Tuesday, August 1, 2017

0040: Clef Quest

In 1984 I was attending college in the midwest. A friend who knew I was into comics invited me to go with him on the weekend to an all-Elfquest convention a couple of hours away. I had attended huge science fiction/fantasy multi-media conventions in the northeast, but had never been to one devoted to a single comic. The main reason for holding it was that the creators, Wendy and Richard Pini, were nearing the end of the original series and a group of fans were sponsoring a pair of wolves in their name at a nearby reserve (I think; this was 30+ years ago and the specifics are kind of fuzzy). Since they were heading out (probably from Poughkeepsie, NY) to visit the wolves, they agreed to appear at an all EQ mini-con.

It was a relatively simple set-up. It took place in a portion of a hotel with a room for a Q&A session and costume contest and a separate room for dealers. It was the first time I had seen entire families cosplaying. There was more of a community vibe than at larger cons. I picked up current printings of some issues I hadn't read and probably some general interest fanzine stuff, but most of the tables in the dealer's room were stocked with more merchandise than comics (after all, it was a whole convention devoted to a series that lasted 20 issues at that point). There were metal figurines, stuffed wolves, buttons, etc. Something I wish I had known about to look for was a cassette of Elfquest related songs that was released sometime that year. I don't know for certain if it had come out before or after the convention, but if it had been released, I'm betting it would have been there.

The cassette was on the label Off-Centaur Publications, which was formed in 1980 to publish the lyrics (and presumably sheet music) of original songs written by sf/fantasy fans about their favorite mêmes, characters and tropes. They released fewer than twenty books but about a hundred cassettes. "A Wolfrider's Reflections" was a multi-artist collection released in August 1984 as OCP-32. A book of the lyrics was released in 1987 with the same catalog number.

The compact disc (the subject of today's post) was released on 1992. It follows the original program exactly. The first eleven tracks were side 1 of the cassette and the second eleven were side 2. Musically, it's pretty much solid. Lyrically, it's pretty much what you'd expect. As much as I collect both music and comics, there is a whole subculture of fandom revolving around music about comics that I never really followed closely. It was probably at its peak from 1975-1995. What I can remember about those times is that Sword & Sorcery was as ubiquitous in the mid-70's as oversized guns were in the mid-90's. Barbarian heroes were everywhere. That's the only possible explanation I can imagine for why so many of the fan recordings emerging over the next decade sounded as though they were written for a Renaissance Faire, regardless of what kind of comics/books/movies, etc. the songs were about. Fortunately, that makes a great match for "Elfquest".

When the owners of Off Centaur split in 1988 there were legal disputes that left many of their recordings in limbo. The disputes were settled in 1992, and this album made its CD debut as soon as possible thereafter. It was fortuitous timing. At that time, Elquest had been around for 14 years, with Wendy Pini drawing the entire series and co-scripting with husband Richard. The original 20 self-published B&W magazine-size issues had been reprinted in color as paperbacks by Donning and in comic size by Epic. Then the series continued as B&W comics, first in "Siege at Blue Mountain" for Apple Press and later "Kings of the Broken Wheel" for the Pinis' own WaRP Graphics. All three series were then reprinted in color by WaRP as trades following the Donning format. All that preceded an expansion program by WaRP to publish several concurrent Elfquest comic book series-- in color-- to be written and drawn by a small army of contributors, some of whom (like Barry Blair) had been long-time fans of the series. It started with two titles, "The Hidden Years" and "New Blood" in spring 1992 but by the time the plug was pulled in spring 1996 the little publisher that produced fewer than 40 Elfquest comics in 14 years had produced over 140 Elfquest comics in four years. The entire line was cancelled and replaced with a monthly anthology.

Between 1992 and 1996, the color trades reprinting the pre-1992 material were reissued in hardcover. For even a more casual fan like myself, who read the series as a combination of comics and paperbacks, the CD offered a much better way to enhance the experience of rereading the old series than the added heft of a hardcover. After all, it was recorded in 1984 and each of the songs is about, or in the voice of, the original characters, often referencing specific scenes or dialogue from the first series. For me, the highlights were tracks 1 and 12, the lead tracks of each side of the cassette format, "Children Of The Fall" and "A Wolfrider's Reflections". Also worth a listen were "Nightcrawler" and "Strange Blood". For what is essentially an upscale 30-year old fan recording, the production values are remarkably good. It should also be noted that Mercedes Lackey is a prolific fantasy writer in her own right but these recordings were made before her first full-length book was published. Julia Ecklar went on to write a jillion Star Trek novels as half of L.A. Graf. Leslie Fish, as far as I know, is still alive and performing songs as of this writing. The album can be heard on YouTube here with montages of still art and photos of cosplayers. If you want to own it in a more portable audio form, it's downloadable from several services.

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