An ongoing discussion of how the comics provide prequels, sequels, and tie-ins to the Star Trek episodes and films, soon to be a book from BearManor Media. Click here to view an archive of this article series.
127: Various Publishers, 1991–1995 and 2017–2019
When it comes to Star Trek comics, many readers are aware of the stories from Gold Key, Marvel, Power Records, DC, Malibu, WildStorm, Tokyopop, and IDW, as well as Bantam Books’ Star Trek Fotonovels and other novelties like McDonalds’ Happy Meal strips. In recent years, thanks to the archival efforts of Eaglemoss and IDW’s Library of American Comics, the U.S. and U.K. comics strips have enjoyed a second life in reprints, while fans have unearthed comics exclusive to Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan. But it doesn’t end there. As regular readers of this column know, it rarely does.
You see, there’s yet another branch of Trek comics that collectors might have overlooked, and while they are admittedly not the most extraordinary works ever produced, there were almost forty of them, and they were relatively entertaining. What makes them unique is that they weren’t about the characters in Star Trek, but rather the actors who’d portrayed them. They were part of a short-lived craze known as biographical comics, and they were published in the early to mid-1990s by Personality Comics and its Celebrity Comics imprint, along with others from Revolutionary Comics and Pop Entertainment.
Never heard of these publishers? Well, that’s certainly understandable, as biographical comics, and the companies that made them, tended to have a short shelf life. They were spawned from the monetarily driven notion that if fans liked a given franchise, they’d read anything bearing its label, even bare-bones life stories about celebrities. To be fair, that expectation has often proven true with Star Trek. But when a project is gimmicky, as comics about the personal lives of TV stars are by nature, then fans often don’t bite—and those who do often don’t stick around for long.
Personality’s tenure lasted from 1991 to 1993—which, as it happens, was the entirety of the company’s existence. The publisher, launched by Adam Post (who lives not far from my house, though I’ve never met him despite mutual acquaintances), produced a slew of unauthorized comics profiling actors, athletes, and other celebrities, along with adult-oriented comics with sexual undertones. Many of its titles were created not with the traditional panels and speech bubbles of comic books, but rather with illustrated text—and, presaging the industry’s trend toward endless variant covers, it offered many issues as a “limited edition” or packaged with trading cards.
The Star Trek line began with William Shatner. This was followed by issues spotlighting his costars (Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols, in that order—regrettably, Personality’s Star Trek lines put the white men first), as well as Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, Bruce Hyde, and Ricardo Montalbán, along with an Original Crew Annual discussing the full ensemble. The actors’ histories were abbreviated and contained sloppy inaccuracies, but the thing to remember is that while it’s easy now to pick these comics apart, all of them were produced in the days before the rise of the Internet.
Lenard, Hyde, and Montalbán might seem like random choices to toss into the mix, but the decision was presumably made based on which actors most recognizably appeared in multiple episodes. If so, it’s unfortunate that Kyle, who’d appeared in seventeen episodes of The Original Series (played by John Winston) and The Animated Series (voiced by Doohan), then returned for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, was left out of the lineup. So was Saavik, despite her having shown up in three films, but that could be because it would have required two issues, one for Kirstie Alley and the other for Robin Curtis.
Lenard had played the Romulan commander in “Balance of Terror”; Sarek in “Journey to Babel,” “Yesteryear,” Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and “Unification”; and the Klingon commander in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Hyde had portrayed Kevin Riley in “The Naked Time” and “The Conscience of the King,” while Montalbán, of course, had played Khan Noonein Singh in “Space Seed,” then had reprised him on the big screen in The Wrath of Khan. Like Barrett-Roddenberry and Whitney, these three would qualify as recurring cast members.
Concurrently, Personality offered biographical comics starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It began with Patrick Stewart, then featured Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner (see what I mean about putting white men first?), LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates MacFadden, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, and finally Wil Wheaton, with another all-cast issue called The New Crew Annual. Diana Muldaur was not among the lineup, despite having been a main cast member during season two. The company also published a lone Deep Space Nine one-shot, The Next Crew Special, which was the only issue based on that show.
