Life, Love, Comics – and Elfquest

As a young child in Thailand, I didn’t have access to many comics – only the handfuls that other expat kids brought with them from the US. I was vaguely familiar with Mickey Mouse et al, more because of their status as global cultural icons than because I’d seen much of them. Peanuts was a family touchstone (maybe the strips ran in the military newspaper we occasionally received?), and we had several Peanuts books which I read over and over.

On our trip through Europe in 1969 we acquired a few Asterix books. I loved these for their funny stories and clever wordplay. My dad, the inveterate punster, loved to quote: “We’ll be driven into the Nile!” – “We’ll be annihilated!”

Even on such slight exposure, I fell in love with comics. I also adored film animation, though, again, I didn’t get much chance to see it – I didn’t have the ready access to TV and movie cartoons that my peers in the US enjoyed.

But I didn’t love everything about comics. Most of the characters, to my eye, were simply ugly. The Peanuts and Harvey Comics characters, though human, had enormous heads and chunky, ungraceful bodies. Anthropomorphic characters, like Mickey or Baby Huey, appealed to me even less – they had none of the beauties of real animals or real people.

The Disney princesses were visually appealing, but I was annoyed by the Disney stories of my childhood. Though I loved fairy tales and fables, myths and magic, I had no sympathy for characters lying around waiting to be rescued: I wanted to be the one riding a horse and wielding a sword!

When we moved to the US, I was able to watch Saturday morning cartoons just like everyone else, and I read comics at others’ houses, though I don’t recall owning any myself. Superhero comics didn’t excite me: Batman, Superman, Spiderman – clearly, women weren’t having much of the fun.

While in high school in India, I loved Tin Tin comics and Amar Chitra Katha – neither well known in the US.

I didn’t know about manga until college, when I ran across Frederic Schodt’s Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. I loved the prettier style of these comics, especially in the ones aimed at girls/women. Not much was translated at the time. I considered learning Japanese so that I could read them, especially The Rose of Versailles – which, frustratingly, is still not available in English.

Then came Elfquest.

The first time I saw Elfquest was during a D&D game. (Of course I played D&D.) Someone had brought along the first one or two collected editions. I stopped right in the middle of the game and read until I was finished. Finally: a visually stunning comic with characters (including female ones!) and a story that I could care about.

In the following years, I went to a lot of trouble to keep up with issues as they came out, even as I moved from country to country. I can’t remember how I obtained them in, eg, Jakarta, Indonesia in 1984. Maybe my friends back in Austin were mailing them to me.

Yes, there were other comics I came to like, partly because Elfquest had me haunting my local comic stores, looking for more titles that would appeal to me on all the levels that Elfquest did. I found a few over the years, but Elfquest will always be my favorite.

Many people have written about how Elfquest changed their lives, or (when encountered at a young age) helped them grow up to be more loving, tolerant, and kind, with different ideas about courage, friendship, family, gender equality, and sexual freedom than they might have imbibed at home. The elves of Elfquest model kindness and respect for all living beings, while having adventures and leading intense, full lives.

For myself, this aspect of Elfquest was less formative. I had grown up a hippie kid with free-loving parents who encouraged me to be whatever I wished and dreamed, “just so long as you don’t hurt anybody.” My concept of family was fluid, even before I spent four years at an international boarding school (living with a tribe of your peers, everyone feels like “family”). Those elements in Elfquest, which have been so freeing and revelatory to many of its readers, for me were simply a reinforcement of what I already believed. I could perhaps say of Elfquest what my daughter once said of Buffy: those “unusual” ways of being were already part of my consciousness and beliefs – but Elfquest made them cool.

My main lesson from Elfquest has been something else. What struck me from the beginning as real magic is the partnership between Wendy and Richard Pini, its creators. I always believed it to be real (among other clues, their values and beliefs about human relationships are demonstrated in the behaviors of their elves). And yet, deep down, I didn’t believe that it was possible for a human couple to be partners in their working lives as well as their home lives.

I’m aware of other examples such as the Curies, but… I thought it just wasn’t possible for ordinary mortals to enjoy, respect, and value each other so much on every level that they could love each other deeply AND spend (it seemed) every waking moment working intensely together to create wonderful things.

So I really, REALLY didn’t expect it to happen to me.

But it did. I now have a lifemate with whom I share all the things you’d expect lifemates to share, but we’re also professional partners. Even when not working directly together, we spend most of our leisure hours discussing ways to make our industry better (in both technological and human terms). We don’t get tired of our work, or of each other.

This still amazes me.

It’s possible-to-likely that the Pinis and their creation deserve some of the credit for this, both directly and indirectly. My life has been made richer by them, as well as their creation. Thank you, Wendy and Richard, for bringing the beauty of your work and your partnership into my life.

Logically, this post should include some of the beautiful artwork from Elfquest. But there’s so much that I find myself incapable of choosing. Just go read it for yourself – most of Elfquest is available to read for free online.

I could have written this story years ago, or years hence. I’m posting it now because Elfquest is drawing to something of a conclusion – the final issue of The Final Quest will be published soon. But I can still love reading it for another forty years, if I last that long.

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