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ElfQuest turns 35 and Poe gets animated with Wendy & Richard Pini

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I have held this interview until their new ELFQUEST comic comes out, and since that is next week, I can finally share this great conversation that I had at DragonCon in Atlanta with the groundbreaking award-winning Pini’s at last.

 

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I started the conversation with co-creators Wendy and Richard by thanking them for sticking by Dragon Con.

There has been controversy about the convention for a few years now and I wanted to express that I appreciated them not backing down due to this.

Richard: We were able to do enough homework that we were able to determine that there was a more educated side, and a less educated side and that’s how we roll.

I commented about how Facebook is full of reactionary people who read one thing and become super angry about it… for five minutes

Wendy:  The people who I disliked the most were the people who preyed on the holier than thou, who built up their own image by saying “Oh, I would never attend.” To build themselves up. That’s what I hated the most…

Holly: There was someone I knew who asked if people who were going were also giving money to Catholic abuse charities …and I had to say – this is not that! Not a fundamental systemic abuse at all. I don’t know that you’ve ever been to DragonCon, and I’ve been coming since 1996…

R: The last time we were here was 20 years ago. So it’s new to us again.
H: Do you do a lot of conventions? I don’t hear about them if you do…
R: We are doing a lot this year because it is ELFQUEST’S 35th anniversary. We would do San Diego (comic con) because you kind of have to, and some local/regional ones, but were pretty much off the circuit until this year. Mostly because Dark Horse Comics is bringing out the new ElfQuest: Final Quest series next month (now). And maybe in 5 years when its been 40 years we’ll do it again.

H: And we’ll all go… O my god… it’s been 40 years. We’re old…!
R: Don’t worry, we’ll shoot ourselves before that happens.
I mentioned a friend whose grandmother would cut all the ‘boobies’ from his comic books, and his brother had to find him new issues of ElfQuest to keep hidden, and that he was influenced greatly in his own comic-drawing styles from Wendy’s manga-inspired art.
W: You can take it to the bank that ElfQuest was the first manga and anime-influenced comic book series in America.

H: Not to put too sexy a note on this…
W:Why not…? Put it on there!
H: Well,  my mom was a very liberal mom, who took me to see both The Wall and Rocky Horror films when I was 12. I’ve not done drugs, and maybe The Wall is the reason why, much like Rocky Horror was fundamental to my acceptance of people of all kinds of sexuality …and reading things like Marvel’s old EPIC magazine and ElfQuest… what sort of push-back did you get publishing EQ with the sex being a goodly part of the stories?
W:  We’re kind of surprised in 2013… – in the 70’s it was more liberal. ElfQuest was born in the hippie-dippie era of bell bottoms and love children. Free love and public nudity. Things are actually more repressive now, then when it was born and we’re actually a little bit surprised by that.
H: I mean, it’s been almost 40 years, can’t we have progressed a little?
R: Well, yeah. And here’s the thing that gives me hope. She’s absolutely gives me hope. She’s correct that the ‘face’ of 2013 is more conservative,  more repressive, more this, more that. But I think that that is the dying gasp of that kind of intolerance.

W: The cutting the boobies out…

H: The whole ‘control’ thing….

R: Exactly, in a historical sense, really soon we are gonna break through. Yes, there’s repression and dammit we’ve got gay marriage legalized in a bunch of states now. We’re a whole lot different then we were 50 years ago. So I’m hopeful., even in the face of this apparently increasing resistance..and ElfQuest, subversively or not, has always been at the front of that resistance and push.
H: I started reading hero comics when I was bout 6, and started on ElfQuest when I was about 10, and it was one of the first independent comics I can remember getting.

Wendy Pini: We often refer to ElfQuest as a gateway-drug… and it gets a lot of girls involved in comics. To this day, gets a lot of girls involved with comic books.

H: I had a friend who refused to read anything except for school-related books. But she started picking up my New Mutants, and X-Men, and within a year had joined the Sci-Fi Book Club and I was all: I taught someone to read!

