In the 1970s, specialty comic shops sprung up all over America, creating distribution options outside the normal newsstand-drugstore channels. Smaller independent companies could publish their own comics, free from the restraints of the Comics Code, to reach an audience that might be looking for something other than super heroes or funny animals. One of the earliest 'alternative' comics was Wendy Pini's ELFQUEST, a sweeping fantasy saga reflecting worldwide visual and literary motifs, and whose popularity took the American comic book scene by surprise, being completely unlike anything else being published at the time.
As an influental part of the comics scene, coming at a time when independent comics were quickly being overrun by terrible parody comics, it's only natural that Elfquest should find itself the subject of a few quickie B&W parodies. Now, I'm not saying that ALL these parodies were reactionary cheap shots by comic book fans feeling threatened by comics that didn't cater to their personal super-hero whims. Some of them are too scatterbrained to determine any motive from.
Case in point: "Elftrek". Because people like Star Trek, and people like Elfquest, and naturally they'd want to see these characters interacting with each other. Sure they would - for a single panel gag in the back of a fanzine. Right? What's that? A whole comic book full? Really?
You'll notice it took three people to write this. Keep that in mind.
See, it's a hotel in outer space where all your favorite pop culture charaters hang out - characters that will live forever, and not be forgotten even as the ink dries on this page of so-called art. Let's put that hilarious Billy Crystal "You look Mahvelous" character front and center! He'll NEVER stop being funny!
Meanwhile on another planet, there's an extended sequence involving funny song lyrics and a lot of dust. The dust is there because, let's face it, animals are hard to draw.
How can you tell a comic book was written in the 1980s? Check for the word 'gnarly' used in conversation. That's your clue.
And the savage, uncivilized elves meet up with the urbane, sophisticated Star Trek crew, and the riotous comedy begins! Remember, three people polished the hilarous laughs you're experiencing from this classic of the genre.
The fake Cutter and the fake Kirk fight over a fake Tribble and there's a cliffhanger ending. Because of course. I dunno about you but I am going to rush right over to the comic book store and wait five or six months for the next issue of "Elftrek". Well, I would, except the comic book store went out of business; they bought too many non-returnable issues of parody comics from the 80s. Whoops.
But "Elftrek", as clumsy and Billy Crystal-filled as it may have been, still succeeds at its primary function - getting two sets of characters together to watch the sparks fly. Some of our other Elfquest parody comics aren't quite as direct.
In fact, some of them are so ineffably weird that they move beyond parody and into some kind of Negativland-style culture-jamming appropriative space, except that would involve some kind of awareness of culture beyond dumb-ass comic books - and that is simply not happening here.
You can tell right away by the overstuffed caption boxes, the overinked backgrounds, the overemphasized musculature of our 'elf', that we are reading something firmly lodged in the American mainstream comic book tradition, angry and irritated that anyone would try to clutter up the racks of super-hero comics with their silly elves or swamp creatures. Yes, swamp creatures. That was actually a trend there in the 70s and 80s, that what readers wanted to read were pompous, over-written stories about men turned into shambling horrific swamp nightmares who roamed the musty marshlands being disgusting. Strangely enough, comic book sales have been declining ever since. I wonder why.
See, once he was a normal horrific swamp monster, and then he got changed into a cutesy elf, and I'm using the word 'cutesy' loosely. That's our premise! Do you want your $1.50 back? You do? TOO BAD SUCKER.
There was lots of expository dialog and fakey science machines and then there was some more expository dialog. Because seeing a swamp monster as a tie-wearing scientist is funny, and it just keeps being funny.
You know what else is funny, referencing the chummy, annoying, footnote-filled editoral notes of contemporary superhero comics. Not that the people reading "Elf-Thing" would ever quit reading superhero comics. The intended audience for "Elf-Thing" - the people already conversant in the worlds of super-hero swamp creatures and fantasy elves, and who would be inclined to see those two concepts mixed together for dismissive comedy - will never stop reading superhero comics under any circumstances. Well, except when they get cancelled because of poor sales after decades of focusing on the same obsessive-compulsive die-hards. Comic books as mass media? No way, man.
So our hideous swamp scientist is attacked by hideous thugs and 9 out of 10 readers of this comic have already given up and put this comic book back on the rack and are going to buy 'Justice League International' instead, because it's only 75 cents, it's in color, and it's not causing eye bleeding and brain rupture.
There may have been two or three people reading this comic who - oh, come on. This comic book never had two or three readers. I'm it. I'm the only person who ever read this awful piece of junk from cover to cover, and believe me I feel every page of it. This one's a struggle, kids. I don't know if I'm going to make it.
And so chemicals, captions, lightning, captions, dialogue, captions, swamp, captions, elf-thing. Captions.
I might point out we're on page fifteen of this comic book. FIFTEEN PAGES to get here, pages that human beings had to draw and ink and shoot stats and negatives for. Somebody had to print this comic book and boxes of them went across the country and were distributed to every city in the land, and nobody - NOBODY!- lifted a finger to stop it.
And now, let's pause for a commercial.
Coming this April from the same company that brought you "Elf-Thing" - it's Floyd Farland, Citizen Of The Future, by future award-winning American comics genius Chris Ware, whose award-winning ACME NOVELTY COMPANY series of works would re-define arts comics for a generation, and who would rather you didn't know Floyd Farland ever existed. Mostly because it was published by the same company that brought you "Elf-Thing".
Here's a tip, parody comics writers - don't reference comics that are better than yours, or funnier than yours, or more successful than yours, or that brought a warm glow of contentment and happiness to millions, as opposed to the heartbreak and pain that is the only legacy your comic leaves, like a trail of diseased slime staining our otherwise pristine world.
Hey, our Elf-Thing has come to the land of the elves. Finally we can get to the hilarious elf parody portion of our parody comic. I can tell you are just all a-quiver with excitement. Whee.
What's interesting about the art is how you can see the artist struggling to draw anything that isn't a muscular, heroic, super-hero male. That in stretching his artistic talent, our penciller is experiencing real pain and trauma. To which I say, good.
Cue obligatory Keebler Elves joke, cue reference to fantasy books, because THOSE ARE FOR GIRLS, EW, cue reference to animation because cartoons are for little kids, not MATURE SUPER-HERO COMIC READING ADULTS LIKE YOU, READER, and here we are ready for our big Elfquest joke. Are you ready? I'm ready.
Yup, that's the joke, an elf orgy. Because that happened once in Elfquest comics, everybody got drunk and things got wild. God forbid anything like that should ever happen in a comic book!
And so there you have it, your look at Elfquest parody comics. Elfquest itself was SO DEVASTATED by these parodies that they went on to be published for 30 years by several different publishers, including Marvel and DC, read and enjoyed by millions in many different formats and languages.
What's REALLY sad about these Elfquest parodies is that they were both pre-empted three years earlier by the champion Elfquest parody of all time, JD King's "Elf-Squelch", a quick and dirty 4-page strip that only appeared in Robert Crumb's magazine "Weirdo".
THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE, KIDS. Man, I miss "Weirdo".
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