|Also check out video of Wendy on youtube.|
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, as any kindergartner will tell you, is a fairy tale love story about a beautiful woman and an ugly beast of a man, and of the troubles they must endure because of their love. It is a basic theme as old as the hills, and which has been rendered into the folk tradition of probably, every society that has ever existed on the face of the Earth. And in whatever form taken, it is marvelous and endearing and magical and reassuring.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that these same qualities are to be found in the CBS television program named BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. That this show is such a startling, poignant, moving and potent realization of that basic theme, however, is another matter. In some manner which can only be described as a kind of magic, all of the perfect elements came together at just the right time, in just the right place, in just the right way, and something truly unique unto itself emerged.
And now, Wendy Pini, famed co-creator of ELFQUEST along with her husband Richard, has turned her skills toward creating a graphic novel derived from that television show.
PETER SANDERSON: So, how did this project come about?
WENDY PINI: Well, it's kind of a neat story. This all started in the spring of 1988. I was out in California for a month, just doing some work, visiting relatives, and so forth. I was in the Los Angeles area and I called up George R.R. Martin. We had spoken previously; I had called him up out of the blue to tell him how much I liked BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, because I was sure I had bumped into him at one or two conventions, he looked so familiar when I saw him on a CNN interview. And he knew me, he knew ELFQUEST, and so we had a nice conversation. So, when I was in Los Angeles he said, "Let's have lunch and I'll take you on a tour of the set." I was delighted. While I was on the set, seeing just how beautifully conceived the whole thing was, and how dedicated the actors and the crew were and everything, I got a very strong feeling that the show had a life of its own beyond television.
So, I spent about three hours with George, and at the end of that I asked him if he thought that Ron Koslow might be open to the idea of a graphic novel based on the show. George wasn't sure but he said, "Hey, go ahead and give it a try." Some months later I sent in a proposal package. It was at the San Diego Con that summer that I found out that First Comics was also in the process of negotiating for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST as either a comic or a graphic novel property. Olivia Deberardimis apparently is quite good friends with Ron Koslow, and she had a lot to do with interesting First in the property. So, the whole team started to come together at that point, because I let Rick Obadiah know that I was very interested in doing this graphic novel. I visited First Comics and showed them the package that I had sent, and one thing led to another and I struck the deal with First.
Then it was kind of a long, slow process of getting everything in place, in terms of getting approval from Ron Koslow. He is extremely protective of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST; that's why you haven't seen too many properties at all that have been licensed off the show.
PETER: What is Ron Koslow's connection with the show, exactly?
WENDY: Ron Koslow is to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST what Gene Roddenberry is to STAR TREK. He is the executive producer, he is the creator of the show. Apparently somebody from on high at CBS asked him to develop BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, taking inspiration from the Cocteau film, it's my understanding. Ron Koslow wrote the pilot episode, "Once Upon a Time in New York," and things took off from there. He's really like the heart and soul of the show. Everything goes through him.
PETER: And George R. R. Martin is the story editor?
WENDY: George R.R. Martin is a producer or also an executive producer, and he is chief story editor and writer for the show.
PETER: What made you decide not to go after the rights yourself once you heard First was...
WENDY: Well, at first we didn't know exactly what the situation was going to be, because Father Tree Press had also expressed interest, but so many things were in place already with Olivia and First Comics. It just so happened that things fit together in that way. For me, ultimately I think it was a good situation, because it kind of put me down in the trenches. For ten years I have been totally spoiled! (Laughter.) You know, having my own company and having my own editor and publisher right here, and just being able to have total freedom and not have to wait on anybody's mercies. But through working with First I have had a real education in what it's like to have one's fate in someone else's hands, and require approval from them before you even make a move. I feel like it's a really good life experience for me that it turned out this way.
PETER: Not that you've had any trouble with First?
WENDY: Quite the contrary. From the beginning everyone has been extremely enthusiastic about this project. The team that's been put together, my editor Laurel Fitch, my art director Alex Wald, and Rick Obadiah and everybody else involved have just been incredibly supportive. They are very excited about the project, and I think they really started getting excited when all of the final approvals came through. It's kind of difficult to describe the stress of the stop and go. First of all, it took a long time to get approval on a story. I think originally Ron Koslow wanted us to just adapt an episode that had already been done, but the people at First were against that; so was I, on the grounds that, you know, the audience has already seen this story and when you have it on TV, why have it in a glorified comic book?
PETER: Especially when a lot of them have already recorded it on their VCRs.
