Arne Starr, Trek's Jack Of All Trades, Part 1
You know Arne Starr, but you may not even realize it. Starr is an actor and illustrator, and his connections to Star Trek are numerous, extensive and, to quote an old Vulcan friend, fascinating. He worked on 70 Trek comic books over the years, has appeared as a guest at many conventions, studied acting with Trek’s Sarek, Mark Lenard, and was close friends with William Campbell. More recently, Starr turned up in Star Trek (2009) as an engineer aboard the Enterprise, not to mention episodes of Grey's Anatomy, NCIS: Los Angeles, Mad Men, 90210 and more, often on a recurring basis. Over the course of an extensive two-part e-mail interview, Starr recounted in tremendous detail his various experiences, covering his career(s) in general and Star Trek specifically. Below is part one, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
Which of your Trek books were you personally most proud of, and why?
STARR: My favorite book is the Star Trek VI adaptation that we did. I always felt it was Gordon (Purcell’s) and my best work. Best-looking for sure.
By our count, you ended up working on 70 Trek comic books, most of them TOS adventures, mostly at DC and a few for Malibu. Does that sound right, and how long was your tenure on Trek, from when to when?
STARR: That sounds about right. Something like ’87-’95 would be my guestimate.
Do you still follow Trek comics these days? If so, which do you enjoy?
STARR: I look at the IDW books and like many of them. I was telling folks they needed to read the Star Trek (2009) prequel books to fill in what you were missing in the new film. I also liked various books, and John Byrne’s runs. A quick aside… back in Connecticut, once upon a time, we had a DC freelancers’ dinner, with Dick (Giordano) and people like Curt Swan (of whom I had gotten my request to help finish one of the annuals, Starfleet Academy; and I had gotten to ink him once before, years before, on a PSA page where Kenny Rogers meets Superman) and John Byrne, who was always a big Trek fan. We did dueling napkins. You could almost hear the banjos, as he’d do the classic ship, I’d draw the movie version, he’d draw young Spock, I’d do the older version and so on. I wonder who got those napkins!
You are an actor and comic book illustrator. How does one become both, and which came first?
STARR: Well, the art came first, though I blame all of it on Star Trek. I always had a love for comic books as well as science fiction in media and literature growing up, but aside from reading comics, sci-fi and mythology books, watching Superman on TV and the classic sci-fi films of the 50’s, I never “planned” to go any of those routes. I just didn’t think about it; I was a kid. As far as early acting goes, the one time I got to do it back then was 2nd grade, where I played a monkey in a circus, with a costume and mask I made with my mom, who did her own sewing, and I made the mask. So I guess I was being creative back then, and holding a toy monkey as well. I was basically a piece of stage dressing just lying in the background, but… I ended up mimicking whoever was up front with the monkey toy, which got the teacher in charge to read me the riot act. That was the end of my early theatrical career as far as regular school goes.
How did you get into illustrating, and when and how did you connect with DC Comics to work on their Trek books?
STARR: In Newtown High School in Queens, I was part of the Newtown Tech engineering course. I was always a mechanical (and video/audio) geek, so I figured that might be a good path, and what I was taught up front was mechanical drawing, and how to use all the appropriate tools. Well, drawing 27 turns of a screw absolutely perfectly was deathly boring to me, so I figured maybe I could loosen up and get into the art course. By this time I was doing some doodling, but not much else, but I was able to change to the art major starting in my junior year. I still had to finish the mechanical drawing, but in my senior year I tried out for a scholarship and got it for the New York-Phoenix Schools of Design in Manhattan. It was a small school in “the city” whose staff were all pro artists. Now I was already teaching myself anatomy via Burne Hogarth’s books in the hopes of MAYBE getting good enough for comics, and it wouldn’t hurt anything else as my major was magazine and book illustration. In anatomy class, the teacher ended up having me sit in the back, and he actually was showing me how to ink with a brush, he said I didn’t need his particular beginning anatomy class And why was he showing me a comic book technique? He was Cliff Young, an artist who had worked on characters like Green Arrow and the Vigilante back in the 40’s for DC.
