Some of the earliest kinds of Star Trek merchandise available were coloring books, providing young fans (and creative adults) with the chance to express themselves while following adventures of favorite characters. Interestingly, following the publication history of the coloring books reveals the timeline, also, of the return to the mainstream that Star Trek experienced after its cancellation. The coloring books tended to get published whenever Trek’s star was on the rise.


The first coloring books were from The Saalfield Publishing Company, appearing on grocery and convenience store shelves in 1967. The company would edit and re-release their original 1967 books again in 1975, an unusual move considering that Star Trek had been cancelled for six years. Saalfield’s renewed interest in Star Trek was an indication of the ever-growing mainstreaming and new audience that was being formed for Star Trek in the mid-1970s thanks to fan efforts, conventions, and excellent ratings in syndication. The covers of the 1975 editions, while certainly colorful, demonstrate the era’s common disregard of accuracy when producing children’s items based on television or film properties. Saalfield was not alone in this: Azrak-Hamway’s 1975 parachuting (!) Kirk and Spock action figures are another example.

Some of the most unusual coloring/art/poster books were the giant sized 17”x22” offerings made by Cav-Mart Inc., Parkes Run Publishing Co., and Wanderer Books starting in 1978 and continuing until 1980. In addition to the large-sized pages to color, these editions sported excellent art work on the covers, some worthy of being posters themselves. The photograph below shows a size comparison between traditional coloring books and these giant sized editions.

Once again showing how the coloring books followed the trajectory of Star Trek itself, there were no less than eight different coloring and poster art books released with the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and several more coloring books with Original Series art that used the TMP logo design on the cover. Merrigold Press’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture coloring books featured photographs rather than original art on the covers, providing fans a look at the characters in their movie uniforms (the company also produced frame-tray puzzles featuring art reminiscent of the kind found inside their coloring books).

The 20th anniversary of Star Trek was commemorated with the release of another set of coloring books, this time from Wanderer Books (then an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books, which continues to this day to publishing bestselling original Trek novels). The covers were excellent, offering both faithful renderings of the Enterprise crew and characters not usually given high-profile cover-status such as T’Lar from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The inside art, however, occasionally took liberties with the likenesses of the characters, especially Sarek and Amanda, who appear to be more at home on Krypton than Vulcan.

By the time of Landoll’s 1997 Star Trek: The Next Generation coloring books, accuracy and consistency had become something to aspire to even with children’s products, and the imagery on the covers and the interior art were more faithful renderings of the characters and technology. Interestingly, these coloring books appear after the premiere of Star Trek: First Contact, yet generally use the more kid-friendly representations of the characters from the TV show as the design elements.

As is evident, whenever Star Trek experienced a surge in its mainstream popularity, more coloring books were usually not far behind. Even more, reminiscing about the coloring books recalls the era when continuity was not as important as having fun. Now it is time break out the crayons and have some colorful adventures!

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Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at jtenuto@clcillinois.edu or mjtenuto@clcillinois.edu.

 

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