As Halloween departs, winter begins to set in, and while this brings forth images of snow and holidays for some, it means one thing for me: being sick until spring. It’s happened for many, many years so I’ve come to expect it by now, but I have a special cure or at least something that makes me feel better. From as long as I can remember, every time I had to stay home from classes I always read my mother’s Elfquest comics, and for some reason that seemed to do the trick. I wouldn’t exactly call Elfquest a manga, but I do believe it was an important step in getting the graphic novel to be the respected medium it is this day and even bringing an early light to Japanese animation and manga.
Reaching all the way back to the late 70’s, Wendy and Richard Pini’s cult classic focuses mostly on one tribe of elves, the Wolfriders, and their tribe leader, Cutter. In their history, it is said that the Wolfriders are born with the blood of wolves coursing through their veins. As such they’re able to tame wolves and adopt them not only as pets, but as family members. After their forest home is destroyed, the Wolfriders head off to seek a new home only to find that the lush lands they had been promised by the trolls that were ‘helping’ them are anything but. Faced with endless desert in front of them, the Wolfriders continue on for days until they run across another tribe of elves, the Sun Folk. Closer to the ways of their ancestors, the High Ones (eight alien-like beings who were the genesis of all elves), these desert dwellers offer not only safe haven, but also conflict to the deep-rooted ways of the forest folk.
Of course, this is only the first two volumes. Later on, they go on to find a couple more tribes of elves—there are only about four or five total in Pini’s verse—travel through time in a way that doesn’t make me cringe, deal with a full out war, romance, drama, the list goes on. However, I’m going to be honest here: I have not read any of the newer stuff. My knowledge of this series goes right up to Bedtime Stories (which is more of an anthology of new, previous, and other stories that have no bearing on the over-reaching plot), but in everything I’ve heard the good things about the later issues have been few and far-between. Certainly looking at the Wikipedia entry leads to a much more confusing universe than what I left on and it’s somewhat uninviting.
Also, some people may find some of Pini’s elven culture a little uncomfortable. While most of it fits under normal fantasy, the issue of romance is completely new. In this verse, the ability to have children is called being ‘recognized’ and to initiate this one must know their partner’s soul name—a name that is barely ever spoken, only known through their hearts. It can be as simple as just telling your partner your soul-name. But it’s not always that simple, and the issues it can cause are shown in the very first story arc. When the Wolfriders arrive in the Sun Folk’s village, their healer, Leetah, immediately realizes Cutter’s soul name. The problem is that Leetah wants nothing to do with him and ignores the feelings that this recognition brings. This causes her to become ill until she finally accepts it. The idea that some outside force thrusts love upon you and that it will always work for the better in the end doesn’t sit well with me. However, the delicacy and respect that other relationships in the series are dealt with really is quite impressive. Never have I seen a polyamorous relationship that was drama-free and quite so touching.
If you feel like taking a dip back in time, the series in its entirety is on the internet for free (legally) on Elfquest’s official site. The art is gorgeous and every colored page really grabs your attention, many of the characters are compelling, and I’m certain that you’ll have a favorite from the headstrong Rayek to the intelligent Savah. Check it out here!