WENDY: Oh, I'm sure. (Laughter.) But again, this goes back to Ron Koslow's protectiveness. He has such a clear and such a strong vision of what he wants for the show that he was concerned, because he really doesn't know from comics, he's not a comics reader. I think when the idea of a graphic novel was proposed, he probably felt, "Oh, God, my show is going to be a comic book? What are they going to do to it!" There were some natural and very understandable reservations there.
PETER: But you can understand that, having been in the opposite position. "Oh, no, my comic books are going to become a TV show or a movie or whatever."
WENDY: Yeah. That's a very keen insight, Peter, because I think it's because I have been on the other side of that, that I was able to tolerate whatever delays came up. I felt that Ron Koslow was entitled to be as involved and to have as much say-so as possible, so that the project would be as true to his vision as possible. And I think that once we gained his trust ... First, it took, like, four stories. I submitted three different plots before he finally accepted a fourth plot. The first three plots were more or less based on the formula of the first season, which was kind of violent and cops 'n' robbers and that sort of thing. It was a little bit darker. This was in October when the second season was just starting, and they were going in a softer direction.
So, I spent a couple of days on the set out there, and I had a chance to talk with the cast and crew and with George R.R. Martin, and I really got a strong feeling for what it was Ron Koslow was looking for. That's when I was able to write PORTRAIT OF LOVE, and that was the story that he accepted. But that took a long long time to push through, and then after that he had to see the script, he had to see full layouts of the artwork; and, actually, real steady work on this project didn't begin until sometime in January. It was a long wait.
The process of getting all of the approvals was so hard, and yet I understand that and this relates very much to Richard's and my experience with ELFQUEST. Fantasy is very fragile. It exists in your head, there isn't any other point of reference outside that. So, Mr. Koslow is, like, the main protector of the vision, I think it's only natural that he would want everything that he sees, in terms of licensing, to be true to that vision. And it's awfully hard to talk about what that vision is. If you are a fantasy artist or writer, or a combination of both, it's really very difficult to explain what it is you're doing, and why you're doing it. And so if someone comes to you and says, "Oh, I want to do a comic book based on your show," and you've got this very delicate, fragile thing that is very difficult to talk about, very difficult to do interviews about, a really weird concept that's very hard to explain, and that met with a lot of resistance before it actually got on the air, then the reserve about having any kind of adaptation done from it in another medium is entirely understandable.
It's so fragile that it could come apart at any point, and I think the main thing in pushing this project through was to prove ourselves, in that the project would not come apart, the vision would not suffer, as a result.
PETER: So, that's what you did, obviously.
WENDY: I think so. The final verdict isn't in yet. I am happy with what I've done, I feel satisfied with the work. I know that everyone in Hollywood seems to be satisfied with what's been done. When the book is finally out and people hold it in their hands and see it, the final verdict remains to be seen. But I have a good, positive feeling about it. I think it will do well, and I think that everybody involved will feel the tribute. Those are my hopes, at any rate.
It was a moment of great delight to me when Ron Koslow called me and gave me his final blessing on what I had done. He said, I'm not quoting him exactly, but he said something to the effect that I had gotten all of the voices right. In other words, each character that appears in the graphic novel speaks in the recognizable or identifiable way that they speak on the show. I was extremely pleased with that, extremely pleased that he was comfortable. The last thing I wanted to do was worry him, what with everything else going on in the hectic second season. I wanted the graphic novel to be a project that would make him feel positive, not like it was something he had to worry about.
PETER: Well, tell me more about your visit to the set. What was it like?
WENDY: Oh, there are so many terrific little stories! I had the best time! I was treated so beautifully, it was a very welcoming experience. The first day I came on the set, my guardian angel on the set was David Schwartz, who is the set producer, and he basically oversees everything that goes on for the day's shooting. He took me in and he sat me down, because they were filming a scene for "Chamber Music'; the first episide of the second season. The room was full of smoke and people, and one of the cameramen came by and looked at me and said, "Are you trying out for the prostitute?" (Laughter.) And I said, "No, I'm not an actress." And he said, "Oh, damn, we need a prostitute." (Laughter.)
PETER: My gosh, whatever were you wearing?
WENDY: I, well, you know, I'm sure actresses don't necessarily totally dress the parts. Actually, I was wearing roses, a rose print jacket which I call my "Beast jacket" because roses are such a strong image in the show. I don't know why he asked me that. But anyway, basically I just kind of stayed in the background and stayed as quiet as possible, and just sketched anything that came into view. It's very eerie when Ron Perlman comes on the set in full makeup, because the makeup is so convincing, and in fact the closer you get to it, the more convincing it is - it's absolutely seamless!
