Rich Handley Author and Editor

THROWBOOK THURSDAY—STAR TREK: THE CLASSIC UK COMICS

I’ve been highlighting books I’ve written, edited, or contributed to throughout my career, with a new entry posted every Thursday. It’s “Throwbook Thursday,” ya’ll! (But please do not throw books. It can hurt someone and damage the books.)

I began collecting Star Trek comics around Christmas 1984, when I came across DC Comics’ Star Trek #9 at a Waldenbooks in Poughkeepsie, New York. You young’uns might not recall, but Waldenbooks was a major chain until the early 2000s, when the stores were renamed Borders. Now the whole company’s gone, but I might as well have lived at our local Waldenbooks, given how often I shopped there. I remember walking past the single comic rack near the checkout desk. At age 16, I was not a comic reader. I had been a Trek fan since around the time I’d learned how to form words, and I owned all the novels up to that point, but comics held little appeal.

Still, two words grabbed my attention as I passed the rack: “Star Trek.” I raised an eyebrow, thinking, “Hmmm… a story set directly after The Search for Spock. Looks intriguing. But it’s a comic book. I don’t read comics. I’m 16 and I already have enough reasons to be viewed as a dorky, self-conscious outcast. I really want to start having relationships with girls, and it’s the unenlightened mid-1980s, when movies like Weird Science and Revenge of the Nerds have stupidly convinced me the possibility of having a sex life might be hampered by my adding comic collecting to the mix.” In the end, I decided, “Well, it’s only 75 cents. I can always toss it if I don’t like it.”

I brought the issue home, read it, reread it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I found the nearest comic store and bought issues #1–8, because I needed to know what I’d missed. That was the beginning of a beautiful love story that is still better than Twilight, and it put me on a lifelong collecting and writing path. After finding the DC issues, I did some research and learned about the Gold Key and Marvel runs that had preceded it. Marvel was relatively easy to track down because it had ended only a couple years prior, but the Gold Keys proved more challenging to locate in the pre-Internet world. I found them all eventually, though—and by “eventually,” I mean it took me a decade.

Me and Ben

At last, my Star Trek comics collection was complete. I was done. I had all of it. There was nothing more. I would never again have to track down back issues. Right? If there’s one thing the universe and James Bond have repeatedly taught me, it’s to never say “never again.” The universe smacked me upside the head to remind me of this lesson, using my friend Ben as its instrument. Ben (a nickname—he writes professionally as Hart Sastrowardoyo) and I had been friends since college, having met while watching Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s pilot in the TV room of the dorm building in which my then-girlfriend Denise lived. Yep, I collected comics and I had a girlfriend. Take that, Weird Science and Revenge of the Nerds.

We kept in touch (me and Ben, not me and Denise—we didn’t last long as a couple), and he was a groomsman at my wedding (to another woman, thankfully). These days, Ben is still a valued friend. I’m indebted to him, too, because without him this installment of “Throwbook Thursday” wouldn’t exist. In the early 1990s, Ben had gone to a science fiction convention and had picked up a souvenir for me. It was a Star Trek comic and it blew my mind, because I didn’t have it.

“Do you have… this?” Ben asked me, apparently not having read the previous sentence, as he pulled a large magazine out of his backpack. Ben knew of my fascination—OK, obsession—with Trek comics, and he’d found something unusual at the convention. It said “TV21” on the cover, and I stared at it when he handed it to me. TV21? What the hell was I reading? The story involved Spock fighting a giant spider, and while the artwork was beautiful, the dialogue was absurd. What the hell was I reading? The strip was only three pages long but was apparently part of a longer, serialized tale, and I was missing the other chapters. What the hell was I reading? It had been published in England, and it contained other comics as well, such as Spider-Man. WHAT THE HELL WAS I READING?

Oh, and it was issue #75. That meant there were at least 74 other issues. Dammit, Ben. (Also… what’s with the repeated “75” motif?)

The search was on once more, and though it took me years (again, pre-Internet), I learned there had been a whopping 259 issues—under the titles Joe 90: Top Secret, TV21 & Joe 90, TV21, and finally Valiant and TV21—and that they’d been published exclusively in the United Kingdom from 1969 to 1973, along with six hardcover annuals containing additional stories. This wasn’t just a Star Trek comic series I’d overlooked… this was a huge Star Trek series I’d overlooked. Tracking these down proved a lot more difficult than the Gold Keys. For one thing, they’d only been published in Britain, whereas I was American. For another, existing copies were rare and often damaged since they’d been printed on newspaper stock. Still, I managed to put together a complete and pristine collection, which took another decade. Without Ben, I wouldn’t have learned about them until the Internet became a thing.

Star Trek Communicator #121 contained my first Star Trek comics article and introduced many fans to the long-forgotten comic strips.

