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Autograph Trek

Autograph Trek

It’s truly surreal to be asked for your autograph.

Especially when your signature doesn’t actually have any real value. But hey, after I started guesting at science fiction conventions in 1983, I found that a certain (select) number of attendees wanted my autograph. Either just because I was a guest or because they knew I edited magazines. Thus, over the years, they asked me to sign Starlog, Comics Scene, Fangoria, an Official Star Trek or James Bond Movie Magazine or one of my three ongoing TV Trek licensed publications (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager).

I was pleased and flattered and touched. After all, anyone holding a magazine out for signing was (presumably) one of our readers. Therefore, meeting me and reading Starlog might mean something to them, make them even more loyal to our publications (Buy more issues! Help pay my rent! I will edit for food!). And in the words of Singing in the Rain’s legendary Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), getting that signature indicated all "our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’." A workaholic, I have to admit — and not to humble brag — I exhausted myself editing all those magazines, usually simultaneously; the workload was endless, massive and insane, so any appreciation was always gratifying. Here, have a cookie. Good Dave!

Now, I have a small number of photos autographed by actors but I truly value the books signed by some of my favorite authors — like Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Ron Goulart, Ellis Peters, "Charles Todd," L. Sprague de Camp — and novelist friends of mine like Will Murray, Lee Goldberg and the late A.C. Crispin (who wrote that great Star Trek novel Yesterday's Son). Usually, pals have obtained the actors’ autographs, but the writers, with some exceptions, I’ve gotten myself. (Well, Joe Nazzaro did get me Starlog-reader-turned-Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Michael Chabon and Ian Spelling hit up Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. on my behalf. Thanks again, guys.)

Sitting at autograph tables beside celebrities I’ve heard Colm Meaney laugh heartily, Ethan Phillips bless autograph seekers, George Takei sing. Fast-on-the-draw John de Lancie couldn’t sit still during several backed-up, multi-celeb autograph queues and raced down the line rapidly signing photos as fans waited for the other, seated, slower signers. And Terry Farrell smiled so dazzingly at every congoer, I thought I’d be blinded.

In more recent years, the pernicious influence of sports memorabilia events (and all those signed baseball cards and other collectibles) has prompted a dramatic increase in the number of genre celebrities charging for autographs, still pictures (inscription included) or a posed photo opportunity with them. Depending on the venue, some folks still sign for free (their fees and expenses underwritten by the con). There are even autograph shows, primarily in Los Angeles, New York and other big city areas, where there’s no convention programming, cosplay or guest Q&As; there are just all sorts of celebrities (TV stars! Centerfold models! Wrestlers!) sitting at tables piled with photos, books and other stuff, signing for money.

Now, one can hardly blame underemployed actors and others for earning extra bucks this way, especially those who endured early deprivations or grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. And some folks have truly altruistic reasons for charging. The wonderful Mark Lenard (Spock's Dad!) used to sell photos (in case you didn't bring your own for signing). Monies thus earned were donated to diabetes charities. Kevin McCarthy, star of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, devoted all funds he accumulated by signing pix and/or selling autographs to his many young grandkids' college funds. Lost in Space's Mark Goddard (who left acting to become a teacher of special needs children) used convention photo revenue to purchase more school supplies for his students. I hung out with Mark, Kevin and Mark at Trek cons, and I think their motivations were, well, incredibly noble. A tip of the (unautographed) baseball cap to all three!

On a lighter note, I’m one person who never charged. Mainly because who the devil would pay for my signature

These days, with personal experiences in mind, I think I would have sufficient chutzpah to solicit money. Yep, I'd have magazines and books on hand at my table to sell and a donations jar, the whole take going to charities that have since touched my life, diabetes and the disabled.

Finally, I’ve told this shaggy fan story once before in print, but it’s part of the whole signature magilla, so please, sir, let’s have another! There was some concern about the following autograph anecdote. Because maybe, perhaps someone would be offended. Did we really want to brew a brouhaha? A tempest in a trekpot? Not another one! However, let me emphasize that this is the TRUE tale of ONE fan and is in no way meant to represent more than that a single specific guy, not a group or fandom at large. No tarnishing intended! I'm a proud fanboy of long-standing and (perhaps) more fanatic than you, you or the next fellow about certain stuff (Doc Savage! Marvel Comics! Bond, James Bond!). And let me reiterate: I previously related this anecdote in Starlog (to a readership of 100,000+); here, at, the audience is potentially much larger, but some of you may have already heard this fable.

I'll tell it again: Years ago, I was doing an SF con (with guests from Trek, Doctor Who and other genre TV shows). The con’s managers asked me to sit alongside several writers at the autograph table. I didn’t expect to sign many magazines or program books but I was happy to agree to their wishes.

My immediate neighbor was an old acquaintance who had written Trek books as well as all sorts of other novels and ephemera. Once again, I’m withholding his (or her) identity. Let’s call this author "Dickens Twain." Not his real name.

He and I weren’t as busy with congoers seeking signatures as the media guests were so we had lotsa time between autograph seekers to chitchat. Finally, a fan approached Dickens Twain with a pile of six or eight paperbacks.

"I’m such a big fan," I remember the guy saying something like that (yes, I was listening in on their conversation, having nothing else to do for the moment). "You write great books."

"Thank you very much," said Dickens Twain as he (or she) signed one paperback, then another.

"And if you ever stop writing Star Trek novels," the fan announced brightly, his voice then lowering in a bit of dialogue I’ve never forgotten, "I will track you down and kill you."

Dickens Twain just continued signing the rest of the books. He calmly shook the fan’s hand. The fan collected his autographed possessions, said farewell and walked off.

I looked at Dickens Twain and he at me. No words were spoken between us about the incident. Maybe it was a dual hallucination, brought on by CATB (Chronic Autograph Table Boredom)? Could we have just imagined it all? Was that fan merely being funny? Or was he deadly serious? Well, respectively, probably not; don’t think so; didn’t seem like it; no, I hope not. Had it really happened? Sadly, yes.

Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I had heard, though I can certainly understand, as a veteran fanboy, that specific attitude of entitlement, of being owed more of your favorite author’s book series. I was always kind of peeved when Philip Jose Farmer, another SF fave of mine, started a new series instead of doing yet another entry in one of his many established ones. John D. MacDonald and Ed McBain occasionally irritated me with new novels that didn’t happen to feature Travis McGee or the 87th Precinct cops. And, more recently, some fans have wondered why George R.R. Martin has done anything (Cons! TV scripts! Website posts!) other than finishing that long-awaited sixth volume in the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones saga, The Winds of Winter. Do you know what I mean now about fannish great expectations?

As Dickens Twain (who’s still alive and writing as if his life depended on it) might have penned years ago: When we fans do like something, it’s "Please, sir, may I have some more? Also, how about an autograph?"

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.