After ‘Forty Years Of Pointed Ears,’ ‘ElfQuest’ Ends Its Legendary Run

Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders, and his lifemate Leetah.
Wendy Pini

ElfQuest is something unique in the world of comics: It’s one of the longest-running fantasy series ever — and it’s been the passion project of just two people for its whole life.

There there were few comics shops, fewer conventions, and not a lot of women were making comics when creators Wendy and Richard Pini began their epic quest in 1978. But now that quest is over, and they’re on a farewell tour called Forty Years of Pointed Ears.

Elfquest 1

Elfquest 1The Final Quest
by Wendy Pini and Richard Pini
Paperback, 1 volume

ElfQuest is an old-fashioned comic. It isn’t dark, it isn’t gritty. It is what says on the cover: A four-decade saga about elves. Elves with big eyes, bigger hair, and really great abs. On a quest.

“The quest is to find out who this race of beings are,” says artist and co-creator Wendy Pini,”where they came from, and how they can best fit into this world that they’re on, that is not their true home.”

Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders, is the central character — and it’s his quest for home and community, his hero’s journey, that drives the story.

It’s easy to snark about the hair, the abs, and how incredibly earnest Cutter and his kin can be. But the comic is utterly addictive — start flipping those vintage black and white pages and you won’t stop. And a lot of that is down to Pini’s art, influenced by her love of Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby and Japanese artists like Osamu Tezuka.

“Tezuka … he is considered the Walt Disney of Japan,” she says. “He created Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion … and from Tezuka I learned the line of beauty. It’s a curving, sweeping kind of line that you see throughout Asian art that is so aesthetically, spiritually soothing and beautiful. And to take this soothing artwork and then apply it to action scenes where the characters are just literally going through hell creates such an amazing tension.”

Pini was already a working fantasy illustrator when she started drawing ElfQuest. It was 1978, and the time was right: Star Wars was huge, Lord of the Rings was on everyone’s shelves, so a comic about elves seeking a home on a planet not their own seemed like a sure bet. But there was just one problem: How do you get your comic into people’s hands when there are hardly any comics stores?

The very first issue of ElfQuest, from 1978.
Wendy Pini/IPS

Greg Bennett is the co-owner of Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, Md. — and an ElfQuest fan — and he says that when the Pinis first started making the comic, modern distribution systems just didn’t exist. “That’s daring as heck, because there was no way to get that stuff out there then other than to go to conventions, sell it yourself, go store to store to store and hand sell it.

The hand-selling worked; ElfQuest took off. In its 80s heyday, the Pinis say it was one of the first comics to make it into mainstream bookstores. These days, ElfQuest fans can be a little harder to find — it’s mostly a word of mouth kind of thing. But luckily for me, we have one here at NPR: Morning Edition supervising editor Melisa Goh.

“Everyone has a story, a movie, a book, something that was very influential in their lives at a young age, and ElfQuest was mine,” Goh says. “There is a community aspect to ElfQuest that I liked a lot. The idea that you were looking for your own kind, so that you can take community and shelter and solace in each other.”

Goh has loved ElfQuest since she was 11. She loved it so much, in fact, that she invented her own character.

“Her name was Triller. She wore blue. She was a musician, which was a little bit risque in the elf world that I had in my mind, because if you’re an ElfQuest elf you know that — ‘in the trees, as you please, on the ground, not a sound,’ so my character was a bit of a rebel because she liked to play music.”

It was actually kind of hard for me to pry that information loose, because Goh says she’s still traumatized about being teased for reading ElfQuest as a kid.

Comic shop owner Greg Bennett says that did happen — ElfQuest was always a little outside the mainstream, and its fans were mostly women at a time that women weren’t reading a lot of comics — so he sometimes had to deal with trash-talking customers. “And as a comic shop owner any time I heard somebody doing that I would always, first thing I would say is, well, did you ever read ElfQuest? And they would always say, well, no — I’m like OK, well, after you go read it, go read those first 20 black and white magazines, then come back and tell me ElfQuest’s no good — and any one of them actually took me up on it said oh wait, you’re right. This is really good.”

