Reading Horror Can Arm Us Against A Horrifying World

Why read horror when the world is already so creepy?
Maree Searle/Getty Images/EyeEm

Tom Lehrer famously said that satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet here we are, still struggling to exaggerate the follies of power until power can’t get around us. Horror has much the same resilience. As terrifying as the world becomes, we still turn to imagined terrors to try and make sense of it. To quote another favorite entertainer, Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Horror, descended from those tales, tells us about more monsters — and more strategies for beating them.

The banal evils of the world — children shot, neighbors exiled, selves reframed in an instant as inhuman threats — these are horrible, but they aren’t horror. Horror promises that the plot arc will fall after it rises. Horror spins everyday evil to show its fantastical face, literalizing its corroded heart into something more dramatic, something easier to imagine facing down. Horror helps us name the original sins out of which horrible things are born.

Some of my favorite horror stories are those in which real-world terrors grow gradually into something stranger. Mariana Enriquez, recently translated into English in Things We Lost in the Fire, writes a Buenos Aires in which poverty and pollution inevitably swell into risen corpses and sacrificial cults. Stephen King’s Carrie only destroys her town because abuse and bullying feed her frustrated teenage telekinesis. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic “The Yellow Wallpaper” starts from the simple psychological claustrophobia of well-meaning relations and deep-rooted sexism.

All of which gives horror the opportunity to be radically empowering, and to condemn these evils in the starkest of terms. But it doesn’t always do so. In too many stories the Thing That Should Not Happen is simply someone violating the status quo, or outsiders existing visibly. H. P. Lovecraft is a prototypical example — his world-shattering deities are worshipped primarily by those without other means to power: immigrants, rural folk, dark-skinned people trying to summon dreadful entities. His monsters are closely entwined with mental illness and “miscegenation.” His works insist, again and again, that civilization depends on keeping such creatures out of both sight and mind. Nor is Lovecraft (conveniently dead and ostensibly “of his time”) the only one. How much modern horror still draws frissons of fear from disabled villains, or the threat of “madness,” or whatever Other happens to be convenient? How many can only imagine threats as violations of white-picket-fence comfort, overcome when the monster’s defeat allows a return to that comfort for those who had it in the first place?

While it’s tempting to write horror from the perspective of those most easily shocked — those in a position to believe the universe dispenses comfort evenly to all — the best modern work depicts terrors fit for those already intimate with fear. Mira Grant (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire) is brilliant at this. Her Newsflesh trilogy amplifies the perils of political journalism, mindful that authorities’ response to disaster can make the difference between zombie apocalypse and zombie inconvenience. Victor Lavalle, another favorite, finds ways to faze protagonists who already face segregation, police violence, and the cosmic indifference of everyday prejudice.

Horror as a genre is built around one truth: that the world is full of fearful things. But the best horror tells us more. It tells us how to live with being afraid. It tells us how to distinguish real evil from harmless shadows. It tells us how to fight back. It tells us that we can fight the worst evils, whether or not we all survive them — and how to be worthy of having our tales told afterward.

 

Editor’s Note:
Ruthanna Emrys is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series and co-writes Tor.com’s Lovecraft Reread. She lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. with her wife and their large, strange family. You can find her on Twitter as @r_emrys.

By RUTHANNA EMRYS, August 5, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR
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50 Wonderful Things From 2018

The Afro-Latino Brooklynite Miles Morales is one of many characters who don the mask in the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Sony Pictures

Standard caveats (really standard — same as last year!): I don’t watch everything. I am behind on many things. That’s just the way the world is. So if something you loved isn’t here, it is not a rebuke.

And: These are cultural — mostly pop-cultural — things. These are not the best things in the world. Like yours, my actual list of wonderful things from the year, if I wrote it in a journal instead of for work, would be a list of people and moments spent with them, of days when it was unexpectedly sunny and of times when things suddenly felt better. But whatever journey you’re on at any given moment, you can always use more good things. So here we go.

1. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lively performance of “A Cover Is Not the Book,” a preposterously catchy dance-hall number in Mary Poppins Returns.

