Richard and Wendy Pini have been mainstays at Comic-Con for nearly as long as the show has existed. The foundations for Elfquest’s fandom and popularity were laid in its hallowed halls. And as the show celebrated its 50th anniversary, showrunners paid homage to San Diego’s first couple by inducting the Pinis into the Comic-Con Hall of Fame. Richard and Wendy will return in November 2019 with Stargazer’s Hunt, a series centered around Skywise, Cutter’s companion through the earlier Elfquest books.
Nancy Powell: So you have a new series coming out at Dark Horse. It’s the continuing saga of Elfquest and it kind of continues Cutter’s journey by way of his brother, Skywise.
Wendy Pini: This is all about Skywise. In the parlance of Joseph Campbell, there’s the hero and the hero always has a companion. So Skywise was the companion to the hero in Cutter’s story. But that’s done. So now Skywise is the hero, and this is an entirely different role for him.
Powell: Are there any reveals to Cutter? Does he play any role in Stargazer’s Hunt?
Wendy: Well, that’s a good question because, assuming this goes out to people who have read Final Quest, they know that Cutter’s hero’s journey is done. What lives on afterwards? That’s a mystery.
Richard Pini: We have always maintained that Elfquest is a love story, but not in the sense that most people superficially think. It’s not the love story between Cutter and Leeta. It’s the love story between Cutter and Skywise, brothers in all but blood. With Cutter’s passing that love story is now incomplete. And the question that we attempt to answer in Stargazer’s Hunt is, how does Skywise complete that story for himself? Or does he? Is he able to? That is what we’re going to investigate. And it’s going to take Skywise—it’s really his story—all over the map.
Wendy: What it’s sometimes hard to realize is Skywise is very, very young, and still thousands of years passed in the Cutter story arc. Skywise was sort of taken out of time so he never aged. He’s really, as elves go, very young. And so his emotions are young. He’s a little bit self-centered. And this story explores whether or not he can get beyond himself and really grow up in certain ways.
Powell: Because in a sense a hero’s journey is never done, even after their passing.
Wendy: At least in Elfquest.
Powell: So for many years, you were the creative control—still are—behind the entire series, but now you have relinquished artistic control to somebody else. How does that feel?
Wendy: Oh, easy! Because of Sonny Strait, who is now the inker and colorist. I do the layouts of Stargazer’s Hunt. We’ve worked together for a long, long time. Sonny and I did two long Elfquest stories together prior to that, and they were both about Skywise. So this is like Sonny’s favorite thing to do, and he has such a deep understanding of the character. He even brings insights to us that we like to use in the story. He’ll observe something and say, ‘I think Skywise would do this’ and we’re like, ‘Yeah! That’s a good idea!’
Richard: And even if it’s not something that we think the character would do, just asking the question causes us to examine what we have come up with and maybe look at it in a different light.
Wendy: But as far as relinquishing the art chores, Sonny has always been my natural successor. I always knew that if there came to be a time where I didn’t really want to completely do the comic myself that Sonny would just naturally step in to finish that.
Powell: My next question goes back to the Elfquest story. Final Quest was supposed to be the end of the journey, but now there’s Stargazer’ Hunt. How long do you see Elfquest going?
Richard: How about forever? Does forever work for you? [laughing] That’s an excellent question because for all the time that we’ve done Elfquest, we’ve been aware that we’re telling essentially one story, with side branches. But there’s one central thread. We’re very much aware, especially in these times of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe, with characters that are rebooted every few years because they have a new readership or they need a new readership. And we have never ever wanted to do that without progress, and we never ever will.
On the other hand, we have learned over 40 plus years of creating stories that there are a lot of stories out there. We knew before Final Quest was done that Stargazer’s Hunt was going to follow. It was necessary because Cutter had his huge story. Skywise now needs his. There are other characters. There are other times. And we want to be very, very careful. There is an F word that I have a real kind of touch-and-go relationship with, and that word is franchise. Sometimes people can talk about Elfquest as a franchise. I understand that, but we don’t ever want it to become something that you just recirculate and recycle over and over and over because you gotta keep it alive or why have company? We’re walking a fine line.
