(written from a Production point of view)
The Star Trek Comic Strip (US) was a newspaper comic strip based on Star Trek. It ran for four years, consisting of twenty story arcs told through over 1,400 individual strips and lasting from 2 December 1979 through 3 December 1983. Authorized by Paramount Pictures and syndicated in the United States of America by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, it appeared in newspapers daily in black and white and Sundays in color.
The strip took place on the starship USS Enterprise chronologically after the first Star Trek movie, and when it began it used the characters, Starfleet alien races, uniforms, sets, and props from the film. Curiously, the scripts and artwork for the first story must have been completed before the ending of the movie was known, as Ilia is alive and well, and operating the navigation console.
Since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released in the middle of the run of the strip, the uniforms and ranks were revised (without comment) to reflect those from the second film beginning on 5 September 1982 – three months after the film's debut.
1979 was a banner year for newspaper comic strips set in outer space. Nine months before the Star Trek strip came out a Star Wars comic strip had premiered – interestingly enough, also syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. (As a result, the Los Angeles Times itself never ran the strip, choosing instead to use Star Wars; the Syndicate-owned newspaper the Houston Chronicle was given Star Trek instead.) Buck Rogers was reborn in comic form in September 1979, and Flash Gordon was still around, having been in newspapers since it was introduced in 1934. So when the Star Trek Comic Strip first appeared four days prior to the world premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture it immediately ran into significant competition from the other fantasy/science-fiction comic strips of the time.
Many major newspapers which wanted a space comic at all had thus already picked one or even two up by the time Star Trek was released. (The Washington Post had both Star Wars and Buck Rogers, for example, and passed on Star Trek.) So there was a space comic glut when Star Trek became available in late 1979 and it primarily ran in smaller papers in the US markets if it ran at all. There was also some limited release in Europe, but poor record-keeping on the part of Paramount Pictures has resulted in no one today knowing the full extent of its distribution in any market. Regardless, the strip simply never achieved major publicity or popularity, arriving and disappearing with many ardent fans never realizing it had even existed at all.
Form over substance
There was (and remains) one other problem with popularizing a Trek comic strip besides distribution: the limitations of the medium itself. While many people receive a newspaper every day, some people subscribe to a paper only on Sunday or only during the week. So as not to bore the people who do read the comic each day, or confuse the people who only read the strip on Sunday, no more plot development can occur during the week than can be summarized and moved forward just a bit on Sunday, followed by a summarization of Sunday's new plot points on Monday. It is a delicate balance, matching pacing to time, and sometimes results in a feeling of stagnation and repetitiveness. So for those expecting a fast moving adventure story like on television, the comic strips can seem positively leaden at times. Nonetheless, the Trek comic strip had talented people involved and sometimes rose above these limitations to create stories and concepts interesting in their own right.
Profiles of writers and artists
Many comic book and comic strip writers and artists who work in franchises they themselves did not create (such as Star Wars, Mary Worth, Prince Valiant, etc.) toil primarily in obscurity. Information is thus sometimes hard to obtain on them, and is a little suspect even when found. Nonetheless, the following are profiles of the main creative staff identified in the strips as being behind the production of the Star Trek Comic Strip.
- Thomas Warkentin was the first writer and illustrator for the comic strip, and was active on the strip off and on during three of its four years.
- Tom Durkin was a writer of the strip along with Warkentin in late 1980 through early 1981. He was a copy editor at the Los Angeles Times for 25 years and, according to Durkin, volunteered for the assignment of writing the strip when no one else stepped forward. He returned to his native Utah in 1995 and become a copy editor at The Salt Lake Tribune, the paper at which he began his journalism career. He retired from The Tribune on November 2, 2007.
- Peter Jacoby was a writer of the strip along with Warkentin in early 1981. No information is known on him beyond that.
- Sharman DiVono was the primary writer of the strip from mid-1981 through late-1982. She has written a variety of things through the years, from "Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm: The Man from Planet X" in 1978, to (along with William Rotsler, ghosting as Victor Appleton) a number of Tom Swift novels in the early 1980s, to her own novel Blood Moon in 1999. For TV she worked on Garfield and Friends (1988) as one of the series writers. Larry Niven collaborated with her on The Wristwatch Plantation story arc in the comic strip.
- Ron Harris drew the Star Trek strip from 1981 to 1982. During the same period he worked on the Dallas newspaper strip. Harris has also worked as an animator for companies like Hanna-Barbera, DC, and Marvel. He was born in 1949.