2. Miles Morales’ father talking to him through his door in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseThe film is full of visually inventive sequences, but this emotional scene between father and son might be its most important moment.

3. “Must the duck be here?” Yorgos Lanthimos’ royal court comedy-drama The Favourite isn’t as fussy as it could have turned out, and it runs on the performances of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Its absurdity is carefully apportioned, including when Harley (Nicholas Hoult), exasperated by a companion’s feathered pal, wonders whether the room could be smaller by a couple of webbed feet.

4. The climactic moment of Steve McQueen’s Widows. It’s been hard to explain this difficult and thoughtful but also exhilarating heist film to audiences. But as it reaches its end and concludes as it must, Viola Davis stands in for many women who have simply had enough.

5. The gold shades of If Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins’ entire film is a series of lush images, beginning with the breathtaking opening shots, in which Tish’s (KiKi Layne) coat and Fonny’s (Stephan James) shirt and the canopy of leaves in their neighborhood are all the same autumn gold.

6. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant’s final scene in Can You Ever Forgive Me? McCarthy, as a curmudgeonly forger, and Grant, as her lonely accomplice and only real friend, meet up at the end of Marielle Heller’s film after a long estrangement. And while the scene is deeply felt, it doesn’t betray the story’s fundamental sense of isolation.

7. Carla Gugino’s performance in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. The series was uneven and overlong, but one part that was riveting throughout was Gugino’s work as Olivia Crain, a mother slowly feeling her grip on reality slide.

8. The blues of Wildlife. Directed by Paul Dano and written by Dano and Zoe Kazan, the family drama Wildlife showcased great work from Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould. But it also stands out as a stunning example of color in visual storytelling. Watch the film when you can, and watch for where the blue is, where the neutrals are, and where unexpected colors are. It’s a fully thought-out color story in a way that’s immensely satisfying.

9. “Shallow.” For all the fuss that came and went over Bradley Cooper’s reimagining of the oft-told show-business tragedy A Star Is Born, the moment that stuck — for good reason — was Lady Gaga and Cooper performing the song “Shallow,” which Gaga wrote with her collaborators. In that moment, it’s utterly believable that Ally and Jackson are falling in love and finding that love in art, despite the fact that the literal telling of the tale, in which she warbles a bit of it in a parking lot and he completes a full arrangement with which she sings along flawlessly, doesn’t make the least bit of sense.

10. Blake Lively’s various looks in A Simple Favor. A tonally playful film, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor is funny and tense and over-the-top all at once. One of its signatures is Blake Lively’s gorgeous menswear-inspired wardrobe, which plays against Anna Kendrick’s almost cartoonish femininity. Everyone in the film looks great, and the film looks great, and it continues Feig’s history of working very effectively with actresses to showcase notes they haven’t quite hit before.

11. The Good Place: The PodcastBehind-the-scenes podcasts are difficult. They can easily collapse into a bunch of people talking about how great it is to work together which, without more, isn’t much. The Good Place: The Podcast, however, hosted by actor Marc Evan Jackson, makes the formula work. They interview not only actors and writers, but also folks who work in areas like effects, set design, props, music and stunts. Taken together, the podcast’s run is a great way to learn how TV shows work and how many people put their full hearts into the ones that are good.

12. The opening montage of Forever. The showstarred Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a couple whose marriage faced a very unexpected set of circumstances. And while not all of it worked, the opening sequence, showing how a couple can go from blissfully in love to contentedly in love to companionably cohabitating, was efficient and alarmingly plausible.

13. Peter Kavinsky’s selfie. The Netflix adaptation of Jenny Han’s YA romance To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was a hit, not to mention a real boon to lovers of romantic comedy in general. And while its final scene is swoonworthy and its adorable flirtations are many, none stayed with me quite like Peter (Noah Centineo) taking a selfie for Lara Jean (Lana Condor) to use as the background on her phone. Gently and confidently funny (only because you know it’s supposed to be funny), it’s one of the moments that make it believable that Peter is very, very excited about Lara Jean.

