Thursday, October 11, 2007

To Boldly Go Where No Screen Capture Has Gone Before

The 41(!)-year-old Star Trek franchise has had a lot of comic book tie-ins from many varied publishers: Gold Key, Marvel, DC, Wildstorm, IDW have all published four-color adventures of Kirk, Spock, Picard, the guy with the bumpy head, A Man Called Hawk, Hooty McBorg and all the gang. Some have been pretty bad, others not too bad at all (I'm partial myself to some of the DC runs and the Marvel books like Starfleet Academy and The Early Voyages that weren't based on the same old characters), but by far the most faithful and accurate of all Star Trek comics were Bantam's series of "Fotonovels" published in 1977 and '78.

But are these comics, even tho' they're photos and not drawn? Why, sure, they are. While it never caught in in America to the extent of Europe and Latin America, photo comics (fumetti) are a popular subsection of the graphic novel medium. Yes, long before the days when Greg Horn traced photos, you could get comics made up of photos, thus cutting out the middleman!

There were 12 Bantam Trek Fotonovels in all, designed and packaged by Mandala Productions, and pretty nice they are, too. (See the full list here.) It's my opinion that the Mandala Fotonovels were inspired by the success in the fan and cult market market of Richard Anobile's paperback reproductions of classic movie stills accompanied by dialogue for Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers, and other legendary movies like Casablanca. I had a bunch of those, and very nifty they were too in those days when you couldn't see Animal Crackers at all due to rights problems, but the Trek Fotonovels were the first books of this type I ever remember seeing in color. Little stuffed Spockboy that I am, I had 'em all, although some of them were "stripped copy returns" illegally sold in the bargain basement of Economy Books in downtown Syracuse, right alongside the coverless comics where I first snapped up a big stack o' no-cover Byrne and Claremont's X-Men that I still have. But I don't have almost all my Fotonovels: volume #1, "City on the Edge of Forever," is the only one still in my collection. They're definitely artifacts of a bygone age: the days before Betamax and VHS when your only chance to see a TV episode or movie was when it re-ran on television. In that grand era mass-market movie novelizations stalked the green plains like some giant stalking things, comic books adapted your favorite movie (frequently before the artist could even see the movie or even be allowed to use accurate character likenesses), and fans wrote into the Marvel Battlestar Galactica comic asking for more adaptations of classic stories like "Gun on Ice Planet Zero" and "The Magnificent Warriors." Alan Dean Foster was the god of this era, and he looked down from his typewriter on Mount Olympus and he saw that it was good for us and good for the publishing industry.

Nowadays, a Snakes on a Plane series or two aside, it's much more likely that movies will be made out of comics than the other way around, and it's the movies that often get accused of not following the source material closely, often bringing down the sales of the original graphic novel in the post-movie-crash. But the Fotonovels were about as accurate an adaptation you could get in those days: each one featured about 300 full color photos taken directly from episode stills, artfully arranged on the small page with typeset word balloons and captions for dialogue and exposition:

The dialogue is pretty much taken directly from the broadcast version, so it's pretty accurate to the needs of the most demanding fanboy, although there's the occasional clumsy thought balloon trying to reproduce on the printed page would be conveyed in the original episode with movement and mood music:

Sometimes the captions run on a bit too long with with their purple prose:

And you get to see the stone knives and bearskins-powered tricorder being politically incorrect:

But still, the wit and the charm of the original episode are well-preserved:

There's even the famous "bum gets phasered" sequence that later disappeared from syndicated versions of the TV show:

The colors are bright and the movement is sharply captured on the page during the action sequences. Hey, watch out there, Bones—don't be so pushy!

And who could resist the charms of Fish-Face Shatner?:

Thankfully, Mandala Productions knows at least once when to shut up and let the photo tell the story:

As a bonus—the book throws in a brief interview with Harlan Ellison, who rushes off at the end of the talk because he's "writing the pilot for my own television series":

There's also a cast listing—just the thing for those of you who need to remember Leonard Nimoy played "Spock" or Hal Boylor was the very popular Star Trek fan-favorite character "Policeman":

And, for those of you who weren't Trek fans but got this book as a birthday present from your Aunt Maggie, a handy glossary that tells us that entries to the ships log "are made orally by the captain.":

Finally, don't miss the Star Trek Quiz! For real fun, why not get all your friends together and make a competition out of answering the questions? I bet twenty quatloos on the newcomer!

There were eleven other Star Trek Fotonovels, plus a couple differently-produced "Photostories" from Pocket Books that adapted the first two movies (taking the concept full circle, these were done by Richard Anobile, who did those Marx Brothers books). I had both of the Trek movie volumes, and was disappointed in the second, which was completely in black-and-white. By that time, you were just about able to rent or buy a pricey chunky videocassette of Shatner howling "KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNN!" for yourself, so Fotonovels were on their way out, but in their heyday all the cool kids had 'em, and you didn't have to be a Trek fan to enjoy 'em: there were Fotonovels for Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers, but the genre wasn't limited only to science fiction: the Rocky movies, Hair, Heaven Can Wait, Saturday Night Fever, and (hey, I had this one!) the tearjerker blind ice-skater saga Ice Castles had a Fotonovel the whole family could enjoy, if they liked Lynn Holly Johnson. And who doesn't? Even Mom could get in on the picture-lookin' fun with the Fotonovel adaptation of John Jakes's The Bastard, thus allowing millions of kids the freedom to use the B-word around their parents! (Here's a fan site devoted to the other Fotonovels.) But by the early 1980s, the trend died out, and the novelty of carrying a movie or TV show in your pocket went the way of the Pet Rock and the Tuesday Night ABC powerhouse lineup.