PETER: Is it eerie for other people, too? Is there, like, a calm, a quiet, that comes over the set? Or was it just because you were new to this?
WENDY: Well, I would have to say that there is an aura of deep respect among the cast and crew for this product that they are producing. One of the most enjoyable things that happened to me on the set was I had a very long conversation with Roy Dotrice, who plays Father in the show. I asked him at one point, "Is it just me, or is this an unusually happy set?" He said, "This is an unusually happy set, there is very much a family feeling here." And that is the truth. My impression was that everyone cares very deeply about what they are doing. Everyone seemed to share Ron Koslow's vision, particularly David Schwartz - it's like from Ron's mouth to David's ear. Just the general feeling about the show is that everyone cares deeply about it, they respect what they're doing, and they take it very seriously.
And I had so much fun visiting the set. The set is wonderful! Everything is just as you see it on TV. The tunnels are all built, you walk through yards and yards of them, and they are extremely realistic. Oddly enough, they're made of wood, but they certainly don't look it. They look like old, rusty metal, and the pipes are there and everything. And the entire set is full of smoke, constantly, and it's this absolutely vile chemical smoke. I had only been there a couple of hours and my eyes were watering, it was just terrible. I can't imagine how it must feel for Ron Perlman to work in all of that makeup and have to work in that smoke. But I saw some wonderful things while I was there.
The first time I saw Linda Hamilton, they were going to do a balcony scene. She was the last actor that I met, because I guess she was all over the place and very hard to spot. So, she came on the set in this adorable satin pink bathrobe, but I noticed that she had these enormous black, fuzzy slippers on. (Laughter.) Which I thought was really cute. Of course the camera wasn't picking those up in the balcony scene, but they looked really cute.
The first night I was there, David Schwartz took me around. The set is bi-level and it's all in this great big warehouse, and they have some of the tunnels and some of the pillars and outdoor stuff downstairs, and then upstairs they have more tunnels and Cathy's bedroom and the DA's office and Father's den. Father's den was just out of this world. Everything was designed by John Mansbridge, who, as I understand it, did the sets for 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA for Disney. So the detail…there is just stuff and stuff and stuff there. David Schwartz took me up there, because they weren't filming that particular night, and he lit all of the candles on the set of Father's den, sat me down on a piano bench, and I just sat there sketching for two hours and barely made a dent, because there's so much detail to capture. But it was eerie and wonderful, because I was the only person up there at the time, and everything else was quite dark and the tunnels were all around me. I truly felt that I was down in the tunnels. The atmosphere is just amazing.
PETER: Was that frightening?
WENDY: Not in the least, I felt very much at home. And every once in awhile someone would come up and chat with me and see if everything was all right. The thing that amazed me the most was the way that I was accepted. I was definitely not an intruder in the tunnels. (Laughter.) You know, people would come up to me and grab my arm and say, "Come over here, you've got to sketch this!" They are all extremely proud of what they've done.
PETER: And nobody, obviously, was condescending to the idea of a comic book being done. Were they excited about this comic book artist being on the set who was going to do something with their show?
WENDY: Absolutely. They were excited and flattered, and I don't think they were thinking in terms of comic books. I don't think they really knew what a graphic novel was. Some of the people among the crew knew what ELFQUEST was, and they were pretty excited, and it was kind of nice to have that point of reference with them. But most of the people were new to the idea of a graphic novel, and so they were asking a lot of questions like, "What is this, some kind of illustrated book with text?" l did a lot of explaining about what the format was like and so forth, and of course passed out copies of ELFQUEST BOOK I.
As a matter of fact there is a copy of ELFQUEST BOOK I somewhere in Father's den now. Owen Marsh is one of the head cameramen, and he and I were talking in the DA's office set as I was sketching, and I said, "Gosh, there's just so much incredible stuff in Father's den, it looks like very expensive antiques from all different eras, and it's such an interesting hodgepodge." And he said, "Oh, yeah. Whenever one of us finds some neat little article or chatchka, we bring it in and stick it on the set." So I said, "Oh, books too?" And he said, "Yeah, any interesting old book, we just bring it and stick it in." So I said, "Would you put a copy of ELFQUEST in there?" (Laughter.) And he said, "Sure." So, he took a copy and sprayed it with hair spray to age it down, and it's somewhere stuck behind a candle.
PETER: What is the single strangest thing that happened to you on the set?
