I Hate You All by Dalton Wemble

Save The Elves!!!

The only thing worse than being embarrassed – that squirmy, wormy, queasy embarrassment, like when your pants rip open during an assembly, or when you fall off your bike in front of that girl (or guy) you really like in Grade Three – the only thing worse than that sort of embarrassment is when you don’t feel it for yourself, but for somebody else.

I’d much rather contend with my own feelings of inadequacy than to feel the sympathetic ache of seeing the toothaching, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing humiliation of those who do not deserve to be the objects of – well, not public mockery, but public reduction. It’s a horrible feeling.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am embarrassed for the elves.

No, really. I am. Once upon a time, elves and fairies (and brownies, and sprites, and pixies, but let’s keep this under control) were sort of merry shadow folk that lived in the woods and had rings of toadstools and stood up to about your knee and were basically Another Reason Not To Go In The Forest, in a time when going in the forest was a Very Bad Idea, particularly if you were young enough not to know better.

If you stepped into an fairy ring, or ate fairy food, you’d be a resident in the Land of the Fairies for a good long while, and when you got back you’d still be young but all your friends would be old, gray, and dead. Elves also provided a pretty good explanation as to why young John or Jane or Lyssander was just not quite…right. They didn’t have Down’s Syndrome back in the day, nor any psych evaluations as we know them now, so the kids that were born different… well, they were changelings.

So yeah. Elves. Fairies. Little fellers causin’ trouble and, if the spirit moves them, making shoes for widowed cobblers. Elves were fairies, and fairies were elves.

It wasn’t much of a living, but it was honest work.

And then came Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it was all downhill from there. He wasn’t the first to delve into the idea of fairies interacting with the human world – heck, the Greeks were doing Deus Ex Machina thousands of years before, with gods that basically acted like big freakin’ nuisances – but I think it was old William that really got the lid off, and got people thinking about how much fun it would be to write more stuff with those zany fairies and elves.

The second Great Unravelling came a while later, when a fellow named Tolkien decided to write some rather long books with elves in them, and spent a lot of time thinking about how they might live, and how they might talk, and what sort of society these fantastic beings might have.

And then some time went by, and about fifty years later, lots of guys wearing black lipstick and eyeliner started writing stories about "faeries", and as soon as you got into the goofy "magick" spelling by people that thought Tori Amos was speaking Just To Them, it was game over for the fairies. And the elves.

Poor little magical bastards.

So now, if I walk up to you in the street and say "ELF!", you would probably immediately think of some anorexic person with Spock ears and a piss-poor hairstyle. Or maybe just hit me, which would be pretty reasonable under the circumstances. The elves, once holders of the perfectly respectable post of Cautionary Tale, have become the sexualized ideals of fourteen-year-old girls that write excruciating poetry in Math class and go by online names like GossamerWing349. And the sexualized ideals of their male counterparts, who look pretty much identical but call themselves things like BloodShadowDreamer901.

If I say "ELF!" now, most people just think of Orlando Bloom, who became famous playing an anorexic guy with Spock ears and a piss-poor hairstyle and a name that sounds like a Legion of Substitute Heroes reject. A quick review of fantasy comics on the web (or anywhere else, for that matter) quickly reveals that the subject matter of 99% of fantasy comics is people with Spock ears and piss-poor hairstyles looking (a) wistful, (b) vengeful, (c) stern, (d) grim, or (e) constipated. Oddly enough, expressions a through e are exactly the same, and one is left to discern the actual mood being rendered by the dialogue, which generally serves only as evidence that perhaps thesauruses, like automobiles, should be used only by those who have basic training and respect for the damage they can do.

Let’s give it a try.


You thought of him, didn’t you? Orlando Bloom. Lego Lass, girlfriend of Matter Eater Lad. Spock ears, goofy hair, and ninja skills that leave the casual viewer slightly mystified as to why, if one elf can kill a million zillion orcs, the race is dying out in the first place.

