Last week we spoke to Richard and Wendy Pini, whose latest chapter in the ELFQUEST saga, THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD, has just been released by DC as a 96-page hardcover graphic novel. (And before I forget, let me publicly say thank you to Alexandra Erin for suggesting the title for this two-part interview. I can be clever sometimes, folks, but not that clever! Thanks, Alexandra!) The Pinis talked at length about the release of that book, fan reactions to it, and its themes, a subject they returned to when Richard brought up my review of the book from a few weeks ago. (Remember that scene in WHERE HARRY MET SALLY in which Bruno Kirby quotes something that Carrie Fisher has written without knowing she wrote it? That's how it got started and it felt every bit as good, I have to say.)
"You had said in your review," Richard began, "that, if the intent of THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORDto make readers uncomfortable, then SEARCHER certainly achieves that."
Wendy agreed. "I don't believe that fantasy is really oh, I'll just right out and say it - worth reading, unless it somehow reflects on what's going on in reality. I think a lot of people find Peter Jackson's interpretation of LORD OF THE RINGS to be very timely right now, [as it deals with] war and how we get along with different races and different ideologies. That is so much on everybody's mind right now. Well, having known friends who have been in abusive situations [such as the human character Shuna's], I've seen it firsthand, I've seen how it works, I have seen that there are two sides to it; I have seen that a person can emerge from something like that as a victim or they emerge stronger for it. Shuna comes from a history of abuse in her own family. I wanted to explore how the pattern of that can be broken by one simple choice, and yes, it is an uncomfortable area to venture into. But I think the way we've handled it in THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORDis a satisfying outcome."
When asked why explore that theme now, and so vividly, Wendy adds, "It is happening. It is happening right now, not just to women but to men, and you can choose to see yourself as a victim, you can choose to stay trapped in a situation where your self-esteem and your whole personhood is on the line. Or you can make a choice and say 'There's something better out there, and I'm going for it.' I wanted to create a heroine who could represent that choice, and Shuna did that for the story."
When I switched topics and brought up the fact that several COMICSCAPE readers had asked about whatever happened to the ELFQUEST movie, both Richard and Wendy laughed, with a bit of obvious weariness. "If you knew how many times we've addressed that question...," Richard sighed.
"[Previous to licensing ELFQUEST to DC], from 1981 on," he began, "we have had offers from different studios, we've been optioned more than once, we've had a certain amount of development go into it, several versions of a screenplay have been written there is a screenplay now that is quite good... When we sat around the table initially with DC, they were interested in the entire package, which is not only the ELFQUEST printed material but also the merchandising rights and media entertainment rights. We were very happy to say to them, 'Yes, you can have the entire ball of wax,' because just as had happened with the publishing, where we realized that we could take ELFQUEST only so far and they could take it much further, the same thing is true of getting a movie project. We're two people, and even though we have been allied with some very, very good helpers over the years, nonetheless I think the perception has been that ELFQUEST belongs to these two people and it's this little kind of thing. Now that DC has the rights to pursue a movie, they have wisely said 'We want to see how the publications go for a year or two, and that is going to help us in our deliberations when it comes to talking to the movie people.' Now, just a month ago, in San Diego, we sat down with Greg Novek [Senior VP, Creative Affairs at DC], who exists at DC to fill the function that Avi Arad fills at Marvel, which is to be sort of an overseer of DC properties to the world of entertainment. He's an ELFQUEST fan from way back "
"- Which we were delighted to discover," Wendy interjected.
"- We were very happy to discover that," Richard agreed, "and had a wonderful long meeting with him. We're not unaware of the fact that Time-Warner umbrellas
Wendy added, "The upside of all of this is that, when we first starting shopping the movie around in '94, the state of the art of CGI and animation was at a much lower level than it is now. Through the start and stop process - one might even call it the 'development hell' that ELFQUEST has been through - technology has had a chance to catch up with all of the problems that ELFQUEST presents filmically, whether it's done in animation or live-action. We used to think that live-action was an impossibility we would even laugh at it. But LORD OF THE RINGS has solved every technical problem that ELFQUESTcould have as a live-action movie, so if someone wants to talk to us now about a live-action movie, we'd know that the technology exists to do it beautifully. We're not going to have to use puppets like THE DARK CRYSTAL, we won't have to use masks like LABYRINTH or some of the other fantasy films. Nowadays, if we want to see live-action actors shrunk down and riding on real wolves, this can be done convincingly, whereas ten years ago, not a chance. Think of the possibilities now."
