by Jarrod Jones. “‘Franchise’ is not a word that we ever like applied to Elfquest.”
So says Wendy and Richard Pini, creators of the venerated Elfquest series. After 40 years of high adventure, heady themes, and a countless array of characters, lands, and dangers, it’s a rare thing indeed to see something so beloved not bleed into various new spin-off series, or jump into the arena of animation, gaming, or film. That Elfquest isn’t a juggernaut franchise of its own makes it stand out among other high fantasy offerings. But it never needed to dodge anything so superficial in order to be unique.
Elfquest is more than just a name. It’s a feeling. Or, if I may indulge in a bit of proper fantasy-speak, “an essence.” It’s reaching out and loving, protecting, living for one another. It’s a wondrous, candy-colored world, one that just begs to be discovered by new readers. Its legends don’t merely transcend the fantasy genre—the story of Elfquest is the story of independent comics. Wendy and Richard, at it for over 40 years. Doing it their way.
Elfquest, as a series, came to an end with 2015’s Final Quest. It might have been enough for the Pinis to look upon their works, feel the accomplishment sweep over them, and perhaps take a well-deserved vacation. But, as they’re quick to tell me, “The elves were insistent!”
Which brings us to this week’s release of Stargazer’s Hunt #1, a bright, effervescent new era for Elfquest. To mark the occasion, DoomRocket spoke with Wendy and Richard Pini about where this new chapter fits in their lauded fantasy saga, and the future that still lies ahead.
1.‘Elfquest’, as far as the story we’ve known for over 40 years is concerned, has ended. As a writing team, you’ve returned to co-plot ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ with Wendy on scripting duties and layouts and artist Sonny Strait on finishes and color. Was the creative urge to continue in this world too great to set aside entirely? Could it be that ‘Elfquest’ has ventured into franchise territory, or is ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ just the next logical narrative step for your story?
Wendy & Richard Pini: “Franchise” is not a word that we ever like applied to Elfquest, even though it’s been done in the past by some reviewers. We can understand why, since as you say the saga’s been going pretty much non-stop for over four decades. But we knew for a long time there was more story beyond Cutter’s hero’s journey, and we’re not just talking about all the Futurequest material that we touched upon in series like Jink and The Rebels. Stargazer’s Hunt is core stuff. When Cutter passed on, he left a lot of unresolved issues for his brother-in-all-but-blood, Skywise. The hints and clues about that have been planted in Elfquest all the way back to the Original Quest series. So yes, this is the next logical—and necessary—step. We thought we might enjoy a bit more of a sabbatical after “Final Quest” was completed but no such luck. The elves were insistent!
2. You’ve said that ‘Elfquest’ is the type of fantasy comic that bridges generations, that different ages get something different from reading it. Is ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ the beginning of a new generation for ‘Elfquest’, a way of passing the baton on to new creators who’ve grown up with the series, and see how the story could potentially evolve with these voices?
That’s a good question, one we’ve thought about from time to time, ever since we decided, in the mid-1990s, to let other writers and artists play in our sandbox, so to speak. Back then, we [Wendy and Richard] were discovering just how wide and varied the world of Elfquest could be, and we wanted to make a gift of all those stories to our readers as much as we could. So we engaged the talent of quite a few writers and artists. It was a big experiment for us, and we feel the results range from decent to really wonderful. With the conclusion of Final Quest, Wendy wants to ease up on the pressure she’s placed on herself for so long as the canonical artist for Elfquest. Since Sonny Strait is not only a fine artist in his own right, but was also Wendy’s apprentice for a couple of years, we feel he’s the natural “pen” to work over Wendy’s layouts for the new series. But the story is still very much ours.
Would the day ever come where you relinquish writing duties to a new creator? If so, what would the conditions of that arrangement be?
Once again, referring back to Warp Graphics’ big experiment of twenty years ago, we did turn both writing and drawing duties over to other talents, and the intent was that we (mostly Richard) would ride herd over the whole enterprise in an editorial capacity. Again, the results varied. If we were to do something like that now, because we’ve had another couple of decades to firm up the tone and spirit of what Elfquest is all about, we’d have to be comfortable and confident with whoever, that they “get it,” they understand not just the rules of the world we’ve created, but also the deep spiritual messages we’ve always put into the stories.
