Richard and Wendy Pini are the married couple who brought us the much loved ElfQuest series. They first created ElfQuest in 1978, and continued to self-publish the popular fantasy comic through their company, Warp Graphics. They have worked with Marvel and DC over the years, and have recently teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to bring us the exciting new series “ElfQuest: The Final Quest!”
Here we discuss the Final Quest, The Pinis inspiration behind ElfQuest, how their lives relate to the comic, and how it continues to touch the hearts, and impact the lives of its many fans.
Join us on our journey…
DYLAN: What is the fate of your company Warp Graphics while you work with Dark Horse on the current comic series?
R&W – Warp Graphics continues to exist. It is the company we started in 1977, and it will go as long as we do. Even if it is not the one actually doing that publishing and printing and distribution – those are handled by Dark Horse now – it is still the owner of record for all things relating to Elfquest the intellectual property.
DYLAN: Dark Horse Comics is one of the most respected publishers, because they are so supportive of real creative talent without pushing artists towards a pristine finish! More often than not, the more rugged and unique the work the better, wouldn’t you agree?
R&W – We’ve seen art styles of every stripe and kind in the Dark Horse catalogue, so I think the more truthful answer is that they recognize and nurture talent no matter what the style. Wendy’s style is certainly unique, but we don’t know that we’d call it “rugged” – that’s a term that might better apply to Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” but even that carries its own kind of grace.
DYLAN: How does working with Dark Horse compare to your past experiences with the likes of Marvel and DC?
R&W – We’ve had the good fortune to work with dedicated people, who also happened to be fans of Elfquest, at each of the companies that we’ve partnered with over the years. Having said that, however, we have to admit that the sheer amount of interaction with our editors at Dark Horse is outstanding. They’re constantly back and forth with us in email and by phone, and it’s very exciting for us. We’re also getting the benefit of some amazing designers and a top-notch letterer for all the new Elfquest projects, of which there are already quite a few in the pipeline.
DYLAN: What has given you both the most satisfaction since you began work on the new comic?
R&W – Aside from what we just said, about the fun we’re having working with the Dark Horse team, THE most satisfaction is the ability, once more, to work together just the two of us, purely on story and artwork the way we used to at the start, over 30 years ago. The creative spark is still there, brighter than ever, and now that we don’t have any administrative distractions, we can focus directly on telling the story.
DYLAN: There has been some confusion as to whether the new comic is a collection of old and new stories or all new material… What can readers expect of the current series?
R&W – Well, Final Quest is the current series, so, readers can expect that the characters they’ve known and loved all these years to undergo trials and transformations the likes of which Elfquest fans have never before seen. There have already been some hints of what’s to come – except that we’re very good at planting hints that suggest one thing, but actually deliver another.
DYLAN: How have the fans – both old and new – reacted to the latest instalment of ElfQuest?
R&W – From every indication, they love it. This is not to say they are always overjoyed at what’s happening. But they do seem to be along for the ride, all the way to the end.
DYLAN: Your love-child that is Elfquest has endeared and enchanted the world… How, when and where was the idea for this rare gem of a comic conceived?
R&W – The most truthful fantasies are the ones that reflect real life, real experience, and the solution to real problems – just dressed up in fictional symbolism. Elfquest is a story, at its core, about characters that live in a difficult world, who are trying to find others of their own kind, trying to find a safe place where they can live and be happy. And aren’t we all, to some degree or another, trying to do that in our own lives?
DYLAN: What came about first, the drawings or the story?
R&W– The story has always been there, from Wendy’s earliest days. She has always had the impulse to draw too – we have drawings that are recognizable elf characters that she did when she was two years old.
DYLAN: Which characters are closest to your hearts and why?
R&W – People generally assume that because Cutter and Leetah are the two lead characters, the life mates that Richard must be Cutter and Wendy must be Leetah. But in truth, because she’s the artistic “chief” of Elfquest, Wendy is Cutter – and Richard is Skywise, who is the chief’s best friend and advisor.
DYLAN: Are there any characters in particular that you originally based on yourselves, or do they all have traits and stories that you consider relevant to your own lives?