Oh, wait. I know why. Embarrassment. In the Lord of the Rings books (I hear there might have been films, too), the elves are moving deeper and deeper into the woods, and eventually retreat to the Magical Elf Lands altogether, giving up on our plane of existence. It’s not because the humans have encroached on their beloved woods, though. It’s not because Magick Has Flee’d Thy Lande. It’s because there are a gazillion slightly overweight teenagers with dyed black hair and crackle polish tromping through the underbrush batting their eyes and cooing at the poor shy devils. All they wanted was to live quietly in the trees and sharpen their ears, and some bizarre little zeitgeist turned them into sex symbols. And now, every time Eldenthorne decides to look for Elven Mead on eBay, he inevitably stumbles across online fantasy comics in which he and his brethren have lost some weight and spend most of their time looking like they’ve had their brain pulled out through their nose by one of those mummy-hook thingies.

I’d leave our dimension too. Hell, I’d be grabbing the next giant eagle and leaping straight into the Eye of Sauron if I knew that sticking around would mean being adulated by soppy-eyed kids that think Neil Gaiman is the New Hemingway.

I’m ranting, aren’t I?

I was asked to write a column on science fiction and fantasy, and it started off as a reasonable enough idea in my head to sort of try to explain why science fiction comics on the Internet generally seem to be of higher caliber than fantasy comics. And, as I was taking notes, I jotted down that science fiction has an inherently broader scope to it – everything from sentient robots riding boogie boards on Jupiter to a guy with a particularly interesting sandwich – while Fantasy is pretty much a smaller shoe to be horned into. And taking these notes, I drew a little diagram of the various places that sci-fi can go, the types of compelling stories it can tell and how easily it lends itself to allegory.

When I made a chart for fantasy, all I got was elves and dragons. And then I sort of freaked out, and everything got hazy, and now I have this monumental elf-rant behind me.

I think the point of this is cautionary: if you want to do fantasy comics, that’s cool. There’s no shortage of great fantasy novels, great movies, and… well, no great music, just "filk", which is the musical equivalent of something you find under a nectarine that rolled behind the fridge last October and you only got to it today because you decided to finally sweep back there … but all fantasy is not bad.

But lordy, people, those elves have been abused enough. Science fiction has its share of worn-out archetypes – the grizzled space marine, the future detective, the intrepid explorer – but even the most hoary cliché can be fresh again if you’ve got the energy to sink into it. Elves, though. Elves and dragons. Elves, dragons, and vampires. That’s the unholy triptych of fantasy, the leech that drags potentially good writers into the miasma of uselessness.

So that’s my challenge. That’s my tiny gauntlet thrown down in my tiny corner of this tiny online magazine. Give me fantasy without elves, dragons and vampires, and I will happily give you the time of day. Let the elves go. Let them toddle off to their happy elf dimension to eat happy elf pie and play happy elf bocci. Delete the dewy-eyed pin-ups of that emaciated fellow in black leather with the Spock ears and let him go join his friends.

Let us all hold hands and wish the elves well as they take a well-deserved break from our fiction and our fantasy for a few decades, to return at some point in the late 21st century recharged and refreshed, with freshly sharpened ears. But for now, let’s give those elves a break.

Uh… the Keebler elves can stay, though. They make good cookies.

Dalton Wemble is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.

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  1. Goddamn those constipated elves!

    I don’t think this is all encompassing for fantasy-dom at all, but the points brought up here would be the things I think are WRONG with fantasy-dom. Add to that those books in a world all written by different people that seem to have decided “hey, this idea fostered so much creativity in superhero comics, let’s give it a whirl!”.

    There will be a million people who can find books that don’t fit this stereotype. I can list a bunch myself, but that doesn’t discount that so much of fantasy follows Mr. Wemble’s guidlines to a T. And it bugs me too.

  2. Actually, everytime you shouted “Elf!” I thought of Will Ferrell.

    But the elves probably don’t much appreciate that either.

  3. For frick’s sake people, I just want to be a fricken dentist!

  4. Heh heh. This really hit the nail on the head. Thank you, Dalton.

  5. If you remove the elves, the dragons and the vampires from fantasy, you basically get the O’Reilly Factor. Well, if you remove the elves and the dragons, anyway.