WENDY: Well! (Laughter.) Apart from being asked if I was trying out for the prostitute? (Laughter.) Well, I wouldn't apply the word "strange" to it, but most of the interesting things that happened had to do with Roy Dotrice. He was in the process of telling me a story about how when he was a boy he decided to raise hamsters in his basement, and meanwhile he was trying to get his robe on. He had a ceremonial robe of some kind, and it was all kinds of patchwork and quilting, and it was difficult to find the sleeves or know which was the top and which was the bottom of it. He was telling me how the hamsters in his basement got out of hand and before he knew it he had thousands and thousands of these little things in his basement, and so he had to get rid of them rather quickly. (Laughter.) Marvelous Father is telling me about these hamsters down in his basement, and I'm trying to help him on with his robe, we're trying to find the sleeves and so forth that was a great deal of fun. I took that away as a very fond memory.
PETER: What was the single most delightful thing that happened?
WENDY: That has to be when I met Linda Hamilton. She called me! She said, "Oh, I've heard all about you but I haven't had a chance to meet you yet." So I came over, and I was agog. You know, she's a tiny, delicate, elfin (if I can use that adjective) woman, and just extremely warm. So, I told her how much I admired her work, and I showed her some of the sketches that I had done during the day, and we discussed how close my likeness of her was and so forth. I gave her a Xerox of one of my sketches of her and said, "Would you be so kind as to autograph this for me?" She said, "Wait a minute, let me go get a pen." So she left, and I was talking to Margaret Beserra, and all of a sudden there were these two little arms around me from behind and my autograph was there before me - Linda was hugging me from behind! So I turned around and hugged her, and I said, "Look, I'm not a man but I'm in love with Beauty! I think you're just exquisite!" And she seemed to enjoy that very much. So I gave her a big hug and she went off to film a scene. I would say that was the most delightful, because she really is something special.
Well, so is Ron Perlman. There's no choice between the two of them; they are an incredible team. The show would not work without the two of them together. It could never be an all Catherine show or an all Vincent show. And he was exhausted. Most of the time when I saw him he was either resting or engaged in other conversations. I went over to him to say goodbye and I said, "Look, you are the thing around which this show revolves, it's very important that they take care of you." And he kind of laughed and said, "Well, it's important they take care of me anyway." (Laughter.) So, that was my farewell. It was a wonderful experience. For a couple of days I really felt like family.
PETER: What were your impressions of Mr. Koslow and the major actors on the show, having met all of them?
WENDY: Well, actually, when I was on the set I didn't get a chance to talk to Ron Koslow directly. He was really really busy. The only time I saw him, he popped in and out on the set during the filming of a scene, and he was surrounded by about ten people. They were in the process of trying to cast a show that they were already filming, and my impression was that things were a little bit tense at that point. I knew he was aware of me, because I was sitting there sketching, but we really didn't speak at that point. I've only really spoken to him on the phone. He's a very soft spoken man. As a matter of fact he has a voice as nice as Vincent's. He sounds like a very imaginative person, someone who likes to use words beautifully, and I can't wait to meet him in person.
George R.R. Martin is a very interesting guy. He's funny. He's got a very wry sense of humor, very droll. And he's extremely sharp. He's been very helpful to me so far. When things were beginning to look a little bit bleak, in terms of whether or not Ron Koslow was going to accept the story that I had submitted, George was the one who kind of set me on the right track as to what Koslow was looking for.
It's hard to talk about Ron Perlman because you're really talking about two people. He literally seems to be channeling Vincent. (Laughter.) Vincent is just such a powerful entity on his own. I have never met Ron Perlman out of the makeup; I've only met him in full makeup. It's startling. It unsettles you because Vincent is extremely real. The makeup is just so superior. To have Vincent walk up to you, or to hear him bitching loudly about the Mets, or to see him eating Chinese food, it kind of puts a little sand in your mental gears. (Laughter.)
My Impression of Ron Perlman is that he is a very regular guy, that this has not gone to his head at all, that he works under tremendous stress and he gives 110% of himself, and that he's kind of reserved. In that manner he is a little bit like Vincent. I'm sure he didn't quite know what to make of me, because every once in awhile I would bump into him or he would see me sketching, and at one point he asked me, "What exactly is this for?" I tried to explain it to him as best I could. So, I gave him a sketch of himself and he gave me an autographed picture of himself, and that was very nice. But I don't really think he'll know exactly what this is all about until he actually sees the book.
