Sunday, September 15, 2013

Children of Elfquest

I am taking a page from Jody Day's Gateway Women blog, especially the tradition of identifying childless role models (such as Georgia O'Keefe, an artist, and Susan Anthony, a civil right activist), to give my own childless heroes a well-deserved recognition, and of their contribution to the world, the geek world, that is.

That would be Wendy and Richard Pini, the creators of Elfquest. What is Elfquest?  It's a comic book that came to life in 1978, of a story about elves (certainly not your Santa Claus elves or Tolkein's elves) trying to survive and find their place in a two-moon world, after their ancestors were stranded on the unwelcome world.  The main characters include Cutter, the 11th chief of the Wolfriders (yes, the tribe members literally ride upon wolves and live in the woods); Skywise, Cutter's best friend/blood-brother (and smart-ass, if you ask me), and Leetah, the healer for the Sun Folks (another group of elves who are peaceful and living in the desert.)

Skywise and Cutter
 (copyrighted by Wendy and Richard Pini)

The story wasn't limited to them, tho; there is a community of other characters, from the treeshaper Redlance to the glider Aroree, to trolls Pickaxe (yup, you read that right- *giggle*), and to preservers that could pass for winged fairies and humans aren't forgotten either. They range from enemies to an human daughter adopted by elves. War, love, death, life struggles and joy, laughter and tears, and philosophy could be found on pages, giving one awareness of worlds beyond what we see.

For me, Elfquest was a lifesaver.  

In 1984, I was a teenager, in a new house, in a new state, new school, away from everything familiar to me. Even more when you get to think about me being deaf, furthermore isolated and bullied.    I plummeted into depression.

It was one of those weekends I had to go with mom to her work on a Saturday.   There was a newspaper stand, that had a limited selection of books and a rack of comic books nearby.  So I was peering at the rack of comic books for something to keep myself busy while mom was working upstairs.  Used to see covers of Spider-man and Batman, I was surprised to see an unusual cover of  a group of pointed-eared humanoids, walking across a desert.  

( Elfquest copyrighted by Wendy and Richard Pini)

What struck me was their desperation.  Walking in an hostile environment that can bring death to them.  You would presume that one on the cover is already dead.    I opened the comic book, reading about the elves losing their home to a fire, and of choosing to walk the desert, not knowing if there would be cool dark woods on the end.  They took a gamble on an unfamiliar object that Skywise (turned out to be an lodestone) acquired in the caverns of the trolls. I was so mesmerized, drawn into the world. The colors, the words, the pictures, I was lost in the sphere and I welcomed the depth of the story that swallowed me.   

I was startled awake when a hand laid on my shoulder, shaking me, and I looked up, blinking in an attempt to adjust myself back to the harsh reality to see that it was mom. She was telling me it was time to go home and to put away the comic book.  I begged for her to buy the issue for me; she refused as usual.  Images flew through my mind while I was staring out the window in the car; Cutter worried about his injured tribe member; Skywise's confidence in his lodestone even that he only got it a few hours ago; and the doubt on whether the tribe would survive the walk through the desert, with two wolf deaths.  They may be a tribe, but they were also a family.

I wanted to be one of that family.  I forgot that I had a plan to kill myself that night.  

Instead, I was considering wildly on how to gain all that Elfquest issues, knowing that mom  wasn't keen on me reading comic books.  It was a week later when we went to WaldenBooks (anyone remember that book chain?), I found that Elfquest are available in graphic novels!  I was freaking out- "I MUST have those!"    After convincing mom that I'd do all my chores without complaining for 30 days, she is to get me all graphic novels she could find.  You can picture anyone a parent would think to herself, chuckling "that kid won't go through, it won't happen."   

I did do all my chores, even extra ones without complaining!    On the 30th night, I reminded mom of our agreement, showing her the calendar with checked days, that she had to get all the graphic novels. 

Mom knew she was beat.  

After floating through the school day, waiting impatiently at home, and peering outside to see if mom had arrived, my heart was pounding.  I was right there at the door when mom came in, and I exclaimed, "wherearemybooks?!"  She handed me a Waldenbook bag, in which I quickly drew two graphic novels, Elfquest Books 2 and 3.  After being told that the two others (1 and 4) weren't there (of course, I grumbled!), and rushing through dinner, I ran to my bedroom to devour the books.  

(Elfquest copyrighted by Wendy and Richard Pini)

It was basically in the wee hours of the morning (3 o'clock if you have to know) when I looked up, dazed, finished with the second book (Elfquest Book 3). 

A spark was lit in my soul. 

I wanted to live.

If the elves can survive the challenges, so can I.  If the elves could live through hardships and still live day by day with eyes of joy, so could I.   I drew hope from the illustrations, breathed in perseverance and courage from the characters, and welcomed life.   I wasn't alone anymore. 

When I found myself forgotten and bruised from bullying, I opened the book to remind myself, Winnowill (a villain) tried to control the Wolfriders because they were different. Humans tried to erase them from existence. The elves refused to be victims, and so I had the choice too, to refuse being a victim.  I refused to tolerate bullying; I spoke up.  Bullying stopped, (and hitting one back, certainly did help.)    

When I felt darkness of depression upon me, I buried myself under the blanket, with a flashlight and the ragged-corner books, welcoming me back to the two-moon world. 

It took two another years before I finally got the Book 4, and another year for the Book 1 (I know I should have started with Book 1, but damn, that was always out!)  My beloved Grandma managed to find a copy, Book 1, for my Christmas gift- the best present ever!  

I must make a confession. In a few years later, I was a college student, aspiring to meet Wendy and Richard one day. I was visiting an interpreter friend who lived in Poughkeepsie.  I was telling her about Elfquest, and of my dream, adding that the couple was living in the same town.  You know what she did?  She asked me for the address- I kept saying "No, no that'd be RUDE of me to show up at the door...! They would think me an insane stalker!"  

