EXCLUSIVE: Richard & Wendy Pini Look To the End After 40 Years of Elfquest

CBR: That leads me to next question: So, you were saying Elfquest continues to live on with the fans; what kept bring you guys back for 40 years, what kept it fresh to keep coming back to craft these stories?

Richard: Wendy is a consummate storyteller and, in 1977, she told me the skeleton of Elfquest and I was intrigued immediately. She knew and, thus, we knew where this was beginning and where inevitably it would end up. Now, a metaphor I like to use is we’re taking a road trip. We’re starting in New York and we’re going to end up in Los Angeles. We don’t know how long it’s going to take, we don’t know if halfway through we want to stop and investigate something in Oklahoma, but we know we got to get to LA. We’re going to take as much time to a.) do it right b.) enjoy the doing it the way we need. That was always in the back of our minds, that we had a destination and wanted to just have as much fun getting there as it took, and it took 40 years!

Wendy: If you think about it, One Life to Live, All My Children, all these soap operas are way older than Elfquest and they just kept the storylines going. Elfquest is a big soap opera. Apart from everything else, it’s got a lot of drama, a lot of angst and stuff going on, and so, I would imagine, the way they keep soap operas going on TV is the way we kept on going. It’s so character-driven with these individual personalities and they always work to keep it going.

CBR: I was always a Dark Shadows kid, myself.

Richard: [laughs] A bit closer to home. But, still, a soap opera. You’d be 25 episodes in and, suddenly, this character you thought you knew everything about reveals hitherto unknown side and the story goes in another direction for six months.

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CBR: Elfquest is probably one of the few properties that’s been published by DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, you guys self-published, as well. Logistically, how has that whole experience, how has that whole journey behind-the-scenes been, too?

Richard: When we started, I didn’t want to be a publisher. I didn’t know jack squat about publishing. I wanted Marvel or DC to take the property, to send us nice checks that we would cash and Wendy would draw beautiful art and we would cash checks and that would be the end of it. We took it to Marvel and DC, they said, “sorry, a little too peculiar for us.” We took it to several of the other alternative comics of the day in the late 1970s. Finally, after a couple of stumbles, we decided we had to do this ourselves and I took a crash course: “Okay, I need printer!" Look in the Yellow Pages, find printers. “Can you print a copy of a comic book? No? Fine, thank you.” And we learned, we learned by making every mistake, inventing some new ones and just going forward. And the thing that happened was that Elfquest took off, it took off like wildfire. Our first run was 10,000 copies. Usually, in those days, most fan zines were 500, maybe 5,000 if you were real, real spectacular. We sold 10,000 in a month or two. Our second issue sold 20,000. Nobody saw anything like that. That said, we’re doing something right. We did that for seven or eight years and then, irony of ironies, Marvel came to us and said, “We would like to reprint Elfquest for our Epic line of creator-owned comics.”

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Wendy: They were just starting to become aware of the issue of creators’ rights. And Epic came about to honor that.

Richard: They knew a good thing when they smelled it. So, our first dance with a major publisher was Marvel. They got Elfquest on to newsstands and we got a whole new audience, circulation doubled and tripled. I have always liked to say, “We’re independent, we’re not isolationist.” I remember in those days, there was a lot of crying, “No, the independents should stay and, if you go with Marvel, you’re a sellout.” And I said crap on that because if someone had the resources that we didn’t have to get the story out there, I’m fine with that. So, Marvel took a reprint license, we went back to doing our own thing and then DC took a license. They did reprint material and new material. We were happy with DC, they did beautiful books. They didn’t quite know how to market Elfquest. And then we went back to independent and then Mike Richardson [from Dark Horse Comics] called up going, “I’ve been lusting after you people for 20 years, are you ready to do the dance?” And I said, “Yes.” Dark Horse, Mike Richardson, came from the same scrappy background that we do. We’ve been for Dark Horse now six years, we’re very happy with what they’ve done because they’ve done a beautiful job with production, a great job with marketing. They did a bunch of reprints, they did Final Quest. I think I can sum it up by saying we’ll dance with anybody who knows the steps and won’t step on our feet.

Wendy: As Richard pointed out, DC didn’t know how to market Elfquest and it’s always better when Elfquest has a home or a company, an entity that gets it.

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