Ask typical Star Trek fans which companies have produced Trek comics, and it's a good bet the first publishers mentioned will be Gold Key, Marvel, DC Comics, and the current license-holder, IDW. Savvy fans might recall the brief WildStorm run and Tokyopop's manga digests, while others, thanks to reprint books from IDW's Library of American Comics (LOAC), might bring up the L.A. Times newspaper strips or the McDonalds Happy Meals. But a lot of fans—particularly those outside the United Kingdom—will completely overlook a group of publishers that produced a sizable chunk of Trek lore way back when. Thankfully, LOAC has come through once again.
Concurrent with the Gold Key run, British readers received weekly Trek strips not reproduced for American audiences. In 1969, six months prior to the TV series' airing in the United Kingdom, the strips debuted in the pages of Joe 90: Top Secret. Based on Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation puppet series, Joe 90 lasted for 34 issues, with Star Trek featured as a two-page spread—and it quickly became one of the magazine's most popular serials. When Joe 90 merged with TV21, the comic was renamed TV21 & Joe 90, expanding from two to three pages per issue (despite the TV show's cancelation that same year). In 1971, following TV21 issue #105, the comic merged with Valiant to become Valiant and TV21. Star Trek survived that merger as well, inhabiting the center two-page spread for 118 more issues until being dropped two years later.
Over the course of 257 weekly magazines, the British strips were produced under ever-changing publisher names, including City Magazines, Martspress, and IPC Magazines. Additional strips appeared in the 1969 Joe 90 annual (from Century 21 Publications), a trio of TV21 annuals (from City Magazines, World Distributors, and IPC Magazines), the 1972 Valiant Summer Special (from IPC) and, several years after the strips' cancelation, the 1978 and 1979 TV Comic annuals (from Polystyle Publications). In addition, a 1970 issue of Radio Times (the Brits' analog to TV Guide, produced by BBC Worldwide) printed a one-page Trek strip from Frank Bellamy based on "The Apple." And Kenner/Chad Valley's Give-a-Show Projector featured two original Star Trek filmstrips in 1974, titled "Space Cowboy" and "Project Iceberg."
The British strips were primarily published without credits, but the artists have been mostly identified. Harry F. Lindfield illustrated all of Joe 90 and the first 22 issues of TV21, while later issues featured such talents as Vicente Alcázar, Jim Baikie, John Canning, Harold Johns, Mike Noble, Carlos Pino, John Stokes, and Ron Turner. Angus Allan wrote numerous scripts and Tod Sullivan may have contributed some as well, with Jack Sutter penning the 1973 annual. Alan Willow painted many of TV21's vibrant covers, while Mike Western illustrated the covers to all but the first two Valiant issues.
As with Gold Key, adherence to the television series' concepts was spotty at best. "Captain Kurt" (as Kirk was called in early issues) and company acted wildly out of character, often uttering lines like "Great Jupiter!" or "My stars!" or "Sufferin' starships!" Dave Bailey (from "The Corbomite Maneuver") was a main character for several storylines instead of Chekov, likely due to the writer-artist team having been supplied with insufficient reference materials. And the plots? Well, let's just say that Kirk teaching alien gorillas to play soccer, and the Enterprise crew being captured by a 50-foot-tall child and forced to ride a giant toy train, were not atypical.
The artwork, however, was a different story. Although often inaccurate compared to how things looked on screen, much of it was beautifully illustrated… even if Kirk wore a red jersey, his crew was clad in green, the Romulans looked like Roman centurions, and the Enterprise fired nuclear rockets whenever it… er… landed on and lifted off from a planet's surface.
This isn't the Star Trek you're used to. It's weird, trippy and quite often silly as hell. But it's not unenjoyable. Not by a longshot, actually. The British Star Trek strips represent a different time, when publishers armed with scant resources nonetheless produced a plethora of pulp sci-fi tales that, though not entirely consistent with the TV show, were nonetheless eminently charming. They're a jump to the left and then a step to the right (but without the pelvic thrust—these strips are decidedly kid-friendly), and they leave readers wanting to do the time-warp again and again.
The stories are a bit loopy, but they're equally fun—and for more than 40 years, they've remained unavailable to the majority of collectors. Since the strips were published only in the United Kingdom and have never been reprinted other than a few days' worth appearing in vintage fanzines like Trek, T-Negative, The Monster Times and the Star Trek Souvenir Book, they've been the Holy Grail of Trek comics, available only as low-resolution scans shared online among fans.
In 2011, I reached out to IDW's Chris Ryall about the possibility of seeing both the L.A. Times and British strips professionally reprinted. To my surprised delight, not only was Chris interested, but he'd actually just reached out to CBS with the very same idea, though he lacked the strips (four years' worth of daily U.S. stories, plus five years' worth of weekly U.K. tales) to reprint. As it happened, I had complete runs of both, so Chris put me in touch with LOAC's Dean Mullaney. Thus began what turned out to be one hell of a fun ride, as I helped Dean put together a pair of hardcovers reprinting the L.A. Times strips (Star Trek: The Newspaper Comics, Volumes 1 and 2) that, thanks to Dean's formidable skills, turned out amazing. The strips had never looked better. The fact that I was invited to write supplementary materials for each volume was, for me, the icing on an already delicious cake (cellular peptide with mint frosting, of course).
Chris, Dean and I hoped to reprint the British strips next, and we waited as CBS considered giving the greenlight. In early 2015, the word was given, Admiral, and so we began again. I shipped my complete U.K. collection (257 large-size comics spanning 37 storylines, plus the six hardcovers, the summer special, the Radio Times issue, and the Chad Valley filmstrips) to Dean for reprinting, praying to the entire pantheon of Klingon gods that they wouldn't be lost in the mail. (It had taken me many years and more space-bucks than I'd care to admit to track them all down.) Dean scanned them and cleaned up each page, and the result is astounding.
The British strips will be reprinted in three hardcover volumes, starting in March 2016 with Star Trek: The Classic UK Comics—The Complete Series, Volume One (1969-1970), which will feature every Joe 90 story, as well as the first 64 TV21 issues. The rest will follow in volumes two and three, along with a bunch of cool bonuses (including supplemental materials written by yours truly). Like the L.A. Times strips, these long-lost gems look breathtaking in their restored form, making them a must-have for any Star Trek comics collection. Besides, who wouldn't want to read about Captain Kurt and a bunch of gorillas playing soccer? My stars!
Rich Handley is the author and editor of numerous science fiction reference books and the editor of Hasslein Books (hassleinbooks.com). He has contributed to each of IDW's Star Trek comic strip reprint books, Sequart's New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics anthology, Star Trek Communicator and Star Trek magazines, and GIT Corp's Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection. He is not afraid to admit that seeing the U.K. strips reprinted at last brings a tear to his eye.