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“Happy New Year, New Birthday, New Elfquest!”

Dear Elf Friends,

Anybody out there think Rayek’s been messing with time travel again? Well, if not him, then some unknown mischief-maker’s gone and speeded up the Cosmic Clock, ’cause here’s 2002, laughin’ and scratchin’ at us, when we haven’t even begun to process the ups and downs of 2001 yet!

In any case, with flutes of bubbly a-clink and eyes a-blear, welcome to another New Year’s installment of WendyWords.

Because I just knew you couldn’t resist, I’m sure you’ve checked out the wonderful new look and feel of www.elfquest.com. You have, haven’t you? Don’tcha love it? Do tell Richard so, loudly and often, because it’s his baby all the way. What he’s taught himself about web site management and design, in little more than a year, is mind-boggling. And he’s applied that arcane knowledge, with love and care, to making our official site more intriguing, more easily navigable and a richer, more rewarding experience than ever before.

Through the months and months of Richard’s monumental revamping task, I could do little but wave pompoms and send “rah rahs” of encouragement; my own plate was, as usual, full to slopping over. Though it may have seemed, this past year, that there’s been a lull in the production of new Elfquest material, nothing could be further from the truth. Our newest volume, “In All But Blood,” is all but finished and will be released toward the end of this coming February (not coincidentally, Elfquest’s 24th birthday).

Remember way, way, way ,way ,way, way back when I used to do three heavily detailed 32 page stories a year – fully scripted, pencilled, inked and lettered plus front and back color covers? Plus convention appearances? Plus whatever other artwork and text was needed for other projects? Plus cleaned my own bathroom? When you’re 28 years old and never sleep you can do insane stuff like that. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whether you’re the one chained to the drawing board) a standard was set, back then, for the way Elfquest should look and read – a very high standard which you have fervently let us know, over the years, you’d prefer we adhere to.

Since I can no longer keep the unholy hours or endure the other kinds of physical abuse your average comic book slave – er, I mean artist – takes for granted, I work, as you know, with assistants. The goal has always been to locate those young talents who have the passion, understanding and illustrative skill to maintain the quality that EQ fans expect. In the case of “In All But Blood,” however, extraordinary talents – two of ’em – descended as gifts from the High Ones to help perpetuate the elves’ adventures.

In a previous Wendywords, Sonny (Krillin) Strait introduced himself and gave you a peek into his creative process. His first story for us,“Wolfshadow,” was our sellout Summer 2001 Special, revealing the promise of great things to come. “Wolfshadow” will, of course, appear in “In All But Blood” along with Sonny’s second effort, the deliciously dark, wise and funny “Troll Games and Soul Names.”

 

 

Being the famous voice-over actor he is, our Puckish Sonny has been on the road for many weeks, now, on a promotional tour for “Dragonball Z.” While Sonny asserts that he has, by no means, drawn his last page for us (thank the stars), I’d like you to meet Carol Lyon, our newest tribeswoman and accomplished helper, who hails from a fascinatingly different part of the forest. Carol and I are just finishing the tale “Full Circle,” which is the first new look at the Wolfriders since they reclaimed the Palace from Grohmul Djun.

Here, in her own words, Carol, who never had anything to do with comics before EQ, reveals what the experience has been like for her, so far. (I willsay she’s learned to be careful what she wishes for – there’s a gigantic, double-page spread she insisted be added to the “Full Circle” script. Guess which newest tribeswoman and accomplished helper got to labor over it for four days?)

 


What in Freefoot’s name am I doing drawing a comic!?

