For Your Consideration: IDW’s Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 2

Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 2

Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips Vol. 2

by Robert Greenberger

Star Trek, many argue, works best as an episodic television series. Its optimistic view of the future and cast of characters has lent itself to some terrific stories including those found in the novels and comic books. Few recall that from 1979-1983 there was also a comic strip, launched to coincide with the release of the first feature film. The strip, initially written and drawn by Thomas Warkentin, never garnered enough newspapers to survive or retained a creative team to really grow and evolve, until the film franchise proved enduring.

As a result, the strips became a curious footnote in the franchise’s colorful history, rarely reprinted and never in their entirety. Last winter, the Library of American Comics began to remedy that with their handsome release, Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips, Vol. 1: 1979 – 1981. Coming this fall is the second and final volume, Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips, Vol. 2: 1981 – 1983.

“The first volume had a very consistent tone and quality,” Rich Handley told me. Rich is the expert on Star Trek strips and provided me with research for Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History and has written the introductions to both volumes. “Admittedly, that wasn’t the case for the final ten stories, which varied greatly in pretty much every respect. Those new to the strips will find the second reprint book markedly different from the first in tone, style, and quality. That’s not to say that this batch of strips was inferior, or that fans will enjoy the book any less than they did the first one—on the contrary, several aspects of storylines 11 through 20 were quite fun. However, with a revolving door of creative teams, maintaining quality control and consistency was no easy task.”

Sharman DiVono and Ron Harris produced a sequel to the animated episode “The Slaver Weapon”, based on a Larry Niven story, but it proved dissatisfying, despite Niven co-writing the serial. Editor David Seidman always spoke of the unforgiving deadlines inherent in producing a daily strip without break. Sharp-eyed readers may note where Harris had help from artists Paul Chadwick, Terry Robinson, Alan Munro, and Laurie Newell. Harris finally quit and Warkentin returned for two weeks before Harris was gone for good.

Martin Pasko, who had already written eight issues for Marvel’s equally challenged monthly comic, told me for a Star Trek writers round table some time back, “Writing for the Star Trek syndicated strip, however — by which I was tortured for several continuities — was another matter entirely. Though, again, the writing was less of a problem than anticipating the deficiencies in the art, because in newspaper strips, what to do with the Sunday page in relation to the other six days’ story flow is always the biggest challenge, and this strip didn’t have a Sunday page.Pasko was unfortunately the first writer to handle the continuity without benefit of a Sunday page.

“The LA Times Syndicate was a fledgling operation and the reputation of the features it distributed was so modest that its own flagship paper, the Times, refused to carry a single one of them! Star Trek was supposed to have been their bid for the big time, but the deal was badly negotiated: the editorial budget was so small that the license fee ate up most of it. After meeting the writer’s price, they couldn’t afford a seasoned comics artist and they ended up with some kid straight out of Cal Arts. Plus, the lead time was so tight, and the space constraints of strip layout — every panel is the same height — so challenging to this kid, that he could never get backgrounds into the shots. So you never knew where you were — bridge, transporter, holodeck, anywhere!”

The kid in question was Padraic Shigetani who was assigned initially to write and draw the strip with absolutely no lead time as opposed to the three months most strips had. After one story, Pasko was brought in and he lasted just one serial, which was intended to involve Lt. Saavik, who had by then been introduced in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Paramount objected so Saavik was rewritten into Lt. T’Yee. Pasko and Shigetani left and were quickly replaced with Bob Myers, who worked for the syndicate, but his work was so disliked he was gone even faster.

“Whereas Warkentin and Harris both produced artwork decked out with detailed landscapes and ship interiors, Shigetani and Myers each took a minimalist approach, frequently utilizing ‘floating head’ shots and vague or nonexistent backgrounds,” Handley added.

“Thankfully, the second book (and the series as a whole) quickly picked up its steam during the final four storylines, all written by Gerry Conway. The first was illustrated by Ernie Colón and Alfredo Alcala, two immense talents in the comics world. Unfortunately, Colón quit before the story’s completion, with Alcala brought in to finish the assignment. The change in style from one artist to the next is noticeable and somewhat jarring.”

Dick Kulpa, my spiritual predecessor at Weekly World News, took over drawing. “Kulpa’s stylish, detailed artwork was similar to Warkentin’s, while Conway’s third and fourth scripts (involving a plague-infected McCoy, followed by Kirk resigning from Starfleet to pursue privateering work), were intelligent and displayed a great mix of humor, action and emotional conflict,” Handley noted. Looking back, Kulpa remains proud of those first six weeks but by then, the writing was on the wall and he was there to wind down the daily adventures of the starship Enterprise.

Despite the creative turmoil, there are flashes of Gene Roddenberry’s original intent along with some nice pacing and storytelling. Handley gets the final word: “Someone recently asked me if the post-Warkentin stories were worth reading. My response was a definite ‘yes.’ Plus, those who pass on volume two will miss out on something extremely cool: new strips never before presented in any format. I can’t say more about those at this juncture, but trust me: Fans will be happy.”


Star Trek: The Newspaper Strips, Vol. 2: 1981 – 1983


We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!