Wendy: Yeah, and sometimes we don’t know how well we’re walking it. Because Elfquest, for those reasons, is not as commercial as Dragonball Z or Dark Crystal or any of the Marvel titles or DC. Elfquest isn’t rebootable like those. So the story continues in a linear fashion. The Skywise story will make sense after Final Quest. Is it a commercial way to go? No, and we know that, which is great storytelling.
Richard: It is excellent storytelling. And this is not to say that if someone out there were to come to us on Netflix, or Blizzard Entertainment and say, “We want to make a series. We want to make a game based on Elfquest” — we would certainly work with those other people to do something that was marvelous in its quality and remain as true to Elfquest as we possible could keep it.
Powell: Disney has taken over basically a lot of stuff, the whole Marvel franchise. If Disney were to come to you with an offer to do something with Elfquest, would you ever let them?
Wendy: We have been to Disney. This was years ago. And we are very grateful to Disney for being honest with us. I actually took the meeting with the producer who had the rights to Elfquest at the time. And we talked to Tom Schumacher. That was back in the mid ’90s. And Tom said, sure we’re interested. But we will take it away from you. We will Disneyfy it. You will never have it again, and you will not recognize it. He said all those things directly to us.
Richard: Your having said that, this was Disney of 20, 30 years ago.
Wendy: And I personally think it’s Disney today.
Richard: I would take that meeting, and I would determine whether or not that still holds true. And if it’s still held true I’d say sorry, you don’t have enough Disney dollars.
Wendy: Do you think they’d be that honest with you? I think Tom Schumacher was a gem.
Richard: Well, that’s why we have helpers in our team who maybe I can’t tell if somebody is shining me on who’s sitting across the big desk at Disney. But we’ve got some very good people on our side who would certainly be able to tell that. I’ll sit down with anybody once. Whether I sit down with them twice is another question to be determined.
Wendy: Over the 40 plus year history of Elfquest there’s nobody we haven’t talked to There’s nobody who hasn’t come to us and knocked on our door. Elfquest has been optioned many, many times. The problem has always really rested in our laps because we have stood in the way of anything that would change Elfquest, tried to turn it into something else.
For example, Hollywood always wants it to be Lord of the Rings. And that means they don’t read it carefully because Elfquest is anything but Lord of the Rings. So Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with it except change it, and we won’t allow them. We’ve been the roadblock.
Richard: But there’s always tomorrow. And there are people out there. There are new ways of doing movies and series as streaming content. It is a new world. And we will talk to whoever wants to talk with us at least once.
Powell: I often think about the enduring legacy of Comic-Con at 50 as kind of tied in with Elfquest. Even though Elfquest is not quite 50, I always remember the two of you being here. How does it feel to see Comic-Con at 50?
Wendy: Comic-Con played a huge part in why Elfquest took off the way it did in the ’70s.
Richard: We didn’t know what we were doing. We brought our first issue to Comic-Con in 1978, and the reception to it was so gratifying because Comic-Con wasn’t the only convention, but it was an important convention by then. And the fact that so many people at Comic-Con responded well to it gave us the oomph, the feeling of, yeah, maybe we actually can make this happen. And it was no looking back from there.
Wendy: Comic-Con in general was excited about the independent comics movement. We were in on the ground floor of that. Comic-Con gave us a venue to reach out to our fans and get to know them. Comic-Con gave us a venue through which we could learn the ropes by talking to other professionals, publishers, artists, writers. Everybody getting to know everybody in the business and how to do the business. And so, I just think that Comic-Con is part of the essence of Elfquest‘s history.
Richard: And in ’81, there were close to a hundred people dressed up in Elfquest costumes for the masquerade. And I don’t think any show, comic, science fiction, fantasy or otherwise, has ever seen an invasion like that’s how much Elfquest fandom and Comic-Con felt meshed together, and we’ll never forget that.
Wendy: People are still doing costumes today.
Powell: Thank you for speaking with The Beat. It’s been a pleasure.
Elfquest: Stargazer’s Hunt hits shelves starting Nov. 13, 2019.