My First Fandom: “Elfquest”
I was 9 or maybe 10. My best friend had a massive backyard that was half pool, half cactus garden full of little nooks and crannies to play in. So, play we did. We pretended we were on the bridge of the Enterprise (usually my idea) or riding dragons on Pern (usually her idea). Later, when the light disappeared and we settled down in bed we did two things: We watched old episodes of “Doctor Who,” and we read “Elfquest.”
“Elfquest” is a sweeping comic book story, covering hundreds of years and multiple generations of the elves. The art is unparalleled, and the worldbuilding is strong in these books. I remember as a kid I would tell anyone who asked that they were graphic novels not comic books. Turns out, they totally were comic books; I just didn’t know that.
Many of the articles on first fandoms this week touched on a similar theme: Finding ourselves in the fiction we enjoyed made all the difference in our impressionable minds. Growing up a geeky young queer (although I did not know I was queer for a long time), I found myself immediately between the pages of “Elfquest.” I saw a culture that was based in love and mutual respect rather than in possessiveness. While the loving relationships of my actual childhood grew more confusing and angry, I could escape into the warmth and passion of Leetah and Cutter. When I was bullied in school, I could turn to my fictional friends and see how accepting elves were even as they struggled with the differences between them. I learned about honoring differences, working through conflict, and courage in conviction from “Elfquest.”
As a girl, I read in “Elfquest” a story of a woman who was basically forced into an arranged marriage (in this case, arranged by magical fate). She fights back, refuses to accept that she must marry a man she hardly knows and cannot understand. Even as her would-be partner is tormented by this magic, he invites her to be his bride rather than forces her. They work it out with kindness, respect, and honesty. When they do wind up together, their bond is far more cemented by their struggle than any destiny. I took away that I always have choice, even when it seems I don’t, and that there’s always a way through that respects everyone involved.
Later in that same story, the same woman goes to another man in a time of crisis. Her now-lifepartner encourages her to do so. I learned that loving relationships don’t have to be about ownership and control but built on mutual respect and trust. I learned that sexuality is normal and healthy and not something that must be managed or hidden. I don’t recall much, if any, queerness in the comics, but I think it was a natural outcropping of the openness in “Elfquest” to accept that love can look all kinds of ways.
There are lots of other lessons too, on tolerance, on family and loyalty, on ecology, on acceptance of those different from us. The humans in the stories are often brutish and cruel, seeing the elves as demonic. But there are kind humans, too, teaching me as a young child that nothing is black and white, and no one is simply evil.
I am very grateful for fictional representation such as this. So many of us grow up feeling different or outside. There’s incredible power in being able to point to someone, even a fictional someone, and say, “Yes. Like that.” For me, those someones lived between the pages of “Elfquest.