It wasn’t me, but my influence on her. And you two have managed to do this on a much grander scale. You may have brought people into a culture, a lifestyle and an open-mindedness that they might not otherwise have had…
R: We’ve been doing this 35 years, and we get feedback from various channels. The very best feedback we have ever gotten is from kids of all ages who say “You have helped me” with this or that, or this other lifestyle-related issue. From parents, from teachers. We don’t have kids ourselves, but we have a lot of children. And they say, “You got me through this bad patch” –
W: We’ve heard it just today. What ElfQuest does, — it attracts an audience of people who might not have an idea of what family is, because they come from a tough background. And the reason I can write it is because I come from a tough background. I can tell stories about what its like to be alienated and to define your safe place. Your soul-family. And that’s what ElfQuest is all about. And people who are alienated feel drawn to it. And there’s never an end to that, so there will always be an audience for it.

R: But on the other side …there is also never an end to finding your new family, new friends, a tribe. You might lose, but you will gain another. And it never stops.

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W: ElfQuest has a huge gay following and I can’t tell you how many gay creators in comics and elsewhere tell me “I am doing what I am doing…” because I grew up reading it, and it taught me that it’s okay to be me. And that’s one of my greatest sources of pride.
H: I think there’s even people who’ve gone into wildlife biology from reading it…
W: (laughs) David Mizejewski! – they both laugh {update: he sent msg on twitter today w/correct name spelling}
R: Because of the thing of living in the environment, in harmony … it has happened.
W: In phoenix, a woman told us she went to live with the wolves in Alaska for 2 years in the wild because she read ElfQuest.
H: Damn. That is some potentially dangerous stuff.
W: Well, she had a good time with it.
R: Hopefully she was… it was done sensibly. As a student and not a stunt.
H: Well, she came back to tell you, so she’s probably okay!
W: And we’re not telling you this to make you think that ElfQuest is this special thing or this that or the other. I just think that like attracts like. We put EQ out there, and it attracts certain people.
H: And they become who they are, and maybe not just what society says you should be…
W: Exactly
R: We had to become who we are, and ElfQuest was the mechanism for that.
H: So are there stories you haven’t told yet in that world?

W: That’s what FINAL QUEST is all about. It is bringing the heroes’ journey full circle.

final questR: Which sort of feeds into what we get asked a lot; . i.e. did you know what you were going to be doing? Did you know how this was going to end?

Richard Pini: When Final Quest is done, you will have your answer. You’ll be able to go back and see the clues.

W: There are red herrings all through the story, and they’ll have to go back and read them again to find them all.
H: I don’t run around with purple hair and tattoos because of ElfQuest, but I can say I don’t give a damn. And that I can say that I don’t and I have a job where it doesn’t matter.
R: So you became ‘you’
H: Yes, and from a fairly young age. Many of my friends who might not have had such things (like Rocky Horror, etc) didn’t figure out who they were ‘til in their 30’s.

R: And that definitely is going to happen in Final Quest.
W: That is going to be a “be careful for what you wish for” story.

As you know, they gave their blood, sweat, and tears to regain the powers of the High Ones, but they are too innocent to understand what it means.

The whole story really comes down to the choice of Wolfriders or Palace, which do you choose?

R: They both have incredible attractions and incredible drawbacks. And it is the weighing of all of that. It ‘s going to be unexpected.
W: Yes, some of the characters will take turns you won’t expect.
H: Great! Because you may have read the books over and over and think you know how they’ll react.
W: I can predict that this will be one they’ll be talking about.
R: It’s going to take 3-4 years, and the prologue comes out in October (next week!) – and it will take as long as it takes. We’re estimating this long a time period. And when it’s done, it’s gonna be … astounding.

W: It doesn’t mean the end of ElfQuest altogether. It just means the end of my management.
R: Back in the 80’s and 90’s – we freelanced out and got some good stuff from that. Final Quest is a completion of that hero’s arc. There is still wonderful stuff to come out. We are, to a lesser extent, working with those people who are inspired to tell their stories as we were to tell ours. I’m kind of looking forward to that…
H: As you work together primarily, and for so long, have there been sticking points, or arguments that came up around these stories?
W: Well (gesturing to Richard seated beside her)…  he’s the reason that Skywise is still alive. That was the first sticking point. I was…as easily as any other young women, a victim of the hurt/comfort fetish. Do you know what that is?
H: I’ve had some Ben & Jerry’s on a bad day, so I guess so…
W: (laughs) You know, the idea of the hero’s best friend getting killed…
H: “I have to AVENGE my friend…!”
R: Yes. It’s very meaty and juicy.
W: That was the direction it was going at first and he says, “Not with my elf, you don’t”
R: Skywise is the tribe’s astronomer. I am an astronomer by avocation and nature. And I was, “No way… you’re going to keep him alive.” – and it’s the best thing I’ve done. Because he has continued to play of companion/mirror and all of these things – and I can’t even imagine how the story would have gone on.
W: Another bone of contention was the death of One-Eye. For any of our characters to die, it is not logical that they would go through these battles without losses.
R: And I had to accept that. In my life I was still hoping for happy endings and life doesn’t care.