The last storyline — appropriately called “The Final Quest,” wrapped up earlier this year, 40 years to the day after the publication of the first issue. The Pinis aren’t abandoning the elves completely — they’re going to allow other creators to tell stories in their world. But they’re pretty close-mouthed about what’s coming next.

“We know what you want to know. So we’re focusing on that,” Wendy says.

“There are two strong threads, and the fans just want those threads spun out,” Richard adds. “I know, but we’re not going to cater to them,” Wendy chimes in. “We don’t know — just because we know what the fans want, doesn’t mean we’re going to take the story that way.”

If you want to join the quest, the early issues are available for free online.

By , September 26, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR
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The Best Comics of 2017

by Alex Carr, December 01, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

To me, my comics fans! 2017 was a banner year for the medium, and our editors assembled to forge a list that covers the best in illustrated fiction and non-fiction, with 20 graphic novels spanning memoirs, family dramas, superheroes (both hopeful and downtrodden), pets, and subjects that defy classification.

Below is a quick snapshot of three highlights, but please see our Best of the Year store for the full list.

Congratulations to Katie Green, as her debut memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow, is the editors’ pick for our 2017 Best in Comics and Graphic Novels. A harrowing study of a life gripped by eating disorders, Green’s story reveals itself as a narrative greater than one of abuse. Instead, this is the story of a life recaptured. Editor Adrian Liang had this to say last month when she celebrated it as a Best of the Month selection for October: “A vast number of thoughtful books about mental illness and eating disorders already exist, so it seems almost impossible that a new story could add anything more to the genus. But Katie Green does exactly that with her astonishing graphic memoir that reveals through every delicate squiggle the long-lingering anguish people in recovery live through while friends and family assume that everything is now A-OK…Artist and storyteller Green exposes buried-deep emotions through the slope of a shoulder or the slightly-too-big distance between her characters in a way that can’t be mimicked through words.”

Another startling debut, Emil Ferris’ graphic novel arrives in the form of a fictional diary—complete with faux notebook pages upon which she illustrates incredible land and mindscapes–detailing a murder mystery in the life of young Karen Reyes. Set in Chicago during the 1960s, Karen’s story is one of family and where reality and fantasy embrace. As she investigates the death of her upstairs neighbor, Karen uncovers truths about her own brother, mother, and the tenuous truths we cling to in order to cope with everyday madness. But Karen’s focus tends to wander, as she is fascinated with monster movies and pulp horror magazines, inserting creatures into the margins and, with loving detail by Ferris, as centerpieces into her journal (Karen portrays herself as an adorably fanged werewolf). It’s a singular vision with effortless humor and a brilliant form. My favorite thing is also monsters.

If any superhero ruled 2017, it’s Wonder Woman. Breaking box office records and becoming a rallying symbol in and outside of the genre, Wonder Woman stepped off of Themiscyra Island and into the zeitgeist. With 75 years of backstory to sift through, DC Comics offers new and old fans an easy entry point into her adventures with an origin story written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Nicola Scott. The result feels a lot like her cinematic debut: full of action and charm. Here, Wonder Woman is hero with brains and brawn, discovering her powers as well as the modern world. Steve Trevor and Ares are both here, and although it is confusingly subtitled with a “Volume 2,” this can be read as a stand-alone adventure to complement the film, by Hera!

Books to Film

Upcoming Movies Based on Books

The Coldest City by Antony Johnston (aka Atomic Blonde: The Coldest City)

The Coldest CityAtomic BlondeWhen it comes out: July 28

What the book is about: November 1989. Communism is collapsing, and soon the Berlin Wall will come down with it. But before that happens there is one last bit of cloak & dagger to attend to. Two weeks ago, an undercover MI6 officer was killed in Berlin. He was carrying a list that allegedly contains the name of every espionage agent working in Berlin, on all sides. No list was found on his body. Now Lorraine Broughton, an experienced spy with no pre-existing ties to Berlin, has been sent into this powderkeg of social unrest, counter-espionage, defections gone bad and secret assassinations to bring back the list and save the lives of the British agents whose identities reside on it.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle_filmWhen it comes out: August 11

What the book is about: When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family. So, the Walls children learned to take care of themselves.

