Elfquest, created by Wendy and Richard Pini, exploded onto the publishing scene in the early 1980s. A graphic novel series about, basically, hippy Native American elves who ride wolves, it took the comic world and SF fandom by storm, kick-starting the indie comic movement while also growing out of the earlier adult comic movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, of which Heavy Metal (Metal Hurlant) was a premier vehicle.
In contrast to Heavy Metal’s male-oriented fare like Den, Elfquest was female-oriented. It was crass, romantic, sexually idealized, and relationship-oriented, owing much to Star Trek, fantasy author Joy Chant, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, and the fantasy trend of feel-good utopian clambake sex exemplified by feminist authors of the 1970s like Vonda McIntyre and Dorothy Bryant.
The series begins as the elves of the title, who have bonded with wolves, rescue a member of their tribe from certain death at the hands of humans. As the elves are superior in every way to humans, the humans hate them, and set fire to their forest. The tribe must then flee across unknown lands and eventually wind up in a desert kingdom of dark skinned elves where the unfortunately named Cutter, the youthful chief of their tribe, meets Leetah the healer, and instalove ensues. There’s a scale describing the elves’ sexual pairings: matchmates, lovemates, lifemates, and finally soulmates, which is an instantaneous sexual pairbond. In the story this creates much angst as Cutter pushes for connection and Leetah resists… creating a robust plotline that is still used by fantasy writers today, particularly in the urban genre.
The rest of the series concerns the elves’ efforts to figure out their past (which involves a long-forgotten crystalline spaceship and time travel) while surviving in The World of Two Moons, a Pleistocene-age kingdom where they come under attack from humans, trolls, and their more evil kinfolk.
If this sounds like I am making fun of it, you’re right, but I also acknowledge and respect its groundbreaking influence. Without Elfquest, we might still be stuck with the dreary, leering, and/or nihilistic counterculture comics of the Heavy Metal school.
Now on to the names.
Wolfrider elves have romanticized Native American names that are pretty sounding and evoke a lost age of beings who live in harmony with nature: Moonshade, Joyleaf, Scouter. Never mind that actual Native Americans, whose names when translated into English sound not so poetic: Walking Eagle, Red Jacket, Let-Them-Have-Enough, Little Turtle, Chasing-His-Horse. They are more personalized and eccentric, based on personal characteristics or deeds; they also change, and/or accrue, over the individual’s life.
Need a name for a Rousseau-inspired noble savage character? Or one for Elfquest gameplay? Here’s a list.
Still interested? You can read all the comics up to 2014 free of charge here, by permission of the authors.