People underestimate comic books. As a visual medium, there’s so much that can be conveyed in a few artistic lines that would take pages to explain in a novel. They’re creative, granting a world of freedom for many creators. With the right publisher, a comic book creator can do so much. It’s not just stories; it’s morals, ethics, right versus wrong, good versus bad, and all the beautiful shades of gray between.
My mother introduced comic books as a way of encouraging my brothers and I to read. Children’s books to comic books wasn’t a difficult leap to make. Next thing you know, we’re reading Archie comics, Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, and so many others. While my brothers eventually gravitated to Marvel and DC, my mother was drawn to a very popular independent comic book series: ElfQuest.
ElfQuest was and still is a rather unique comic book series. It starts, at first, with the clear difference of elf versus human, survival versus prejudice. But as the story goes on, we discover that the World of Two Moons in ElfQuest isn’t a neat black and white. That the evil person might not naturally be ‘evil’, as one defines it, but a sickness turned within. That just because someone is from a race that typically ‘hates’ you does not mean that person does too.
ElfQuest taught me a lot of things, some that took quite a few re-readings to grasp, but that’s the wonderful thing about a well-written story: discovering depths that you might have missed when you were younger, less aware, less open.
Gender norms are challenged in ElfQuest. Racism and bigotry is challenged. The concept of war is revealed to be the ugly, brutal thing that no one should jump into for any reason except survival. That same sex relationships existed long before I even knew the word ‘gay’. That change can be scary, but utterly vital for survival. And to never think you know someone by the first glance and encounter.
How is all this challenged and demonstrated?
Well, first, we’re introduced to the ancient story of how the elves came to the World of Two Moons. In their minds, their ancestors came to a world that was hard and brutal. Survival meant they had to adapt or die. Hunting was learned, hiding from humans was learned, and so many other changes applied to them over the generations.
Cutter, chief and leader of the Wolfriders — elves who have bonded with wolves — had to rescue one of his people from the humans. Redlance, we will learn, is one of the first to challenge the gender norms. Gentle and sweet, Redlance is not a warrior — he loved the hunt, but not the kill. He is balanced by his lifemate (life partner), Nightfall, who is warrior-born and trained, fiercely protective, and theirs is a relationship that is neatly balanced.
When the Wolfriders are forced to flee their longtime home due to the hate from humans, they discover they are not as alone as they thought. The Sunfolk, beautifully brown-skinned elves who lived like humans — in the sun, tending gardens, and living in huts shaped of clay. Such a concept was so alien to the Wolfriders that they reacted and judged incorrectly.
There, Cutter meets Leetah, and their whole world is turned upside-down. It is their journey of finding acceptance, understanding, and the balancing of two very different elven tribes that we first read in Volume One: Fire and Flight. We discover how love and sex and mating is different among them; their cultures are different.
To the Wolfriders, jealousy is an alien concept. Love where you wish to love seemed to be their motto. As long as there is consent, all was good and happy. To the Sunfolk, it was a bit more complicated. The Wolfriders’ differences sparked a marvelous change, and not all of it was accepted nor welcomed.
I read the first three graphic novels — books — as a child. My mother denied me the fourth one because of the “graphic sex”. When I read it later on in my life, I honestly had no idea why she had objections — the sex was rather mild. What was disturbing was the graphic violence. In the final, fourth book of the first story arc, Wendy Pini did not pull punches in demonstrating the ugliness of war. It is dark, it is brutal, and compassion had no place within it.
I learned a great deal from ElfQuest. I learned how hate of difference was wrong. I learned that same-sex love was beautiful and just as loving as opposite-sex love. I learned of polyamory even before I knew what it was I was reading about. I learned it was okay for men to be expressive of their emotions and still be ‘masculine’. That it was okay for women to be fierce and strong or gentle and loving… or both. That choice was the most powerful decision we could make for ourselves.
Decades later, four to be precise, ElfQuest is still strong and a rarity among the Independents of comic books. Beloved by fans, ElfQuest would find temporary homes with a variety of publishers, currently now with Dark Horse.
ElfQuest allowed fan stories, fan art, even fan-made calendars to exist. The creators, Wendy and Richard Pini, interact with their fans almost daily in Facebook Groups or elsewhere. They encourage the love of the series, because without fans, there would be no ElfQuest.
For some, ElfQuest was comfort and an outlet. For me… I discovered what a healthy, loving relationship could truly be like. In Cutter and Leetah, Redlance and Nightfall, Moonshade and Strongbow, we witness the varieties of relationships. I just didn’t learn, really learn, until I had to divorce my now-ex-husband.
My parents divorced when I was very young, and theirs was an unhappy marriage. Some of my relatives were married and still are, but I wasn’t around them day-in-and-day-out to truly grasp the intricacies that a relationship required. All I had were what the media could show me — often times just as unhealthy, because of the drama required.
But through ElfQuest and having a hard experience, I came to realize and learn what the stories were about. Love… and the absence of it. Through Cutter and Leetah’s adopted human daughter, Shuna, I realized what a healthy, loving relationship should be like — and settling for less would be very bad. In Cutter and Leetah, I see passionate love borne of respect and acceptance despite their rocky start. The same in Redlance and Nightfall, Ember and Teir, and so many others.
After my divorce, I decided no man — no one — would have me unless they could convince me they were worth the risk of heartache and pain. And for a very long time, it was so. Oh… some have flirted, but none were worth the trouble yet.
I had a cub — my son — to consider as well. He would forever be my first priority and how many would like being ‘demoted’ to the second priority?
I learned to stand on my own, to be the strong parent, as I negotiated life as a single mother. ElfQuest came and went, ebbed and flowed in their story releases and I followed it all faithfully. In Brill, I shared her heartache of wanting a child. In Shuna, I shared her pain of an abusive spouse. In Cutter, learning how to be alone when family was gone.
However, as it can happen, love found me anyway. And unlike all my past relationships, I had a higher standard to judge this man. And he’s met them all. He acknowledges that my son would always come first and in fact, would not expect it any other way. He acknowledges my contradictory nature, and celebrates the uniqueness that make me… me.
In him, I’ve discovered respect and acceptance of who I am. Whatever my journey, he supports. When I am overwhelmed, he grounds me. When he gets lost in the details, I remind him of the world. I have discovered my balance… and I love him for it.
Like Cutter, I am currently in the midst of the distance of my journey. My chosen mate is far away, across the ocean, and so I must learn to wait.
If someone is worth the wait… then the waiting can be all right.
And he is.
To ElfQuest, to Wendy and Richard Pini, I am grateful for their long stories of imagination. For their love that helped them discover one another and their distance as well. For the fandom that has allowed me to connect and befriend so many other fellow fans. For helping so many of us through our hard times, for teaching us valuable lessons, and for the beauty of their creation.