Rich Handley Author and Editor

Star Trek Comics Weekly #131

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.

131: Huacheng Publishing House, 1983

Last week, this column revisited IDW’s Star Trek: Waypoint and Star Trek: Deviations, each of which offered stories that were quite unlike what fans of the franchise had been accustomed to reading in Star Trek comics. Deviations explored an alternate universe in which the events of the mythos unfolded differently, while Waypoint included a sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

So this week, let’s travel back in time to examine another unusual comic that has not yet been discussed in this space—mainly because I hadn’t learned about it until 2021, when fellow collector Mark Martinez alerted me to its existence. Not only does it represent an alternative universe, like Deviations, but it also connects directly to the first theatrical film, like Waypoint. Published only in China, this unlicensed comic adapted Star Trek: The Motion Picture… and it seems pretty certain the artist hadn’t watched a single frame of the movie before drawing it, making the reading experience surreal.

Palm-sized picture books known as lianhuanhua (“linked images”) were once all the rage in China. Such black-and-white pulp comics contained sequential drawings varying widely in style, with captions beneath each image to narrate the story, similar to Pocket Books’ Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan photonovel. Lianhuanhua comics were immensely popular from the 1920s to the 1980s, with many such titles receiving print runs of more than a million copies.

Sadly, due to the poor quality of the paper used back in the day, as well as periodic purges perpetrated by the Communist Party, few lianhuanhua published prior to 1970 exist nowadays—which is a huge loss to literature, for many of them were exquisitely illustrated. The art form enjoyed a final resurgence during the 1980s, with unauthorized adaptations produced of Star Wars and other popular titles from the United States and Europe. By the early 1980s, lianhuanhua represented a quarter of all Chinese publishing, after which the popularity sharply declined during the 1990s.

In 1983, Huacheng Publishing House adapted the first Star Trek film as a lianhuanhua comic. The picture book bears no visual resemblance whatsoever to onscreen Star Trek, to the extent that those unable to read Chinese would likely not even recognize it as being in any way connected to Star Trek. In fact, I had initially dismissed it outright after examining several scans, opting not to add it to my shelves since it clearly was not a Star Trek comic. However, I soon came to realize that conclusion had been in error, and after procuring a copy from a dealer in China, I confirmed that it was indeed a Trek comic, despite all appearances to the contrary.

The text, when subjected to optical character recognition software and online translation programs, refers to the Enterprise, James Kirk, Spock, Ilia, Decker, V’Ger, and other aspects of the franchise. What’s more, the title panel reads “The Star Trek,” and when one follows along with the images, it becomes clear the story is that of The Motion Picture. A massive alien cloud destroys a space station and Klingon ships, Earth is endangered, Kirk is given command of the Enterprise once more to stop the threat, Spock returns to the crew in their time of need, and Ilia is transformed by a mechanical life form inside the cloud. It is absolutely Star Trek, and my naysaying has been disproven.

At 140 pages in length, the comic measures only 3.6 inches high by 5 inches wide, and it was written by Wu Luxing and illustrated by Song Feideng, the same artist behind the Chinese Star Wars comic. Intriguingly, it appears to adapt not the film itself, but rather Gene Roddenberry’s tie-in novelization of the movie. Moreover, some of the interior artwork, as well as the cover, very obviously originated elsewhere.

The artwork swipes Boris Vallejo’s cover to Frederick Pohl’s 1978 novel Gateway, for example, as well as Joe Petagno’s painting for Star Trek: The Price of the Phoenix, by Myrna Culbreath and Sondra Marshak, with Feideng repurposing Petagno’s depiction of the latter novel’s villain, Omne, for Mark Lenard’s Klingon commander. The most intriguing aspect of this? Despite seemingly lacking any knowledge of what Star Trek should look like, the artist was somehow aware of the Culbreath-Marshak collaboration, one of Bantam Books’ earliest licensed Trek novels—and he chose an image surprisingly close to the look of the movie’s redesigned Klingons.

When depicting the Enterprise crew, Feideng didn’t use the likenesses of the movie’s cast. Rather, he made some hilarious source choices, including Iranian political and religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, football player (and accused murderer) O.J. Simpson, Star Wars droid C-3PO, actor Hal Holbrook, actress Sarah Douglas, and others. Try not to spit-take when you realize Khomeini is portraying Spock, alongside a generic U.S. Air Force officer as James T. Kirk, and that Douglas is Ilia, despite wearing her costume as Superman’s Ursa. As for the starship, it’s drawn as a U.S. space shuttle, while Starfleet’s uniforms and technologies are all based on those of the 20th-century U.S. military.

Mark Martinez submitted the following list of swipe examples:

Things I see in the art of the Star Trek lianhuanhua:

0. Boris Vallejo/Gateway cover art

1. Are these the NYC Twin Towers, and what is the statue?

2. U.S. space shuttle

3. Is this Kirk based on someone familiar?

5. More ships swiped from science fiction art?

6. Joe Petagno/The Price of the Phoenix cover art

10. One of China’s mag train stations?

11. Disney castle?

14. Starfleet logo; is it based on something familiar?

23. Is Ilia based on Sarah Douglas from Superman II?

25. Pods from 2001: A Space Odyssey?

29. Astronaut from movie Capricorn One?

33. O.J. Simpson from Capricorn One?

49. Another swiped ship?

50. Khomeini

51. Apollo moon lander

88. Another swiped ship?

92. Swiped robot?

111-112. Hal Holbrook from Capricorn One?

114. Mutant C-3P0?

117. Some kind of space-Rambo?

126. Saturn rocket

127-128. Voyager

139. Dancing in space; looks like communist poster art.

140. The People, looks like communist poster art.”

All of this is typical of lianhuanhua, but it can be jarring for those expecting to see Star Trek’s usual aesthetics. Those interested in viewing the complete comic can do so at this Chinese-language blog. Speaking of changing aesthetics, next week this comic will break down IDW’s comics based on Star Trek: Discovery. Like The Motion Picture, as well as its Chinese adaptation, Discovery introduced a controversial new design for the Klingons, who take center-stage in this first batch of comic tales based on that show.

Looking for more information about Star Trek comics? Check out these resources:

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.

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