- Larry Niven, along with co-author Sharman DiVono, wrote The Wristwatch Plantation story arc, which ran from March through July 1982. Niven has had a long and distinguished writing career, winning several Hugo Awards and having written novels, short stories, and the Star Trek animated series episode "The Slaver Weapon".
- Martin Pasko was a writer of the strip from late 1982 through early 1983. Born in 1954, he had earlier worked on some of the Marvel Comics Star Trek comic books, as well as other Marvel works. In 1988 he was a writer of the DC Comics Trek comic book, and also wrote for DC's Saga of the Swamp Thing series. Among his many TV writing credits are Batman: The Animated Series and Thundarr The Barbarian.
- Padraic Shigetani was an artist on the strip from late 1982 through early 1983 (working with Martin Pasko). He has a mural on display in a University of Hawaii building, and (like Ron Harris, above) worked on the Dallas newspaper strip during his tenure on Star Trek. As of 2000 he was still doing work in Hawaii, but left the world of comic strips after his work on Trek.
- Gerry Conway was one of the primary writers of the strip in 1983, having written many comic books and television shows. He is best known for co-creating the Marvel Comics vigilante "The Punisher" (with artist Ross Andru) and his work on The Amazing Spider-Man.
- Bob Myers was an artist of the strip in early to mid 1983. He was a staff artist from the LA Times Syndicate.
- Ernie Colón (also known as Ernie Colon) has drawn Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Blackhawk, Flash, and Spider-Man for both DC and Marvel comics. He was the artist on some of the Trek strips early in Story Arc #17, which lasted from May through July 1983. Among his more recent projects are the illustrations for 2006's The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, and contributions toward Battlestar Galactica: Saga of a Star World.
- Dick Kulpa was the artist on the strip from July 1983 until it ended five months later. He has been an alderman, served as the graphic arts manager for the Testor Corporation, and was the publisher of Cracked magazine from 2000 through 2005. While serving in public office he would often use his artistic skills to lampoon his political adversaries.
Others involved in the production of the comic strip were Alfredo Alcala, Paul Chadwick, Robert Goodbread, Alan Munro, Laurie Newell, Mark Rice, Duke Riley, Terry Robinson, Serc Soc, Dan Spiegle, Kurt Warkentin, and Yang.
Links to summaries are noted below.
|Dates||Story Arc #||Story Arc Title||Writer(s)||Artist(s)|
|12/2/79 - 1/12/80||1||Called Home||Thomas Warkentin||Thomas Warkentin|
|1/13/80 - 3/8/80||2||Dilithium Dilemma||Thomas Warkentin||Thomas Warkentin|
|3/9/80 - 5/3/80||3||The Real McCoy||Thomas Warkentin||Thomas Warkentin|
|5/4/80 - 6/28/80||4||Double Bluff||Thomas Warkentin||Thomas Warkentin|
|6/29/80 - 9/6/80||5||Aberration on Abaris||Thomas Warkentin||Thomas Warkentin|
|9/7/80 - 1/17/81||6||Husian Gambit||Thomas Warkentin, Tom Durkin||Thomas Warkentin|
|1/18/81 - 3/21/81||7||Heads of State||Thomas Warkentin, Peter Jacoby||Thomas Warkentin|
|3/22/81 - 4/25/81||8||It's a Living||Thomas Warkentin||Thomas Warkentin, Ron Harris|
|4/26/81 - 7/21/81||9||The Savage Within||Sharman DiVono||Ron Harris|
|7/22/81 - 10/27/81||10||Quarantine||Sharman DiVono||Ron Harris|
|10/28/81 - 2/28/82||11||None (Story Arc #11)||Sharman DiVono||Ron Harris|
|3/1/82 - 7/17/82||12||The Wristwatch Plantation||Sharman DiVono, Larry Niven||Ron Harris|
|7/18/82 - 9/4/82||13||None (Story Arc #13)||Sharman DiVono||Ron Harris, Thomas Warkentin|
|9/5/82 - 10/30/82||14||None (Story Arc #14)||Martin Pasko||Padraic Shigetani|
|11/1/82 - 2/12/83||15||None (Story Arc #15)||Martin Pasko||Padraic Shigetani|
|2/14/83 - 5/7/83||16||None (Story Arc #16)||Gerry Conway||Bob Myers|
|5/9/83 - 7/2/83||17||Goodbye to Spock||Gerry Conway||Ernie Colón|
|7/4/83 - 8/13/83||18||None (Story Arc #18)||Gerry Conway||Dick Kulpa|
|8/15/83 - 10/15/83||19||The Retirement of Admiral Kirk||Gerry Conway||Dick Kulpa|
|10/17/83 - 12/3/83||20||None (Story Arc #20)||Gerry Conway||Dick Kulpa|
Working "The Wristwatch Plantation"
Larry Niven introduced the Kzinti to the Star Trek universe in TAS: "The Slaver Weapon". He returned to the franchise with that species in "The Wristwatch Plantation" story arc in the comic strip. As Niven tells it, Sharman DiVono asked him at a party whether he wanted to help her write for the comic strip. Thinking it would be fun, he readily agreed. During the course of the production of the strip the artist Ron Harris decided that he had to reduce the workload in his life and opted to drop his association with the Star Trek comic. (He also had been romantically involved with DiVono and they parted company about the same time.) He said he would stay on and finish the piece, but only if Niven and DiVono quickened the pace of the story and finished it earlier than originally planned. Since they didn't want to switch artists in the middle of the work, they did so and Harris finished it up. (He also worked a little on the next arc before Warkentin came back and finished the art on that one.) But even at an accelerated pace the story arc was the longest in the run of the comic at twenty weeks.