R&W – See above. We didn’t set out to design characters based on this or that aspect of ourselves, but every storyteller can’t help putting bits and pieces of him or herself into the characters, to greater or lesser degree. So while Cutter may be the most direct avatar of Wendy, she also through her ability to nurture the story for year after year, embodies aspects of Leetah the healer. And so on.
DYLAN: ElfQuest is much like mythology from throughout the ages, in that it has the power to resonate our very souls. How does it feel to be pioneers of such an influential part of comic-book history?
R&W – We never started on this lifelong project with any idea that Elfquest would affect as many people in all the ways it has. All we wanted to do was tell the story and hope that it reached an audience. But we have come to learn that Elfquest has been transformative in some amazing ways. We’ve been told that Elfquest got people through very rough patches in their lives, when hope was dim. We’ve had people come up to us and break into tears of thanks. We’ve had people come up and say that they’ve gotten into successful art or television or movie careers as a result of reading Elfquest as they grew. We’re tremendously humbled by such experiences.
DYLAN: I’m sure there were many influences, but what inspired you the most when it first came into creation in the 1970‘s?
R&W – We assume you’re talking artistic influence here. Wendy, because she grew up in California, and could get to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles or Japantown in San Francisco, was exposed to rare examples of manga well before it became such a craze here in the United States. She immediately took to the very different style of storytelling in those very different comics, and incorporated certain elements into her drawings – notably the fantastic and feminine grace of the characters. At the same time, she was learning about solidity and mass and strength and weight from American superhero comics, most notably the work of the incomparable Jack Kirby.
DYLAN: Many comparisons can be made between ElfQuest and other fantasy material, such as Lord of the rings, the Hobbit, Game of Thrones and even the Legend of Zelda. Has anyone actually ever told you that their work has been directly inspired by your stories and art?
R&W – We don’t hear so much from people who tell us their own work has been inspired by Elfquest, in terms of style. We get a lot of fan art from people who’ve used Wendy’s drawings as a springboard to learning how to draw in their own style. But as mentioned above, we do hear from folks who’ve become well known in movies and television, that it was the discovery of Elfquest that put them on the path to wanting to draw, to wanting to tell stories of their own.
DYLAN: Wolf riders… Dire wolves… There are certainly some similarities there too. What are your thoughts on the success of Game of Thrones?
R&W – Neither of us watch the series, or have read the books, so we can’t really comment. It’s good, we suppose, that fantasy is coming more and more into its own on both the big screen and the small screen, but to be honest it’s all beginning to look the same, what with extravagant CGI special effects being heaped onto the (sometimes thin) story at every turn.
DYLAN: When is there going to be a movie? We all want it so surely it is inevitable…
R&W – If wanting was all it took, there would have been an Elfquest movie ages ago. Alas, it’s not that simple…
DYLAN: A game would be awesome too. Something along the lines of Zelda maybe. Have you ever entertained the idea and if so what are the chances?
R&W – There was an Elfquest role playing game and a board game back in the mid 1980s. We assume they were fairly faithful, though we never played them. There’s a card-based Elfquest adventure game being developed as we speak. As for video or arcade or computer or online … that’s going to be for someone else to develop and license. Neither of us are conversant with games of any sort, never have been.
DYLAN: ElfQuest speaks for itself, of course, but how would you describe your legacy to an audience of new and excited readers, who may know little of its history?
R&W – We guess we’d say to these new readers, consider the Elfquest as often been described by those who have already read and loved it, as a Selfquest – the more you read, the more you’re going to find yourself within its pages, reflected in this or that character, with their experiences mirroring your own.
DYLAN: Finally, is there anything else that we can look forward to being a part of? Maybe the cogs that run Warp Graphics are busy pioneering a new series of characters, and new and exciting worlds for us to explore in the years to come?
R&W – There may well be more surprises down the road, but for right now, we’ve got the next 3-4 years fully tied up with telling and wrapping up Final Quest – which, by the way, does NOT mean the end of Elfquest. With this instalment, we do bring our characters full circle to complete the journeys that they began all those years ago!
DYLAN: Thank you both for your honesty, modesty and for bringing ElfQuest into our lives. Your legacy will live on forever and continue to be the pivotal fantasy comic for generations to come…
Interview by Dylan Butcher 😀