14. The wig throw. Look, there are so many things to love about Black Panther. How do we choose? Well, I choose the moment in which Okoye (Danai Gurira) hurls her wig at one of the men attacking her, just long enough for it to distract him. Wigs detached from heads (and sometimes on heads) are inherently funny and that scene is inherently great, so it winds up being one of the film’s OH BOY NO WAY moments that work especially well in a crowded theater.

15. The end of Avengers: Infinity War. If you haven’t yet seen the penultimate installment in this set of Avengers films, just move right along. Skip this one. Don’t spoil yourself. Okay, if you’re still here, I assume you know that there were heavy losses at the end of the film (most of which, sure, will be undone in the next). Peter Parker (Tom Holland), in particular, was allowed to show fear as he began to vanish, and that fear and panic made his (come on, surely temporary) loss all the more emotional.

16. “Oh no, he died.” The comedy Game Night is much, much better than it sounds like it would be, thanks in part to the cast. Jason Bateman, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury … everybody is good. But there is no performance in the film better than Rachel McAdams as Annie, a deadly serious competitor on game night with her friends who becomes a surprised participant in what film-lovers know as One Crazy Night. You can already know going into it that you will hear her say “Oh no, he died!” at one point and it will be one of the best line-readings of the year. It will still make you laugh. I can still watch it now and still laugh. Putting this together, I just did.

17. The scene where Kayla’s dad comes clean about his fears. There has been a ton of praise, all earned and all deserved, for Elsie Fisher’s performance as young Kayla in Bo Burnham’s stunning Eighth Grade. But the film also relies on Josh Hamilton as Kayla’s father. In one scene, the focus briefly shifts to him as he tries to explain how much he loves her and how much he loves being her father. There isn’t a false note. It’s a beautiful scene.

18. The Rumble In The Restroom. Little bits of the fight scene in which Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill and Liang Yang bounce each other off walls and sinks and mirrors started to circulate well before the release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout. But in the end, the whole thing was as claustrophobic, exciting, stylish and sort of funny as you could have possibly hoped.

19. Cate Blanchett’s suits in Ocean’s 8. If you saw the film, then you know.

20. The singing lineup. As depressing as it was to see Fox cancel the fantastic comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that’s how much fun it was to see NBC pick it right back up again for a sixth season that will start just after the new year. Where would we be without Jake Peralta having the guys in a police lineup sing “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys?

21. Tully‘s montage. It was a good year for montages, actually, and like the one in Forever, the one in Tully that showed the drudgery and monotony of caring for an infant gave us something that only a sequence like that can do. It compressed time — faster and faster, in fact — to tell a story about a lot of moments, none of which are memorable.

22. Sandra Oh in Killing Eve. All the performances in the BBC America series are terrific. But Sandra Oh, who has been one of our most indispensable actresses for many years, played the obsessed spy with an intensity and vulnerability that helped Jodie Comer’s somewhat broader portrayal of the assassin Villanelle remain grounded.

23. A Quiet Place‘s final shot. The entire film is almost unbearably tense, since one key to survival is to stay silent even as danger mounts, passes or arrives. It becomes difficult to imagine what could be a satisfying conclusion — what could feel fair and consistent with the story and not, at some level, just nihilistic and awful. It’s very smart that the story ends where it does — which I wouldn’t dare to give away.

24. John Mulaney and the horse in the hospital. Mulaney’s special Kid Gorgeous has long sections devoted to stranger-danger training and Saturday Night Live. But the peak is an extended simile in which he compares politics to having a horse loose in a hospital. Even if nothing else in the special worked, it would be an astounding document just for that.

25. The last line of Barry. The comedy-drama Barry stars Bill Hader as a hit man trying to go straight, in part by taking acting classes. While it sounds like the setup for black comedy only, the first season builds to a final sequence in which the entire point of the story and the entire meaning of the character’s experience up to this point come into focus in one jarring moment.

26. A dogfight over some garbage. I wound up having mixed feelings about Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, but a sequence in which two packs of dogs scrap over discarded and rotting food, all the while calmly negotiating over how to proceed, turns into a delightful Looney-Tunes-ish moment.