Richard summed it up: "The short answer is: DC has the rights, and they will proceed when they feel it is the best thing to do for ELFQUEST, for DC, for us, for the movie. We're very content with that."
"I'm sure you've been asked this numerous times," I asked, "but what's the secret of working together successfully for such a long time? What keeps the work fresh for you?"
"The secret of working together for such a long time is being bicoastal," Wendy quipped.
Richard also laughed and said, "Y'know, there are two ways to answer that one is a nice, friendly, serious way, the other is a smartass way and we vacillate back and forth."
"You want to take the friendly, serious way this time?" Wendy asked, before explaining to me, "I usually do that one."
"ELFQUEST," Richard began (presumably on the "friendly, serious" answer), "as we have sometimes said, is a self-quest: the reader gets out of it what he or she puts into it. It is a mirror: some people see only the surface level, some people see a deeper level, some people go far deeper than that. Wendy has been a storyteller all her life. She shared the idea of ELFQUEST with me in 1977, and we've been spinning the story ever since. ELFQUEST has been a terrific I don't know if 'tool' is the right word, but I'll use it a terrific tool for our working on some of the problems that Wendy and I have had as people and as a couple. ELFQUEST is, to a greater or lesser extent, quite autobiographical. And because we have been willing, even though the most difficult times and every relationship has those because we've been willing to explore those problems and possible solutions, which is what storytelling is all about, [since] storytelling is just 'What if...' - it has not only made for a very good, very honest story. Like we said earlier, the best fantasy is that which reflects a kind of truth in reality. It has also given us a kind of understanding, communication, and so on to relate to each other simply as people."
"And now I would like to give away a big secret," Wendy added. "First of all...everything that Richard just said. 100 percent. But, if there are readers out there who really want to try this, just go back, read the story, and focus on the thread of Cutter and Skywise's relationship, all through the whole saga, and you will see the evolution of Richard and me. It's through those two characters that we most frequently examine our attitudes towards each other, our attitudes towards partnering, our attitudes towards love, our attitudes towards hanging on and letting go, how much freedom, how much closeness...all of those things. If Skywise was a girl, they would be Recognized! Their relationship is problematic because they're that close and they're two boys. So it's a partnership, a deeply, deeply loving relationship, and yet at the same time there's that element of how much do you hold on, how much do you let go, how much do you allow... It's been a fascinating way to explore all this."
This suddenly reminded me of something in THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD, and I said, "I was just thinking about that relationship because my favorite moment in THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD is the scene when they're going down into the Troll caverns "
"God bless you!" Wendy shouted, causing both Richard and me to burst out laughing. "You're the first reviewer to notice that scene!"
" It's totally without dialogue," I said, "and yet it's the funniest scene in the entire book!"
"This is the degree to which we work together," Richard explained. "Wendy thought of that scene, and I thought it was hilarious, she drew it out, and it is hilarious, and y'know, I don't remember if we talked about whether there should be that one 'shh' at the end or not..."
"No, really," Wendy interjected, "here's how it happened I have like a photographic memory, which drives Richard crazy "
" - Especially when I'm right!" Richard replied.
"So, what happened was he's right I drew the scene out, and I called him in to look at it, and it was already funny. But I needed that little punch at the end,
"But, see," Richard added, "we can take it one step further, we can take it that extra percent... Wendy lettered that scene and put that 'shhh' in there, and I got this page and said, 'This needs one more thing.' So I diddled with it to make the letters get smaller and smaller, as if the 'shhh' is fading, it's one of these little insultingly drawn-out things. This is how you hone the skill of working together you work at it and work at it, sometimes you're running and you stumble and pick yourself up and learn and as long as you're willing to keep doing that, then it just gets better and better."
Then I warned Wendy that my last question, a reader question from Raymond Low (though I forgot to mention your name sorry, Raymond!), was for her. ("Bet I know what this is going to be about...," she said, already starting to laugh.) I read it verbatim: "I'm wondering if Wendy still owns the stainless steel bikini she used to wear when masquerading as Red Sonja at comic conventions a number of years ago?"
