THE STAR TREK CONNETION
When I was a kid, we had a TV. Years later, we didn't. We ditched it and electricity and moved to Albion Ridge Road and built our own house, but as a kid-up until 5th grade -- we had a TV.
And, as you might expect, we watched it. We watched reruns of "I Love Lucy" and "Leave It To Beaver" and "Get Smart." My brother liked "Perry Mason." I didn't, but hey, the TV was on and what else was I going to do? Draw? Write? Play? Not a chance -- there was an idiot box to stare at and I became a catatonic zombie in front of it just like the rest of the Larsen kids!
And then there was "Star Trek…"
As a kid, I must have watched every episode of Star Trek six times. I had to. The TV was on. What else could I do? I had no self-control. If the TV was on, I watched it.
In retrospect, it was probably a good thing we pitched the boob tube and moved into the woods. I'd never have amounted to anything if I'd remained in that stupor.
But I liked "Star Trek…" I liked Spock and Kirk and Bones and Scotty and Uhura -- my god -- Uhura! If there was a more attractive woman on TV than Nichelle Nichols in the '60s, I sure as hell never stumbled across her.
And it's funny, but I haven't really thought about "Star Trek" much until recently. In a desperate quest to find suitable viewing material for my kids, we rented one of the Star Trek movies and the boys were enthralled. At this point we've seen all of the movies that featured the original cast and now we're working our way through the TV show on DVD. I like the original cast. I've not watched any other Star Trek spin off. It's the original gang or nothing for me.
Recently, I introduced a different version of the Dragon in my book "Savage Dragon." He was first seen in Savage Dragon #96 and again in #100, but he's started showing up more often as the series progresses. This Dragon is pretty much the same version of the Dragon that I drew as a kid. I've given him a new backstory, out of necessity, but visually, he's the same guy only drawn better (I was in grade school when I concocted the character).
My parents sent me to this little hippie school called (in those days) a "free school" (even though it wasn't actually "free" as far as my parents were concerned). The idea was, that, "children are naturally curious and hungry to learn and that if you put them in a nurturing environment, kids will seek out knowledge and learn on their own." What that meant was that I got to draw -- a lot. The school had stacks and stacks of odd-shaped paper and I would fill them full of shitty racecars (based on my memory of Speed Racer's Mach-5, a cartoon that I'd only seen twice at my grandmother's house. We didn't get "Speed Racer" where I lived and I thought it was called "MARK-5" up until jovial Joe Keatinge told me otherwise), a green, fin-sporting Starship Enterprise rip off with the word GORK scrawled on its side (that ship included a longhaired, blonde captain, whose name I can't recall, but was inspired by James T. Kirk, no doubt) and the Dragon -- who was, for the most part, a "barbarian" Batman. My quasi-Mach-5 driver was a gent named Flash Mercury.
The Dragon eventually became an amalgam of my Speed Racer guy (Flash Mercury), my "barbarian" Dragon guy and my Captain Kirk rip-off guy. All three looked like a similar longhaired blonde guy and all three inexplicably merged together to become one guy in one of my first sequentially told tales. Prior to that, Dragon was pretty much a guy I drew in drawings, but not really in stories. The one "barbarian" Dragon story I did was pretty swipe-packed from a Batman story (that "barbarian" Dragon's planet can be seen on page 1 of "Savage Dragon" #45, for those of you that may be curious -- it's the red one skewering the green planet in the lower, right hand corner). There are no surviving drawings of him, but as I recall, he didn't look much different from the Flash Mercury Dragon, although I suspect that he had a green cape not a Captain Marvel cape like the one Flash wears.
I drew just a few Flash Mercury stories -- maybe two or three. In an early one, the "barbarian" Dragon came back somehow (considering that he had merged with Flash earlier, it made no sense that he was still hanging out in the hills on the Red Planet and swooping down to save girls from muggers. The Red planet, for all of its outward visual appeal, was pretty mundane on its surface. The Dragon lived on one of the planet's huge spikes, overlooking a pretty standard Earth-like city, and he'd jump down when needed). In any case, the "barbarian" Dragon beat up Flash and then he became the "new" Dragon that I focused on. I forgot all about the Red Planet nonsense, set him in San Francisco, teamed him up with Star and gave him a new secret identity (William Jonson). So, the William-Dragon was kind of the original "barbarian" Dragon but kind of not.