27. Chris Pine in A Wrinkle in Time. I was candidly baffled by the public ambivalence about Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle novel, in part because the relationship between Meg (Storm Reid) and her father, played by Pine, was so moving. He’s just wonderful in it, human and scared, brilliant and lost.

28. New Greg. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is approaching the end of its run. The creators, not surprisingly, decided that it would be a better story if Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) got to close the loop on her relationship with old boyfriend Greg. But when Greg’s original portrayer, Santino Fontana, wasn’t available, they recast with Skylar Astin. But they didn’t pretend it hadn’t happened. Instead, they used the change as a way to play with the idea that when you have changed and someone else has changed in the years since you dated each other, it can feel like the ex is literally a different person. It’s a clever and respectful way to recast a character who was much loved.

29. The sad, exciting, adventurous, devastating portrayal of middle school in the Netflix series Everything Sucks! Rarely has coming of age been so fairly and painfully drawn.

30. Revisiting ER. One of the fun things that happens in the streaming era is that when a series becomes available in a new place, it can be an excuse to talk about it. That’s what happened when all 15 seasons of ER arrived on Hulu in January. It became an opportunity to look back on an influential show, its blind spots and its stars in the making.

31. The Annihilation plants. Alex Garland’s thriller Annihilation features great performances from actresses including Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. But it also showcases genuinely beautiful visual effects. That’s not only the case in its purely frightening sequences or its curious finale. It’s true throughout, with the creation of unusual plants and strange sights that signal to the traveling women that they are somewhere they’re unprepared to be.

32. Successful reinventions. When The Great British Bake Off, broadcast in the United States as The Great British Baking Show, moved from the BBC to Channel 4, it lost judge Mary Berry and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Without them, it was almost impossible to imagine it continuing. Nevertheless, while it feels disloyal to say so, those charged with carrying on have actually done a marvelous job. Hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig have a very different but also entertaining dynamic, while judge Prue Leith is just a bit more naughty than Berry was, making her able to play off the eternally self-important Paul Hollywood in a slightly different way.

33. The two episodes of the podcast Reply All about policing. In a way no individual true crime podcast could, these episodes, called “The Crime Machine,” shed light on the development of New York’s crime statistics system and how a tool intended to create more just results became a weapon used against people who are already marginalized.

34. James Acaster’s Repertoire. Acaster, a British comic, released a set of four specials on Netflix in March together under the label Repertoire. They’re brilliantly structured, weird, insightful and profoundly funny.

35. Paige on the platform. The series finale of The Americans was wrenching in different ways than longtime viewers of the spy show might have expected. Maybe the biggest reveal in the entire run, though, happens the last time Paige (Holly Taylor) and her mother Elizabeth (Keri Russell) make eye contact. Perfectly timed to the period music that was always so thoughtfully used to score important scenes, it was more dramatic than any of the Jenningses’ capers.

36. In a world full of woe, there’s nothing that’s grown on me like Billy on the Street. It is an extremely your-mileage-may-vary situation, but in short bursts, I am always cheered by Billy Eichner running around the streets of New York surprising people and asking them questions. All that despite the fact that I would never want it to happen to me.

37. The second season of Netflix’s One Day at a Time was just as good as the first — that’s a very high bar. And the season finale, which featured Rita Moreno wrenching the tears from your very eyeballs, was shamelessly manipulative and very moving and very sweet. It was all you could ask from your favorite family show.

38. The capes of Lando. Not everything about Solo was successful, to say the least. But Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian was such a fine invention that it often seemed like it should have been his movie. I’d have watched a film about just his cape choices.

39. The Tara Westover book Educated, a memoir of Westover’s childhood, is sometimes terrifying, sometimes upsetting, and sometimes even inspiring. While it’s a hard read about a family’s isolation, it’s a riveting family story that makes for great conversations with friends.

40. Focaccia lessons. The Samin Nosrat book Salt Fat Acid Heat led to a four-part Netflix series of the same name. And while it seems weird that the Fat episode is first (making the series feel more like … Fat Salt Acid Heat?), it makes sense that they’d want to lead with the frankly sexy scene in which Nosrat learns to make focaccia with high-end olive oil. It will make you want to bake bread, at the very least.