Another thing that happened was my animation teacher, Howard Beckerman, actually had ME teach the class when he couldn’t make it in as I’d taken his class way too many times. Did I mention I was into animation too? Well, he got me into some classes at Parsons and the New School. One was a continuity class that included himself, Randy Enos from National Lampoon, and one Dick Giordano from Continuity Associates. The class in the other school was on panel cartoons, taught by Jerry Robinson. (As an aside, I saw Jerry at San Diego Comic-Con a couple of years ago, and reminded him that he was one of my original teachers. So he asks me “How did I do?” I answered “Well, I’m here!”). I graduated second in the school (in magazine and book illustration), which had been taken over by Pratt Institute by that time. So my diploma is from Pratt, and Howard got me involved with animator Keith Robinson. I ended up doing three or four Anacin commercials, where I handled the animated aspirin and headache. It was hundreds of cel drawings that would be done in computer nowadays in hours. I worked for various agencies around the city, became an assistant art director at Eagle Electric in Queens and later an art director for a diamond company in Manhattan.
You then got married and moved with your wife to Connecticut…
STARR: There, I worked for ad agencies, formed my own with some friends, and that was it for a while. Eventually, I heard that Dick Giordano, with Frank McLaughlin was going to be teaching a comic art workshop class in CT. Went down there, but he made me wait for the second session as I didn’t need anything from the level one class. Finally, I did the class with a number of other people that are now known in the business, and worked on a variety of projects through there as well, like a Hanna-Barbera Mighty Mightor toon done for France, things like the Superman Meets the Quik Bunny promo, and other stuff. I finally became Dick’s assistant on most of his material at the time. At that time, Frank had me try out for SuperFriends at DC, as my Hanna-Barbera stuff came out pretty good with my animation background, but I didn’t feel ready and my samples weren’t ready for primetime, and Julie Schwartz proceeded to rip me a new one since he agreed with me. (I used to tease him about that whenever I saw him at conventions, and he was always apologizing. He was a sweetheart and I knew that).
Back at Dik-Art, Dick’s company, I worked on many a project, like the Secret Origin of Green Arrow, Johnny Thunder, V, Millennium and others, sometimes with credit (Giordano and Starr), sometimes without. One of the big ones Dick did try to get me credit on was the Death of Supergirl issue of Crisis (on Infinite Earths #7), where I inked over 65% of the book and Dick just did the heads and hands, but the “powers that be,” whoever they are, nixed the credit. I was also doing stuff for Joe Orlando’s department and was working on possible logos for the Crisis series. Then came Man Of Steel, and Mr. Byrne wanted “pure Giordano” and was putting myself and other co-inking help out of work (Though, “just because,” I did ink the introduction of Lois Lane’s introductory 2-pages in there and via Joe did the airbrush version of John’s cover for the Ballantine trade paperback). But to keep me employed, Dick arranged for me to help out another former helper, Mike DeCarlo. I’d help on Booster Gold without credit and would co-ink Legion of Super-Heroes with credit, though that was bamboozled with a false credit of “Ink Assist.” I was the co-inker, whether anyone wanted it that way or not. Finally, I started to get work out of DC in the comics itself.
Which brings us to Star Trek…
STARR: Aside from Joe Orlando’s specialties, and starting out with the Power Girl mini-series, I was then given the task of doing the Starship pages for the Who’s Who in Star Trek books, where that mechanical drawing expertise totally came into play. Not too long later, DC got the job to do the new show Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I was signed immediately as the inker of record on the book. As usual, things never go smooth, and another inker lost one of his THREE books he was doing, so they gave him my only job, but Dick, being the King Solomon of DC, made them keep me on, where Carlos Garzon would ink the main characters and I’d do all the rest. I WOULD have kept going, but there was a strike in Hollywood and after the mini-series the classic Trek (comics) halted and we were dead in the water. Then, suddenly there was no strike, Star Trek V was coming out soon and Paramount wanted a book. So, at lightning speed, Peter David, James Fry and I came out with the adaptation in record time. And now that we were back in business, we were going to start back up with classic Trek and TNG would get its own series. The penciler on TNG wanted to do his own inks, so Bob Greenberger simply took the team from the Star Trek V adaptation and we were the de facto team on Volume 2 of Star Trek. We went through many writers, pencilers and editors (and politics) over the years, but I went all the way to almost the end of its run at DC.