As a kid I'd added lots of spin-off Dagon characters as well -- Dragon-Girls and whatnot. It was all pretty dopey, but it kept me out of the pool hall.
Despite having been a mixture of my racecar driver, my "barbarian" Dragon and a longhaired James T. Kirk, there really weren't any space adventures that I drew once the characters merged. Still, having gotten back in touch with "Star Trek" jogged my memory of the whole genesis of the character.
I'm not a "Trekkie." Not really. Interestingly enough, there is a guy named Erik Larsen who looks, I'm told, something like me and was featured in the movie "Trekkies" (and its sequel, "Trekkies 2"). I am asked, on a pretty regular basis, if I'm in the movie.
I'm not. It's not me.
"Star Trek" is one of those things that, to me, has never worked in any other medium other than film (and I'm including TV as "film" here -- it's all moving pictures, after all, even with the commercial breaks). There have been a number of comic book versions of "Star Trek" over the years from Gold Key and Marvel and DC and as talented as the individuals involved have been, they all fall pretty flat.
Star Trek needs William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley and James Doohan and Walter Koenig and George Takei and Nichelle Nichols (awwwwww yeah) or it isn't Star Trek and no lines on paper are a suitable substitute, I'm sorry. And unless Bill Shatner is mouthing those words, no novel is going to cut it for this Star Trek aficionado either.
These guys aren't real -- they don't live -- unless they're really there, on a Screen, moving.
"Star Wars?" Not as much. There have been a handful of successful comics. Terry Austin and Chris Sprouse did a wonderful adaptation of the Star Wars book "Splinter In The Mind's Eye" for Dark Horse, Claudio Castellini drew a Star Wars tale (and, as far as this fan is concerned, Claudio Castellini can draw anything and make it work -- holy crap), and Rick Leonardi drew some Star Wars stuff and Rick is awesome - "Star Wars Tales" #9 (for example) set out the answer the heated fan debate -- who's tougher: Darth Maul or Darth Vader? Rick Leonardi paired with Terry Austin provided the visuals, Ron Marz supplied the script and it worked out just fine. "Star Wars: General Grievous" was, at least, a good-looking book -- Rick was in fine form even if the script was disappointing. The Star Wars franchise has enough wacky off-kilter crap in it that comics seem to work (and honestly, with the last three movies, the bar has been lowered considerably -- if those abominations qualify as legitimate Star Wars material, why not a happy meal or a cartoon or a comic book?). Much of the Marvel "Star Wars" series was decent and there have been a few Dark Horse comics that worked out just fine, but whereas Star Wars relies heavily on action, makeup and costumes, Star Trek relies on a small, tight knit group of actors and there's a lot more emphasis on thought and expression than action and outfits. It's a lot easier to draw a convincing Darth Vader than a convincing Dr. McCoy.
The "action" in Star Trek is, by most standards, pretty sad stuff. The fist fights are generally laughable, characters often hit each other with both hands (a tactic I don't recommend if you're ever involved in a real fight -- two hands together have less power and swing far slower than a single fist in motion. Try it for yourself if you'd like to get your ass kicked.) and it's clear that William Shatner couldn't really knock anybody unconscious with a single blow no matter how much he might want to. By the time the movies rolled around and production values had stepped up, the actors were not in as good physical shape as they had been, so action was even less convincing. But, action or not, Star Trek is engaging.
Star Trek comic books, on the other hand, are just dull. Without the actors delivering the lines, it fails. The comics feature page after page of carefully referenced drawings and it's all so stiff -- so posed -- all of the life has been drained right out of it.
What Star Trek can do and has done is to inspire. It inspired me and it's inspired countless others to boldly go where no man has gone before and that, I think, is one hell of a legacy to leave behind.
So, check Star Trek out, if only for Nichelle Nichols.
If she can't stir your loins, you're either not attracted to women at all or dead. And that's not just one fan's opinion -- I'm unwilling to concede that I could be wrong.