StarTrek.com reported last week that IDW Publishing will, on January 29, publish Star Trek #29, in which Captain Jane Tiberia Kirk leads the U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew on a five-year mission. Joining Kirk on her mission will be Lt. Nnamdi Uhuro, Lt. Pavlona Chekov, Lt. Hikari Sulu, Chief Engineer Marjorie Scott, Yeoman Jason Rand and Lt. Commander Spock. Star Trek #29 is written by IDW regular Mike Johnson and features art by the fast-rising Yasmin Liang, whose work includes Before, After and In Between: A Comics Anthology and Steed and Mrs. Peel. StarTrek.com recently engaged Johnson and Liang in a joint conversation and also grabbed a few moments with IDW editor Sarah Gaydos. Here’s what they had to say about Star Trek #29.
So, let's start at the very beginning. For both of you, how and when were you approached about this two-parter with Jane Kirk?
MIKE: The story originated from a conversation I had with our Trek editor supreme, Sarah Gaydos. We wanted a story that would grab readers' attention with an unusual hook but would also feel very Trek. Sarah suggested the "genderswap" idea, as we called it, and Bob Orci embraced it as the kind of unique story the comics are great for. It's in the tradition of the more unusual Trek ideas like the Mirror Universe and the Tribbles, but we are not playing it as a gimmick. We have fun with it, but hopefully we're also telling a meaningful story.
YASMIN: I was very lucky to have Sarah e-mail me quite out of the blue. She had previously e-mailed me maybe a year ago to very kindly compliment me on a piece of art that she had come across on the internet at the time and to say that she would be following my work there on. I'm grateful she did! I'm a massive Star Trek fan.
Storywise, Mike, what will readers experience?
MIKE: Without giving too much away, we start right away with the introduction of Jane Tiberia Kirk and her crew on the Enterprise. From there things get progressively weirder until Jane comes face to face with her doppleganger, a fellow starship captain with an unusual name: James Tiberius Kirk.
Again, for both of you, what was your initial reaction to mixing up the genders?
MIKE: I was excited by the challenge of writing characters who are both very similar and completely different to the regular cast. Uhura is the only female among the main bridge crew, and it's refreshing to flip that ratio and write a crew that's all female except for Uhuro, the male communications officer. By the time I finished they all felt like their own characters, distinct from their male counterparts. I would love to write more adventures of Jane's crew!
YASMIN: I have done some genderbends of popular characters in the past, for fun though. To get paid for it is a dream come true! My experience with it is that it's a very, very touchy endeavor to make. Fans sometimes don't like the design of the genderbent character or don't think it should be done at all. For Star Trek to make it an entire universe is a lot of fun though, and I'm glad I'm here to help. I'm hoping the difference in challenges that the female version of the characters have will be enlightening for the readers.
Mike, as the writer, what challenges did that gender-bending create? And same for you, Yasmin?
MIKE: The biggest challenge was not just going for the gags that naturally pop up in a concept like this. It's definitely lighter in tone than stories like "The Khitomer Conflict" that preceded it in the comic, but at the same time there needs to be a genuine threat to both crews for it to earn its place as a Star Trek story. The fun comes from seeing the two crews interacting and having to work together to save the day.
YASMIN: I spent a lot of time humming and hahhing about how body language would translate. I figured a lot of Kirk's boisterous swagger and confidence would be present no matter what gender and from there, it started to make a lot of sense. These characters are so strong at their core that a lot of what makes them who they are would be present regardless of what gender, race or even species they are! I suppose the biggest challenge was trying to find a balance in their likenesses since they're based off of male actors. I also didn't want them all to be the same
For both of you, what fresh storytelling opportunities did this project provide?
MIKE: Having written the mostly male crew for so long, it was great to take a step back and think about the characters in a new way. What makes Kirk, Kirk? And Spock, Spock? What aspects of our personalities are influenced by our gender, and what remains the same when it changes? These are interesting ideas to explore, and give the story a larger thematic purpose as befits the great Trek tradition.
YASMIN: You should have seen some of the notes in the script. I did have a few panels where I'd accidentally drawn the wrong gender of character and had to go back to re-draw it. In terms of firsts, this was the first book I got to do character designs on.
How fluid a process was this? Yasmin, were on it all along, reading Mike's pages? Or did you get all the copy and then do all the art?
YASMIN: I had pretty final copy of the script in the beginning, though some of the dialogue changed as far as I know. That didn't quite stop me from jumping back and forth doing pages all out of order though. It was pretty fluid though, all in all -- I had the script in full before I ever started work on it.
Mike, in your view, in what ways does comic book art complement a story? And, the same for you, Yasmin. In your view, what function does the artwork serve?
MIKE: For me, the art is what makes a comic a comic. Without it, the story is just a bunch of words on a page. In film terms, the art is the actors, the sets, the special effects, everything we see. And the best comics art, like Yasmin's, is the kind that takes the script on the page and breathes life into the story in a way even the writer never imagined.
YASMIN: Mike is the kind of writer I love -- just enough prompt in the script to give me a sense of the scene and the emotion behind the dialogue, without giving me too much instruction concerning the background or body language. It gives me a chance to add a little of my own story to the book. An eyebrow raise, maybe a shared glance ... it can be pretty subtle but I like to think it enhances the reader's experience.
How pleased are you with the finished product?
MIKE: I was nervous when we embarked on this mission simply because it hadn't been done before, and if we didn't do it right we risked making a mockery of the characters. But thanks mostly to Yasmin's immense talent and Sarah's expert guidance, I think we've created a really fun, memorable adventure that celebrates what makes Star Trek unique.
YASMIN: I can't wait for people to read it! I wish we had more time in this universe and more issues in the story. There's so much still untouched concerning the characters and how their lives are different from their male counter-parts. Add on to that, it always takes me an issue or so to get used to drawing the characters. I just hit my stride in issue #30, and I wish I could've spent more time with them.
Give us a quick tease of Star Trek #30, which will close out the story when it's released at the end of February.
MIKE: One word: Shatneresque.
YASMIN: What he said.
And let’s give the final word to IDW editor Sarah Gaydos:
SARAH: Mike and I were really thinking about ways to kick off the concept of the ship finally going on its five year mission, after the events of the most recent film - - out into the unknown, far off from their usual haunts. This idea of gender swapping came out of my love of those types of episodes where, especially with me viewing them as a kid, you had NO idea what you were in store for - - and neither did the crew. I hope readers take away that sense of fun and adventure from this, as they do those episodes. I'm extremely grateful to Mike and Yasmin for executing this so well. I do hope that Yasmin can join us for more Trek somewhere down the line, as her busy schedule allows. And, look out for more exciting developments over 2014, as the crew "boldly goes!"
Star Trek #29 is titled "Parallel Lives" and will kick off an exciting two-part adventure overseen by Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek (2009) writer-producer Roberto Orci. Cat Staggs handled the cover (and fans should be on the lookout for a variant photo cover). Star Trek #29 will run 32 pages and cost $3.99. For additional details, contact your local comic book retailer or visit www.comicshoplocator.com to find a store near you, and keep an eye on StarTrek.com for further news about IDW's upcoming Star Trek comic books.
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