  6. I don’t see the problem so much as everybody working in fantasy is using elves. The problem as I see it is the majority of people are using elves THE SAME DAMN WAY. They’re pretty much all the swashbuckling-arrow-slinging Tolkien archetype, whereas the pixie-ish elves have all seemed to migrate North to the Santa Clause sweat shops. Ever hear of Elf Quest? The independent comic book that’s changed publishers more times in the last twenty years than I’ve changed hair cuts. The Elf Quest elves are the pixie-style elves that were marrooned on a world of primordial men and forced to adapt and survive in the forests, until the humans bruned the forests down to drive the Elves out. That’s being creative with elves. It takes an already established premise and adds a few twists to it. Carson Fire’s Elf Life manages to both satarize elf stereotypes while building an engaging story(And hopefully it’ll start doing that again once this wedding we’ve been hearing about for two years finally happens.).

    So once again, it’s not the genre that’s the problem, it’s the creators being too willing to just repeat things that have already been done before and adding nothing of their own to it.

    Saga of the Ram

  7. Oh, piffle. There are tons of cool thingies that don’t exist that don’t require elves and dragons. I mean, yeah, you gotta wander afield from Medieval European Fantasy, but it’s high time that we wandered afield from that anyway.

    Come to think of it, I think part of my original pitch to Graphic Smash was “Non-Western fantasy. No elves.”

  8. Well…what about a freakish looking, neurotic elf, a stoned wizard, an exotic dancer, a lizard with a very large hat, and a gay adventurer? Does that sound different? All this and more trashing of generic, fantasy templates can be found in my comic…TWEEN: The Bad Mojo Saga on ModernTales.

    One thing I strived to do, was to break as many traditional views of fantasy as I posssibly could. Whether or not I was succesful is for others to decide. Personally, I think I did ok.

    Great article.

  9. My comic has an overweight, cranky elf who attends college and deals with the annoying stereotypes of her race. With everything that’s going on in the world, America is just so ignorant to the real issues.

  10. And what about us pointy-eared humans? If it’s not elf jokes, it’s Spock jokes! There’s no support for all… 3 of us. That I know.

  11. Great! Thanks for mentioning vampires. That’s a travesty right there. I mean, these days when everybody thinks of vampires they probably think of that hack Anne Rice or some miscellaneous anime character that’s a vampire but really has a heart of gold. Anybody here ever read Dracula? The book, you know, by Bram Stoker? Now THAT was a vampire novel. It was you know, a brilliantly written horror story. Also, the main character has my last name. Point is, nowadays, nobody knows Bram Stoker’s insanely insane book that got vampires right — badass evil undead monsters —instead all they know is Anne Rice and her clones various gothic necrophiliac fantasies.

    That was my rant. Cause now I can never ever have a vampire as a character ’cause you all ruined them.

  12. This is the funniest deconstruction of fandom I’ve read in a while. Good work.

  13. Great points, of course you forgot the role D&D played in the downfall of the elves. I don’t believe fantasy is in any way more restrictive than Sci-fi, people have just been writing it the same way for so long it seems the genre is stuck in the same groove. Kind of strange if you think of it, after all science fiction at least usually has to have some kind of quasi-science behind it, if they get too silly it can destroy the story. In theory fantasy has no limits, you could go anywhere with it, and plenty of people do make extremely creative and interesting fantasy worlds, its just that too many stick with the cliche I suppose.

  14. You know, as much as one could pan Joss Whedon, he did take vampires back to their basic mode, which was vampires being soul-less monsters who’d just as soon devour their own mothers as look at them. Angel and by extension Darla were the sole exceptions to this, and only because they were GIVEN souls.

    But to that end, I don’t know if you can really fault Anne Rice. She was actually doing something different with vampires, using a model where they did retain a soul of sorts and still see their existence through fairly human eyes. It definately became old hat after the hundreth hack writer copied her model for some dime a dozen paperback, I’ll agree.

    Hell man, no one’s stopping you from using a vampire except yourself. Use it in a way that is either old school or something new and different and yours would stand out from the Anne Rice standard.

    Saga of the Ram

  15. I don’t find her overweight. Anyway, that can be said of humans in general (so ignorant to the real issues) Humans are so stupid.


  16. I don’t really care for the old definition of elves as dancing mischievious pixies, nor do I like the idea of that fat #$@&*+!!! Santa forcing the little bastards into slave labour in an unbearable frozen wasteland known to its twisted inhabitants as “Canada”.

    In my comic White Hydra my elf is tall, pretty, and a fighter. And she’s a lesbian who pretends to be a bishounen, but that’s a whole lotta something else.

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