"I knew it, I knew it! Tell him and I'm sure this is a him yes, and that I can still fit into the bottom half. So watch out!" Then she said, "Let me tell you a story about that...I still have nightmares about it to this day. Have you ever heard of a guy named Phil Seuling? He was one of two seminal distributors when the independent comics industry got started. He used to host Seulingcon every year in different parts of the East Coast. Well, back in the early 70s, there was a show on the air called THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, which was kind of like a Merv Griffin, early Oprah talk show... Seulingcon was in Philadelphia that year, and Mike Douglas was based in Philadelphia. He decided that he wanted to have Phil on as a guest, so Mike has Jaime Farr on as a co-host, he's got Phil on, and he's interviewing Phil about superheroes and comics, and it's all going very nicely.
"Now Mike Douglas was expecting one of the costumed characters from the convention to show up he was expecting Captain America or the Hulk, or something. What he didn't know was that Phil brought me clanking into the green room in my chain mail bikini, and they put me behind the revolving doors the guests had to come out of and walk through the audience to get where Mike Douglas is sitting. So I'm standing there, waiting for my cue, and there are these two little sixty year-old guys there, and they said, 'Boy, y'know, we had Farrah Fawcett in here yesterday, and if she had half of what you have...!" I got my cue Mike Douglas says, 'May we have our superhero, please?' and bear in mind, he's expecting Captain America, right? I come slamming of the door, the audience goes out of its mind, here I am clanking in in this real chain mail bikini... I go up to Jaime Farr, grab him by the shirt, and he goes, 'You're Red Sonja, aren't you?' Cut to commercial.
"We found out later," Wendy
"You know how some people have dreams even into their 40s and 50s that they're in high school and show up naked to class?" Richard asked. "This is hers."
"I hope that answers the question!" Wendy finished.
Copies of THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD are still available on newsstands, as are the newest reprints of previous ELFQUEST material including one volume going out this very week. If you enjoyed this interview or have comments about it, send them to me via the web site contact address here or to me directly. Also, in about two weeks, I'll be interviewing the Eisner-winning creator of BLANKETS, Craig Thompson, regarding that book as well as his latest two releases CONVERSATION (co-written and drawn with James Kochalka) and CARNET DU VOYAGE. So, if you have a burning question you'd like me to ask Mr. Thompson when I talk to him, send it along but please be sure to send it no later than Friday, August 27th. And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title. I do the HTML coding on this column every week, and having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards! Next week, I'll be taking a look at a sampling of the recent DC Humanoids releases of some of Europe's best graphic novels. In the meantime, here's this week's listings:
Marvel's younger fans are out of luck this week, but the DC kids will be pleased with CARTOON CARTOONS #33 ($2.25) and TEEN TITANS GO! #10 ($2.25). And if they aren't, tell them that's tough.
Spidey fans may
From America's Best Comics this week comes the end of another sprawling Alan Moore epic PROMETHEA, when #31 hits the stands for $2.95. But there's still going to be an issue #32... Remember, his name's not "Moore" for nuthin'.
Part Eight of that whole "War Games" thing is featured in BATMAN #631 ($2.25), but as Bill Willingham's writing it, it's bound to be worth reading even if it's part of some sprawling summer crossover... Hell, they've even roped that "in a universe of its own" book CATWOMAN into the act Part Seven is in issue #34 ($2.50). Oy. Or, if you prefer some standalone action heaven knows I do then there's the BATMAN: YEAR ONE trade paperback for $12.95.
Speaking of standalone action: Priest, the Man With One Name, gives us the CAPTAIN AMERICA/FALCON VOL 1: TWO AMERICAS trade paperback, collecting the first four issues of that series, for $9.99. No crossovers here, thank goodness shame the same can't be said for the current issue...
It's the penultimate issue of Judd Winick's Hollywood epic as CAPER #11 (Of 12) hits the stands this week for $2.95. Hey, shouldn't he be busy writing BATMAN right now?
Dark Horse's releases this week may also break a few pocketbooks: firstly, there's Kurt Busiek's phenomenal CONAN #7 ($2.99); there's FIERCE #2 (Of 4, $2.99); there's SUPER MANGA BLAST #44 ($5.99); and there's even the cute cuddly bunny rabbit (not!) USAGI YOJIMBO in #78 ($2.99).
Byrne gives the team their uniforms in DOOM PATROL #3 ($2.50) as they go off on their first mission to the Antarctic to face off against creatures from the dawn of time. Yeah, someone's going back to the AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS well again, obviously.
So, did the interview with the Pinis spark (or re-spark) your interest in the ELFQUEST Universe? Then pick up the ELFQUEST: THE GRAND QUEST VOL 4 trade paperback for $9.95 this week. Hell, go ahead and pick up the first three while you're at it, too!
