In one sense ElfQuest, as a concept, goes back to the Spring of 1977, when Wendy Pini said to her husband Richard, “I have this idea for a story.” In another sense, however, the story of the Wolfriders has been a part of Wendy’s creative life almost since the day she was born. At its heart it is the tale of a tribe of otherworldly, elfin outsiders, seeking a safe home in an unfamiliar, unfriendly world. This is a theme that runs throughout much of Wendy’s early art and storytelling.

1977, however, was a watershed year for fantasy, science fiction, and comics, for it marked the release of the movie Star Wars. George Lucas’ enthusiastic potpourri of old-time movie sci-fi serials, swashbuckling Robin-Hood-like adventure, and larger-than-life characters took popular culture by storm. Both critically and financially, it was a huge hit. And it was that combination of factors that suggested to the Pinis that maybe, just maybe, the time was right for them to try their hand at creating and releasing a sweeping fantasy saga of their own.

ElfQuest has always been seen, and rightly so, as a pioneer in independent comics publishing. But in the beginning, Wendy and Richard had no desire to be entrepreneurs; they simply wanted to produce the material, send it out, and – hopefully – receive nice royalty checks in return. They knew that comics were produced by companies like Marvel and DC, and it was their thought to bring their new property to one of those two. But neither house was interested; ElfQuest was “too peculiar” for their lines at the time. The Pinis tried a couple of other “groundlevel” publishers in business at the time, with the same negative result. They had a brief run-in with a small company, which did manage to produce the very first appearance of ElfQuest in “Fantasy Quarterly” #1 in February 1978. But that publisher attempted – unsuccessfully – to run off with Wendy’s original artwork, and the Pinis were finally forced to consider that if they wanted ElfQuest to continue and grow in the direction they envisioned, they would have to become its publisher. Wendy was already an accomplished artist and easily adapted to working on comic-book-size paper. Richard set about learning, from the ground up, the essentials of printing, marketing, and distribution. And so – with the help of a loan from Richard’s parents, quickly repaid – was born WaRP Graphics, the name being the acronym for Wendy and Richard Pini. WaRP (since modified to the simpler “Warp”) published its first issue of ElfQuest in the summer of 1978, and has been in the business of producing, publishing, licensing, and partnering ever since.

When Wendy and Richard began shopping ElfQuest, they knew many of the people who worked at both Marvel Comics and DC Comics. They had been fans for years, and had made a number of friendships with writers, artists, and editors at both companies. Admittedly, they leaned more toward Marvel, as that style of storytelling felt closer to what ElfQuest was. Wendy and Richard had already been visiting friends in “the bullpen” on and off for years, so getting in to see the appropriate contact was not a problem. Archie Goodwin was editor-in-chief at the time (mid-1977) and – in the graceful way he was known and loved for – let them know that ElfQuest wasn’t something that Marvel was interested in. That might have been the end of the story, but it seems the Universe loves irony. Marvel’s refusal led the Pinis and their newly-formed company WaRP Graphics to publish the first 20-issue series of ElfQuest comics independently from 1978 through 1984. In that time, it became a phenomenon within the industry, racking up sales that competed with a number of titles published by “the Big Two.” As the release of the series’ final issue drew near, comics fandom was buzzing with the news – and another top person at Marvel Comics, Carol Kalish, vice-president of new product development, gave Richard a call. Would WaRP be interested in letting Marvel have a second chance at publishing ElfQuest as a reprint series for their new “Epic” line of creator-owned titles, this time for much wider newsstand distribution? You bet!

The arrangement with Marvel Comics to reprint what has come to be called “The Original Quest” was the first instance of Warp Graphics reaching outside the traditional, perceived boundaries of independent comics publication – but hardly the last. The independent comics movement has always been home to divergent philosophies about what constitutes true independence, and some advocates saw Wendy and Richard’s alliance with Marvel as almost a betrayal of sorts. But as the Pinis themselves have said over many years, they consider themselves to be completely independent, just not isolationist. If another interested entity should come knocking, bringing resources beyond what Warp Graphics might have, Wendy and Richard are happy to partner (while always retaining ownership of the property). Thus it was in 2003 that DC Comics approached Warp Graphics with a proposal. After the conclusion of the Marvel agreement in 1988, Warp had continued to publish a variety of new ElfQuest-related series. DC wanted to license both reprint and new material rights. Their first project was a complete revamp of the very early color reprint volumes published from 1981-1984 by the Donning/Starblaze Company. As the artist of the series, Wendy had never been satisfied with the production of these volumes, and the DC Archive series gave her the chance to, finally, use digital technology to color the artwork as she’d always envisioned it. DC also produced two new ElfQuest graphic novels – The Searcher and the Sword and The Discovery, and reformatted The Original Quest into 14 digest-sized manga-format volumes.

The active Warp/DC relationship lasted from 2003 through 2007 (Technically it can be said to have extended another four years, as the ElfQuest property was under option to Warner Bros Pictures from 2008-2011. But because of certain convolutions in the option, no new material was produced during that time.) When it became public that ElfQuest would once again come home to Warp Graphics, Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics got on the phone to Wendy and Richard and made the pitch to let Dark Horse become Warp’s newest partner. Dark Horse started life as an independent comics publisher a few years after Warp Graphics, and even as it became a rival in sales to both Marvel and DC, it retained its maverick spirit. Wendy and Richard began working with them in 2012. Like the agreement with DC Comics, the new license includes both reprint and new material. Dark Horse has collected the core, canonical stories of the Wolfriders and their chief, Cutter, into a series of comprehensive volumes called The Complete ElfQuest. They have also published the two most recent entries in the continuing ElfQuest saga: The Final Quest and Stargazer’s Hunt. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic put comics production and publishing on hold for the better part of two years, plans are in the works for even more ElfQuest releases through Dark Horse Comics.