3. One of the things that have cemented a devoted ‘Elfquest’ readership is a sturdy continuity. What do you have in store for Skywise, who had such a strong bond with his soul-brother (and former ‘Elfquest’ lead) Cutter, and how will this new story delve into what’s come before—especially ‘The Final Quest’?
Now, that would be telling! But as we have said, Elfquest itself—aside from being a grand adventure—is just as much a love story between Cutter and Skywise as between Cutter and his lifemate Leetah. And at the end of “Final Quest” there were unresolved issues. So that particular relationship, those unanswered questions, need to be addressed.
4. There’s a bit early on in ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ #1 where Jink, Skywise’s cub, asks why he has yet to dance with Cutter’s spirit. Is Skywise’s reticence to connect with Cutter’s spirit a way to allow Skywise to embark on his own adventures? A way for him—and ‘Elfquest’—to crack the spine on a new saga? Without giving too much away, might we assume there will be some sort of catharsis for these two characters down the road?
Once upon a time, Arthur C. Clarke was being interviewed about 2001: A Space Odyssey and was asked a question that clearly would have necessitated giving away spoiler points. He replied, “That’s a most excellent question. Next!”
5. Later in ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ #1, Skywise gets called out for not having his heart broken enough to let Cutter’s spirit in. Is this true? I know he’s incredibly young compared to other characters in this story, but there are many ways to mourn a friend’s passing—perhaps distance from Cutter’s spirit is Skywise’s way of moving on?
Dear questioner, you are dangerously insightful. Or should that be “inciteful”? This is literally the essence of the story. Skywise has never been portrayed as particularly introspective. Amid all the action, and there will be plenty, we will get a glimpse—through more eyes than only his—into the stargazer’s soul, deeper than we have to date.
6. ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ is Skywise’s journey towards acceptance—but ‘Elfquest’ has never been a journey from Point A to Point B. What detours and hidden avenues could Skywise and Jink potentially take in this new story?
Indeed! What could they? Because, you see, Skywise’s journey is also in a certain ripply mirror way, Jink’s journey.
7. There’s the story that Skywise was originally going to be put on the chopping block, killed off, early in the going of ‘Elfquest’. What trajectory do you think the story of Cutter would have taken had Skywise died?
Skywise was and is such an integral part of the story, and of Cutter’s own hero’s journey, all throughout Elfquest that we can’t even begin to imagine such an alternate trajectory. That original bit of story business, Wendy has said, came from a romantic young woman’s point of view, steeped up to her neck in romance manga which at the time was 99% hurt-comfort tragic. Wendy was going with the classic trope of Gilgamesh losing Enkidu. She has since expressed in other interviews her gratitude that Richard—who took an immediate liking to Skywise—slapped her (figuratively) upside the head.
8. How would you compare the debut of ‘Stargazer’s Hunt’ with, say, ‘Fantasy Quarterly’ #1? How have your approaches to story changed since these two milestones?
The biggest difference is that Fantasy Quarterly #1 depended entirely on word of mouth for its publicity. There was no internet, no social media. Today, of course, announcements can go around the world in an instant, to reach a bigger audience than we could ever have dreamed.
In terms of our approach to storytelling, Fantasy Quarterly launches the tale right in the middle of the action and expects the reader to keep up; we show through the art rather than tell with a lot of words. Essentially, that’s exactly what we’re doing with Stargazer’s Hunt. With any new series we’ve created, it always helps to have read the story to that point. That’s why we uploaded everything prior to Final Quest to our Elfquest.com web site, to read for free. So if you’re new to Elfquest and starting with Stargazer’s Hunt, you’re getting the same experience as people had with that very first issue in 1978. On the other hand, we’re also respectful that any issue of Elfquest may be someone’s first, so we take some pains to give enough background so a new reader isn’t swamped and lost.
‘Elfquest: Stargazer’s Hunt’ #1 hits stores November 13.
Check out this 3-page preview of ‘Elfquest: Stargazer’s Hunt’ #1, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!
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