I had never heard of this.
I was in a friend’s basement for our weekly geek sessions when he pulled this tome off his bookshelf and asked if I’d ever seen it.
Star Trek: The Newspaper Comics – Volume I: 1979-1981.
It might seem a bit of an exaggeration, but I was honestly embarrassed that I hadn’t. I mean, I know of every Star Trek comic from Gold Key to DC in the 1980’s to the recent IDW titles, even the DC/IDW cross-over with the Legion of Super-Heroes (which, by the way, if you haven’t seen this, you need to pick it up. What a load of fun, especially seeing Spock match wits with Braniac 5.)
But I didn’t know this.
To my surprise, I wasn’t alone. My pal hadn’t heard of it either. Apparently there was a newspaper strip between the years 1979 and 1983, following the release of Star Trek: the Motion Picture and very few people knew? It doesn’t seem right.
In terms of newspaper strip longevity, five years was a pretty narrow window. The strip didn’t get a lot of significant exposure, being left out of the major newspapers; I mean, the Winnipeg Tribune? Nor did it exist in isolation. It was a comic strip with a lot of competition – Buck Rogers was a new show in 1979 with newspaper comic strip connections, and other strips like Flash Gordon and one slightly known tale about a farm boy from a desert planet called Tatooine (not kidding – launched nine months earlier) were also considered incumbent competitors or newer and therefore more marketable when it came to market share, despite Star Trek’s cult status.
Still, despite the difficulties of the market and the unwillingness of newspapers to invest in a high-risk venture, the comic strip managed to get off the ground. The limited run though, meant that a lot of the strips disappeared or weren’t archived properly. Also, the strip underwent a constant change of talent including notable artists like Thomas Warkentin (who pencilled the first ten storylines), Dick Kulpa, and Ernie Colon. In terms of writing the storylines, the likes of Larry Niven, Gerry Conway and Marty Pasko scribed succinct but remarkably entertaining stories that maintained the adventures of the Enterprise crew after the events of the Motion Picture along with the efforts of many other talented professionals.
I loved newspaper comic strips. They formed a fundamental part of my childhood that made the newspaper introductorily accessible to me as a young reader. It became a matter of course in moving from the Sunday inserts or the week-day dailies to reading entertainment and local news articles. Eventually, reading the newspaper became interesting and informative, and that’s what every young reader should develop.
The stories in this edition are fairly basic, limited by the nature of the medium, but still succeed in capturing the identifiable qualities of the characters we’ve come to know and love from this series. Kirk is willing to place himself before his ship and crew; Scotty still produces his miracles, and the acerbically humorous relationship between Spock and McCoy still shows up every now and then. I also loved that the reader gets to enjoy more of the adventures of the NCC-1701-A. It seems that by its destruction in Star Trek III, we barely got enough time to enjoy the improved lines of the upgraded Constitution-class starship.
Also, in this strip, we also get to see more development of the private lives of the supporting cast. In one episode, we learn that Sulu used to drive a magnetic train in Honshu; Uhura held the record for the 100 meter dash in the Pan-African games and McCoy’s wife was named Joann. Unfortunately, there are a few canonical errors made as well, like Sulu’s first name mistakenly listed as Itaka as opposed to the accepted first name of Hikaru. However, given the amazingly short deadlines for syndicated comic strips, a couple of story errors can be forgiven.
The greatest thing about this book is … the book itself. All these stories have been rescued from obscurity and collected into a pair of complete volumes that allow new generations of Star Trek fans to enjoy more adventures from the time of the Motion Picture. As a die-hard Star Trek fan, it’s an amazing discovery but as a lover of newspaper comic strips, I can appreciate that it’s also a piece of cultural heritage that has been thankfully preserved.
So, unless you have a friend who has a copy of this amazing find in his basement, I’d strongly advise that you pick this up.