Back in my youth in the early eighties, I ran across an indie comic at a science fiction convention. It was called Elfquest.
I had never seen a comic like this before. It was in a larger format, was detailed black & white and didn’t have superheroes or any characters I was familiar with. The style was also . . . well, it drew me in as soon as I looked at it. It was done by a husband and wife team named Wendy and Richard Pini. I snapped up the first issue, went to a quiet corner and read through it. Then I went back and grabbed all the issues I could afford (#1-6.) I read through the first six issues over and over for the next few months, wishing I could get my hands on the following issues (this was before the rise of comic shops throughout the country.) I started drawing obsessively by copying her art.
A couple of years later I found a new, local comic shop (B&D Comics) and found the rest of the issues up to that point. I was astounded yet again at not only the artwork, but the writing and storytelling. Keep in mind that at this point, independent comics were in their larval stage and anything other than Marvel and D.C. were considered ‘odd’. I entered the D&D addiction around the same time and Elfquest and D&D went together like bullets and guns. For a couple of years I was elf-crazed.
Moreover, all of this was done by a girl. A girl! Hell, I was only vaguely familiar with females at the time, and in a purely theoretical fashion. I was incredibly shy and introverted and in Middle School–a hellish combination. Here was one of these mythical female creatures doing amazing writing and drawing in a genre I loved. What sorcery was this?
Other Elfquest books started appearing on regular bookstores in malls during this period. Not only were they pretty and glossy, but were in color. A few years later and Marvel Comics starting reprinting the comics in a standard comic book format.
(The story goes that Wendy and Richard went to Marvel and pitched Elfquest to them and were turned down flat. Years later after they had exploded in the indie market, Marvel approached them to allow them to reprint Elfquest in their Epic line of creator-owned comics. I can only imagine how satisfying that felt.)
I digress, however. Elfquest is amazing, but I want to talk primarily about Wendy. As the years passed, I picked up more information about her. About her “Law & Chaos” project, for instance. She had tried to put together an animated movie of an Elric story, all by herself. For those unfamiliar, Elric was the brooding, elvish anti-hero of Michael Moorcock. The project failed, as you might have imagined due to the massive efforts required to make even a short animated film, but does show the awesome level of commitment this woman had to her artwork.
What truly shows her dedication to her craft is the flawless narrative artwork she has. Her primary goal in her artwork is to tell a story–and she does it flawlessly. One of my biggest beefs with newer comic artists is the lack of clear storytelling. Sure, they can put together pretty pictures, but you often don’t understand the story without the dialogue. A good artist should be able to tell a story without a single bit of dialogue. Wendy could do it and make it look easy.
That kind of narrative art is rare these days. The comics look great but too many artists are so busy making gorgeous illustrations that they neglect to tell a clear story, wherein you never doubt where the characters are or what they are doing.
Despite the success of Elfquest, Wendy gets little recognition from the comics industry. When I was in the Joe Kubert School, I showed some of her artwork to one of the instructors. He looked through it in astonishment and said something to the effect of “This is great! Who is this person?” My jaw dropped.
You can drop names like Todd McFarlane, John Byrne, or Jim Lee and you’ll get tons of fanboy recognition. Wendy Pini? No, not so much. Not sure why. Because she’s a woman? Maybe. Or maybe because her unconventional subject matter, including the Masque of the Red Death.
On a more amusing note, I found out just a few years ago that she used to dress up like Red Sonja for a show she did with Frank Thorne at conventions called “Sonja and the Wizard”. Amazing how much the woman captured the part!
Do yourself a favor and read through her works and give her some support. She’s earned it a dozen times over.