What does all this have to do with “Throwbook Thursday”? Well, once I had the strips, I made it my mission to tell other fans about them, because I’m weird like that. With that in mind, I pitched an article about the series to Star Trek Communicator editor Larry Nemecek. The article (“The Lost Daily Comics of Star Trek“) appeared in issue #121, which led to my becoming a writer for that magazine. I then sent proposals to both WildStorm Comics and Pocket Books, suggesting they reprint the strips in their entirety. Jeff Mariotte was the editor at WildStorm, while John Ordover was in charge at Pocket, and both expressed a strong interest in collecting the strips. It almost happened, until Paramount’s lawyers deemed it too risky legally. We were all bummed.

[EDITED: John Ordover has just informed me this: “It wasn’t that the lawyers thought it would be risky, it’s that all the files related to it were deadfiled in storage, and without seeing the paperwork they wouldn’t say yes, ’cause they are lawyers.”]

More years passed, and IDW obtained the Trek license. I thought about pitching reprints to IDW, but I didn’t get around to it until 2012, when I had a sudden urge one day to reach out to editor Chris Ryall, basically saying (these are not my exact words) “Hi! I have these. Any interest in reprinting them?” Chris got back to me that same day and said (these are not his exact words either, but they’re pretty close) “Heck, yeah! I’d love to.”

By weird coincidence, Chris had been looking into finding the strips so he could reprint them, but he’d been having little luck due to their extreme rarity. These magazines are quite difficult to find, even in the Internet age—to this day, in fact, I’ve never met another person with a full set, which is why I wanted to make them available to other readers. Chris was amazed that I not only had them all but was reaching out to offer them for reprinting purposes. Sometimes, the universe smacks you upside the head via your buddy Ben. Other times, it lets you travel the synchronicity highway.

Chris asked IDW’s lawyers to look into the feasibility of reprint books, at which point I sighed. “Well, it was fun while it lasted. Prepare for a third rejection.” To my surprise, Paramount this time greenlighted the project. I never did find out what had changed on the legal end after both WildStorm and Pocket had been denied permission (I guess someone decided to check the deadfile storage), but I was glad to finally see the reprints happening. I was soon working with Dean Mullaney at IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint to turn the strips into a trio of beautiful hardcover volumes, which was so gratifying. The third time was, indeed, the charm.

In addition to lending Dean my magazines (imagine how nervous I was sending them out via FedEx), I provided editorial assistance and wrote the supplementary materials for each book. I penned the introduction to volume one (“Wonky, Smashing and Brilliantly Blighty: When Star Trek Voyaged Across the Pond”), which offered a history and context for these rather weird and wonderful tales, followed by a lengthy lexicon of the strips’ original characters, planets, aliens, ships, etc., for the other two volumes (“Great Jupiter! Breaking Down the British Strips, Part One, A to L” and “Thunderin’ Spacejets! Breaking Down the British Strips, Part Two, M to Z”).

A few years back, I began working for Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection. Initially, I was just writing introductions to the monthly hardcover books (I wrote about a hundred intros in total), and I later was promoted to editor. To my amusement, my predecessor Réka Turcsányi asked me to contribute introductions to Eaglemoss’s reprints of the U.K. strips, which this time were spread over four volumes. Now, Réka hadn’t realized I’d been involved with the IDW books she was reprinting, or that they’d been scanned from my personal collection, yet she’d asked me to introduce this second set of reprints. The synchronicity highway never ends! I also began writing a weekly Star Trek column that continues to this day, and I covered the U.K. strips in a 2019 installment of that column.

It still amazes me that these books all exist after the strips spent so many decades in obscurity, known only to a tiny percentage of fandom. Almost 20 years passed between Ben handing me that TV21 issue and Dean sending me comp copies of the IDW hardcovers, and 25 years had passed by the time Réka had me writing intros to the Eaglemoss editions. They’re gorgeously produced, and I feel privileged and proud to have helped Star Trek fandom access tales they very likely would never have read (or even known about) otherwise.

Now, these weren’t the first Star Trek books on which Chris, Dean, and I worked. You see, Chris first wanted to collect a set of strips that ran in American newspapers around the time of Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘s release, produced by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. I also had a complete set of those strips (they were part of my original proposal), and Chris understandably had more faith in their ability to sell than he did in the U.K. stories. Therefore, we collected the U.S. strips first—but they’re a story for another day.

2 thoughts on “THROWBOOK THURSDAY—STAR TREK: THE CLASSIC UK COMICS

  1. Hello. Do you know if there is any possibility of a reprint for Volume 3 of the original collection (or Part 4 of Eaglemoss series)? Both are out of stock everywhere. The other volumes are easy to find, but the last one is nowhere. Thanks.

    1. Hi, Irene. Eaglemoss went out of business several years ago, so unless another publisher were to pick up the rights to those books, a reprint would unfortunately not be in the cards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© Copyright 2024 Rich Handley