ElfQuest is fantasy with teeth. It's also 35 years of one of, if not the greatest, indie comic to ever hit the shelves. It's been under the DC shield, the Marvel name, and its own WARP (standing for Wendy and Richard Pini) logo. But it is far more than a great read, majestic art work, and a work of purest passion. It is a quest. Not just for the life hardened wolf riding elves but for the reader. Readers of ElfQuest are extremely passionate and loyal to the books. Through the stories, our way of thinking is taken apart, causing many readers to refer to the story, not by its given name, but by LifeQuest. What we think of as normal in our daily lives may be other worldly to another as close as the person sitting next to you now as you read this. We are exposed to different ways of thinking through ElfQuest. The rich complex and yet simple story line makes us examine ourselves and our way of thinking. I went to Richard Pini himself, known as Elfpop to readers, and asked him for his point of view on his life changing work.
GEEK: Why do you believe your die hard Questers refer to Elfquest as LifeQuest?
Richard Pini: You asked why I believe the “die-hard” EQ fans refer to it as “LifeQuest.” I think it’s for the same reason that a lot of readers also call it “SelfQuest” – and for the same reason that age-old fairy tales and fables manage to contain wisdom that resonates with audiences even today. The most meaningful fantasy stories, long or short, are those that contain elements of universal truths, the kind of truths that just about any reader – young or old, female or male, naive or worldly-wise – can relate to. Look at Aesop, and the fables he wrote over two and a half millennia ago. The lessons they contain are still relevant. Example: the boy who cried wolf. We all know someone who’s lied and lied until he can’t be believed about anything – even if he does, later, actually tell the truth. We understand these lessons, these bits of wisdom, on a deep internal level; we accept their place in our own moral and ethical makeup. So it is with Elfquest. The elves go through trials and tribulations, they make mistakes and they learn lessons about how to deal with others of their kind, and with others who are unlike them. They yearn to find a home-place where they can feel safe. They deal with love and loss, each in his or her own way. And always, the struggles they endure, the lessons they learn, the triumphs and tragedies they experience, are similar enough to the struggles we human readers have to go through, so that the reader can say, “Gee, I know how that feels!” or “Oh! If this character can endure the loss of a mate, maybe so can I.” The fantastical stories of Elfquest have meaning for these readers’ real lives. So that, I imagine and believe, is why they call it what they do.
GEEK: Why do you think it is that so many people who read ElfQuest change their way they think about things after reading your stories? For example people against multiple partners in love, or partners of the same sex suddenly becoming okay, or at least tolerant, of what they once found distasteful?
Richard Pini: Well, I don’t think such attitudes change instantly, when someone reads Elfquest. But I do believe that if someone is attracted to Elfquest in the first place, for any reason at all, they are by definition the sort of person that might be open to new or alternative ideas. Of course, there are also people who, for whatever reason, find Elfquest attractive and enjoyable reading, who are more “traditional” in some ways. There’s no right or wrong here. There have been readers who’ve said they love the story, and are enchanted by the love story between Cutter and Leetah, but who also are put off by any relationship that’s not strictly one male, one female. So whatever they are taking from EQ, it is different from what someone else may take, who reads of a three-mating (for example) and realizes that he or she is not alone, in feeling the desire to be with more than one partner. Elfquest isn’t here to tell anyone what to do, or how to think. It just tells a story in a certain way, using characters and situations that reflect the views and hopes and fears of its tellers. If that trips a switch in a reader’s mind or heart, that’s great. If not, that’s great too.
GEEK: Do you think the new stories of ElfQuest that are coming out will continue to push the boundaries of preconceived normality as far as the original stories? Or do you think it will be more toned down?
Richard Pini: Well, here’s the thing. We never set out to push boundaries. We simply told the story as honestly as we ever knew, and we continue to tell the story as honestly as we know. Among the elves, and particularly among the Wolfriders, they don’t think about the things we humans think about, because there’s never been any kind of reason TO think about them. If a male and a female elf choose to be together (a la Strongbow and Moonshade), that’s great. If two elves of the same sex choose to be together, that’s great. If more than two elves choose to be together, that’s great. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way – only “the way” which comes from love, pure and simple. That’s why we don’t and can’t answer questions that talk about gay or straight characters; those are labels that we’ve adopted so that we can even begin to discuss the wonderful yet still-troubling differences among humans. But we never said to ourselves, “Let’s have a same-sex relationship between this one and that one, that’ll get people talking!” If that relationship was right for the story (for it is the story that rules above all else), then that’s what went into it. And the same thing applies now as ever. What is right for the story, will go into the story. Nothing will be artificially ramped up or toned down, same as always.
GEEK: Thank you so much for your awesome answers. Do you have anything to say to the readers who lovingly call your work Lifequest as we wrap up?
Richard Pini: Of course I do! Buy more Elfquest! (Just kidding.)
What I would say is simply this: If you are indeed on your own Lifequest or Selfquest, be brave like the elves. You are going to meet adversity, and you will have choices to make. Be true to who you are, who you are striving to be. There’s not a single path that leads to your truth – you may push your way through the barriers, you may find ways to slip around the barriers. You may even choose to embrace the barriers and in doing so learn even more about who you are. Listen to your own voice, for no one knows you as well as you do, even though others may insist they know you and can judge you. You are the hero of your own story, and it is yours alone to write.
Be sure to check out www.Elfquest.com where you can read all of this stunning comic for free!