months now, that the grander tale of Elfquest will continue – after all, we published a spin-off called FutureQuest some years back, that tackles the intriguing question of what happens to the elves when the World of Two Moons becomes first civilized all over, and then technologized in the not-so-distant future? The foundations for those tales have already been laid down, and we’re not going to let them go fallow.

What Final Quest is, however, and we have said this from the start, is the concluding chapter in the Hero’s Journey undertaken by our lead character Cutter. If you know anything at all of Joseph Campbell‘s work, then you know that in every great quest myth, the protagonist goes through stages along his or her life’s journey. There are challenges to be faced and overcome – or not overcome – and choices to be made. And Cutter, in Final Quest, will grapple with all of that. And more!

PoP!: Tell us about what happened between then and now in those five years and why now is the time to seemingly tell what sounds like the final Elfquest tale?

Wendy & Richard: As we said earlier, from 2008 to 2013 was a time to “drop back five yards and punt” for us, because of the business in Hollywood. Wendy put all her energies into her adaptation of Masque of the Red Death, which is a huge, brawling, adult-only erotic, futuristic, dystopian take on the Poe short story. It was something she wanted to express before picking up the Elfquest pen (or Cintiq stylus) again. Where Elfquest had been an expression for many years of the higher impulses that characters can portray, “Masque” is the opposite. It’s characters behaving badly toward each other and, because it’s faithful to the original, it does not end well. Wendy wanted to get that huge job of shadow-work out of her system, before going back to the “light side.”

As to why now? We’re ready, the story is ready (and has been from the very beginning), the stars aligned to bring us a great partner in Dark Horse. So the simple answer is, why not?

PoP!: Are there any plans to tell other stories away from the main narrative of Cutter and his crew? Would you be open to other creators telling stories within the Elfquest world (akin to what “Grendel Tales” was to Matt Wagner’s Grendel series)?

Wendy & Richard: Actually, we’ve already done that in more ways than one. Back in the early 1980s we realized that not only did we have an entire world available to us (we’d been telling the Elfquest story thus far pretty much in one location) but we also had the entire span of Wolfrider history to play in (since Cutter was the eleventh in a long line of chiefs of the tribe). So we opened up the sandbox and invited other writers and artists to come on in – under our editorial supervision, of course.

The first result was a series of “shared world” short prose story anthologies titled Blood of Ten Chiefs. We worked with fine writers such as C.J. Cherryh, Diana Paxson, Robert Asprin, Nancy Springer, Mercedes Lackey, and many more, and fleshed out a lot of the “lost” history of the Wolfriders. A little later, we adapted some of those stories into comics, and added other spin-off tales such as the previously mentioned FutureQuest. And we’re certainly open to continuing that endeavor – after all, the Quest never ends!

PoP!: Obviously people can take the stories however they interpret them, which it seems has always been the goal, but overall with this body of work what do you hope is the message that’s gotten out there for fans of the series throughout the years?

Wendy & Richard: That’s a great question, with a great lead-in. On one level, it could be said that the message – or lesson – of Elfquest is not that it is a struggle of good versus evil, which is an old theme and kind of simplistic. Rather, it’s about the struggle of knowledge or wisdom versus ignorance. Before you judge someone you don’t know about, learn something about them. Walk a mile in their shoes, as it were. Then make an informed decision. That’s one message we hope people take away.

Another could be, simply, choose love over fear. We like to say that Elfquest is autobiographical; that as we’ve grown as people, so we’ve applied the lessons we’ve learned to the telling of Elfquest over the years. We’re both the same as we were when we started, and yet different as well. The life-lessons we’ve learned, we put into the stories. And the strongest one has been that if you come from your true heart, you can’t ever go wrong.

Elfquest: The Final Quest #1 is now available.

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Who ARE these people!?

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com. He's been an avid comics reader since Barry Allen was first put on trial for the death of Professor Zoom. He's also been an avid wrestling fan since Dusty Rhodes beat Harley Race for the NWA World Championship. He now brings his fandom of comics, music, and wrestling to PanelsOnPages.com.

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  1. Juan Davila says:

    Elfquest has always been a favorite of mine, Great interview.

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