Niven had envisioned a more dramatic ending than ended up in the strip, and described it in his book Playgrounds of the Mind. He wanted a transporter interaction between the Enterprise transporters and the Bebebebeque's transporters to result in every life form in a square mile being placed randomly aboard the Enterprise and fighting it out to the end. He envisioned a color Sunday spread showing a massive battle on the lush recreation deck, with small Beeks, large Kzinti, massive ravagers, and Humans all fighting each other with multiple weapons and even hand-to-hand. Perspective and orientation would have been "all screwed up" and the overall effect would have been a "hallucinatory Vietnam". The final ending worked, Niven believed, but it was not the spectacle he had had in mind.
After "The Wristwatch Plantation" was finished, Niven and DiVono discussed turning the story into a novel, or at least publishing the strips themselves as a separate book. However, personnel shakeups at the Times and Paramount after the strip's run resulted in an initial interest in the publication evaporating.
It was left to a tabloid-style magazine marketed to pop culture collectors called Nostalgia World to pick up the republication rights. The magazine issued reprints of some of the daily (and none of the Sunday color) Star Trek strips as supplements to its issues from the early to mid-1980s. Strips from Story Arc #1 through Story Arc #9 were reprinted in that way (with Story Arc #6 ending in the middle with the 10/13/1980 strip for some reason). "The Wristwatch Plantation" was not among the ones republished.
The supplements were separate "Comics Sections" entitled "Voyages of the Enterprise" (for Trek Comic Sections No.1 through No. 3) and simply "Star Trek" (for Sections No. 6 and No. 7). Comic Sections 4 and 5 do not exist and never did. The story goes that the warehouse of the printer used by the publication had a fire that destroyed all the art for Sections 4 and 5. The accepted explanation goes on to say that the Sections were never reconstructed or reprinted as the contract between the LA Times Syndicate and Paramount had lapsed such that the Syndicate could not legally supply additional copies of the art. Other than the abrupt ending in the middle of Story Arc #6 all the strips from 12/3/1979 through 7/21/1981 were published in supplements.
In the late '90s, Star Trek Communicator columnist Rich Handley finished assembling a complete set of both the US and UK Star Trek comic strips (five years' worth of additional material had run from 1969-1973 in the United Kingdom). He offered the strips to both Pocket Books and WildStorm Publishing, both of which were very keen on reprinting both runs in their entirety, but this did not come to pass. John J. Ordover, then editor of Pocket Books in charge of the Star Trek publications, said in a 2001 posting on the site Psi Phi (reproduced here), that one reason the strips will likely never be published in an official bound (non-newspaper) version is that the "legal stuff is in a huge mess". Multiple syndicators in the US and Europe, different artist and writer contracts, and the inability of Paramount to even find the contracts made assessments of rights in the works and the resultant costs to publish them impossible. Initial plans for a printed collection were dropped after the hurdles to clear legalities became too overwhelming. The strips are in the process of being reprinted by IDW Publishing beginning in November 2012.
- "The Lost Daily Comics of Star Trek", by Rich Handley, Star Trek Communicator Number 121, (1999)
- List of Buck Rogers comic strips at Wikipedia
- Playgrounds of the Mind, by Larry Niven (1991)
- Star Trek: The Lost Books website
- Flash Gordon Comic Strip
- Star Wars comic strip
- Martin Pasko
- Nostalgia World Magazine (Trek-specific)
- And, of course, the strips themselves and newspapers of the time