Comic Book Heroes!
Meet five artists extraordinaire who have been crafting your favorite characters for years
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Sure, superheroes in the movies are super-hot these days. But they better make room for a few elves. Richard and Wendy Pini, who for 30 years have been publishing Elfquest — the unique and enduringly popular fantasy series which introduced Japanese-style illustration to America long before the Manga and anime crazes — have a deal with Warner Brothers for an Elfquest motion picture. “I’m awfully glad we spent 14 years in development hell,” says Wendy, the artist and creator of the series. “Because the technology has finally arrived to realize every visual need. Richard and I feel totally blessed by the entire experience.” Wendy, who now splits her time between Hollywood and the couple’s Poughkeepsie home, says, “I always pictured Elfquest as a movie in my head. And comic books are the best compromise when you can’t make a movie; it’s the best way to visualize things in a similar way.”
Hometown: San Francisco
Hudson Valley home: Poughkeepsie
Starting out: I wrote a script for Red Sonja for Marvel Comics while I was in my early 20s. I got the opportunity because I was dressing as Red Sonja as part of a traveling road show performing at comic book conventions.
Early influences/mentors: Jack Kirby and Osamu Tezuka, the “Walt Disney of Japan” and the father of the Japanese comics style known as Manga.
First thing you remember drawing? The Giant Book of Faeries and Elves. I drew my own elves into the book at age two. At age three or four, I took rolls of paper towels and drew comics. Each sheet was a panel. I drew on any empty surface. My mother was constantly wiping crayon off walls.
Fantasyland: Pini’s Elfquest characters struggle to exist on a primitive planet with two moons
A character you still love to draw? Any of the elves — they just fly out of my pen. Fanatical fans: We had done a story in Elfquest in which a character died and his wife cut off her long braid as a gesture of mourning. Well, we received a box, from Norway I think, and somebody had sent us their long braid as a gesture of mourning.
Proudest/most challenging accomplishment: The answer to both is Masque of the Red Death (adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story), which I am working on now. It’s as dark and different, emotionally and psychologically, from Elfquest as it could possibly be. It’s adult and erotic. Elfquest doesn’t feel so much like an accomplishment as a channeling. Elfquest has been my life’s mission statement, the love of my life.
Current/upcoming projects: Currently, Masque of the Red Death is unfolding on-line as a weekly Web comic featuring flash animation. I believe it’s my best work to date. I’m drawing it using a cintiq [a tool for drawing digital images on a screen]. You’re basically painting in light. As a three-year-old, I imagined painting with light while drawing with crayons on the wall. Then it’s back to Elfquest for “The Final Quest.” There’s one more story to tell.
Next big trend in comics? What I’m doing right now: the Internet.
Free time: Richard and I take our drives to nowhere. We just get in the car and have no destination whatsoever. It’s complete freedom.
On local inspiration: The Hudson Valley truly feeds my soul. Elfquest was born in New York. When I came out here I had never seen these beautiful deep green forests before, and much of this background appears in Elfquest. Especially the fall color palette, I use that a lot.
On comics being cool: Currently, everybody who grew up reading comics as a major pastime is running Hollywood. That’s why comic books are receiving the current level of respect — and greed — they are being accorded.
On the Web: www.elfquest.com
(For our exclusive list of Valley shops where you can find all your favorite artists' works, visit our Spidey's Web feature.)
Up next: Jim Starlin