Starlog Cover Circle Blues

Starlog Cover Circle Blues

You can’t tell a book by its cover, the whole adage goes. That’s particularly true of Starlog where the articles, interviews, photos and cartoons inside the magazine (or "book" in publishing jargon) were (I believe) of a higher, consistent quality than the covers, so frequently compromised by factors beyond my control as Editor. In a previous post, I revealed Strange Starlog Cover Stories (re: issues #1, #3, #114, #130, #135, #138, #147, #162, #175, #291). Let’s round up more.

Issue #173 (on sale November 1991) inaugurated the "Worlds of Star Trek" idea, encircling DeForest Kelley, Jonathan Frakes and Teri Garr (of TOS "Assignment Earth" unsold pilot). This unusual three-ring circus template was an effort to "equate" three different interviews in similar sized spaces and thus create a larger, saleable cover story. Next Gen guest Carel Struycken (pictured as his Addams Family alter-ego, Lurch) deadpans from the corner cover photo box, adding a fourth Trek celeb to the menu.

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Our second Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home cover came with #116, two months after the film’s November 30, 1986 launch (and #114, cover-featuring director-star Leonard Nimoy). Looks nice, eh? I’m still blue about it. The original cover idea: "The Women of Star Trek IV" (which may be sexist now, but didn’t seem so decades ago) with photos of Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Robin Curtis, Majel Barrett Roddenberry and Grace Lee Whitney (all interviewed inside) and quotes from each. However, Publisher Jacobs vetoed that plan. He believed SF fans were more interested in hardware; that’s why, per company lore, Starlog #17 (with Battlestar Galactica hurtling at the reader) sold so well. Trek IV introduced a brand-new Enterprise (NCC-1701-A) so that had to be the cover, Jacobs insisted, not a bunch of faces. Well, who can argue with that? Now Starlog’s Editor, I did, but nonetheless I lost, because, you know, Jacobs (co)-owned the company.

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Other Unintended Consequences? I never again arranged advance screening access for publishers when a cover was on the line. The Running Man was upgraded to the #125 cover slot, creating a vacancy. Man was a box office hit whereas Bride not so much. Maybe the publishers were right after all? Inconceivable! Today, of course, one picture’s forgotten; the other’s a beloved classic, often quoted by its fans. Fairy tale over!

That’s why just two months after its premiere, Next Gen is back, filling that vacancy and emerging as our default cover subject (whenever something else fell through, 1987-94). "Secrets of Star Trek: The Next Generation" sounds promising as a coverline, but it’s just hype; inside #126, we don’t especially reveal any secrets (sorry). LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner are featured in another moody photo (and not as famous here in December 1987 as they’ll be later, they’re identified via cover caption near Marina’s shoulder) although there’s only a Sirtis interview inside (provocative quote: "I’m not the new Spock").

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Had Paramount provided the very same Borg shot as late as that Friday morning, we could have used it, and had a better, Borgier #233 cover. And why not service the image to Starlog? Our printing schedule ensured that USA Today (a far more important media outlet than Starlog) would still publish the photo first, an entire month before issue #233 hit newsstands. Non-exclusive use of that same shot woulda been fine with me.

Unintended Consequences! I was overseas in November when First Contact screened for the press. When I got back, I was still so bloody annoyed by that Borg photo SNAFU, I simply didn’t bother to see the movie. For years! Inconceivable? No, just a strange but true cover story.


David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.


Copyright 2015 David McDonnell

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