So, I’m not sure how old some of you are, and I’m sure that many of you have never heard about a series that was started almost 40 years ago, but has been an indelible part of fantasy since it was first released. I’m speaking of course about the Wendy and Richard Pini series ElfQuest. If the name doesn’t sound familiar right off, I’m sure the title image will be readily recognizable.
As a kid living in Denver, Colorado, I would spend time at my grandparent’s house, which was about a mile away from a newsstand. If I was lucky, I could usually talk my folks or my uncle into taking me down to the newsstand so I could look at the comic books. At the time, most kids my age were reading Mickey Mouse comics, or Archie comics, you know, the more kid-centric, vanilla comics of the early to mid-80s.
Not me – my uncle, a musician, artist, bike mechanic, was no stranger to the Comix movement of the 60s and 70s, and had some of the books to prove it. What he didn’t know was that I knew where his comics were. So, at the ripe old age of 7, I was reading about Fritz the Cat, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Wonder Warthog and the like. So, the first time we took a trip to the newsstand (sadly long out of business now), I wanted to find something that was more interesting than Archie, but not something that would incite a long boring lecture about what was appropriate for me to read at that time. As I walked through the stacks of magazines and comics, looking wistfully at the covers on the upper levels: Heavy Metal, Zap! Comix, some dude named Larry Welz, whose artwork I thought I could fool my parents into thinking it was Archie, although the blonde on the cover was practically falling out of her dress. Resigned to find some lame title, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Turning towards it, I saw this:
Time stopped for a moment. My breath caught in my throat. It wouldn’t been until years later that I felt a jolt like that, and that was when I first met the woman who would become my wife. At 7, I didn’t know what the hell had hit me, but I just knew I had to have this magazine. My heart was racing. A cold sweat broke out on my brow. Feverishly, I shoved my hand in my pocket, pulling out a handful of coins. I had to re-count the coins three times before I could ascertain that I was short by a quarter. I was crushed.
In one of those flashes of insight, I grabbed the magazine, raced over to my folks, and asked them to help me pay for it. Distracted as they were at the time (I had chosen to ask them when they were engaged in a discussion with someone), they agreed, and I handed them my sweat drenched coins and placed the issue on the counter. After it was rung up, I made a beeline to the car, jealously clutching my find to my chest. Climbing into the car, I plunked down in my chair and started reading, not knowing what I was getting myself into.
In it’s pages, I saw elves and trolls killing each other. I saw racial hatred, swordplay and blood. lots of blood. I saw decapitations and the troll king’s head on pikes. It was horrific, violent, terrifying and shocking.
I was hooked.
I read that issue a dozen times that first week, even though the first night I suffered from terrible nightmares. That magazine went everywhere with me, becoming a companion of sorts. Eventually, I took it to my cousin’s house and forgot it there – I never saw it again. In the ensuing months and years, I tried to find new issues, to no avail. At 7, I didn’t know it was being published tri-annually, all I knew was that it was never at the newsstands when I looked for it.
A few years passed, I moved across country and then back, still obsessing over finding those mythical books (in my mind, I yearned to read more – fearing I had imagined the magazine). My mom got a job at the local library, and so I spent my days in the stacks, looking for anything and everything I found interesting when I stumbled across Fire and Flight.
Suddenly, I felt vindicated. Something that had been missing was no longer missing. I discovered the library had all the current books (at the time), and I checked them out as soon as each one was returned. I was happy again. I started scouring the local book stores, looking for copies that I myself could purchase. As I was a poor kid who didn’t really want to work (It took me a few years to get over that), I never had a whole lot of money to splurge on such things as books. As I continued to read the graphic novels, I discovered book 7 for sale at a time I had some money, so I purchased it (it remains the only ElfQuest book I own).
As the years went on, and it became increasingly difficult to find new issues in town, my interest naturally began to wane, but I never forgot about it.
Recently, I started checking Amazon to see if I could purchase the graphic novels. I was dismayed to see that the average price for them starts around $50, as they’re all out of print. Figuring I would see what I could find online, I discovered that the Pinis have digitized every issue of their series (that they have legal rights too do so), and posted them on their web site, free of charge. While I may not be able to own the dead tree versions of this iconic series, I can at least visit Cutter, Leeta, Skywise, Pike, and the rest of the clans whenever I want.
Now, I can appreciate the nuances of the elves societies in a way that I never understood when I was 7, and completely misinterpreted when I was 13. One thing that will never change however, is the awe that I feel when I look at the artwork that has gone into this story. It is definitely timeless.
To Wendy and Richard Pini, Thank You! for all of your work over the years that you invested into your stories and artwork. Thank you for creating something that means as much to me now, almost 30 years later as it did when I was but a small, impressionable lad of 7. I too hope for the day that we finally get to see the Wolfriders, the Sun Folk, the High Ones, Gliders and Go-Backs in glorious action. But most of all, I look forward to introducing my own kids to the wonder and majesty that is ElfQuest.
P.s. All images are copyright Wendy & Richard Pini.