Personality operated as multiple imprints, and it published a handful of other Star Trek biographical comics as well, featuring different artwork and text, under its Celebrity Comics brand. These included a two-part episode guide to the 1960s TV show, a one-shot provocatively titled Patrick Stewart vs. William Shatner, and new spotlights on Shatner, Stewart, Nimoy, Frakes, Spiner, and Kelley. The company really milked the Shatner and Stewart comics, apparently fueled by the then-prevalent “Kirk vs. Picard” fan debates. It also published a number of Trek porn parodies under its Friendly Comics imprint, which you can read about here if you’re so inclined. These sported titles like Sex Trek and Sex Trek: The Next Infiltration, so let’s just leave it at that.
At the height of the Personality/Celebrity run, another biographical comic with ties to Star Trek hit stores, courtesy of Revolutionary Comics. Founded by Todd Loren—who was murdered in 1992, possibly by spree killer Andrew Cunanan—Revolutionary is best known for its long-running Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics line, which featured unauthorized bios of KISS, Frank Zappa, Elton John, Peter Frampton, and other musicians. Its sole Star Trek contribution was Contemporary Bio-Graphics: Gene Roddenberry, a one-shot devoted to the life and career of the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself.
A second Roddenberry biographical comic was released in 1995 by Pop Entertainment, owned by Whitney Publishing Corp. That black-and-white comic, titled TekTrek: The William Shatner Story, was released alongside issues about The Beatles, O.J. Simpson, Pamela Anderson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Marilyn Monroe—an eclectic mix, to be sure. As evident by the title, its focus was not only on Star Trek, but also on the TekWar novels and comics ghost-written for Shatner by Ron Goulart and others.
The 1990s biographical comics craze was as wide-reaching as it was short-lived, covering everyone from Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Stan Lee to Gloria Estefan, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Madonna, Patrick Swayze, Luke Perry, Elvira, and a host of others. The craze faded, but it never vanished entirely, with recent decades seeing a variety of comics about famous—and infamous—politicians, notably Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump. And in 2019, Life Drawn published Koren Shadmi’s extraordinary graphic novel The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, which is outside this column’s scope but is highly recommended.
Thus, in 2017 the atmosphere was primed for another biographical comic about a Star Trek actor. New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei, a trade paperback from SI Universe Media, was edited by Jeff Yang and Keith Chow. A 24-page comic, Excelsior: The Many Lives of George Takei, served as a companion piece, providing a framing story to the graphic novel’s events. Takei himself penned a later project, the Eisner Award-winning autobiographical memoir They Called Us Enemy, released two years later by Top Shelf Productions, which recalled the nightmare he’d endured as a child when his family was imprisoned in a U.S. concentration camp during World War II.
The above biographical comics have peripheral yet important connections to Star Trek, in that they chronicled the actors’ and Roddenberry’s involvement with the franchise. The 1990s represent a fascinatingly weird period of Star Trek comics history, during which Paramount issued restrictions on DC and other licensees; publishers offered comics based on non-Trek properties created and/or written by Roddenberry (Lost Universe), Shatner (TekWorld), Nimoy (Primortals), and Koenig (Raver); and a plethora of Trek-themed porn comics titillated readers, no doubt inspiring widespread pon farr. The majority were of questionable quality—but at least they had personality.
Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:
- My ongoing column for Titan Books’ Star Trek Explorer magazine
- The Complete Star Trek Comics Index, curated 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 (Sequart, 2014)
- Star Trek: A Comics History, by Alan J. Porter (Hermes Press, 2009)
- The Star Trek Comics Weekly page on Facebook
Rich Handley has written, co-written, co-edited, or contributed to dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Planet of the Apes, Watchmen, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Stargate, Dark Shadows, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Red Dwarf, Blade Runner, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman, the Joker, classic monsters, and more. He has also been a magazine writer and editor for nearly three decades. Rich edited Eaglemoss’s Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, and he currently writes articles for Titan’s Star Trek Explorer magazine, as well as books for an as-yet-unannounced role-playing game. Learn more about Rich and his work at richhandley.com.