The IDENTITY CRISIS crossover madness is about to begin, as this prologue in FLASH #213 ($2.25) shows. Gotta love any story that features the Turtle, the Slowest Man Alive, though.
Would you believe I still have not been able to find a copy of GUARDIANS, even though issue #3 ($2.99) is out this week? Either this series is selling like hot cakes...or my local shop just isn't ordering it!
Sadly, Luc Schuiten's HOLLOW GROUNDS trade paperback will not be one of the trades I'll be reviewing for you next week but that doesn't mean you shouldn't pick it up. It's only $19.95, for heaven's sake.
A light week for Image fans this week, unless you're a big fan of THE DARKNESS VOL 2 (issue #14 is out today for $2.99) or DEEP SLEEPER (#3 Of 4 for $2.95 is also out). If you're not, then rest up for that next phenomenal issue of SAVAGE DRAGON, why don'tcha?
The second of two back-to-back double-sized issues answers all your questions (and does irreparable damage to your checkbook) as INCREDIBLE HULK #76 hits the stands today for $3.50.
Good Lord, just how many mistakes did these guys make? The "Pain of the Gods" storyline continues in JLA #104 ($2.25) as the Martian Manhunter tells about his biggest screw-up. Dare we ask to hear about Plastic Man's?
Reed and Namor are still fighting over Sue again in MARVEL KNIGHTS: 4 #9 ($2.99). Honestly, aren't there any new FF stories to tell?
There's no Reed-Namor-Sue triangle story in the MARVEL MASTERWORKS: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 7 2nd edition, but it wouldn't surprise me if there had been. Collecting #s 61-71 and Annual #5 of the first volume of the series, it's available in hardcover for $49.99 or in a variant with a dust jacket for $54.99. Bargain, eh?
Speaking of bargains... Call it an incredible chance to catch up on a sold-out storyline by Joss Whedon, or call it a blatantly transparent way to make money. U Decide! Either way, MIGHTY MARVEL MUST-HAVES: ASTONISHING X-MEN #1-3 is available this week for $5.99. Cheap!
The first story arc by new creative team Sean McKeever, Manuel Garcia, and Mike Mayhew comes to a shocking end in MYSTIQUE #18 ($2.99). And the best part is, it's not the end of the series! Wow!
Matt Murdock's life is about to be turned upside down by the Kingpin, despite the fact he has no powers, in POWERLESS #3 (Of 6, $2.99). I tell ya, the more things change...
Lady Shiva may be the best reason to buy RICHARD DRAGON #4 ($2.50). Hell, she might be the only reason.
As if Brian Azzarello weren't making things hard enough for Clark in SUPERMAN, he confronts the Man of Steel with his own teammates in the JLA in #208 ($2.50). Looks like they finally got sick of sitting around and swapping "Dude, how I screwed up" stories.
Hmm, could the fact that there's a movie on the horizon be the reason behind ULTIMATE ELEKTRA #1 (Of 5, $2.25)? Nah. After all, we have ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #10 ($2.25), as well, and there's no... Oh, wait.
Get out those loan applications Vertigo's throwing us a ton of good stuff this week, including HELLBLAZER #199 ($2.75), LOSERS #15 ($2.95), WITCHING #3 ($2.95), and Grant Morrison's latest bit of weirdness WE 3 #1 (Of 3, $2.95). Dogs and cats fighting together in battle suits! Total chaos! And if all this weren't enough, there's a new printing of Kyle Baker's WHY I HATE SATURN in trade paperback for $14.95. Looks like it's going to be Ramen Noodles for dinner for a few weeks...!
I'm not quite sure what makes Dr. Fate, Enchantress, Animal Man, Congorilla, El Diablo, Bizarro, and the Spectre "weird" have anyone been reading PLASTIC MAN lately? but the WEIRD SECRET ORIGINS 80 PAGE GIANT collects the origins of all these folks for $5.95.
Wildstorm and Garth Ennis feeds your need for additional face time with Kev Hawkins with AUTHORITY: MORE KEV #3 (Of 4, $2.95), while Ed Brubaker feeds all your other beasts with SLEEPER SEASON TWO #3 (Of 12, $2.95). I'll let you decide which beasts those are.
Tensions mount between the US and Themyscira despite the fact that their island's name doesn't start with an "I" in WONDER WOMAN #207 ($2.25).
Sigh. All right, folks, I'm off to cry in my beer with Gail Simone and Peter Milligan. Later...
Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.