Next thing I knew, I was at the door, dragged out of the car by the friend, to the door.  I stood there, frozen in excitement and terror.  The friend prodded at me "go ahead, ring the doorbell." I was overcome with racing thoughts: "ohcrapohcraptheyaregoingtocallcopsonmeohcrapohcraptheyaregoingtothinkmecrazy!" 

So she pushed the doorbell.  

Then, Richard was there.  It had been over fifteen years ago, and I still remember vividly to this day, his curiosity about two strange women standing front of him, both signing with hands (although one was voicing for me).  The friend had to poke at me to say something, in which I rushed out my name, where I came from, how much I love Elfquest, rambling all in one breath. Bless her heart, the interpreter friend managed to get it all out for Richard to understand what I said.  Richard took it all graciously and smiled, asking me if I'd like to come in.  Would I ever!!??

He showed me around in the place, the room where he was editing pages for Elfquest: Kings of the Broken Wheel.  He showed me how to put a speech balloon in a panel. He printed out an Elfquest cover with Cutter and Rayek in front, with Cutter saying "Hello, Julie!" and handed it to me.  I was drowning in awe. When I thought we would have to leave, Richard asked if we would like to meet Wendy. 

I was FLOODED, oh yes oh yes!   So we walked down the street, to a cute house.   We all entered, and Wendy was coming out of a room, smiling. I felt like a guest, with the gates to Elfquest just swung open to me. She showed me art she had done, which took over the room from floor to ceiling, and items that fans had sent to her, including two cloth dolls, Cutter and Skywise and a real elf-sized sword, New Moon, Cutter's sword! She encouraged me to pick it up, and it was surprising heavy yet light, and I was so delighted when I realized the pommel could be taken out, revealing the hidden key!  I rattled off many names, even minor characters, in which Wendy admitted she couldn't remember every single character and their names (that ought tell you how much  of this obsession was back then!).  I asked her even if there'd be a deaf elf, in which Wendy said there was, a mother of a major character.  I was glad to hear that, since as you know, dear readers, I'm deaf.  The interpreter friend's fingers were flying fast as I talked about how Elfquest changed my life, and how happy I was to meet with them at last. Richard and Wendy were wonderful hosts! 

Standing outside, waiting for the friend to unlock her car door, I was in a blissful mystification. She laughed and said "Now, are you sorry that I dragged you here?"   

So it had been 28 years since Elfquest entered my life, shifting the path from despair to life. 

This year, Elfquest is celebrating 35 years, with so many books, with a variety of artists and writers all in the two-moon world, but always watched fondly by Wendy and Richard Pini.   Thanks to Wendy, underground comics were growing popular (not of the Marvel or DC universes).  Their having a company of their own with the Elfquest story, independent of the mainstream comics, contributed to people aspiring to create their own stories, such as A Distant Soil, for one. There were so many comics that I couldn't include 'em all here.  And to add, Wendy was the ARTIST and writer with her husband being co-writer and editor, which was unusual in the 1970's.  Comic artists had always been men, until Wendy Pini's entrance into the comic book world (as Red Sonja- cosplay- which is another story! LOL) 

Now what does childlessness have to do with the couple?  They chose not to have children.  They chose to give life to characters in their mind, to put word of whispered stories onto pages,  and to introduce the two-moon world and the pointed-eared ethos to a world used to caped superheroes. So Elfquest was created...and shall we say "And they're off!"  One'd think that the couple would feel absence of children as they get older.  You'd be wrong.  

So many readers have seen themselves in the stories; many explained how Elfquest had affected them personally- even saving some lives (and mine). So many stories mirroring our lives in ways you could not imagine.   From the elves' story, we rediscovered humanity in ourselves, and rekindled hope in seeing what life can offer us, with new eyes.  So many of us have been inspired, that even some of readers are introducing their own children to Elfquest, giving the stories a new generation to live on.  

And that's where Wendy and Richard find their joy in.    As Richard said in this article "Elfquest- 35 Years and Beyond", after being told over and over by fans describing how Elfquest influenced their lives, even saving some of them, Richard said, "Any time someone says 'you inspired me' or 'you helped me'-- you're our kids.  You are our spiritual and creative and artistic and wonderful kids.  And thank you all for being that... You are now our family, our tribe."  

His quote helped me realize something- we do not have to rely on parenthood, to find our place in the world.  There are other ways to leave a mark on the world, as Georgia O'Keeffe did with her painting, Susan Anthony with her activism, and Wendy and Richard with their Elfquest.  There are other ways to be a family, a tribe, to raise and/or teach children and individuals. 

So from my heart, I thank you, Wendy and Richard.   You saved me and many, and in turn, you can trust that Elfquest will be safe in our hands, our heads and our hearts.  

( Elfquest copyrighted by Wendy and Richard Pini)


  1. Oh, make me cry. Yeah, I'm having PMS, too he he...

    It's REALLY REALLY lovely that you got to meet Wendy and Richard at their house! I was shrieking in delight when I reached that part of your well as when I read how the characters helped you "forget" that you wanted to die. My goodness! Stories are really powerful, eh?

    Speaking of tribe, I've joined Jody Day's GW community in Google + and it's been nice to hang out there. :-)

  2. *sigh* It flooded me with fond memories of our timeless Elfquest journey. Even to this day, I still love the Elfquest. You are fortunate to meet Wendy and Richard in person! WOWOWOWOWOWOW!!!! So glad that you are still around. Love you, Jules!

  3. I just wanted to say that your story touched me deeply. This is what Internet should have more. So greetings from one Elfquest-fan from Finland, who was now inspired by you!