Everybody in Comics Knew Girls Loved ElfQuest

Wendy Pini Elfquest The Discovery cover banner crop

Wendy Pini and her husband and collaborator Richard Pini are on a world tour: “Forty Years of Pointed Ears.” This journey, which most recently stopped in at SDCC, celebrates the four publication decades of ElfQuest that culminated in February’s final chapter. ElfQuest is one of the most seminal American comics, spanning the last 22 years of the twentieth century and the first 18 years of the twenty-first, and bearing an unusual combination of recognition, both as a “great comic” and as a serious matter of teen girls’ fandom. ElfQuest was beloved by career cartoonists and young readers both, and this resulted in an odd mushrooming of acknowledgement: even within comics, teenage girls liked this comic.

Marvel: Kitty Pryde

ElfQuest was not the only comic book that Kitty Pryde was seen enjoying during the early 1980s. She was also seen with a Star Wars issue or two. There’s some difference in these two areas of her published fandom though, as Marvel was publishing Star Wars comics at that time (a little on-page in-house marketing never goes amiss) and did not take their turn at distributing ElfQuest until 1985, three full years after the t-shirt appearance below. Whether artist Cockrum or writer Claremont had the idea to put her in the shirt, Kitty Pryde spends this issue spinning a wild, dashing tale of swashbuckling romance, not unlike that which ElfQuest is famed for. She was the X-Men’s teenage-girl-ElfQuest-fan and the earliest example of this motif I can find.

Kitty Pryde waves down wearing a yellow ElfQuest t-shirt
Uncanny X-Men #153, 1982

Valiant: Faith

Faith is introduced in Harbinger #1 by creators Jim Shooter and David Lapham. At this point, she is a fangirl invested in superheroes and sci-fi. Teammate Kris asks her in their first meeting if Faith is a “you know… Trekker?” She patently is, as she’s wearing a nightie with a TNG decal and has some sort of Tokusatsu poster on the wall. But during the rest of Shooter and Lapham’s original nine or so issues, Faith’s apparel tends to be plain and logo-free. Once Shooter begins the transition out and Lapham takes over as cartoonist, Faith’s nerdery begins to be worn on her almost-literal sleeve. An ElfQuest shirt is worn once, and then another ElfQuest shirt is worn in an issue all about how Faith’s readership of ElfQuest inspires her own, personal, superpowered heroism.

Harbinger #14 begins with Faith going to work in the comic shop where she’s also a dedicated customer (she occasionally agrees to be paid in books instead of money, much to the ire of her housemates). It’s new comic day, and Faith… picks out her fave.

This issue of Harbinger is cover dated January 1993. The issue of ElfQuest Faith picks out in glee is a real, actual issue: Hidden Years #4, from November 1992. You can see the cover below, and that it’s accurately reproduced in the image above. What you can’t tell here is that Harbinger #14 features entire pages of ElfQuest: Hidden Years #4, so that the reader can read with the character. You and Faith are there together, enjoying the book that she likes. These genuine Pini pages are inserted into Faith’s solo adventure, in which she befriends, humours, and is beaten up with an old homeless man, because that’s how Faith digests her life: the real parts are real, and the read parts are real. This is a fascinating and quite moving attempt to illustrate the joy of reading within a read product.

Malibu: Elven

In 1993, Malibu comics debuted a character called Prime: he was a 13 year old boy endowed with the power to think himself up a tangible, powerful flesh suit. Because of his superhero fandom, he became a Superman parody, a gritty, for-the-90s, apparently in-earnest Shazam. Not a full year later, Malibu created a character who was the same, but in Girl: Elvira. She’s granted the same transformative ability and became Elven, because Girls Like ElfQuest.

I’ve been unable to source the issues, but Elven’s Wikipedia page is very clear as to the character’s relationship to ElfQuest and ComicVine retains an unsourced scan of Norm Breyfogle’s (the creator of Prime and the penciller of Elven’s debut appearance) designs for Elvira and Elven. Seen below, these are clearly labelled “3 fingers, like in [undelined for emphasis] ElfQuest.”Norm Breyfogle's Elvira/Elven designs, for Malibu comics 1993

Interestingly, all three of these examples are of teen or underage characters whose published appearances have some association with early sexuality. ElfQuest is often spoken of as unusually sexually overt, both textually and through motif or implication. This recent Boing Boing profile features Wendy Pini purposefully comparing her elves’ ears to the shapes of a vulva, for example. Kitty Pryde is known as the 14-year-old who was dumped by a 19-year-old who had wanted to marry her, whose on-page sexual negotiations were both relatably cathartic and distressingly uncomfortable. In the image chosen for this article, she’s calling to her adult love-interest to tuck in a child, his younger sister, to whom Kitty is like a sister-mother. Kitty, of course, has yet to escape the man in question. Faith herself (a little older, around 18) has been offered sexual service of a grody human teen as a way to escape death by alien, and later in the series (after Lapham has moved on) she loses her virginity in a barn whilst on the run from some murderers. Hers is the least distressing association.

Elvira’s story can’t be evaluated without my having read it, but her predecessor Prime’s Wiki summary explains that “writers Jones and Strazewski used the book to explore a number of themes, such as the place of role models in establishing personal definitions of heroism, as well as touchy matters regarding sexuality and pedophilia.” Elven’s own miniseries featured a design that strayed from Breyfogle’s, placing this pre-teen mind inside a “perfect adult woman” body—no hairy legs in sight—wearing a high-legged bandeau bikini, the top part of which looked like skeleton hands. Usually on covers she is being physically threatened or restrained by a huge, stoutly muscular, very masculine figure.

According to this accidental sum then, when cross referenced with “comics,” the status girl intersects almost immediately with two things in the minds of the industry’s men: ElfQuest, and confusing, power-imbalanced sexual encounters.

So, they are paying attention after all, huh? And have been, all along.

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money