An ongoing discussion of how Star Trek comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the episodes and films…
9: Children’s Toys, Fotonovels, and More, 1974-1982
Gold Key’s monthly Star Trek comics were launched in 1967, but only six issues were published before 1970—the remaining 55 were all released during the decade of hippies and Watergate. Concurrent with the Gold Key run, weekly comic strips appeared in the United Kingdom, providing a regular dose of Star Trek on both sides of the ocean. These two series, however, were not the only comics produced during the heyday of disco.
As we continue to examine how Star Trek comics offer sequels, prequels, and tie-ins to onscreen lore, it’s time for a roundup of unusual entries in the annals of Starfleet history. Several oft-overlooked companies produced Trek-related products during the late Seventies. Some were simplistic and aimed at children, while others adapted specific films or episodes. One, in particular, offered a fascinating tie-in to a popular classic episode. More on that at the end of this article. First, it’s playtime for the kids.
Kenner Toys’ Star Trek Give-a-Show Projector, distributed in Britain by Chad Valley, featured short filmstrips that children (or childlike adults) could view via a lightbulb-based projector toy. Five years later, McDonalds and Larami each produced brief comic strips aimed at the single-digit age bracket—the former adorning the fast-food chain’s Happy Meal boxes and packaged in a Star Trek Video Communicator toy, the latter in a similarly designed scrolling rack toy called the Star Trek Space Viewer.
The Video Communicator and Space Viewer were created to promote Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the Happy Meal boxes offered an abridged adaptation of the film’s opening scenes. The stories in these two toys, and in the Give-a-Show Projector, were absurdly silly, with plots, dialogue, and characterizations that bore little resemblance to Star Trek—or to what might reasonably be called storytelling. It would not be surprising to learn that no one at Chad Valley, McDonalds, or Larami had ever seen a single episode. (Despite that fact, all three sets decorate my shelves, which pleases me to no end.)
In 1975, Peter Pan Industries added Star Trek to its diverse lineup of children’s records. By 1979, the firm’s Power Records label had offered 23 Trek records in various formats, comprising 11 unique audio tales—six featuring accompanying comic books. Four comics (“Passage to Moauv,” “The Crier in Emptiness,” “Dinosaur Planet,” and “The Robot Masters”) were released as single book-and-record sets, while the others (“A Mirror for Futility” and “The Time Stealer”) were presented together on a 12-inch LP. Several industry legends worked on these tales, including Alan Dean Foster and Neal Adams.
These writers clearly were familiar with Star Trek, as two comics incorporated elements of The Original Series, The Motion Picture, and even The Animated Series (though Sulu, Uhura, and M’Ress were regrettably drawn as a black man, a blonde Caucasian, and a blue-skinned humanoid kind of resembling Yvonne “Marta, Batgirl” Craig). “Passage to Moauv” referenced Spock’s pet sehlat from “Journey to Babel” and “Yesteryear,” as well as McCoy’s experimental animals in Sickbay, as shown in “The Terratin Incident.”
In “The Robot Masters,” Starbase 10’s commander was named Steve Decker. Since the comic was released to tie in with The Motion Picture, this Decker was presumably intended to be a relative of Willard Decker (and, by association, of his father Matt Decker, from “The Doomsday Machine”). Or it’s possible it was meant to be one of the two… even though both Matt and Will would have been dead or “missing” by this point.
In 1977 and 1978, Mandala Productions and Bantam Books produced 12 Star Trek Fotonovels. These digest-sized comics adapted episodes of The Original Series, using color still images from each episode rather than hand-drawn artwork (John Byrne recently employed a similar technique for Star Trek: New Visions). In 1980 and 1982, Pocket Books continued where Bantam left off, releasing two Star Trek Photostory books adapting The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Both volumes were credited to Richard J. Anobile, with the first styled after Bantam’s Fotonovels; the second was published in black and white, with prose-like text rather than speech bubbles.
The tie-in to a popular episode, mentioned at the outset, was a two-part unlicensed tale in Enterprise Incidents, which featured articles, interviews, and fan fiction—but unlike other fanzines of that era, it was produced semi-professionally and was sold in bookstores, lending it an air of authenticity above other such publications. Issues #7 and 8 (1979–1980) reprinted “The Dragons of Berengaria,” a comic written and illustrated by Brian Franczak for a prior fanzine called Dragonhunt.
In this story, the Enterprise visits Berengaria VII, where a research team is studying a near-extinct species of dragons, which are being hunted by Andorians. The comic recalled dialogue from “This Side of Paradise,” in which Spock told Leila Kalomi he’d seen a dragon on that world. For those who’d wondered what the dragon looked like, Franczak beautifully provided the answer… even if it wasn’t an authorized one.
In the next few installments, Star Trek Comics Weekly will first revisit the newspaper strips distributed by the L.A. Times Syndicate, then Marvel Comics’ freshman Star Trek title, and explore how each post-The Motion Picture comicrun furthered the franchise from the standpoint of prequels, sequels, and tie-ins. The writers heavily mined established lore and even provided a direct sequel to a cartoon episode, so you won’t want to miss the discussions.
Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:
- The Complete Star Trek Comics Index, by yours truly
- The Star Trek Comics Checklist, by Mark Martinez
- The Wixiban Star Trek Collectables Portal, by Colin Merry
- New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, by Joseph F. Berenato
- Star Trek: A Comics History, by Alan J. Porter
Rich Handley has written books about Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and Watchmen, as well as licensed Star Wars and Planet of the Apes fiction, and he edited 70 volumes of Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection. Rich co-edited Titan’s Scribe Award-nominated Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone; nine Sequart anthologies discussing Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Hellblazer, Stargate, and classic monsters; and four Crazy 8 Press anthologies about Batman and (now) the Joker. He has contributed essays to DC’s Hellblazer: 30th Anniversary Celebration; IDW’s Star Trek and Star Wars comic-strip reprint books; BOOM! Studios’ Planet of the Apes Archive hardcovers; Sequart anthologies about Star Trek and Blade Runner; ATB Publishing’s Outside In line exploring Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Babylon 5; and a Becky Books anthology covering Dark Shadows.