Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library has acquired the archives of Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest, a popular fantasy comic book and graphic novel series first created in 1978. This is the latest move by the library to establish the library as a scholarly resource center on cartoonists and comics creators and follows the donation of longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont’s archive to Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2011.
Drawn by Wendy and cowritten by her husband Richard, Elfquest was originally self-published by the Pinis beginning in 1978. The Pinis also founded Warp Graphics to publish Elfquest in addition to publishing other independent comics series. Over the years Elfquest has also been published by Marvel Comics and DC Comics. The archive includes all the original Elfquest artwork and art boards as well as a complete set of all published Elfquest book format and periodical comics. The archive also includes the original art for the 20 issues of the original Warp Graphics editions of Elfquest published from 1978 to 1984.
The collection also includes drafts of scripts and novelizations, fanzines devoted to the series, correspondence and legal records. In addition, the archive has drawings and designs for Wendy Pini’s costume--essentially an iconic metal bikini--for Red Sonja, the fantasy female "barbarian" warrior character that she cosplayed during the 1970s.
Karen Green, graphic novels librarian at Columbia University and one of the organizers behind the creation of the library’s comics resource center, said “this collection is particularly important because of its key role in the establishment of a highly visible phase of alternative, independent comic books and also its creative direction by a female artist.” Green also said that, “one of Columbia’s areas of strength in special collections is the history of publishing, and ElfQuest represents a significant milestone in the history of self-published comics. It is also, perhaps, the earliest example of the influence of manga on American comic art.”
Green said the library has been negotiating with Pinis since last July to get the Elfquest archive. “I just walked up to Richard Pini last year at the San Diego Comic-con and asked him to do it.” Green also clarified that the library is out to build a “metaphorical resource center,” rather than a literal institution just for comics and the plan is to make “Columbia the place to come for a variety of comics research.” To that end she said the Elfquest archive is also a “diverse collection” that will enhance the super hero materials the Rare Book and Manuscript Library has already collected. “We’ve got more things coming that I can’t talk about right now.”
Indeed she said the Elfquest collection offers the best of what the public and scholars want. “The public wants the original art,” Green said, “while scholars want the materials that document the underlying creation and publishing process, artwork, sketches, notes, contracts and records. We’ve got both of those in Elfquest. It’s a rich collection of production notes and fan histories.”
Green is credited with establishing a circulating collection of graphic novels at Columbia in 2005. In 2011, Columbia launched the effort to attract comics archival materials to the university libraries with the donation of Chris Claremont’s archives to the Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In addition in 2012 the university mounted Comic New York, an academic conference focused on the comics industry in New York City and also added coursework focused on comics, launching, The American Graphic Novel, a course co-taught by Columbia University professor Jeremy Dauber and former DC Comics president Paul Levitz.
In a prepared statement Richard Pini said that maintaining the Elfquest archive since the 1970s was originally simply a “commercial” decision, not an effort to document history, “we never knew when we might need the original boards for reprinting,” he said. But he also noted that, “there was also an emotional component. I remember the long hours Wendy put in, the editorial debates we had, the shared joy of seeing exactly the right expression on a character’s face. Now that we have high quality digital scans of it all, we’re honored to donate the entire archive to Columbia.”