Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Comics that Made Me a Fan: Elfquest

The Wolfriders' Holt in the Original Quest. "Wolfsong," Elfquest #4.

Boing Boing recently reported that all 6,500+ pages of the comics cult saga Elfquest are now online, to read for free.  In fact, they've been up since 2009, and were generously posted by their creators, who initially set a milestone by self-publishing their issues; you can read them here.  Published from 1978 up to 2007 (with more stories promised, and long-running plans for a movie), these comics are an American classic of pulp fiction and pre-manga story-telling (read a review here).  In an earlier post, I talked about DC Comics stories that caught my attention.  This is another title that made me a fan and a collector.

The Wolfriders encounter Savah, leader of desert Elves known as the Sun Folk in the Original Quest. "Raid at Sorrow's End," Elfquest #2.

Drawn and written by Wendy Pini and written and edited by her husband Richard Pini, Elfquest is a mesmerising tale that spans millennia, about an Earth-like world inhabited by primitive humans.  The World of Two Moons is forever changed, however, when a race of alien Elves, called High Ones, lands on the planet.  They hail from a society of advanced technology, but only develop their inner abilities once they relinquish their dependence upon tools and weapons. Their spaceship is driven by Elvish psychic and physical powers, which appear to terrified human observers as magic.  The 'Original Quest' - the first Elfquest story ever published - however, begins long after this huge event.  By this time, the Elves have dispersed.  They have adapted to this world.  Different tribes of Elves form close psychic bonds with creatures such as wolves, elk, eagles and dolphins, and build their respective societies around those bonds.  But they are all characterized by their hazy and legendary cultural memories of a lost central experience.  They all yearn to find the original spaceship that brought them, the Lost Palace of the High Ones.  The main protagonist, Cutter, a wolf-riding Elf leader, plans to find the Palace and unite all the Elves, the scattered children of the High Ones. Along the way, he meets many different Elves, including one of the best villains in comics, the Glider Winnowill.

The epic quest to find the Palace could easily have become a story of Übermenschen crushing beleagured humans, who call the Elves spirits, and mostly fear and hate them.  Instead, the Pinis accomplished something extraordinary.  Normally, comic book characterization suffers at the expense of a focus on the characters' superhuman powers. Elfquest was able to capture a paradox, conveying the human side of fantasic mythologies and of the characters' magical detachment from the human condition. The Pinis' tales focus on evolution and adaptation. But in Elfquest, the triumphant force motivating change is reconciliation and love - even though the Elves are often ruthless warriors. The Elves are flawed in many ways, but the dramatic tensions in Elfquest always involve their successful struggles against fear, hate and naked power. 

Skywise of the Wolfriders meets Aroree, a bird-riding Glider in the Original Quest. "What is the Way?" Elfquest #12.

Elfquest was originally very much of its time, and reflected the fantasy boom in American pop culture of the late 1970s, when The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings enjoyed immense popularity, culminating in Bakshi's animated movies.  Other notable successes from the time that tapped into the genre include: Dungeons and Dragons; Star Wars; E.T.; the Muppets, especially The Dark Crystal; and Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and a young Jennifer Connelly.  Anyone who remembers the 'Frodo Lives!' graffiti on the walls of North American cities in the 1970s knows what I'm talking about.  But while Elfquest grew out of this enormous fad, and was a cult favourite in the early-to-mid 1980s, the compelling fantasy illustrations and deep characterization created some of the most enduring pulp tales. Beyond that, the Pinis pinpointed something ineffable in our own experience, a lost central memory if you will, which nags at us all, shapes us, and ultimately transforms us.  The fact that each Elf tribe in the story has a different way of trying to recover that memory is equally familiar.  Read it.  You'll see what I mean.

The Go-Backs, the Elves that live closest to the Lost Palace, first appear in the Original Quest, "The Quest Usurped," Elfquest # 15.

All Elfquest stories, characters and the distinctive likenesses thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © WaRP Graphics. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
See all my posts on comics.

See my post on the history of Elves.

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  1. This is my favorite story of all time. I read it for the first time when I was 10/11 years old and keep going back to it and every time I am awed and amazed.

  2. Elfquest is special. Nice commentary.