41. Russell Hornsby in The Hate U Give. Hornsby plays the father of young Starr Carter in the adaptation of Angie Thomas’ hugely successful YA novel. And while Amandla Stenberg and Regina Hall and a lot of other folks are terrific in it, none stands out more than Hornsby, whose complicated portrayal of a dad who wants the best for his daughter gives the story much of its sizable heart.

42. Constance Wu in Crazy Rich AsiansWhen you’ve been watching an actress kill it as long as she has on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat, seeing Wu have a huge year in a huge film can be so inspiring. Wu got to be glamorous and sparkly and funny in Crazy Rich Asians, and she deserves every magazine cover she got.

43. Mrs. Rogers. The documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the story of Fred Rogers and his work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. But it also becomes the story of his wife Joanne, who likely knew this complicated man better than anyone, and who provides humanizing insight into the man behind the cardigans.

44. Windows in windows in Searching. Very few stories reliant on technology work very well. Searching, starring John Cho as David, the father of a missing teenager, takes place entirely on screens — mostly on her laptop, as you see the texts and chats and messages and emails and videos he looks through while trying to find her. One of the film’s best qualities is that David isn’t either a tech genius or a dummy who has to learn what an emoji is. He’s somewhere in between, where a lot of parents fear they would be. Cho’s performance and the cleverness of the presentation make the film well worth seeing.

45. Jack-Jack. Hiding inside Incredibles 2 is a sequence in which Jack-Jack, the superhero baby (maybe), gets into a fight in the backyard. Worthy of any classic Saturday morning cartoon, the fight is a fully contained and fully delightful adventure of its own.

46. Mortal danger, by choice. Free Solo is the story of Alex Honnold, who set out to do something he’d dreamed of doing for ages. He wanted to “free solo” climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. “Free solo” means rock-climbing with no ropes, no safety harness, no nothing. Just you, skittering up a flat rock face. And while the climbing sequences are unforgettable (see it on the biggest screen you can; it’s out now), the filmmakers also examine what it is that makes a guy want to do something like this when everyone acknowledges that death is a very real possibility.

47. The other lost teenager. Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik, didn’t get as much attention as Eighth Grade did. But it, too, contains a beautiful story of a father and his young teenage daughter. Here, Ben Foster plays a dad who lives in the woods with his daughter, played by Thomasin McKenzie. McKenzie’s quiet portrayal of a girl fiercely loyal to a father she doesn’t entirely understand gives the movie its serene sadness, very much grounded in love.

48. Frederick Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana is a documentary that (as is Wiseman’s way) only observes the town of Monrovia and never comments on it with narration or talking heads. This leads to some remarkable sequences, like one in which many of us will see our longest-ever look at a Freemasons’ ceremony.

49. The #Hamildrops. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s series of monthly additions to the Hamilton canon could have seemed like a desperate attempt to keep the brand going as the touring companies travel. But it didn’t. “First Burn,” an earlier draft of Eliza’s angry song aimed at her husband, let listeners glimpse a process that’s often opaque. In some cases, it may even put them in a position to second-guess the composer about what was left in and what was taken out. That’s a vulnerability not everyone wants to display.

50. Dog Twitter. I simply can’t end 2018 without mentioning that, because this was the year I got a dog, it was also the year I discovered Dog Twitter. To all of you who sent me photos of your dogs — in hats, in sweaters, begging, wagging their tails — I thank you. I’m glad we’re all here on Dog Twitter together.

‘JUSTICE’ Is Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Word Of The Year

justice-2060093_1280

Photo by WilliamCho on Pixabay

The dictionary publisher says the word justice is used in phrases such as racial justice, social justice and obstruction of justice — which has its own, popular entry.

December 17, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

 

William Goldman, Writer Behind ‘Butch Cassidy,’ ‘Princess Bride,’ Dies At 87

Here Are The Winners Of The 2018 Kirkus Prizes

Man Booker Prize For Fiction Goes To ‘Milkman’ By Anna Burns

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