They then got into discussion around not being ready for the loss of the character, how it happened, in the way that a couple married and working together for 40 years does. It was charming to watch the back-and-forth they are still having all this time later.
H: So what inspires you on your heroes’ journey?
R & W: Life. Just life. Everything in EQ is an expression to a greater or lessor degree is our life, just dressed up in fantasy clothes.
W: The ‘be careful what you wish for’ storyline in an example: you can sometimes have a great amount of good fortune descend upon you…and handling it is tricky. Like with how this (EQ) struck so large and so successful when we were in out 20’s. the spotlight was so big, so hot, and so soon and we weren’t ready for it.

R: We went through some rough patches of our own (and I won’t get into details) but they are represented symbolically in ElfQuest. And some to come, because that’s where they fit. That’s where the best fantasy comes from. It’s just life through a distorted mirror.
W: I think, my personal belief about fantasy, is that its purpose is to say something about the human condition, — without that I don’t have any interest. If fantasy has an underpinning of human experience and human heart, that interests me.
H: Speaking of heart… (points to the comic adaptation of Masque of the Red Death also on display)… why did you want to do this?

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W: It wasn’t want, it was ‘have’ to do this.

Masque of the Red Death is my favorite Edgar Allen Poe story. It’s been on my mind for many, many years.

Then in 2008 when Warner Brothers optioned ElfQuest, and they had a four-year option where we couldn’t publish anything, I thought, now’s my chance. Now I can dive in and do Masque. It’s practically my favorite creative experience of my entire career. This means I painted four pages a week digitally and then animated them in Flash. I would put up the episodes weekly.
H: So it was always your intention to do this in a multimedia format, with the first third as a physical book and the rest online?
W: Yes! Doing it as an animated webcomic … I really, really wanted to do this.
R: Wendy’s loved animation longer then she’s loved comics. So the chance to do Masque was perfect for her.
This led to discussion of Marvel’s first animated series’ from the 1960’s and the old Filmation Star Trek cartoons.

H: So, that’s where Masque first appeared. And you wanted to do it for four years.
W: And I did. It was an experiment to build an audience from scratch with a new property…
H: Because they might not translate from one property to another.

W: Oh no. Not very many EQ fans followed me from one to the other. Some felt I was betraying them by doing something totally different.masque-11
H: Wow. That’s extreme. But I think as an artist and a person you can’t be locked into one thing your whole life…
R: But some fans don’t see it that way.
H: I mean, look at how upset some people are over Batman/Ben Affleck.
R: Oh, let’s not even go there, so much stupidity. — pause–  I’ve got to brag on the Masque book for a minute. The original story is 8 pages, after all. In the original, a plague hits, and a rich man turns his back and locks him and his friends up for safety. Everyone dies by the end, however.

W: And I wanted to explore why someone would do this, turn his back on all of humanity.
R: This 400-page, dark future, very x-rated opus is an examination of a soul and how he could do this.

Wendy Pini: Poe never judges his characters; he just shows you what they do. That’s what I do.

R: Wendy has created a family of characters against which the Prince can interact, and be a foil to. The original story only had one main character.

W: This story is being adapted for a Broadway musical show. Through an amazing series of coincidences I’ve met with some people, and written the libretto. A musical takes about six years to complete, and we’re premiering some of these songs at BENT-CON in Los Angeles (in November)

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Richard: It will be during a panel, so there won’t be staged readings.

W: The songs are “Phantom” (of the Opera) level – and we can’t wait to let people hear them!
Holly : Well, as the room is closing I will have to let you go… and thank you so much for your time and  for coming back to Dragon Con at last.  (we went way over our 10-minute scheduled time)
Wendy: Well, these weren’t the usual questions, so we appreciated them!

So, if you’re in LA, check out BENT-CON and see for yourself how this new MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH sounds in song next month, and this month, go to your favorite comics retailer and get the first of the new Dark Horse Comics ELFQUEST: FINAL QUEST books so you can at last know how Cutter, Leetah and Skywise’s stories end!

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You can find me on the tweety here @MediaTsarina and feel free to comment below!

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