Requiem for a (Poison) Elf
I’ve decided to launch a feature where I talk about the small press comics—of the past and the present—that inspire me with their creativity, excellence, or general funitude (it’s a thing, look it up). A week ago, I talked about ElfQuest, one of my perennial favorites. In that post, I promised a post on one of my other favorite small press, elf-centric comics, Poison Elves. This is that post.
(Aside: I had promised a review of Guild Wars 2’s PVP experience today. That review is forthcoming… bated breath and all that, I’m sure.)
Poison Elves is the demented brainchild of Drew Hayes, a potent creative force who perished in 2007 at the age of 37—far too young by any stretch of the imagination, and a tragedy compounded by having left his magnum opus unfinished. Hayes’ work is gothic and dark, slick and strange. I like to think that if Iron Maiden had a baby with Adam and the Ants, and that baby was a comic book, that comic book would look a lot like Poison Elves.
Poison Elves tells the story of Lusiphur Amerillis Malaché, (Luse for short), a hard drinking, hard fighting mercenary and assassin with a Napoleon complex a mile wide and a 9mm that never runs out of ammo. Lusiphur is an elf, one of the many intelligent races that people “Amrahly’nn,” Hayes’ world, which is a mash-up of real-world geographies and the deranged gothic fantasylands out of Hayes’ ID. The title refers simultaneously to the fact that Lusiphur and his elfy brethren are immune to most toxins, and to the sad truth that Lusiphur, and the misfits that occasionally join him on his sometimes purposeful, often meandering; always-destructive quests are all damaged goods. From Jace, the crop-eared, dishonored elven soldier, to Hyena, Lusiphur’s human ex-wife, who also happens to be an astonishingly powerful sorceress, to Parintachin, the diabolical imp that lives in the crevices between Lusiphur’s ego and superego, Hayes’ cast of characters is weirdly complex and strangely compelling. They all have problems—real emotional damage that feels too genuine to not be an echo of Hayes’ own experience—but it takes some pretty human flaws to make an immortal elf seem relatable, and Hayes pulled it off with aplomb.
Like a lot of self-published comics, the early issues of Poison Elves—then titled, I, Lusiphur—had a certain rawness to them. Hayes was just coming into his own as an artist, and those early efforts reflect his eagerness as a creator, tempered somewhat by a still-coalescing skill at translating his vision to the page. In fact, when Sirius republished the first six issues of Mulehide-era comics in a collection entitled Requiem for an Elf, Hayes made the decision to convert several sections into prose, rather than have his early panel work recreated for a wider audience. Later, he would use this technique to great effect, interspersing traditional panelized pages with prose and splash art throughout the harrowing Sanctuary storyline, even if it had its genesis in self-consciousness towards his early work. By the times of his passing, Hayes’ style had blossomed, and his drawing and writing had a level of intricacy that most creators can only aspire to.
I first encountered Poison Elves as a teenager in the mid-nineties. As a moody, somewhat quirky kid, the deranged, gothy, bipolarity resonated with me. Hayes carried on the time-honored tradition of the letters pages with his “Death Threats” column (collected in book form, and totally worth the price of admission), through which readers got to know the manic and the depressive, and later, semi-regular updates to Hayes’ health. Though the religiosity with which I read Poison Elves tapered off somewhat towards the end, I’m still amazed to think just how influential this book was on me, from my sense of humor, to my taste in women and drink. Hayes’ book was just the pill I needed, at precisely the right moment, to do lasting damage—and for that, I am eternally grateful.