Thursday, January 17, 2013

Star Trek: The Newspaper Comics: The Real Final Frontier

                       These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise and its ongoing missions....

A full Sunday strip as it appears in the book

And you thought Space was the final frontier? Comic Strip reprints are. 

Allan Holtz the keeper of the incredible Strippers Guide wrote me, Probably the ultimate in "can't be reprinted due to licensing" was the Star Trek strip. Now that IDW is somehow doing that, wading through an apparent morass of licensing handicaps, I guess anything is possible.”

Some people feel that 1979’s Star Trek the Motion Picture was not a big hit but it was. It was the first Paramount movie to make over $100,000,000. It really cost $20 million to make, but Paramount added on to it the $20 million of development costs for the Star Trek II TV series that failed.

I had hoped the movie would be different and it was.  It may have been good science fiction but it wasn’t Star Trek. It not only ignored the talents and established characters for the supporting cast, but those of Kirk, Spock and the good doctor too. Robert Wise, who directed many great movies including “The Day The Earth Stood Still”, was just a poor choice for this project. He had never seen Star Trek, nor did he even know how important Leonard Nimoy was to the franchise. So we got a sterile view of the future, with no humor or personality and even bland, ridiculous and non-functioning incredibly tight fitting military costumes.

The movie mention is important because the strips follow life on the Enterprise during the time of Lt. Ilia, however, contrary to the movie’s continuity, Kirk is in charge and he is the captain, there is no Decker. The original TV Show was not an ensemble, it was mostly about Kirk, Spock and the doctor. Much of the artwork, including the look of the Enterprise and the uniforms of the crew are based on the movie, not the TV show.

I did not read these Star Trek Strips, dailies and Sundays, when they were first released, they were not in my paper.  As the brief, but interesting, introduction here by Rich Handley points out, this series was in competition with two other sci-fi ones: Buck Rogers and the new Star Wars, so it didn’t get much circulation.

The book is entitled "Star Trek The Newspaper Comics 1979-1981." It is 270 pages and costs $50, I got it on Amazon for $30.  It large size, 8.9 x 1.4 x 11.2 inches, and the strips are presented in color and black and white in an unusual way.  They are laid out four rows on a page, often breaking up the Sunday color strip into two separate half pages.  This works because it reads like a comic book.  There are ten story arcs here, mostly written and drawn by Thomas Warentin, later assisted by Tom Durkin, Peter Jacoby, Ron Harris and Sharman DiVono. This is the first of three volumes.

The half page Sunday strip placed on two pages

I enjoyed the stories. The artwork here is fine, but not outstanding such as Williamson’s was on Star Wars and no one compares to Alex Raymond. Warentin does represent all the Trek characters well and I see a bit of influnce from the animated Star Trek series that was on TV a bit earlier. The dialog is surprising good and represents the characters well. But the author assumes you know the characters, they are not “fleshed” out for beginners.  It must be a challenge to write 6 daily strips a week and then write one large Sunday strip. There were readers who just got the Sunday papers and others who just got the weekday papers and others who get both. So the author has to tell the story and keep everyone filled in and not be too repetitive. Often, the daily Monday strip is a summary of the previous day Sunday strip.  But it works in this comic book format. The stories are often smart, and, in fact, the first one borrows a bit from STTMP and 2001 and leaves you off, so to speak, without the clear resolution you might expect.

Star Trek did have a great and sometimes unappreciated supporting cast, which meant they spent most of their screen time setting up events for the aforementioned trio. TV is often the same way today. However Mr Sulu gets a lot of work in these comic strip stories and becomes part of the “main group.”  I enjoyed that.

The Klingons are back and they are far more ruthless here than in the TV series.  Here they threaten babies and woman, which, with their warrior mentality didn’t happen on TV. But once again, they follow through with an ending that might disturb you. Of course, in every adventure, we see that the crew of the Enterprise are a superior group and a full of humanity.

I fully enjoyed the book and its stories. I enjoyed cameos by Star Trek persona, mostly those found in the motion picture. And I enjoyed the fact that new characters, unique to this series, weren’t just forgotten, but brought back.
One of Warentin's audition pages

As a special treat the authors give us a look at the audition strips that Warentin drew and a peek at the Star Trek comics that MacDonald’s was putting out at the time.

So set your clocks to stardate 1493.5 and enjoy.

Update: Please check out Kid Robson's site where he has put up additional Star Trek comic book pages by John Stokes who drew the series in the UK!

A page from Al Williamson's Sunday Star Wars


  1. I had an epiphany while reading your latest post. I used to assume that the futuristic cities in the Silver age comics were influenced by old Sci-Fi pulp covers but now I'm thinking that the artists that drew in front of the TV were likely inspired by the establishing-shot paintings used on Star Trek TV show.

  2. The artwork is reminiscent of John Stokes' style, who illustrated the Star Trek strip for British comic Valiant & TV21 back around 1971.

  3. A quick correction: This is the first of two volumes, not three.