Wendy Pini is most famous for Elfquest (above), but her artistic career spans fifty years of pop culture history, from weird lowbrow surrealism to yaoi pastiche. Line of Beauty isn't just a stunning art book covering decades in and beyond epic fantasy, but a powerful yet curiously tentative biography, drawing together threads from a childhood in the Californian sticks to the poisoned promises of Hollywood.
That it's so mysterious and unjudgmental (of her, at least) is most remarkable for the fact it was written by her husband, Richard Pini. His book is a crafty invitation to the worlds implied by her work, a mythos that seems misty and intangible even as its details take shape.
Born 1951, Wendy was a talent from early childhood, and we learn of the tensions and inspirations that flowed through her to emerge as a personal Elfame: adoptive parents whose emotional abuses hover on the margins of trauma; childhood obsessions and contrasts; and encounters with what were then rare oddities in rural America—manga, weird cartoons, the deeper magics of European and Japanese folklore—which she consumed voraciously.
Richard's access to private artwork and private fact far exceeds what a researcher might get to, but flags his story right off as both authorized and intimate. But while uncritical, the narrative stops short of hagiography: there's much evidence of unexpected turns and some evidence of friction in its creation. The focus is on Wendy's deep fascination with Hogarthian serpentine structures and sequential art (hence the title), and her artistic motivation and development. We are invited rather than imposed upon, and the result is a book that feels like the first chapter of something larger upon which others must elaborate.
This is, nonetheless, far and away the most complete look at Wendy Pini, her career and artistic journey, yet in print. And it's not just for fans of elf comics, or of fantasy's liminal worlds in general. To anyone interested in the independent comics movement she (among others) galvanized, and the 1970s SFF fandom culture that led to it, Line of Beauty is essential reading.
She was one of the first cosplay goddesses–and the Pinis learned only recently that this fact has quietly informed for decades a certain scoffing disrespect for her professional achievements, offspring of the misogyny and gatekeeping that persist in fandom like a stubborn rot.
From hundreds in the book, these are just a few examples of her work, each marking phases of a life in art.
Biographers usually want to be the last word. Line of Beauty is instead a loving word. I like the questions it left me with: Is Wendy a kinetic cartoonist or a static animator? What is left deliberately unsaid, and what is merely unspoken? Wendy is as associated with Elfquest as Herge is with Tintin or Tove Jansson with Moomin; the magnum opus tends to obscure not only her other work but the artist herself. The evidence – that there is so much more – is here. It's time to talk about it.
Line of Beauty: The Art of Wendy Pini [Flesk Publications]
(Disclosure: I interviewed Wendy in 2014 and provided the Pinis with the transcripts, which Richard cites occasionally in this book.)