When I graduated in ’96 with all those degrees and all those years as a “professional student” at the University, I never thought I would ever work in comics, nor did I think I would even want to. Of course, in ’96 I had never heard of ElfQuest. My love was for both the life sciences and illustration, so during the time I was at the University and after I (finally) graduated, I worked as a science illustrator. Yes, you’ve got it right… I am one of those detail-obsessed nuts whose work appears in science journals and natural history museums’ exhibits.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved mythology, fantasy and science fiction. Joseph Campbell, Tolkien, and Clarke share space on my bookshelves with Audubon and Loren Eiseley. I even found it was great fun to dabble in doing a bit of fantasy art (after all, if one can draw dinosaurs, how hard can it be to draw dragons?). But for me, fantasy art and comics never could match the grandeur and humanity I found in the best of fantasy literature.

Then, a few years ago, I discovered ElfQuest. Drawing fossils and amoebas was all very well, but this! This was astounding! Art and words going hand in hand to tell a story that was equal to any epic in literature. Now, I am not one to go ga-ga over this or that, but for the very first time in my life I found myself *gasp* a fan. Yep, I did the fan stuff – fan art, fanfics, and participation in EQ email lists (where some of you might know me as “Windrider.”) But I never seriously thought I could work for Warp – I knew nothing about comics, cartooning, animation, or anything that seemed to relate.

About the time Richard announced on the website that a new volume in Reader’s Collection would feature the relationship between Cutter and Skywise, I was finishing up a nice little painting of those two elves that I had done for my studio wall. I sent a copy to Richard thinking he would like the painting, but I nearly fell out of my chair when he responded that they wanted to use it for the cover of “In All But Blood.” Then there came something akin to terror when an email from Wendy arrived inviting me to do the finishing work over her roughs for the story all the fans had been waiting for – the tale of what happens to Cutter and his tribe after “Reunion.”

Me? Sonny had done such a beautiful job finishing the first five pages and I was supposed to take his place? Wendy knew she was asking me to take a leap of faith, but I don’t think she appeciated just how big that cliff looked from my point of view. “But I’ve never done a comic!” (But you know how to draw, right? Wendy replied). “But I’ve really only practiced drawing Cutter and Skywise!” (But you are familar with everyone else from reading the graphic novels, right?). “Couldn’t I please cut my teeth on a less important story?” (all EQ stories are important!). In fact, I recall that she was rather unsympathetic to my worries.

And so with some trepidation, I began “Full Circle” where Sonny had left off. It was not easy for me to let go of over a decade of my science training. Wendy would say, “draw some birch-like trees here,” and I would drawBetula pendula complete with characteristic bark pattern. But I feel I have learned and improved with each page. I have learned such comic estoterica as what speed lines and spangs are and why, in the immortal words of Sonny Strait, “tangents suck.” More importantly, I’ve learned how freeing it can be to let go of exactness in favor of expressiveness. And I have confidence that I am learning at the feet of a master. Since I sit behind her and look over her shoulder as she develops the layouts, I don’t think Wendy sees the astonishment on my face every time I watch her draw. It is an amazing thing to see the ideas spill out of her soul onto the page in a free stream of consciousness – so very different from the painstaking research that goes into my usual work. I am awed and humbled to be working as an assistant to such an accomplished artist, all my degrees be damned.

 

 

Then there is the wry sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that my old comrades at the Guild of Natural History Illustrators would think I’ve completely lost my mind to stoop to doing a mere comic. How little they know.

 


(Wendy again)

As you can see, Carol’s drawing style is sensuous and romantic – exactly the approach “Full Circle” needs. Sonny worked over my rough layouts, but was often eager to break free and finish entire pages on his own – which he did. Carol and I, however, have been working closely on every page. Watching me sketch, she frequently makes suggestions which reveal how fully she groks the world of the elves. When she takes the pages home to her studio, she adds her own shading and magical details to both characters and backgrounds, turning them into tight, finished pencils. Processed through Photoshop, you can barely tell they haven’t been inked.

The result of all this effort will be a volume that harks back, in rich detail and spirit, to the earliest days of “Elfquest.” It does, indeed, feel like a full circle and a homecoming. And what better way to start off a new year right?

More soon. Love to all,

Wendy (Elfmom) Pini


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