Linda Hamilton is absolutely wonderful. She has got this explosive laugh, and she's very funny and warm and natural. The funniest incident that happened with her was about Vincent's cape. It was my second day on the set, and I was actually just about to leave because it was quite late. They all work up until midnight and beyond. They literally are tunnel people. They don't see the sun. (Laughter.) So, one of the technicians got Vincent's cape for me (Ron wasn't wearing it at that point) and put it on a coat hanger and hung it up on a piece of the scenery so that I could sketch it. One of the difficulties that I've had in this book is trying to find a way to be truthful to the costume design, and yet at the same time sort of whittle down some of the detail, because there is just fringe and stitching and patches and so forth everywhere. My general rule of thumb for drawing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is "when in doubt, stick a candle on it or put fringe on it' (Laughter.)
So, I'm sketching the cape and Linda Hamilton and Margaret Beserra are sitting together nearby, and I come to a part of the cape that I don't quite understand, because it looks like a long, thin lump of leather with fringe attached to it. I held it up and said, "What's this?" And Linda and Margaret looked at each other and started cracking up, and Margaret goes, "Oh, that's the 'Vincent sausage,' she plays with it all the time!" (Laughter.) So, there was a little bit of ribaldry there.
PETER: Well, it's nice to know they don't take themselves too seriously.
WENDY: No, they don't. There's a wonderful balance of humor. As I said, the thing I heard Ron Perlman talk about mostly was the Mets, because apparently it was the night after the game with the Dodgers and the Dodgers had won, and he was rather vociferous about that.
PETER: So I take it he only channels Vincent when he's actually playing the part, doesn't do this all of the time when in makeup?
WENDY: He does not stay in character the whole time; I don't see how he would be able to stand it. I would think that that would be just too stressful, to be in that character all of the time.
PETER: But one does read about actors who try to stay in character as long as they can when in costume.
WENDY: Yes. Well, there appeared to be always an element of Vincent's reserve and shyness, but I don't know whether that simply is a part of Ron Perlman's character or what. The first time I met him, in the spring of '88, the first time I visited the set (that was not the same set that they're on now) it was kind of neat because he had his full mask and makeup on, but he didn't have his costume on, he was wearing khaki pants and white sneakers. I just happened to turn around and here was Vincent coming toward me in these khaki pants and sneakers, and right away I got a dose of his sense of humor. He was very mischievous and quite friendly.
At one point while we were talking, we heard these gunshots go off, and there was a guy up in the rafters shooting blanks through the ceiling because there were pigeons on the roof and the microphone was picking up their cooing. So Ron, wearing the Vincent makeup, looks up and goes, (Goofy voice) "Is that 'fire in the hole!?'" (Laughter.) There are these wonderful moments of humor all of the time.
PETER: And Mr. Dotrice?
WENDY: Oh, he is an absolutely delightful person. He is a cross between a very cultured English gentleman and a bit of a rake. (Laughter.) He's a little bit ribald. But of course we had something in common right away, because both he and I have had extensive hip surgery. The first part of our conversation was mainly in swapping doctor stories. Just seeing him scoot around, vital and vibrant as he is, he is just wonderful fun to watch. And he is just full of stories. I get the impression that if he gets on a roll he can go for six hours straight. And he was very generous with his time, and particularly helpful to me in consolidating my ideas about PORTRAIT OF LOVE. As a matter of fact he himself had just finished contributing to the teleplay for an episode called "Ashes, Ashes," so he was able to give me a lot of insight on just exactly what it was they were looking for, in terms of tone and content and, again, the voices of the characters. So that was extremely helpful. And, oh, he was so funny, just full of all kinds of gossip and everything.
WENDY: Oh, yes, lots of interesting gossip and I'm not going to give you any! (Laughter.)
PETER: Well, I didn't expect you to, but it’s another sign of how well you were welcomed to the set.
WENDY: I felt very much at home, I truly did. I don't know why it happened. Again, David Schwartz, I would have to describe him as my guardian angel. Whenever I was at a little bit of a loss, of where to go or what to sketch next, he would show up and either introduce me to someone or say, "Hey, Cathy's set is empty now, do you want to come and sketch her bedroom?" And you're going to see the result of that in the graphic novel, in the sense that there is a very strong sense of place in the graphic novel, a strong atmosphere, a feeling that the objects that are being drawn and represented all have a place and purpose. Again, as I said, I had to whittle down a lot of detail, because it's very difficult to represent all that detail panel after panel. But all in all, to people who are really devoted to the show and who know the sets very well, they're going to look at it and say, "Yeah, that's the way I know it." They're going to recognize a lot.
PETER: Which I expect is important to the audience of the show.