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

Tulip FeverTulip Fever_filmWhen it comes out: August 25

What the book is about: In 1630s Amsterdam, tulipomania has seized the populace. Everywhere men are seduced by the fantastic exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort, it is his young and beautiful wife, Sophia, who stirs his soul. He yearns for an heir, but so far he and Sophia have failed to produce one. In a bid for immortality, he commissions a portrait of them both by the talented young painter Jan van Loos. But as Van Loos begins to capture Sophia’s likeness on canvas, a slow passion begins to burn between the beautiful young wife and the talented artist.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The New York Times/Sketchbook/Graphic Review/By Anders NilsenJune 22, 2017

A graphic review of Steven Pinker’s book about the dramatic decline of violence in human affairs over history.

Better AngelsAnders Nilsen is the author of the graphic novels Big Questions, Rage of Poseidon and the forthcoming Tongues.

What’s actually surprising is that there are movies coming out that AREN’T based on a book.

Upcoming Movies Based on Books

Valerian by Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin

ValerianValerian_filmWhen it comes out: July 21

What the book is about: In the 28th century, the Terran (Earth) empire is vast, stretching across the galaxy, and Galaxity is its capital. But a big empire means big responsibilities, fighting trouble where and when it pops up. Valerian and Laureline are Galaxity agents who protect mankind from rogue time travellers and alien threats and they won’t be spending a lot of time sitting around. Their adventures across time and space are just getting started. 

The Dark Tower by Stephen King

GunslingerThe Dark Tower_filmWhen it comes out: August 4

What the book is about: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Who is up for a little horror-western-sci-fi-fantasy? The first book in this expansive, genre-mashing series lays out the characters you will need to know for the movie – Roland, the Gunslinger; Jake, the boy; and the “man in black.” As for what it is about… well, it gets a little complicated (although it’s nothing compared to the series as a whole) but the first line, written above, really says it all.

 

Fantastic Voyages – Look! Up in the sky! It’s a … (Part 2 of 3)

… Baby in a small, unmanned spacecraft hurtling towards Kansas.

Gulliver traveled by sea to (accidentally) reach his fantastic destinations – this traveler’s journey was a touch more… celestial.

Once upon a time Lara and Jor-El had a baby. He was everything they could ask for in a bouncing, baby boy and they named him Kal-El and loved him very much. If their planet wasn’t about to violently explode they would have been very happy. But it was about to explode and it was too late to do much other than boil an egg… and maybe save their infant son from sharing their fate. You see, Jor-El and Lara were scientists, and not just any scientists; they were, like, the scientists. While, on the one hand, this made them distressingly aware of their planet’s ultimate demise long before anyone else, it also afforded them certain opportunities; specifically access to the materials and technology necessary to quickly and quietly construct a spacecraft built for a single, very small, astronaut.

And so, moments before their entire civilization was turned into flaming space debris, they swaddled their precious baby in his favorite blanket, which had the added benefit of being nigh indestructible, placed him carefully in the craft and set him on a course that would take him across the galaxy where, if all went well, he would land on a planet that they had determined would be hospitable to their child.

It is hard to say what wonders baby Kal-El saw on his trip and what he thought of it – he was just a baby after all. What we do know is that he made it to his destination, where he landed safely, if not smoothly, on June 18 by the local calendar. He was found and taken in by a young couple that lived nearby where he landed. They were kind, honest people that raised the boy as their own. Not knowing of his origins, or even his true name, they named him Clark. He’d eventually be known by a different name.Superman

I know he’s Superman (I hope that you’d figured that out already and I didn’t just ruin the surprise), but still, across space. As a baby. Makes trying something new this summer seem a lot more reasonable, doesn’t it?