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Wednesday, March 07, 2018 

Elfquest ends after 4 decades

Forbes wrote all about the history of Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest, one of the gems of the early days of creator-owned products, which has come to an end this year after at least 4 decades worth of storytelling. There is something sad I noticed, however - the amount of copies sold:
“A normal print-run for an independent book at that time was about 1,000, but we were optimistic and ran 10,000,” says Richard Pini. “Bud and Phil took all of them.”

Elfquest was an immediate hit. Print runs for subsequent issues touched 20, 30 and 40,000. Before the year was out, Richard was able to quit his job at IBM and dedicate himself to their publishing enterprise, WaRP Graphics (for Wendy and Richard Pini). “I couldn’t believe that we were being supported by elves,” he says.
I think it's great they were, but 40,000 copies, independent property or not, still isn't much, and it only hints more mainstream comics weren't selling much better either. I can only wonder how much Star Reach, Mike Friedrich's anthology for creator-owned stories, one of the first of its kind when it debuted in 1974, sold when it was around for about 5 years.

They also touch on no licensed TV shows or films ever turning up:
...In the early 1990s, interest in the property was so high that Wendy moved full-time to California to work with producers on a screenplay while Richard stayed in Poughkeepsie to manage their burgeoning publishing business, which had expanded to other publications and other hands working on Elfquest stories.

“It didn’t work out,” laments Wendy. “The producers couldn’t figure out how to do the animation right. The character designs were off. None of it looked right to me.” Consequently, even though Elfquest has constantly been under option since the 1980s, no movies, no TV series, not even a Saturday morning cartoon, has ever seen the light of day.

Even the recent boom in comic book movies hasn’t benefited the property. “Think about how those movies work,” says Wendy. “They’re all about good vs. evil, full of violence and conflict.” Elfquest, with its emphasis on community, cooperation and complexity, doesn’t fit the corporate superhero movie template, she says. [...]
I wouldn't worry about the lack of adaptations, animated or live action, because I'm sure the comics wouldn't benefit from them. Certainly not at this point, where it's become pretty obvious the mainstream aren't. Roger Leloup never had Yoko Tsuno turned into a whole franchise, so it's better not to expect Elfquest to undergo the same, because in the end, it honestly doesn't help the zygotes at all, IMO. The comics are what the audience should be encouraged to try out, not TV shows and movies.

And, since we're on the topic of sales figures, I decided it best to also point to another famous product from the era - GI Joe's comics adaptations - and what the sales figures were during its heyday, as Mental Floss reveals:
The Marvel comic book debuted in June 1982, accompanied by the animated television advertising campaign, the book was a smashing success at launch. Kids who didn’t usually buy comics swarmed to the title, selling out the first few issues, and requiring additional print runs to meet demand. After this initial burst of activity, the comic settled into fairly low sales, averaging just under 160,000 issues per month by 1983.

But thanks to Hama—who had had served in the military during Vietnam, and so was able to provide a realistic foundation for the comic book storyline—the book continued to build an audience. According to Jim Shooter, by 1985, the comic was leading Marvel’s subscriptions, beating out familiar titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men. Then, with an additional boost from the cartoon series debut, Comichron.com shows that in 1986, the comic fared much better, averaging nearly 331,500 issues sold every month.
That may have been a lot more at the time than what today's comics make, but it's still not the sum of millions I believe makes for a more convincing success. So how can we truly think of this medium as a success or a phenomenon? The sad fact we have to face is that, no matter the story merit, comic books have not sold in great numbers for decades.

Still, I'm glad the Pinis won acclaim with Elfquest, and it's good they're able to draw the series to a fine conclusion after 40 years worth of storytelling, some of which was published under Marvel's Epic imprint in the mid-80s.

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"I wouldn't worry about the lack of adaptations, animated or live action, because I'm sure the comics wouldn't benefit from them."

We see time and again, with independent comics, and even with some "corporate" comics, television and film adaptations CAN benefit sales. Hellboy, 300, Sin City, Watchmen, The Walking Dead, etc., all experienced windfalls from adaptations (with the caveat that Watchmen is a perennial seller, divisive movie or no).

What makes those different from Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, et al, is that 1.) There's a single collection, or a clearly numbered series of collections, that new readers can pick up (versus multiple titles whose issues number into the hundreds; there's a starting point); and 2.) Those collections can be easily found at bookstores and online retailers.

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