WENDY: Yes, because I think that part of the romance of the show, part of the character of the show, is in the wonderful attention to detail that has been paid to the set - particularly down in the tunnels. It would not have the same romance and atmosphere if there wasn't layer upon layer of detail, whether it's in the costuming or in the environment. But that is not to disparage the above ground sets. Cathy's apartment, the DA's office, everything is very impressive in its detail. Cathy even has diplomas and newspaper articles pinned to a bulletin board, which is very realistic and adds to the realism of her world, as opposed to the fantasy of Vincent's world.
PETER: And if readers who pick this up pick up on this detail, it will convince them that this is something that a lot of thought has gone into.
PETER: I know that often when I see adaptations of properties in other media, they don't go to all the trouble of getting everything right.
WENDY: Well, I think it all depends on the property. One of the adaptations that I admire the most is Walt Simonson adaptation of ALIEN. I'm still inspired by that, because... I would not say that he went for photographic detail in that, but what he did was absolutely capture the spirit of the film.
PETER: Well, the actual details of all of the rooms in that spaceship don't matter as much in that...
WENDY: …Well, even as to the likeness of the characters, I think that there was some leeway for exaggeration for effect and so forth. But to me Walt Simonson's adaptation of ALIEN stands out as one of the most exciting and...I don't know whether I want to use the word reverent or respectful - respectful of its source adaptations that's ever been done. I often thought of that, as I was working on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and wanted to give that kind of respect for the source in what I'm doing.
PETER: Are you going to be able to do exact likenesses of the various cast members, or do you have to pretty much make them up?
WENDY: No, I'm not making them up. Richard has helped me considerably. We set it up so that he could take a great deal of photo reference for me off of the television. I taped a lot of the shows, and Richard took many photos. I would tape specific episodes where I knew there would be certain facial expressions or certain full figure shots that I might be able to use, and Richard took them right off of the screen. Republic Pictures did not really supply me with any photo reference, and all of the stills that I have seen so far are too posed, too artificial. It's much better to catch the figures in mid motion; it gives a truer likeness.
So, I have scads and scads of photo reference to work from, but what I'm trying to do is create what I like to call transcendent likenesses. Even though I'm using a specific photo reference, I might take a head shot and change the angle or the facial expression or move the eyes, in order to make the expression better fit whatever dialogue is taking place in that particular panel. One of the things that I find to be kind of awkward about adaptations done in graphic novel form is that when the artist uses photo references, they sometimes are so true to the photo references that it comes across as a bit stiff on the page. The image in the photo may not necessarily relate to what's going on in the story. So, I'm taking the likenesses, but I'm adding extra movement and depth according to what's needed in a given panel.
PETER: Now, what can you tell us about the story?
WENDY: (Laughter.) Well, as I said, this grew out of my experience on the set. At the time what they were looking for was something softer, more sentimental, more poetic, and a lot less cops 'n' robbers. But in any good story there has to be an element of conflict, so it was suggested that I include the villain Paracelsus in this story. So, after visiting the set I got the idea for PORTRAIT OF LOVE, and the basic plot is that Vincent and Catherine share a very special moment, a moment of triumph, and Vincent sees something in Catherine that he never saw before. It's so special to him that he wishes he could capture it in some way, and after some encouragement from another artist down in the tunnels, he makes an attempt at doing a portrait of Catherine.
But he can't quite get it right! Something's missing. So he goes to Father's library, looking for inspiration, and he happens upon one of Paracelsus's old journals. And in the writings of Paracelsus before he turned evil, Vincent finds the inspiration that he needs. He decides to follow the advice of what he's read, goes off by himself to paint the portrait, and nobody in the tunnels knows where he is or what he's doing or how long he'll be away. But when the portrait is finished, Vincent has accomplished what he set out to do. It's kind of a one-shot labor of love. He could never do it again, and it's truly a thing of beauty.
The interesting thing is in the story you never see the portrait, because I'm leaving it to the reader's imagination just what it is that Vincent has captured, because to each person it might be something different. But in any case, he gets what he wants. And there comes a point in the story where the portrait is left for a moment, and Paracelsus discovers it and decides to use it against Vincent, to lure him away and destroy him once and for all. And that's all I'm gonna tell ya! (Laughter.)
PETER: Besides Vincent and Catherine and Paracelsus, and I take it Father, are there other familiar characters from the show who turn up?
WENDY: Yes, I tried to work in as many as possible. There's Mary and Jamie and Mouse and Elizabeth and Narcissa and...let's see...That's all that come to mind right now. There are also various tunnel people. I invented one, a little girl named Emily Anne.
PETER: Now, it seems to me that since this is a story about, in part at least, being an artist, that this must have some sort of special resonance for you.