But hey! The format isn't dead yet, because here's a recent Fotonovel featuring Charlie's Angels—the Drew Barrymore/Cameron Diaz/Lucy Liu version, not the Farrah Fawcett-big hair seventies edition. Cross your fingers hard enough and you might see them come back someday in full force. (Don't hold your breath, though.) Still: Balls of Fury: The Fotonovel kinda has a ring to it, don't it? In the meantime, used editions of most of the Trek Fotonovels are readily available on Amazon and other online booksellers; click on the link to the right to buy a copy of "City on the Edge of Forever" and to search for the other episodes. Tell 'em crazy-ass DeForest Kelley sent ya!:


Kevin Church said...

I heart Fotonovels and other adaptations; I've got a complete run of all the Star Trek Logs books, which means I've got a novelization of an animated spin-off, which is m e t a, man. META.

Bully said...

I thought you'd like this one. And I love those Star Trek Logs...with the added space of a book, Alan Dean Foster was able to add a huge amount of detail and background to a 22 minute cartoon (and sometimes even contradict what happened in the episode but at the same tim make it a better story). I read those dozens and dozens of times where I could only read the Blish storyizations a few times each.

Ah yes, the days in which Star Trek spin-offs were relatively rare.

originalslugboy said...

When I was little and I used to go to the grocery store with my mom, the only interesting thing they had to read, apparently, was that photonovelization of Ice Castles, because I remember going back to it many times. Did they not hae comics there?

Anonymous said...

None of the grocery stores when I was a kid (same era) sold comics, though occasionally stuff like the awesomely cool Power Records comic/45 record combos could be found there.

I'll have to dig out my "Trouble With Tribbles" Fotonovel now....

googum said...

I remember seeing these in Kmart when I was little, but didn't actually own any until I was an adult horder. For some reason, I recall these and the Gor novels on the same racks.

Anonymous said...

I had the "City on the Edge of Forever" Fotonovel too--and thought about it, for the first time since my voice has changed, when I bought the "High School Musical" Fotonovel for my 7-year-old daughter last summer.

FYI, if anyone has kids, the latter is not bad, although the absence of lyrics, or any reference to the songs, is weird. But my daughter loved it.

PS: Bully, I'm loving the Wodehouse-A-Week posts.

J.R. Jenks said...

Once again, Bully, you are the little stuffed king of the ALT attribute. Your photos are a delight to hover over.

'Why not Carol Marcus?' indeed!

Anonymous said...

Saw these first in a library where I worked briefly. That I spent a good few hours of work time completely enchanted may have something to do with the brevity of my employment.

As you say, the pre-video era; this was the first time I'd 'seen' many eps outside Blish. (I sometimes wonder if I'm the only Trekker who came onboard without ever technically watching more than parts of a few eps on TV.)

**I thought you'd like this one. And I love those Star Trek Logs...**

I have most of those, too, and love them for most of the same reasons - besides all the great characterization Foster managed to sneak in there. They are, to coin a phrase, just fascinating.

Anonymous said...

KM - you're not alone in re becoming a Trekologist without ever seeing many episodes. It was the Blish novelizations that my Mom dug up in a used book store that sucked me in as a young'in. I eventually collected every single one, plus most of the animated's Star Trek Logs, and my 18-year-old body weight in tie-in novels.

And you know, to this day, there's still one episode of the original series I haven't seen.

Bully said...

I had never seen "Bread and Circuses" until the DVD set came out a couple years ago.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys; I feel much better now. :) Funny, but when I actually came to see the eps I was often disappointed that they left out the good parts of the stories! I had no idea Blish was working from the first drafts.

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks for this, Bully. I had all of the TREK Fotonovels. And, yeah, this was back in the day when there really was not much in the way of TREK collectibles. I was a member of Bjo Trimble's Star Trek Welcommittee and I used to get their newsletters, "A Piece of the Action." I collected Starlog magazine, and the Blish and Foster books, and those horrible Power Records & comic books, as well as mor eobscure and hard to find mags like TREK and ENTERPRISE INCIDENTS and ALL ABOUT STAR TREK FAN CLUBS! Yipes! Whatta nerd I was!

I'm off to post about your blog on my blog, Bully!

Kane Lynch said...

I bought a bunch of these around 5th grade (mid 90s). I also got one of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that was from a different publisher (and compressed to be the same length as the episode adaptations).

Chantal Larochelle said...

My boyfriend got me the whole Star trek fotonovel set recently for my b-day. I'm a big ST fan. Thanks for the great info! :)

Kirok of LStok said...

I've been looking at different media for Trek comics and Graphic Novels recently and as a homage to the 'Fotonovels' of the 70,s and 80's, digitally published the first Trek photonovel in very nearly thirty years!

For I have Chosen The Path Unseen

Thanks for your in-depth research, it was invaluable!