In 1996, Elfquest was able to buy a lottery ticket. Three years later, it was old enough to legally purchase liquor. And a year before Facebook was a thing, it found itself with the ability to rent a car. Of course, Elfquest isn't a person but a comic book series that has been running since 1978 under the creative direction of married team Wendy and Richard Pini. The two began the title under their own company, Warp Graphics, before it moved to Marvel, then back to Warp, then on to DC, and, finally, to Dark Horse Comics, where it is currently being published 40 years after its inception.
Elfquest centers around a tribe of forest-dwelling feral Elves descended from a race of shapeshifting aliens who crash-landed on an unknown planet thousands of years ago. Wanting a name for their home, the Elves call it "The World of Two Moons." Main characters include Cutter and the Wolfriders, who face obstacles posed by humans and in-fighting within their own ranks. Even when it started in the late '70s, this was one of the first comic series to have a planned end from the very beginning.
After 40 years, Wendy and Richard's long-running comic comes to an end with Issue #24 of Final Quest, which brings everything full circle.
SPOILER WARNING: Minor spoilers for the final issue of Elfquest below...
The final issue ever finds Cutter making amends with the Trolls, apologizing for their enslavement. The Elves are, at last, able to return home after the Father Tree is regenerated. More importantly, their original homeworld is brought back from destruction as everything concludes with a quote from Cutter: “Sometimes to go forward, you have to go back.”
In that vein, SYFY WIRE spoke with the Pinis via email about their experience in writing/drawing Elfquest over the past 40 years and the legacy of their long-enduring comic book.
What's it like to end this comic after 40 years and what qualities do you think helped it endure for so long?
We’re experiencing an incredible mix of emotions as Elfquest-Final Quest comes to its conclusion. We feel bittersweet and wistful, and a certain relief, but not sadness, because we’ve seen it through the way we wanted to. As to the qualities that helped Elfquest endure this long, we’d have to list honest and engaging characters, believable stories (even if told via the vehicle of fantasy) that are emotionally resonant, [and] experiences the characters go through that reflect real-world events happening at the times in which they were written. It’s high fantasy, but spiced with a healthy dollop of sexuality and relevance.
As Elfquest was one of the first comics to have a planned ending, was this the ending you envisioned all along or did it change along the way as the book kept getting new life?
We knew from the start how this would end; we had the framework of Elfquest laid down from the beginning. The good thing about knowing where a story will finish, where it must finish, is that you can take side trips along the way to explore areas of the world or aspects of this or that character, that unexpectedly call out for attention. But the roadmap still starts and ends where it needs to.
What do you want to say with the finale?
Exactly what Leetah says in the final issue, “Death was with him from the first breath he took. But so were the love and courage that made every breath worthwhile.” We’re here in the world for a little while; live the best life possible, treat each other as well as we can.
Wendy, you said the final page of Issue #24 will parallel the first page you ever drew. What other callbacks to the first issue did you want to include?
Wendy: Certainly the element of the Father Tree being destroyed, and then recreated. In the very first issue, vengeful humans torch the forest and destroy the Father Tree, home to the Wolfriders. Over the course of the story, the Father Tree has been regrown a couple of times. In the final issue here, it falls again. But this time, when it is resurrected, it is into a different kind of world, where it may stand, protected, far into the future.
Elfquest has been through almost every major comic book publisher out there, from Marvel to DC to Dark Horse. What were the experiences with each like?
Richard: We’re very proud of the fact that Elfquest is the only indie comic that can boast being published by all the “big three.” Every experience was great; each one was different. With Marvel’s reprint of the Original Quest as part of its Epic line, Elfquest broke out of the direct market shops and found newsstand distribution, which brought in a whole new, larger audience. DC Comics gave us the chance to reissue the Original Quest with the full, lush color that Wendy always envisioned for the series. Working with Dark Horse is perhaps the most satisfying, perhaps because Dark Horse started as an independent company the same as Warp Graphics (our company, that launched Elfquest). We have a simpatico relationship with them that jazzes us up to do the work.
What comic books have you both admired over the years and what are you reading now?
We go back far enough to have been greatly impressed and influenced by the coming of the so-called “Marvel Age” of comics, starting in 1961 with The Fantastic Four. The stories crafted by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and many others, were revelatory in their ability to connect on a gut level with readers -- including us. Our favorite titles were Fantastic Four and Avengers, probably because those had the most group (or family) driven stories -- which is exactly what Elfquest is. Recently, we’ve not followed comics much at all. We spend so much of our time and creative energy producing Elfquest; we like to say that since we work so long and hard in comics, we don’t want to vacation there as well...
The final issue of Elfquest is available for purchase on Wednesday, Feb. 28. For a look at the series through the years, continue on to the media gallery below.