WENDY: Absolutely! Especially right now because I'm in my most intense period of working on the book. All of the final go-aheads, every last approval, came toward the middle of March, and that's when I really started to get going on the painting. The full layouts, the full script and everything, had been done. We decided to do the pages bypassing pencils, believe it or not. I'm using a coloring process which is mostly watercolor, but I did my layouts in Prismacolor pencils, which is really neat because it doesn't erase, so it creates a nice, solid drawing that you can Xerox this is what Ron Koslow saw and approved but it also leaves a nice terracotta color on the page, and that is my base color. Over that I'm doing watercolor paintings. So essentially I bypassed the pencils altogether and went directly to color. But even with that timesaving step, it's just kind of been murder since March. (Laughter.) Right now this is about all I do; I eat, I sleep, and I paint. I'm expecting to finish the book at the end of April. But I feel very much like Vincent, now. I'm off by myself in a little cave. (Laughter.) I'm concentrating on finishing this thing, and I won't come out until I'm done.
PETER: Trying to capture…?
WENDY: I'm trying to capture the feeling I got when I first discovered the show. I came to it a little bit late; it had been on the air for a few episodes, and…I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of the show. I would say that I have a great respect for the show. I totally agree with the show's politics. When I saw it, I saw that the show dealt with so many themes that we had been dealing with in ELFQUEST for so many years, and I just kind of went, "Oh, this is completely familiar ground. I agree with this completely!" And that's what I am trying to capture in the book, my feelings of the rightness, the solidity of the concept, the dedication of the actors themselves.
I think one of the most amazing things about this show is the personal commitment and involvement of the actors, particularly Ron Perlman. I have a little trouble understanding how he does it. He is in that makeup up to eighteen hours a day! When I saw him he was filming three different episodes at once, because things were just starting up after the writers' strike and they were really rushing to get as many episodes out as quickly as possible. He seemed exhausted, but at the same time he was absolutely right there, and when he had to be Vincent he was Vincent. To me this is extraordinary strength of character, extraordinary commitment to one's profession. And apart from that he is, quite simply, a superb actor.
Also, Linda Hamilton is absolutely fascinating to me, because she is not one of these "window mannequin" beauties, she does not look like every other actress on the screen. It makes her particularly interesting to draw, because she has an extremely mobile, emotional face, and her eyes are extremely expressive. I really love drawing her. I think she's probably the only actress who could possibly upstage Ron Perlman in makeup. (Laughter.) I find her just as interesting to draw as Vincent.
PETER: What specifically do you see as the themes that ELFQUEST and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST have in common?
WENDY: Well, first and foremost, the element of "don't judge by appearances," the element of how different people react to the strange and the unknown, the magical, and the concept of tribe and family, which you find in the tunnels. These folk have isolated themselves from the mainstream of society in order to build a better world for themselves, one that they can cope with. These are gentle people, shy people; they are perhaps not all that functional in the difficult, stressful society of the world up above, but they have found peace and harmony and family down below in those tunnels. I find that very similar to what we did with the Wolfriders, in terms of their holt, their safe place, their desire to just live and let live, and really to have a life that is as easy as possible, and only fight when they have to.
Vincent himself is a very magical character. He's very powerful, very archetypal, and there are a lot of things about him that I can relate to. He is an artist, he is a poet, he's soft-spoken, reserved, and doesn't necessarily have all that hot a self image. But he's overcome a great deal and has tremendous inner strength. There just seems to be a wealth of interesting possibilities in these characters.
PETER: How long is this novel that you're doing right now?
WENDY: The actual story itself is 48 pages long.
PETER: Are there possibilities for sequels?
WENDY: Well, we've already talked about that. As I said, all of the people at First are extremely supportive of the project, very excited about it, and they are anticipating good sales. As a matter of fact there are a number of trade shows that are going on right now, and word has been coming back to me through Richard and through Rick Obadiah that the response to the artwork has been very good. I suppose that I'm saying that with a little bit of a wry sense of humor, because some of the responses have been, "Wendy Pini didn't do this, that can't be her artwork, I thought she only did elves." You know, for ten years I've tried to prove that I am capable of doing things other than elves, by doing other projects, but I guess a lot of distributors and store owners have it very firmly in their minds that all I do is elves.
PETER: I had heard you were doing this in a very different style than you are known for.
WENDY: Yes. It's extremely realistic, the lighting and the settings and everything. You will feel like you're holding an episode of the show in your hand. This is an art style that I have been capable of always, but just haven't had that much opportunity to make use of. It's wonderful! It's refreshing and revitalizing to me as an artist to have a chance to use this particular style.
