Q: As I flip through the print edition, it's interesting to see how you've translated an animated presentation into a graphic novel, with multiple panels per page...
Wendy Pini: Well, I've been doing this a long time! (laughs) I would have actually preferred to animate Elfquest, because Elfquest is a movie that has been running through my head for 30 years! I'm taking the same cinematic approach here, and setting the scenes with that in mind. I can see how the movie would look in my mind.
Q: Have you considered getting an assistant to keep up with the animation?
Wendy Pini: People have asked me that, but it would take more for me to train someone to do this work than to do it myself, unfortunately. Because when you're the director, you know what you want. It would be so frustrating and time-consuming that it's not worth it.
EROTICA, ELVES AND EXPLORING THE DARK SIDE
Q: Did you get a lot of fan reactions when you got to "the hot stuff?"
Wendy Pini: Have you been reading the forums? (WP's note to readers: These comments were made in June 2008) Some people like it, but some people think it's horrible. There are dedicated yaoi manga fans who prefer doe-eyed, pre-pubescent boys with androgynous lithe bodies. Those readers think that Steffan and Anton look horrible. But most older female readers seem to like these guys.
Q: I went to a panel at Book Expo America about manga reaching older readers, and a bookseller in the audience complained that she couldn't recommend manga to her customers who are over 30.
Wendy Pini: I can relate to that. I'm not into the googly-eyed high school stuff. I know there's a certain age group that loves that stuff, but I just can't do it. There are stories like that out there for those readers, but older readers need to be served too.
With Masque, I felt the need to do something that could possibly be an artistic and commercial failure. I needed to push myself to see how far I could go. I'm very passionate about wanting to explore other directions.
Q: After creating Elfquest, it must be very exciting to create a whole new world!
Wendy Pini: And to say something different. Elfquest is very spiritual, very high in the Light. It's something that I have to reach high for the best of myself to tell stories about these characters because the elves always take the high road, and come from the best place that they can.
But after living in this world for almost 60 years, I know that things aren't always like that. This offers me a chance to broaden my experiences, to explore the darker side and to find that in myself.
Q: Is this your first expressly erotic work?
Wendy Pini: Well, I've always fooled around with these kinds of themes. I worked as much of it as I could into Elfquest and still keep it as a "family-oriented" property. (laughs)
When it comes to the big screen, Elfquest will be rated PG-13. My friend Steve Cuden told me, 'Elfquest looks G-Rated, but it reads PG-13!' So it's kind of subversive that way.
We tried to get away with as much as we could, but there was always some self-censorship. With Masque, I'm not censoring anything.
I'm building the relationship between Steffan and Anton, but I'm not laying it all out for readers in one big sex scene. It's going to be a growing, evolving, and eventually deteriorating relationship! (laughs)
So I'll take readers through all of that; taking them to the heights and the depths of it, and in the process, find what that is inside myself too.
FAMILY TIES AND FUTURISTIC SOCIETIES
Q: Has your interpretation of Poe's story been influenced by your personal experiences?
Wendy Pini: A lot of it comes from having a gay brother who was so criticized and… imprisoned by our family environment. He lived his whole life like that. He never really came out; it was always something that was left unspoken between him and me.
Of course I knew he was gay! I wish he knew how accepting of that I really was. He never really understood that we could have talked about anything. Instead, he closed up that side of himself.
I really wish that he could have lived to see Masque, because I would have asked him to share this with me, and to support me in this. So the first book is dedicated to him.
Growing up and seeing the kind of prejudice that someone who's just different experiences... the elves came out of that. They're a metaphor for that kind of experience.
Masque is a much more direct expression of a world where no one thinks twice about sexual orientation. It's a world where there are other problems and hang-ups, but sexual orientation is not one of them. In fact in that invented world, the news media hypes up Steffan and Anton as the hot couple of the hour.
This is set in a futuristic society, where children are born out of test tubes, so the whole man / woman sexual paradigm is different. And I like that -- I like a society that just lets people be who they are sexually. This also gives my characters a chance to explore who they are.
For example, Anton isn't necessarily gay, but his first sexual experience is gay. He had this flagrant father who did almost anything. So by the time the story is over, Anton will have tried everything to out-do his dad -- that's his main motivation.
Meanwhile, Steffan is totally gay, but he experiences heartbreak because he's putting all his eggs in one basket. Anton has been totally honest with him... he tells Steffan that he's not necessarily a one-man guy.
The wonderful and tragic thing about Anton is that he's just such damaged goods -- and he knows that. But Steffan keeps thinking that he's going to fix things. That's the tragedy, and it's just going to get worse.
DIFF'RENT STROKES: GETTING HATE MAIL FROM GAY MALES
Q: You mentioned earlier that not all readers have embraced this as readily as you had hoped?
Wendy Pini: When Masque first came out, I started receiving some opposition from, surprisingly enough, gay males. I got the most severe criticism from this group.
Q: Really? Do you know why?
Wendy Pini: From what I can tell, they don't like the way I've been drawing Anton and Steffan. They think that they're way too skinny -- someone described it as "two tapeworms having sex!"