On Collaborating with My Younger Self

In its long and checkered existence, Elfquest has broken ground in many ways. A bit of history the elves made, of which Richard and I are particularly proud, is that back in the early 1980s Elfquest was the first full color continuing graphic novel series to be published and released in big chain book stores in America. It caused a minor sensation and created a niche for all similar publications to follow. It’s no exaggeration to say that Elfquest is the reason that, today, you can find an entire graphic novel section inBarnes & Noble and Borders stores, as well as in your local comics shop.

When it came to coloring Elfquest for the first time, as usual, it was “learn as you go.” I had to contend with an uncooperative and less than respectful publisher (not Warp!) unwilling to provide me with good quality photocopies (called stats) of the pages to paint. So I was compelled to use cheap copies of the artwork for what would become Elfquest Book 1.

Those of you old enough to remember know that back in the early 1980s photocopiers used a slick and flimsy paper that retained a gray, powdery residue after the copying process. Painting on that with watercolors was a nightmare for both me and my assistant Glynis Wein. The paper wrinkled when wet and we simply couldn’t get the results we wanted because of that gray undertone. And in some cases the paint wouldn’t even stick to the paper! When the first Donning/Starblaze edition of Book 1 was placed in my hands, I wept. It looked awful to me. I knew what it could have – should have – been. I was sure it would be a sales disaster.

Much to my surprise, it sold like hotcakes. Go figure! Plans were immediately made to release Book 2 – and this time, because Elfquest had proven itself, I got my good quality photocopies. Those of you who own the Donning/Starblaze editions will notice a big difference in the clarity of color between Book 1 and Books 2 through 4. Nevertheless, though they rapidly sold out, I was never fully satisfied with those editions and am always surprised by fans who still insist they’re wonderful. You’re much more forgiving than I!

When it came time for Warp to publish our 10th Anniversary edition, Elfquest Books 1 through 4 had already been reprinted as monthly comic books by Marvel Comics. Trying to figure out how to update the color in an exciting and innovative way, I suggested to Richard that we do it animation-style. We could treat the Marvel acetates (which were simply black art linework on clear plastic film) as animation cels and color them on the “under” surface. After hooking up with Janet Scagnelli and her wonderful crew at Chelsea Animation Parlour in New York City, we learned my idea was do-able. And so began the recoloring process under my art direction.

For the time, the results we achieved were rather spectacular. Because of my love for the look of animation, I loved the strength and impact the flat, acrylic paints gave my often too-busy artwork. And, thanks to Richard, the reproduction and packaging was brilliant. However, the Marvel comics had been produced using plastic printing plates which deteriorated during print runs (a process now obsolete) and thus the black acetate lines were blurred, in some cases severely. Over the years, some of you have correctly pointed out the loss of detail in certain panels. So, even though it comes miles closer to the power of my vision, I do agree that Warp’s 10th Anniversary edition still has some bugs in it.

Well, time has passed. And an amazing group of dedicated, intuitive artists and technicians have developed a little thing called Photoshop – which has, quite simply, totally revolutionized the comics publishing industry. It took me a year and then some to become proficient with this wondrous tool (although a lifetime probably isn’t enough to fully explore its potential) and now airbrush effects that took hours to set up are achieved in seconds. To be able to “paint with light,” to manipulate imagery, recompose without redrawing, test colors and instantly erase them, work in unlimited layers without having to literally cut and paste paper – these are things I could only dream of wishfully in my younger days.

It’s fascinating to be applying the epitome of cutting-edge computer technology to the colorization of artwork that is a quarter century old. While honoring the original black linework, the technique I used to create the finished imagery of “True Peace” (find it in the Wolfrider Shop art gallery) will be used throughout the recoloring process.


donning father tree new

Here is a comparison of page one of “Fire and Flight” as seen first in the Donning Starblaze edition (image 1, left), then the Warp Graphics 10th Anniversary edition (image 2, center) and now, in the upcoming Elfquest Silver Anniversary edition (image 3, right) – click on each thumbnail image to bring up the entire page. (Technical note: All three images have been scanned/prepared in exactly the same way, to provide a true comparison.)

In image 1, you see full attention to detail marred by inadequate materials. You can even see where red and yellow paint have actually chipped and fallen off the paper – look especially at the red paint on the title lettering!

Image 2 is much slicker, smoother and more impactful, but noticeably flat. It announces itself as stylized artwork – with a traditional cel animation “feel” in mind – rather than an alternate reality.

Now enter the world of image 3 – the moment of heat and danger realized more vividly than ever before. Now you are in an environment of sacred smoke and setting sun seeing, from a different angle, what Redlance sees as he’s about to be slain.

Here all in a row are the cover concept, plus pages one, two and three, so you can get an idea of how sweeping some of the changes are. (Again, click on each image to bring up the larger version.)


cover page 1
page 2 page 3

As you can tell, I’m very excited about this journey, covering old ground anew, and totally committed to it. To collaborate with my younger Self, I meditate on each black and white page as it appears on my screen, forgiving amateurish errors and too-lavish detail, envisioning how to bring it all together to exceed my original intentions. My hope and expectation is that the Silver Anniversary edition of Book 1 (and, eventually, the entire canonical Elfquest saga) will be the version that outlasts its creators and the one everybody remembers as definitive.

Wish me luck, it’s a heckuva deadline!

Much Love,
Wendy (Elfmom) Pini

(P.S. If you came here from the latest “Matter of oPINIon” page, don’t forget to go back and finish reading that too!)