PETER: Have you other projects in your future?
WENDY: Well, obviously there is always something to do with ELFQUEST. ELFQUEST is an ongoing thing.
PETER: ELFQUEST is eternal.
WENDY: (Laughter.) ELFQUEST is eternal, yes. But as far as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST goes, there are a number of possibilities; one that I'm not really at liberty to talk about, but what I can say is that there is a possibility, assuming that the show is renewed this fall, that my connection with the show may be something else besides a graphic novel. That's all I can say. There have been some conversations in this direction.
PETER: Does that mean you actually will get to play the prostitute? (Laughter.)
WENDY: Who knows? I'll tell you, I wouldn't mind being a tunnel person, that might be kind of fun. I like the clothes they wear.
PETER: is there anything in the future besides ELFQUEST and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST?
WENDY: To tell you the truth, all I really want to do is put this thing to bed and enjoy the summer, and enjoy people's reactions to it. I would be better able to tell you what's going on in the fall. There are a number of options open to me, and I kind of just want to get through the summer and make my choice after that. I'm going to take the summer off, definitely. This has been an enormous project.
Essentially, it began last July when the wheels were put in motion, and it's been a hurry up and wait situation until, actually, January. The work came in stops and starts. That was kind of stressful. So, actually, when I finish this it will be about seven months that I have spent on the project, so I'm looking forward to taking a break.
PETER: What do you hope the effect of your graphic novel will be on people who aren't already acquainted with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST?
WENDY: I'm glad you asked that question, Peter. When I first saw the show, my reaction to it was much the same as you would have to an endangered species. I said to myself, "This thing is so good, it's got to be in danger of being cancelled!" I started to think right away about what I might be able to do to contribute some positive energy to it in some way, as a professional. I hope that the show is renewed. It had a rocky second season, and I think the voice and vision of the show got tangled up in the effects of the writers' strike and so forth. I think that the episodes that they've been showing towards the end of the second season have shown that they've gotten their voice and vision back, but it's a tough recovery and the ratings aren't terrific right now.
So, the people at First and myself, and I guess everybody who is rooting for the show, we're just crossing our fingers and hoping that it's going to be renewed. From what I heard from Ron Koslow, they're expecting to be renewed, but who knows? We just keep thinking positive. I think the show is very important, 1) because there is nothing else like it on the air, and 2) because its values are very important right now, the emphasis on family and caring and being sensitive to others' feelings, being in touch with someone else it's anything but a cold show. It's a very warm show. And I feel that since there is nothing else like this on television right now, it's definitely contributing something special to the world, and I would like to see it continue.
So, what I'm hoping is that when someone walks by the graphic novel in a Waldenbooks who may never have seen the show, and they get intrigued by the artwork or whatnot and flip through it, they'll say, "Oh, I better catch this and see what it's all about." I just hope that it brings more support, more positive energy, to the show. I hope it contributes to the possibility of the show being renewed.
PETER: But, of course, by the time the graphic novel comes out that decision might already have been made.
WENDY: Well, I'm hoping that CBS's awareness that this product is being turned out contributes to their feelings that the show does have a life beyond this season.
PETER: It also occurs to me that since BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is unique for network television, the property is also unique for comics - maybe more so because there aren't that many romances, in the traditional sense of the word, being published in this grim and gritty comics market of today.
WENDY: Well, I think if any ongoing comics series fills the bill of fantasy…adventure…romance…you know which one I'm thinking of! (Laughter.)
WENDY: ELFQUEST, of course.
PETER: But this is a minority of the comics being published today.
WENDY: Absolutely. I think it's a natural progression that I should slip into doing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST from having done ELFQUEST, because the politics are similar, the values are similar, the sensitivities are similar, and I feel very much as if I am on my home ground. I feel extremely comfortable working with the characters. And yes, I definitely do think it will be an unusual thing in the comics market, and for that reason I hope it does very very well. I hope a lot of women get out there and buy it, and turn their boyfriends on to it. I hope people sit by the fire and read it together and get all mushy and gooey. (Laughter.) I hope it does bring a little romance into comics readers' circles.
It's kind of interesting, at the San Diego Con last year there was a panel of “Women in Comics,” and one of the women on the panel (I was in the audience) asked me if I was going to be doing a romance comic any time in the near future. At the time we were still in the process of negotiating, so I couldn't say anything. So, I just sort of sat there and grinned like I had something up my sleeve. (Laughter.)