The British Star Trek

Star Trek UK headerWhile U.S. publisher Gold Key was busy printing Star Trek comic books, Britain had its own Star Trek comics. Comic strips, to be more accurate.

American comics traditionally are monthlies, starring a single character or team of characters. British comics are traditionally weekly anthologies, starring different sets of characters.

Thus, Star Trek began appearing in Joe 90 Top Secret, published by City Magazines. Joe 90 was then a TV series, created by celebrated puppeteer Gerry Anderson. The magazine carried several other features, however, including Star Trek — which was granted the prestigious center two pages of the magazine, which were printed in color (unlike most of the rest).

Joe 90 Top Secret #28Stories would run over multiple issues, initially at two pages per installment. Thus, stories might takes months to complete, yet still run fewer pages than a normal U.S. issue.

The first issue was cover-dated 18 Jan 1969. In the states, Star Trek was in its final season, though new episodes would continue to air until 3 June’s “Turnabout Intruder.” But Star Trek wouldn’t debut on British TV for another six months.

Cool as this may sound, it meant that the creators of the British Star Trek comics hadn’t actually seen the show. And you could really tell. The ship was called the “Universe Star Ship Enterprise,” and its captain was — believe it or not — “Captain Kurt.”

from Joe 90 #1

The first Gold Key Star Trek comic had similar problems (such as not knowing that the ship wasn’t exploring other galaxies). But Gold Key mostly ironed these inconsistencies out as the series went on.

The same is generally true of the British Star Trek strips. But the British Enterprise herself never seemed… entirely right. For example, it seemed to shoot flames out of the back of its warp nacelles, as if they were rockets. (This probably seemed more visually dramatic, especially to an audience still enthralled with rocketry.) Then there’s the fact that the Enterprise occasionally landed on planets, levitating off the ground and deploying mechanisms and auxiliary vehicles never seen on the show. (A lot of this stuff looks cool as hell, although more like something out of Nexus, illustrated by Steve Rude, than Star Trek.)

from Joe 90 #2Then again, there weren’t guides to Constellation-class vessels for sale in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even on the 1970s animated series, which was fully endorsed by Gene Roddenberry, something we now see as very reminiscent of the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation could be casually inserted as part of the ship, only to be ignored thereafter. And famously, the teleporter was invented for the TV show because it was cheaper than filming shuttlecraft landing on every planet. Things weren’t quite so canonical in these early days, and what would later be seen as canon wasn’t always the product of deep and impartial thought.

Another deviation, in the British strips, from the Star Trek we’ve since come to cherish, is that the crew frequently use British idioms. One could also see reflections of Britain’s own military traditions. Spock would refer to Kirk as “skipper” instead of “captain” on numerous occasions.

Then there are the aliens. The Kingons, the Romulans, and the Andorians all show up, over the course of the British strips. There also seem to be a fair amount of Robots, which look more like refugees from other British sci-fi strips than something one would expect to see on Star Trek. But far more common are animal-based species — the kind of anthropomorphic animals that would probably look terrible on TV. You can say this shows how the comic strip exploited its “unlimited budget” to depict things, relative to TV. You can say this expresses the British love of animals. But it often doesn’t feel like Star Trek, at least as we’ve come to know it. Birds, cats, fish, and insects — they’re all here. Kirk and crew even teach intelligent gorillas to play soccer, a.k.a. football, reflecting the British love of that sport (much as later Star Trek shows, aimed primarily at American audiences, would depict baseball).

The British strips are most fondly remembered for their artwork, initially provided by Harry F. Lindfield. While Gold Key was celebrated for its painted covers, the British strips were artistically wonderful, even when they deviated from the Star Trek shown on TV. The Enterprise sometimes seemed to exist in three-dimensional space, sculpted by its color. Faces in close-ups looked wonderfully dramatic — and often very much like the actors.

Joe 90 #2

And while Gold Key often had very static, boxy panel layouts, the British strips were far more dynamic, with odd-shaped panels, circular panels, tumbling characters outlined in thick white, and explosions that made jagged the edge of the panels themselves.

from Joe 90 Top Secret #3Star Trek ran in all 34 issues of Joe 90 Top Secret, along with its annual. (In Britain, annuals are usually hardcover anthologies, consisting of reprints, new material, or both. They are traditionally dated one year ahead, so that the Joe 90 Top Secret Annual was dated 1970, although it was released in 1969.) The final issue of Joe 90 Top Secret (#34, 6 Sept 1969) featured the conclusion of the eighth British Star Trek serial.

All of the serials in Joe 90 Top Secret were written by Angus Allan, with all but one illustrated by Harry F. Lindfield.

Joe 90 Top Secret #30Neither the British Star Trek nor Joe 90 disappeared for long. Only a few weeks later, TV21 and Joe 90 debuted (#1, 27 Sept 1969), merging City Magazines’ cancelled Joe 90 Top Secret and TV Century 21. Because British comics are so often anthologies, such mergers are hardly uncommon.

TV21 and Joe 90 #29Star Trek appeared in all 105 issues of TV21 and Joe 90 (#105, 25 Sept 1971) — although “and Joe 90″ disappeared from the title partway through. Over these 105 issues, a total of 17 Star Trek serials appeared, ranging from 10 to 27 pages. Harry F. Lindfield, the original British Star Trek artist, left after issue #23 (28 Feb 1970), replaced by Jim Baikie for one serial, then by Mike Noble for four, then by Roland Turner, by Harold Johns, and finally by the team of Carlos Pino and Vicente Alcázar, who lasted until the title came to an end.

In addition, a one-page story, illustrated by Frank Bellamy, appeared in the 27 June 1970 issue of Radio Times, the BBC’s weekly listing of its radio and TV programs. And three stories appeared in the 1971 TV21 Annual (published in late 1970).

But TV21 wasn’t really cancelled — any more than Joe 90 Top Secret had been before it. The title was simply merging again, this time with Valiant to create Valiant and TV21 (#1, 2 Oct 1971).

Star Trek was the only feature to survive from TV21. But in the new, combined title, it had lost the magazine’s center spread. While the strip was still produced in color, the new title’s paper quality was much cheaper, and the color reproduction frankly looks awful. Star Trek appeared in the first 118 issues before it was dropped (with #118, 29 Dec 1973). Over these 118 issues, a total of 13 Star Trek serials appeared, ranging from 4 to 34 pages. No writer is known for any of these stories, although all were illustrated by John Stokes.

from Valiant #1In addition, one Star Trek story appeared in 1972′s Valiant Summer Special (illustrated by John Stokes), another in 1972′s TV21 Annual, and two more stories in 1973′s TV21 Annual (both illustrated by Jim Baikie).

And thus the British Star Trek came to a close, having been published almost weekly throughout 1969-1973.

Except, that is, for two final five-page stories, published in 1978 and 1979′s Mighty TV Comic Annual, both illustrated by John Canning.

All together, the British Star Trek amounts to nearly 600 pages of material. Sadly, most of it has never been reprinted.

Star Trek was later published again as a comic strip, by the Los Angeles Times Mirror Syndicate, from 2 December 1979 to 3 December 1983, after the first motion picture. (Last month, IDW published the first of two volumes, titled Star Trek: The Newspaper Comics, collecting these previously unavailable classic strips.) But as strange as a Star Trek newspaper comic strip might seem, these weren’t British productions — and they belonged to a later era of Trek history.

Like the American issues published by Gold Key, the British Star Trek comics represent an earlier time, when Star Trek wasn’t quite so sacred or solidified — when it was still fluid and a bit more open to interpretation.

A time when you could even make Star Trek British!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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