Twenty-five years after its original serial publication, “Grimwood’s Daughter” by Jan Strnad and Kevin Nowlan will finally be collected in a hardcover edition in September, courtesy of IDW Publishing. The book, which finds the last remaining tribes of elves making their last stand against the combined forces of Man’s armies, was originally published as a backup feature in the 1984-85 Fantagraphics series “Dalgoda”. CBR caught up with writer Jan Strnad and artist Kevin Nowlan about the new collection.
“Scott Dunbier of IDW emailed Kevin and I and asked about it, and we both replied enthusiastically,” Strnad said of the collected edition’s origin. “For myself, I’ve wanted a nice edition of ‘Grimwood’s Daughter’ ever since it ran as a back-up feature in ‘Dalgoda,’ but there were problems. The artwork was scattered hither and yon and it took some doing to track it down, and still Kevin had to do some redrawing. I’m delighted to see it come together at long last.”
“It was intended from the beginning to be collected into a nice package,” Nowlan agreed. “We came close to getting to getting it assembled with a French publisher a couple years ago, it was serialized in one of their magazines and there would have been a collection of that edition. But one of the problems was that we were never that satisfied with the coloring. Sometimes it looked ok, others not so good.” This led to the decision to publish the IDW collection in black and white, the artist told CBR. “There weren’t too many places when coloring was all too critical to the story.”
Nowlan said that the final four pages of the story were the only ones that needed to be redrawn, for which neither he nor Strnad could find originals or suitable copies. When asked about the newly redrawn pages, Nowlan said. “I think the inking is a little sharper, a little more refined.”
The artist recalled that, when Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth first pitched the idea for “Grimwood’s Daughter” to him, Nowlan had little interest in drawing an elf story. “I’d read ‘Elf Quest’ and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really want to draw anything like that. But he explained to me it wasn’t a typical elf story,” Nowlan said. “It was very dark, and the elves were tall-they weren’t cuddly elves. They were basically another race. It’s a concept that’s pretty familiar to people now because of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies. But back then those movies had not been made, and I hadn’t made it far enough in those books to make the connection.
“I also liked the idea of starting from scratch where these weren’t preexisting characters where I’d have to follow someone else’s design. For somebody relatively new to comics, it was good to try new stuff.”
Several events in “Grimwood’s Daughter” hinge on decisions–usually the wrong ones. “While I’ve always enjoyed an exciting good-vs.-evil story, real life is fraught with nuance. Even when there’s a clear good/evil dichotomy at the heart of a matter, it can be hard to know how to be good or to choose the best option,” the writer Jan Strnad explained. “There are always trade-offs and ramifications that muddy the waters and make it hard to choose a course of action. So often we fall back on ideology and sloganeering and emotions in order to make up our minds or to avoid having to think about something too deeply. Those stories are fascinating to me as well, and that’s what I wanted to write with ‘Grimwood’s Daughter.'”
Grimwood Forest offers protection, but is also feared, with good reason. Harming any plant in the forest brings immediate and severe punishment. For the elves, whose final stand is made on the outskirts of Grimwood, this presents a particular difficulty should they need to advance or retreat.
“I just wanted the elves to have their backs to the wall. The army of Man was on the march and I wanted to force them into a corner. Grimwood could have been a mountain or a sea, but I thought it was more interesting to make it a forest that they couldn’t travel, so that they would have no place to run,” Strnad said.
“Their problem as I saw it was their inability to navigate any kind of political waters,” the writer continued. “Their tribes were separate and unable to unite to fight Man until there was no other choice. Allying with their own kind was difficult enough; allying with the Elemental spirits of Grimwood wasn’t even a consideration, especially since Grimwood offered only sanctuary, not victory outright.
“With more pages to deal with, it would have been great fun to write more of an epic, to detail the battles, to take the war into Grimwood and to play with that element. But given that it was destined to be a short feature, I chose to concentrate on the personal stories.”
While there is the suggestion that noble Tirol has the right idea, that discretion is the better part of valor, by the end of the book destruction comes anyway. “The elves were doomed, no doubt about it. The world had reached a complexity that they couldn’t adapt to,” Strnad said. “Grimwood offered sanctuary, but even that didn’t work out. Tirol and Brii were lucky to get out alive. I hope they’re doing well!
“I don’t know why I felt compelled to write something so bleak, except that the soft, squishy moments stand out even more in contrast,” Strnad said. “That’s pretty much a reflection of my attitude toward human life, I guess: We’re all doomed, but if we’re lucky we manage to scratch out a little love and happiness nonetheless.”